Breaking into UX design: Career-change inspiration

CareerFoundry CEO Raffaela Rein shares stories from successful online bootcamp graduates who used InVision to learn UX design. If you’ve been thinking about making a career change, it’s not too late.

Freehand by InVision
Inside Design


This story is by Raffaela Rein.

The UX designer has quite the coveted job title these days. With businesses finally catching on to the value of UX, the industry is undergoing a significant hiring surge. Companies like IBM, Atlassian, and Uber have doubled their design hiring goals in the last five years alone — and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Good user experience is no longer considered a nice-to-have — it is absolutely critical, and businesses are more than ready to invest.

At the same time, UX design is becoming an increasingly popular career choice. To those already in the industry, this will come as no surprise; UX designer ranked 27th on Glassdoor’s top 50 jobs in America for 2018, with a median base salary of $90k per year and a high job satisfaction rating. Here at CareerFoundry, it’s especially exciting to read these kinds of stats.

Related: How to become a great UX designer without a degree

Statistics aside, UX design has a lot to offer as far as career choices go. For one, it merges such a broad range of disciplines; how many other professions combine psychology, art, design, and technology? This variety is what makes it one of the most exciting fields to work in, and draws in career-changers from a range of different backgrounds.

“Good user experience is no longer considered a nice-to-have — it is absolutely critical, and businesses are more than ready to invest.”

UX design is also highly rewarding. Every design decision has the power to shape real-world products and services; designers can literally see the impact of their work in the world around them. Especially when you consider the importance of universal design and accessibility, UX designers can truly change people’s lives for the better.

Not only that: the problem-solving nature of UX design makes it an extremely satisfying pursuit. Coupled with good earning potential and solid career prospects, it’s no wonder that more and more professionals are switching to UX design.

Are UX design online bootcamps the key to career change?

We can see why people are choosing to go into UX — but how are they doing it? Many UX designers don’t start their careers as UX designers; it’s something they transition into. This begs the question of how people find the time (and energy!) to learn a whole new skill-set alongside their day jobs.

Related: A guide to becoming a UX designer at age 40

When it comes to balancing everyday life while trying to upskill and change careers, online education plays a pivotal role. Compared to the traditional classroom, online courses help to overcome many of the challenges associated with being an adult learner. However, in such a hands-on field like design, online bootcamps still tend to be met with a certain degree of skepticism: how can a remote course really motivate people to learn?

The answer lies in project work. At CareerFoundry, where we provide online courses in UX and UI design and web development, there’s a strong emphasis on practical exercises and portfolio projects which must be submitted for review by a design mentor before the student can progress. Not only are students putting their theoretical knowledge to the test; they’re also building their portfolio as they go.

“Thinking about switching careers? It’s not too late.”

Online learning is not just for those looking to get into UX design. There is also a great need — and often a desire — to upskill within the industry. Today’s UX designers want to stand out and set themselves apart, and this often means adding some additional strings to one’s bow.

For those UX designers looking to upskill, CareerFoundry and InVision teamed up to create an eight-week fast track specialization course teaching UI for UX designers. After mastering the fundamentals of visual design, from responsive layouts and grids all the way through to color, typography, and imagery, students get to work on a real-world project. One of these includes the InVision project brief, Perfect Properties, which requires students to create the user interface for a real estate app aimed at first-time buyers.

To highlight and celebrate the fact that it really is possible to learn new skills online and give your career an upgrade, we got in touch with some online bootcamp graduates to hear about their experience. You’ll notice that all of these designers came from different professional backgrounds, and that each has a very unique story to tell.

Huiqin Gao: From computer science to UX design

Huiqin Gao is a Computer Science student turned UX designer, currently living in Yiyang, China. Here, she tells us why she decided to quit her Ph.D. program to pursue UX design instead, and how she got on with the InVision project brief as part of the CareerFoundry UI for UX Designers course.

Hi Huiqin! Tell me a bit about yourself.

Hi! I’m Huiqin Gao, a computer-science-PhD-student-turned UX designer currently living in Yiyang, China. Besides studying a lot, I help take care of my parents’ one-year-old poodle whose name is Coffee. He really enjoys it when I play ukulele for him.

