I talked to 3 people who got into UX in their 40s

Here’s how they did it

Bulent, Gael, and James

Earlier in the year, I wrote an article on how to become a UX designer at 40 with no digital or design experience. I then wrote an article for the InVision Blog called A guide to becoming a UX designer at 40.

Since then I’ve had a great response with people letting me know their stories of getting into UX in their 40s. One consistent factor was that people found it tough.

Here’s the journey of Bulent, Gael, and James getting into UX. A big thank you to all of them for letting me tell their stories.

I ask them:
- How they got into UX design
- What they studied
- Their biggest hurdles
- What they wish they knew when they started
- Tips for others making the career change into UX


Bulent Keles — Product Designer

How old are you?

40 years old

Where are you from?

Istanbul, Turkey

Where do you work?

Kolektif Labsin in Istanbul, Turkey.

What’s your background, and how’d you get into UX design?

I worked in marketing and advertising for over 10 years, only to realize that tv commercials and billboard ads weren’t the kind of creativity I was looking for. I always wanted to help improve people’s lives around me, and advertising wasn’t helping.

I was always reading stories about digital tech disrupting industries and changing lives.

I decided I wanted to be part of that change. I quit my job in advertising and started working for a mobile tech company.

The company I worked with were one of the early players in mobile, which began around the same time as the first iPhone.

I worked as a product manager/designer/marketer/business development guy; I was a unicorn! I worked on several mobile apps that we built for clients. Years went by. I enjoyed working on all the aspects of building digital products. I loved helping people do things better, but I got tired.

I had to choose between doing everything versus focusing on one thing and getting better at it. I chose design. It seemed like the obvious choice because it allowed me to build products that mattered to people. For me, design is fueled by creativity and meaning, and this is the perfect combination.

What did you study to get into UX?

When I decided I wanted to continue in design, I quit my job in Istanbul and went to San Francisco to study a formal course in UX design at General Assembly.

I chose San Francisco because I also wanted to familiarize myself with Silicon Valley, home to the world’s top tech companies.

What are the biggest hurdles you’ve found changing to the world of UX design at 40+?

Age. When you come from a conservative culture like I do, it’s double-triple hard to make a shift in any career at my age.

Everyone except my wife tried to convince me that I was crazy. I had a well-paying job, a good reputation—pretty much everything I needed and I left all that to become a designer.

What do you wish you knew when you started? What you would differently if you did it all again?

I would’ve quit my job much sooner and started design much younger. My advice to my younger self:

Never work a job for money or prestige. Choose what makes you happy.

Any tips for people changing to UX design?

I’d like to think of myself as a multi-disciplinary designer because I love creating beautiful interfaces, logos, presentations, as well as great experiences.

You must know that UX design is not UI design. These are 2 entirely different concepts. One can be great at both, and that’s an excellent quality to have, but if you’re looking to build a career as a graphic, visual, or interface designer, UX is not for you.

UX is more about understanding users, business goals, information, and creating a great experience that works.

If you’re a visual person and want to learn how to make an app or website look beautiful, then graphic design or UI design is probably a better place to start.

UX design is not a trend. It’s been out there and will continue to be out there for as long as humans buy and sell goods and services. So, make sure you’re not just chasing a cool title or some job you think is the next big thing.

UX is about solving problems, and it’s a great job to have.


Gael Gundin — UX/UI Designer

How old are you?

40

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Panama City, Panama. I immigrated to the US at the age of 19 to go to University and stayed after. I graduated from the Ohio State University with a bachelors in Sociology and Criminology minor. After graduating, I moved to San Francisco where I lived for three years. I moved back east to New York City and have lived in Brooklyn since the summer of 2002.

What company do you work for?

SecureWatch24, New York, USA

What’s your background? How did you get into UX design?

I have a BA in sociology. I studied illustration at Pratt AOS, and I was a strategic planning consultant for nonprofit organizations. I was interested in startup development and entrepreneurial growth in the last few years and wanted to be a part of it.

I discovered UX and found it was something I could do well

What did you study to get into UX?

