Dipping your toes into UX and wondering if you should make the full plunge? Welcome. I’m here to offer a little advice as a fellow swimmer and former toe-dipper. Many newcomers to UX are eager to accelerate their career, but are unsure whether a UX Design program like General Assembly will take them from treading water to making waves. Some of the first few questions I get as a mentor are:
Should I go to a program like General Assembly?
And, will attending a bootcamp land me a job?
I wish I could give you a simple answer, because isn’t that what we’re all looking for when we turn to Google with our inquiries? Surprise! It’s a little more complicated than that.
The quality of the program matters, and I found General Assembly to be worth my time. Your instructor can make all the difference, too.
In the end, though, YOU are the person who will decide what you get out of a program like General Assembly.
The benefits you reap from UX design education will depend on how hard you’re willing to work, how much you involve yourself in the industry, and how much you enjoy the work associated with being a UX designer. You have to educate yourself and learn about the industry in order to answer these questions. While you can’t manufacture passion--I consider myself lucky to be passionate about this work and you are already in great shape if you are too!--you can be thoughtful about how you concentrate your energies following a General Assembly UX bootcamp. Here are 4 ways I accelerated in my UX design career:
Be Proactive About Overcoming Internal and External Roadblocks
One common external roadblock is lack of experience. After graduating from General Assembly, I reached out to their web development program in order to seek developers who might need a hand with design. You can imagine how the response rate skyrockets when you offer to lend that hand for free! My suggestion would be to ask friends and family if they need any work done. Your very first design experience could be a makeover of Uncle Steve’s hardware store webpage or tinkering with the browsing feature on your grandma’s best friend’s online knitwear boutique. If you’re lucky, you might get a gift card and an ugly Christmas sweater out of it, too.
There are many individuals, businesses, start-ups, and especially non-profits who are in sore need of UX design but who do not have the funds to pursue it. Go on AngelList or seek out a non-profit you’re passionate about and start reaching out to those who need your UX design skills most! If your eyes are already starting to bleed from reading this, you can also listen to me give some tips on landing your first gig here.
One of the internal roadblocks that became readily apparent to me recently is public speaking. Three months ago, I left a public speaking event feeling like I’d failed miserably. I passed a sleepless night and was overridden with anxiety leading up to my presentation. I realized that I needed to do something about this public speaking phobia, both for my own sanity and for my career! I signed up for Toastmasters, a nonprofit that teaches public speaking and leadership skills.
After 2 or 3 speeches my umms, uhhs, and clammy hands started to recede. My anxiety dissipated and I realized that hiding underneath the urge to run away screaming at the sight of a podium was a genuine love for storytelling. In fact, this realization is the origin story for my Youtube channel. Your own internal roadblocks may look different. Maybe you have negative self talk, or you feel like you’re not a fast enough learner, or that it’s too late in your career to make a change towards UX design. Whatever it is, I’d love to help you brainstorm how to overcome these obstacles in order to propel yourself forward.
Roadblocks in your UX journey are intimidating because they can feel like they’re out of your control, but they’re not. The first step in tackling them is believing that they can be overcome! Message me at Elize_UX on instagram or comment on my Youtube video with your internal/external roadblocks and we can start looking for a solution together.
Ask For What You Deserve
Within the first 6 months of my first job, I grew the team from 1 to 5, created a UX design process, and executed over 20 successful projects. I was doing all the duties of a UX director, without benefiting from the job title or the associated salary. I was hesitant to ask for a change because I didn’t think my experience warranted the demand. But then I remembered some wise words from a colleague: Your life experience, rather than your design experience, is what really matters. What about you and your background sets you apart from other designers?
In my case, I had 7 years of work in management, filmmaking experience, a fascination with what makes people tick, and a commitment to self development. Self work in the form of therapy and meditation has helped me to become a more objective designer. Meditation allows me to identify my own emotions, evaluate those feelings with a clear mind, and better control my physical responses to them. I now receive feedback from users, stakeholders, or another designer objectively rather than reactively and my designs are truly inspired by the needs of the client and their end users rather than my own ego.
Once I recognized the merit and strength of my existing life experience, I felt more comfortable asking my Creative Director for a raise and title change from UX Designer to UX Director.
In the field of UX, our strength as designers can be drawn from our own experiences as humans and users ourselves. The total sum of our life stories lends each of us a unique approach to and understanding of how users interact with a web page or product. You deserve to do fulfilling work that makes the most of your life experience. (And pays the bills!) It’s better to ask for what you deserve than to live on ramen noodles and grow resentful towards your coworkers, company, or work. Before you can ride that wave of rightful indignation right into the boss’ office, though, it’s important to understand the payscale for a UX designer. This UX Designer Salaries video is a good introduction to what you should consider when evaluating your paycheck!
Getting started in any new field is uncomfortable, and UX design is no exception. One of my most uncomfortable experiences as a green UX consultant was presenting a 2 day UX branding workshop at a client’s office. The workshop’s content drew from books I’d read and youtube videos I watched, but it was the first time I was bringing the finished product to an audience in a professional setting. I couldn’t have chosen a more intimidating office in which to debut my work! The conference room was called the War Room, I kid you not. You can imagine my anxiety as 10 sober-faced white men in business suits turned their heads to watch a 20 something Asian woman tell them how it is, with an agenda that included card sorting games no less! (Never heard of card sorting?
Check out my UX Makeover Part 1 video for an introduction to some basic UX design terminology and processes!) Have you ever tried to explain to a corporate baby boomer how color coordinated sticky notes and user stories will help him showcase the branding on his website? The prospect had me shaking in my boots.
While the experience was nerve wracking, I felt so relieved and accomplished after completing the workshop. This feeling of self-confidence only grew over the course of 30-40 such workshops. Just remember--contrary to the anxiety or other negative feelings that may manifest in the moment--the more uncomfortable you get, the more you will grow.
Enjoy What You Do
This last tip is pretty self-explanatory and so essential. You don’t have to love everything you do, despite that age-old adage our dads like to tell us: if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think a better version is “if you love enough of what you do, the rewards will make the bad days worth it.” Personally, I love sketching, brainstorming with my team members, conducting user testing, and getting feedback on our designs. Taking on unpaid work as a UX designer is not only an easy way to gain experience, but an effective way to gage your own interest in this type of work. Without a monetary motivation, you’re challenged to explore what drives you. What do you love about UX design? This question is a good place to start both before AND after participating in a UX bootcamp!
Check out my channel, Elize UX on youtube or Elize_UX on instagram to learn about UX and how to grow in your career. I define UX terms in an easy-to-understand format and make learning UX entertaining AND educational!
Did you identify with any of the other internal roadblocks that I mentioned?
- If you have a strong inner critic, check out Nick Wegnall’s page on negative self-talk. There are a lot of online resources defining this phenomenon and offering suggestions, but I like Nick’s page because he writes as a practicing psychologist, he gets specific about different kinds of negative self-talk, and he offers a free, extended guide on how to change the way we talk to ourselves.
- If you feel like you’re a slow learner, remember that how you approach a task is an important determinant of the time it will take to complete it. Figuring out your learning style is a good first step to working smarter, not harder. Check out the VARK Questionnaire to determine your learning preferences!
- If you feel like it’s too late in your career to make a transition into UX design, take some comfort from the statistics--or the lack thereof! The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the average baby boomer changed jobs eleven times between the age of eighteen and forty-eight. In comparison, you’re probably behind! However, there are no statistics on career changes because there is no consensus on what constitutes such a change. So many skills--time management, collaborative teamwork, customer service--are transferable across fields. Check out CareerShifter’s featured stories for a little inspo.