Every Monday I volunteer at a local welfare institute and teach the children there basic English. All of them lost families, and some even suffer from physical challenges. I’m applying my design philosophy to advocate for a “student-centered” studying experience and hope to help the children build confidence, opening the door to a larger world of knowledge. To date, my young students are quite keen on my English classes; they particularly like the Apple Tree I designed to motivate them to learn.

What were you doing before you got into UI/UX design?

Two years ago, the calling of becoming a UX designer struck me, so I left my artificial intelligence Ph.D. program in the Netherlands and became an interaction designer with a software company in Shenzhen back here in China. After nine months of hard work in the company, I realized there’s more I needed to learn, so I joined CareerFoundry’s certified UX design program as a part-time student.

“Especially when you consider the importance of universal design and accessibility, UX designers can truly change people’s lives for the better.”

What inspired you to get into UI/UX design and to take an online course?

There’s a group of amazing researchers working on smart healthcare in Amsterdam who were my supervisors and colleagues when I was doing the first year of my Ph.D. Their passion for improving computer technology deeply touched me, and inspired me to contemplate on my enthusiasm. As the program progressed, I discovered I always paid more attention to user behaviors and human experience than the algorithms, so I decided to do something ASAP — become a UX designer.

Talk me through your design process.

My design process follows a build-measure-learn loop. Once I made major changes to the design, I measured its usability with guerilla user testing and polished it up again using what I learned from the test. This method helped me make decisions from high-level design, like user flow to details such as the color palette and the layout of widgets. Thania Soetandar, my UI design mentor, gave me a lot of valuable guidance along the way.

“I strive to base my design decisions on at least educated assumptions, if not comprehensive field research.”

As a part of my design philosophy, I strive to base my design decisions on at least educated assumptions, if not comprehensive field research. So I studied a handful of competitor websites and real estate buying videos to get to know my target users better, including which selection criteria are most important to them, and I’d prioritize those items more prominently on the screen.

What challenges did you face throughout this project, and how did you overcome them?

I had minimal time to finish the project, as I had an English exam only one month after my UI design course started. So I eventually spent only 20 days on this InVision project. Inevitably, several parts are not yet perfect; I’m going to polish the color palette, conduct more usability testing, and offer a more engaging visual design.

What are you doing now, and what does the future hold?

I’m now applying to graduate programs in the US, planning to go there in September next year. My dream is to get a degree in human-computer interaction and then become a UX designer with a leading company, creating products and services that make more people’s lives easier.

You can view Huiqin’s complete portfolio here.

Ahsan Iftikhar: From marketing and HR to UX design

Ahsan Iftikhar is a UX/UI designer based in Lahore, Pakistan. Before he got into UX, his career took him through a variety of marketing, business strategy, and HR roles. Here’s how and why he made the switch to UX design.

Hi Ahsan! Tell me a bit about yourself.

I come from a management background, both academically and professionally. I did my undergrad in marketing at the University of Manchester and my postgrad in International Employment Relations at LSE, both in the UK. I worked in the manufacturing sector for five years, starting out as an assistant marketing manager and working my way up to junior strategist before deciding to make a career change into UX and UI design.

What inspired you to get into UI/UX design and to take an online course?

In my career, there was necessarily a trade-off of sorts. As a marketing professional, I had little opportunity to interact and engage with people like I did as HR manager, but the HR role did not demand as much creativity. As a junior business strategist, I got the opportunity to engage, but not indulge, in these activities as much as I wanted to. When I stumbled into the amazing world of UX and UI, everything fell into place. I had management experience to break complex problems into simple solutions. I had self-taught experience in visual arts, especially sketching.

“UX designers have the opportunity to create products that give people one less thing to worry about.”

While taking the CareerFoundry course, I was also enrolled in a year-long certified course in human behavior and psychology. All of my interests and passions, it seemed, were converging rather perfectly. Adding to that the opportunity to create products that gives its users one less thing to worry about; I saw nothing but upsides to making the career change.

Tell me about your work on the InVision project as part of the UI for UX Designers course.

Naturally, the first thing I did was to put myself in the shoes of the potential user of the app. Buying a home, especially for the first time, can be an intimidating and nerve-wracking process for most, if not all. So my starting point in designing the UI was to try and counter these negative emotions.

The colors I chose were inspired by the four elements: green as the primary color, the secondary color was deep blue, a bright yellow as the accent color, all against a pale-white backdrop. The project brief mentioned using greens or blues to style the app, but instead I combined green and blue to create my own primary color.

