Back in May, I messaged my friend Polly telling her that I wanted to be more productive this quarantine. I knew she was taking a lot of online courses, so I asked her for help on where to start.
Polly sent me her own online course tracker. I skimmed through the different courses in this tracker from psychology, to coding, to basic leadership - until I found something that caught my eye: User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) Design. I've heard about the field before, but I never really bothered looking into it. At that point in my life, I was a computer engineering student set on becoming someone who works behind the scenes. Design was just a hobby to me. So I decided, why don't I try combining my skills in coding and design? After all, I had a lot of time. And so, I did.
The rest was history. I took online courses from Coursera, Udemy, and Future Learn. I fell in love with the field and with the fields that surround it, which prompted me to shift from taking a major in Computer Engineering to a major in Information Technology Entrepreneurship, a course that would teach me how to become a digital product manager.
Fast forward to the second week of July, I got accepted to my first UX internship in an energy-related software startup. How did I get here? I'd like to share some of the steps I took while diving into this new and unfamiliar field.
I was lucky enough to have a number of friends who work in UX/UI. Every time I learned something new, I'd discuss it with them. They'd teach me how some of the concepts I learned from online courses apply in real jobs. It's not enough to just know what affinity maps, empathy maps, personas, and user flows are. Talking to people who work in the field helped me see these concepts in action. I was given a clearer understanding on how to do analyze insights from UX research and turn them into something that can be used by the design team.
If you know people who work in a field you're interested in, don't hesitate to ask for help. We all start from somewhere, and more often than not, they would be glad to guide you through this unfamiliar territory you're diving into.
One thing I did to understand the UX and UI process more was go through case studies on Medium. There were a lot of articles that showed me how to structure my own case study, from research until user testing. Most of them were really insightful, and I was amazed by how different each case study was. Yes, there were some constant things that appeared in most, if not all, case studies - surveys, personas, user flows, wireframes, branding, and all of those. But the one thing that amazed me was that every article was unique in its own way.
One of the Udemy courses I took was by Rob Sutcliffe, a front-end developer and designer who's been in the field for 15 years. He'd always repeat that we all have our own unique ways to approach UX and UI. There are frameworks we could follow frameworks like IDEO's Design Thinking, which tells us to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. These frameworks should, however, only serve as a guide.
Each project calls for its own approach, its own process; that's something I clearly saw while reading other people's case studies. Similar concepts apply, but we all have our own ways of approaching them.
Reading these case studies inspired me to come up with my own design process. They taught me how to approach an idea. Another way to see the concepts you learned in action is by reading other people's projects to serve as inspiration.
I wouldn't have the confidence to apply for any job in the field if I didn't have a portfolio. I've done a lot of design work in the past, but none of them show experience in UX and UI Design. I decided to start by making a few mobile app UI designs with different concepts that popped in my head.
I was really, really bad at UI at first. My designs looked messy, I didn't follow a grid system, and I just placed components and text the way I would with art. My friends with experience in the field guided me and taught me new concepts to use when creating designs user interfaces. These designs were the first things in my UX/UI portfolio, and seeing them there really inspired me. I was happy with what I had so far, but I wanted more.
I decided to start on a case study. Like I mentioned earlier, it starts with coming up with your own approach. I asked two friends if they were willing to help me out with the research portion of the study, and much to my happiness, they were. We decided to tackle the sudden influx of small online businesses in our city due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I mapped out our own process, applied the concepts I learned from both my online courses and my friends in UX/UI, and went on with researching, analyzing, ideating, wireframing, and prototyping a conceptual mobile app. It took us three weeks to work on this project, and let me tell you - the feeling of publishing my first case study is unmatched.
Upon finishing the case study, I had a portfolio with enough experience inside to present to my applications.
Don't rush building your portfolio. Take time to learn from others and to learn from your own mistakes. Building a portfolio from nothing can be frustrating at first, but the satisfaction you'll get after spending hours on it will be unmatched.
1 freelance, 1 part-time job, and 2 internships I applied for rejected and/or ghosted me before I got accepted to my first UX internship. 4 rejections was a lot for me, given they all happened in one month. I was about to give up and just focus on my academics and extra-curricular activities, but I decided to give one last application a shot.
Each rejection was another revision in my resume. I continued taking online courses, I continued asking for advice, and I continued reading other resources to help me add content in my applications. I knew I was just starting in the field, so I took my rejections as more opportunities to learn. Perhaps, they were signs that I was not ready yet to work in that field.
With my last application, I believed that I was equipped with enough knowledge to help me get accepted. In my initial email, I was asked to explain my own UX and design process. By then, I had already absorbed different resources on the topic, so I was able to clearly discuss what I'd do when designing a digital product. After an interview and a week of waiting, it finally happened - I was a UX Design Intern.
Don't stop trying. It may get exhausting and frustrating to always receive rejections, but take those rejections as opportunities to look into your experience and knowledge and ask, "What else do I need to learn?" It's great to be confident about your skills and experience, but avoid thinking that you already know everything there is to know. Chances are, there's still something you haven't tried incorporating into your process.
Always leave room for improvement. Even after accomplishing my first case study, I did not stop learning from different resources to help me improve my knowledge in the field. I went through Coursera, Udemy, Future Learn, Nielson Norman Group, Interaction Design Foundation, and many other resources to stock up on concepts and applications of different UX and UI principles. I continued to ask for advice from people who work in the field. I attended WORDS 2020, an online conference on UX writing by UX Salon. UX writing is not the path I plan to pursue, but it definitely helped to learn more from different speakers with tons of experience in the field. I attended UXR Conference 2020, an online conference that was more focused on UX research wherein I learned a lot of things about UXR that you wouldn't normally see in text books and online resources.
There are many opportunities out there to learn. YouTube videos, Medium articles, and even Google searches on "UX Research" could grant you different paths to becoming someone knowledgeable in the field of UX and UI.
Always, always, be inspired to learn.