Maria 1:17 pm
Hi Matthew, I’m currently attending the UX research and strategy webinar “Getting UX and Service Design Research Right at Scale with Erika Hall”. Nice to meet you. I recently became a UX/UI designer. I would be happy to connect! Best,
Matthew 1:18 pm
Hi Maria, nice to meet you
Maria 1:20 pm
Matthew 1:21 pm
I’ve seen Erika Hall speak a few times and she is always amazing. I love her clarity, but also her bluntness.
Maria 1:26 pm
It’s the first time I attended an event with her. Hope to see her again! She’s so inspiring!
Matthew 1:27 pm
If you haven’t read her book Just Enough Research, you haven’t lived. It’s fantastic–practical and helpful. How’d you transition to UX? Bootcamp?
Maria 1:42 pm
Well I guess then - I haven’t lived! Haha!
I recently graduated from the General Assembly UX Design program. I was always creative, had big interest in psychology and how humans interact with the world. So UX seems just perfect. It finally feels right. I’m from Russia and my background is in engineering and sales.
What about you? How did you get started in the industry?
Matthew 1:59 pm
I’ve been in the creative industry for 25 years, so I’ve been happily helping digital agencies and their teams adopt and promote UX practices for a little bit now. Right now, I’m a designer at VMware, but I also teach UXD at General Assembly. Did you enjoy the program?
Maria 6:37 pm
Oh wow. So lucky! Unfortunately, I discovered UX only a year ago. I enjoyed the program. It’s been a tough journey but it gave me so much confidence and understanding of where to move towards in my career. Shari Bare was my instructor. She’s amazing. She made it so much easier for us. How do you like teaching at GA? I can’t imagine myself teaching! Must be tough.
What was your first creative role? Any suggestions on how to stand out?
Matthew 6:44 pm
My first creative role was as a Production Assistant at an ESPN affiliate. I hung around some amazing directors and producers and artists that inspired me to continue my education. I took night classes in Photoshop and Dreamweaver and the rest is history.
I love teaching at GA, though I prefer teaching in person, so I’m anxious to get back.
I often address this problem with many students who are in a similar position. I tell them the same thing every time: quit selling yourself short.
UX is not some magical, singular, exclusionary career path where only art students with master’s degrees in HCI get jobs. This is a career where we welcome the Misfit Toys from all kinds of other industries, and the wonderful thing is that the weird, winding roads of people’s careers often produce amazing UXers. As a hiring manager, I want your other experiences. Consider approaching it as though you’ve added to your “stack” of skills and shifted your focus due to your passion and excitement for this portion of your experiences. I would also consider leaning on your past experience by looking for organizations that could benefit from all of your telecom experience.
The other big piece of advice that I give is ALWAYS BE WORKING. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a personal project or a project from a friend or a project you’ve volunteered for…just always be working. As a hiring manager, I will ask you, “What are you working on?” If you reply, “I’m trying to get a job right now.” I’m out. But if your eyes light up and you start talking to me about the details of a project you’re working on, I’m sold. I want people who are passionate enough to be doing UX even if they’re not employed full time.
Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Happy to answer any questions you have.
Maria 6:50 pm
Thank you for all the information. It’s very helpful. LinkedIn made me realize that there are so many bootcamp graduates like me. And I’m a little bit discouraged at the moment. So thanks for sharing. Always keep working is great advice. I’m currently working on a freelance project, daily UI challenge to improve my design skills and keep learning with Google certification program. Everything I do right now feels like a full time job. I start at 9 am and finish at 6 pm.
I’m wondering - what’s the most important thing to do besides skill development? Do you think networking is really helpful?
What are the qualities and skills you like to see in a designer?
Matthew 9:10 pm
At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, the most important thing to do besides skill development is REAL work. Getting out there and working on freelance projects where you experience real people with all their wants and eccentricities and budgets and expectations is invaluable. I’m sure you’ve experienced a lot of that in sales, but most young designers haven’t. Design isn’t just about design. It’s about working with people and collaborating with colleagues, and that experience is important. Networking is very helpful, and not just in a foot-in-the-door kind of way either. Even after 25 years, I still take 100+ coffee/meal meetings every year to just get to know people—by the end of this week alone, I will have hosted 4 meetings + talked to you! I try to mix it up, too. I talk to designers, devs, product folks, and entrepreneurs. It’s amazing that life can feel more enriched with meetings like these where we can have a free exchange of ideas, experiences, resources, and knowledge.
The qualities and skills I look for in a designer. Hmm, I believe in Mindset over Skillset over Toolset, so soft skills are a big deal for me. But I know you’re looking for practical guidance.
1. I tend to believe that I can take a person with the right mindset and help guide them to build their skills and abilities over time. Having said that, the most important thing I look for is a designer who has an opinion. I like a person who can let go of being certain and just aim for an educated guess.
2. I love when a designer can communicate positively, but honestly. In our line of work, we have to be quite frank to do our job well, and sometimes, even with important people at the top of an organization. That’s tough. It takes a person with courage enough to have candor.
3. I like a person who I can count on to work hard. I’m a person who always liked to work less and vacation more, and who advocated for my teams to do the same. When everyone’s working hard, it’s impossible not to notice. When people are acting busy floating between projects or missing deadlines, that’s discouraging and hard for a design manager to defend.