Keeping the user in mind, all the shapes and icons have rounded corners as opposed to sharp corners, as they take less cognitive effort to visually process. Psychologically speaking, as children we learn that sharp corners may hurt us and that rounded corners are safer (think a fork vs. a ball). So according to research, we’re conditioned to trust rounded corners, and tend to avoid sharp edges because in nature, they can present a threat.

Perhaps the most important thing home buyers look for is easy access to complete information, so they can make informed decisions. So I browsed several real-estate websites and read blogs of home buyers’ experiences to see what information they had and what other information could have helped.

I drew inspiration not only from real estate websites and apps, but also holiday planning apps such as Agoda and, as well as social media apps like Instagram. The idea was to improve the user experience through creating an interface that felt familiar even to first-time users of the app.

Ultimately, my goal was to provide users with a fun, positive experience when using the app, so the decision of investing in real estate doesn’t seem intimidating or stressful, but exciting and enjoyable.

What are you doing now, and what does the future hold?

I’ve recently completed a two-month internship as a UX/UI designer with an organization that created awareness about civic rights and education. In that time, I updated the UI of our company website, formulated the UX strategy and requirements for their app and made illustrations and short animated videos.

At the end of the internship, I got offered a full-time job as the UX/UI designer where I will primarily continue working on developing the app and recreating the website, while still working on short animations.

In the future, I hope to continue combining my passions for creativity and problem-solving, underlined with empathy and collaborative work, only on a much larger scale and with a greater, more far-reaching impact on people and society at large.

You can view Ahsan’s complete portfolio here.

Alexandra Langer: From art teacher to UI/UX designer

Alexandra is an art teacher turned UX/UI designer, currently based in New York. Her love affair with design began while working as a teacher, and since taking the CareerFoundry UX Design course together with the UI for UX Designers specialization, she has fully switched careers.

Hi Alexandra! Tell me a bit about yourself.

I earned my Bachelor’s in Studio Art and my Master’s degree in Art Education, but the learning didn’t stop there. While working as a teacher, I began taking courses in web development and UX/UI design and instantly fell in love.

After taking an introductory coding course, I decided to challenge myself to learn HTML5 and CSS3 to build a website to host my portfolio of acrylic paintings. My favorite part of this new project was creating the design and seamless user experience of my site, so from there I knew I wanted to focus on UX design.

What inspired you to get into UI/UX design and to take an online course?

One of the biggest reasons was the fact that there are many different parts of the UX process that I can learn about and specialize in, including user research, wireframing, designing prototypes, usability testing, and UI design. All valuable and rewarding skills that can benefit both businesses and their customers.

Tell me about your work on the InVision project as part of the CareerFoundry UI for UX Designers course. Where did you get your ideas from?

I constantly look at Pinterest, Dribbble, and Behance for design inspiration. I watch endless tutorials on InVision and spend time learning about all their features and experimenting with their tools.

As part of the course, I created the UI for a real estate web app called Perfect Properties, designing everything from the typography, color, and imagery to icons and animations. I created a modern, clean, and simple look for the web app, which was primarily geared towards first-time, small-scale property buyers, and developed multiple iterations of the app’s screens. Craft by InVision helped me link the screens to my InVision prototype in seconds. I created a style guide, mockups, an animation loading screen, and responsive screens for both web and tablet. I learned so much about the UI design process and came out with a design guide ready to be handed off to developers.

What are you doing now, and what does the future hold?

Over the past few months, I got the opportunity to work with a blockchain startup, helping them grow their business by designing a great user experience for their app. I collaborated with developers to optimize performance and enhance usability for a mobile app by creating sitemaps, user flows, and highlighting core features needed for a minimum viable product.

Related: The principles of designing for blockchain

I’m currently working as a freelancer on UpWork and looking for a full-time position at a growing startup. I’m passionate about continuing to perfect my design skills and I’m always looking forward to the next project.

You can view Alexandra’s complete portfolio here.

This is just a small handful of people who are successfully switching careers. If you too want to be part of one of the most rewarding, fastest-growing industries in tech, an online bootcamp can get you there. Likewise, if you’re a seasoned UX designer keen to broaden your skillset, online courses can help you to specialize alongside your day job. For more career-change inspiration, check out Ryan Yang’s story of how he swapped accounting for UX design. You can find out more about CareerFoundry’s courses here.

Want to read more about how to become a UX designer?