I recently had the opportunity to sit down for lunch with a designer I haven’t met before right here in Central PA. Her name is Amy and she is one of few designers I know who’s been in the same job for 11 years. She’s been designing marketing materials for a variety of clients as a Marketing Graphic Designer at Journal Multimedia in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
She recently decided it was time for her to do something new, and explored options with her existing skills. Here’s what Amy has to say about her journey so far.
How did you come across UX as a field of study and practice?
About a year ago, I had decided that I needed to diversify my work skills or even try something completely different. I began by reading a few articles on the state of the graphic design industry as a whole and found that there was a trend of graphic designers moving over to UX. I had no idea what that was so I made it a point to start reading as much as I could. I found myriad blogs and websites that offered a lot of great information including lists of books that would be helpful to someone starting out. I put a great big dent in my Amazon gift card at Christmas that year stocking up on reading material.
Do you feel you can take a lot of what you’ve learned as a graphic and marketing professional into this field?
I definitely believe that what I’ve learned as a graphic designer and marketer can be implemented to working as a UX designer. Both of these fields focus on identifying markets and users and translating a message to them. It’s about empathy, and telling a story, leading your audience where you want them to go and keeping their experience in mind the whole time.
What makes someone with a graphic and/or marketing background have an edge over someone coming in from a technology/development background (if any)?
I think that there is definitely a plus as far as graphic design. I know in the course I took through Springboard, I was able to breeze through the visual design section because it was all information I was already very familiar with. As far as marketing, the advantage is in the skills concerning research. The strategies used to identify an audience are similar.
What makes this field a challenge for someone with a graphic and/or marketing background vs. someone with a tech/dev background?
I find that the biggest challenge is when you’re actually looking at a job posting for UX in this area. A lot of them seem to be looking for someone with UX design and serious developer chops. If you come from that side of things, that isn’t something that would give you pause. You also would be well positioned to work closely with developers, and not have the communication barrier that could arise with a designer who isn’t as well versed in the ins and outs of development.
What ways are you learning UX and building your portfolio?
I am currently enrolled in the Springboard UX program. It’s a mentor based online learning course that is really giving me a chance to study in the time that I have outside of my full-time job. My mentor is a freelance UX designer based in Denver and having her support and expertise is really making all the difference. The coursework is well-developed and curated. The emphasis is on learning by doing, so I should have at least one good piece to put in my portfolio which will show my whole design process from start to finish.
What has been surprising as you learn more?
I think what surprised me was that there is no stringent set of rules or a “textbook” way to do UX. There are so many different ways to approach and execute the different steps in the process. I got to where I was doing user maps and I had trouble finding an exact set of parameters for what they should look like, I wanted them to be perfect and I was afraid I was going to do it all wrong. The same thing happened with my wireframing, I found there were different ways to sketch out the same interaction. My mentor told me that as long as the client or your team understood what you were communicating and more importantly, as long as the user has a successful experience in the end, then that is the main goal.
Do you have advice for others looking to break into UX?
Read, read, read. And reach out to the UX design community. Ask questions. One thing I did at the very beginning, I found a company I would love to work for someday and asked if there was someone willing to meet with me for lunch. Admittedly, I didn’t know much when I went into that lunch, but I came out with a clear idea of where I wanted to go and I’m so grateful for that. It something I continue to do. Getting perspective from people working in UX is such a great way to learn and expand your network.
What challenges and opportunities are you seeing in this field in our area?
I would say that just with like any growing industry, there is a challenge to keep on top of everything that is new. New software, new tools, new trends, but that’s also what I see as UX’s biggest opportunities. The growth is exciting and there’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the rapid changes and constantly learn new things.
I understand you’ve written a book. What’s it about?
LOL. Okay, so, right after college, I took a job at a local library while I saved money to go back to art school. The experience was filled with strange encounters and memorable characters. I made some really great friendships there and I had always thought it would make a great book/movie. So, I decided to just do it and started writing. It includes a lot of scenarios that actually took place, but it is very much fiction. It took a long time, probably around four years, but it was such a fun process. I really enjoy telling stories and I think that’s part of why I love UX so much.
Advice for others looking to publish their own book?
I published on Amazon, so it was incredibly easy. Once you your done uploading and have your Amazon page all set up, there are so many ways to get your name out there with social media. In that way, publishing has evolved and opportunities for new authors are much easier to find and utilize.