4. I love when people are dedicated to learning the art of improvisation. They build mental agility and can switch directions quickly without emotional breakdowns.
5. Growing their facilitation skills. Run the room. Workshop a solution. Use the whiteboard to help us connect to the stakeholder. and be learning and trying new tactics all the time.
6. Tool skills? Here’s an amazing stack to aim for by the time you’re a Senior Designer:
- Gets everyone involved in discovery (Miro, Jira, Asana).
- Interviews, transcribes, and analyzes qualitative like a pro (Zoom, Otter, UserBit, etc).
- Solves the big problems in the wireframing phase (Figma).
- Runs some formal feedback tool (Optimal Workshop)
- Knows UI like the back of their hand, but is tool agnostic (Figma or XD).
- Looks to grow UI design skills through illustration, animation, 3d, or interaction design skills (Protopie, AfterEffects, Spline, etc) -OR- user research skills through user testing/insight tools (Maze, UsabilityHub, UserZoom)
- Has built out a website or app in any tool and has tried some coding to establish some empathy for developers (Wordpress, Webflow, Bubble)
My advice? Forget all the shit you’ve heard about “the industry” and “bootcamp graduates.” It doesn’t apply to you if you just keep kicking ass. I have students just like you who break through all the time. You’re hungry, you’re motivated, and you’re dedicated—that’s a great combination. You are doing all the right things.
Two quick examples.
1. Two years ago, I had a student who was a bartender who was gigging in a band for extra cash. Now, he’s making $85k at a startup as a UX designer. How? He was hungry. He was sick of his old life and he did all the things I’m telling you and he didn’t stop until he got a job (it took him 6 months). And then he wasn’t satisfied, and he just kept kicking ass and now he’s about to get another gig that will take him over $100k and get him a next-level title. All in 2 years.
2. In one of my first classes as a GA instructor, I had a woman who was just two years into her career as a kindergarten teacher. She was done already and fully committed herself to becoming a designer. Within 3 months after my class, she was in an internship. Two months after her internship began, the person who hired her left the company and she was offered the full-time position. 4 years later, she’s now working as a Senior Designer in an education tech company, loving her job, making great money, and totally killing it.
You’ve got to do everything in your power to squash the discouragement. Set job-seeking goals and hit them. Set up-skilling goals and hit them. Set non-job-related goals and hit them. You’re going to make this transition. You’re a UX Designer already—you’ve got this! You’re going to look back and this is going to a blip in your career. I have a feeling you’re going to be awesome. I’m rooting for you.
Maria 12:10 am
Wow. Thank you, Matthew! You’re very supportive and nice. Thank you for believing in me. It’s always great to hear something like that from an experienced professional.
Any suggestions on how to find freelance projects with real clients? Seriously, I have no idea. And I heard it’s hard. There are so many designers just like me.
I try to network. I basically go to events and reach out to people like I reached out to you. Many ignore me but I’m so happy to see that some people really want to help.
I have one problem though, I’m an introvert. So networking is a very very draining and hard thing for me to do. My career coach said I should use it to my advantage because introverts are actually good listeners and it’s important in our job. I hope It’ll get easier with practice and time.
Thank you for listing all the skills and the details about them. I’ll keep working on my hard and soft skills every day.
Presenting is also extremely hard (partially because English is my second language). I’ve learned English since I was 4, I’m totally fluent and spent two years working on my accent. But presenting is still challenging. Glad to see that you mentioned Figma and XD. Those are my favorite tools and I love both of them. I can do Sketch but I’ll just hope I’ll never have to! These stories are so inspiring. Thank you for sharing. I really want to grow as a designer and I don’t see myself doing anything else. I feel like you gave me some motivation to push through and to keep going. Just one more question. I really want to focus on UI design more. Any suggestions on how to get awesome at UI?
Matthew 11:23 am
Re: freelance—start with The Big Leap by Martina Flor (https://papress.com/products/the-big-leap-a-guide-to-freelancing-for-creatives)
Re: being an introvert in this space—Your career coach is right, and you’re not alone. Start with this book: The Freelance Introvert by Tom Albrighton (https://www.amazon.com/Freelance-Introvert-Work-without-changing/dp/1838054537/).
Here’s an interesting read on the subject, too: https://uxplanet.org/designers-stop-blaming-your-introvert-self-f64eb6a279fd The only other pieces of advice I can think of: Consider aiming at remote roles that allow for plenty of alone time at home where you can recharge. And keep challenging your beliefs on presenting. Presenting is a skill that I’ve been developing over my entire career—you will get better with practice.
Re: UI design—this has been my area of focus throughout my career, and I am totally self-taught. It started with tools, and continued into learning principles, building a daily habit of inspiring myself, imitating designers I admired, searching for the right resources, inviting critique, and never being satisfied. There is a program that I’m hearing a lot of great things about https://shiftnudge.com/. To get better, you have to get critique and they have a built-in community along with fantastic, high-quality in-depth self-paced video learnings.
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**Special thanks to Maria Levin for allowing me to publish our conversation from April 2021.**