I’m mostly self-taught. I took Springboard’s UX course and the front-end program at General Assembly. Also: YouTube, books, podcasts, meetups, lynda.com, Udemy, Treehouse, Codecademy, Adobe CS, Sketch, InVision, etc.

What are the biggest hurdles you’ve found changing to the world of UX Design at 40?

Entering a much younger work pool and staying on top of the latest technology in the field.

What do you wish you knew when you started? What you would differently if you did it all again?

I would have saved a lot of money going straight into a UX immersive program. I wasted money and time doing the front-end course.

What I need is feedback and critique of my process, and that’s really hard to do alone.

Any tips for people changing to UX design?

Do an immersive program and get a mentor.


James Jenner — UX Designer

How old are you?

48

Where are you from?

Australia. I grew up in Melbourne and have been in Brisbane since 2000.

What company do you work for?

ABB inBrisbane, Australia.

What’s your background, and how’d you get into UX design?

I had 25+ years in the software engineering space, the last 8 as a technical architect. I completed a Master’s in IT 4 years ago, driven by a need to stay relevant in the IT industry.

My concern was over ageism that occurs within the technical space. I discovered that the education had little bearing on the job market, but it had opened my eyes to the world of UX.

A UX design position opened up within my company and I applied. I was unsuccessful, but I didn’t let that stop me. I researched UX, studied various methods, and sought any opportunity to work with UX people.

Eventually, the role became open again, and I managed to convince them to give me a 2-month trial. This gave me the opportunity to prove my abilities and achieve the role of UX designer.

What did you study to get into UX design?

Nothing particular. However, a condition of my employment was that I do external studies. Initially, I enrolled in a single subject studying visual communication. I enjoyed it so much that I applied for entry into a Master’s program in visual and interactive design. While not critical for the role, it has helped solidify my position and knowledge with UX.

What are the biggest hurdles you’ve found changing to the world of UX design at 40+?

The biggest hurdles were my hangups. When I first started at Uni, I was in a room full of people younger than my children. Even the lecturer was more than a decade younger.

Fear of what people think of you is very powerful, and it took time to learn that it doesn’t matter what other people think of you.

I experienced the same issues when attending meetups. Individuals in their mid-20s to mid-30s predominately populate them. Their methods of networking are entirely different (social media and the like). I was impressed by their knowledge and experience.

I thought being able to collaborate would be fantastic. So I fell back to how I’ve historically done this and I tried to share business cards.

Well, it was like I had suddenly ripped off my clothes and started dancing—people avoided eye contact and got out of there as fast as possible.

I was shocked as this was how I was used to sharing details. Even though it happened a while back, it still sits in my mind.

I’ve had to learn to adjust to modern concepts in networking. Now I find shared interests and say “Hey, let me shout you a coffee sometime, and we can talk about X.” It’s not always yes, but it’s not always no.

UX is a part of the creative industries and how we work as embedded creatives is changing. We need to adapt to survive in this post-WWII welfare state, where the focus is on short term ad-hoc projects.

Networking, building up contacts, and respect are necessary to be successful. Not only that, but the knowledge that the younger generation has is incredible. The days of going to a conference and maybe a course or reading a book to be an expert are gone.

We need to collaborate and share, and learn from others as they learn from us.

What do you wish you knew when you started? What you would differently if you did it all again?

I should have involved myself in meetups prior to getting into UX. I could also have focused a bit more on design concepts. I would have pushed more involvement with actual UX people to gain experience and lessen the negative views before changing roles.

I would also look at doing some courses that would help in the space. Even though I can cover more ground via personal research, doing a Uni related course holds a lot of weight in the industry. The biggest advantage of Uni is it forces you to do projects, which I don’t tend to do in self-study.

Any tips for people changing to UX design?

Self-research and education to understand the subject. Study a couple of units in visual communications/graphic design—especially if it covers gestalt and color theory.

Get a feel for the design process as a creative process instead of the focus on research. Research is the easy part; understanding visual communication concepts is the big reach.

Learning how to network is critical. Attend meetups for UX, UI, and product design. Don’t push yourself too soon—wait until you’re a regular.


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