This is one of the questions that I love asking candidates at interviews or even when being interviewed by potential employers. There is no text book answer, everyone has had a different route into the industry from ex-bankers to product design alumni.
This is a feature that I would like to make a regular piece of this page, but for now, and appropriately, we can start off with me and see how we go from there.
I always had an appetite for designing with people in mind, particularly intrigued by architecture. However, a month of work experience during secondary school opened my eyes to the amount of written specifications required, and little time spent designing in comparison. This made me U-turn straight into studying Product Design at Sixth Form and University, where I specialised in Design for Human Factors.
First design job?
I went straight from University into Google.
…Nope, truth is Product design was competitive. If you were not fortunate enough to be offered a scholarship at Dyson or a top design agency, which was common at the best Industrial Design universities such as Brunel and Loughborough, getting a job was difficult.I had to create one, I looked at the market and realised I could apply my skills more solidly and broadly in the web design arena, so I learned how to code (HTML. CSS, Jquery) and employed myself by taking my occasional graphic design freelancing from Sixth Form into the world of websites full time.
How about UX specifically?
My freelance work led me towards two start up’s. 1st government data solutions & 2nd creating web apps for London based B2C companies.
Conducting stakeholder interviews, requirements gathering, wireframing, prototyping, user testing, UI design specs and coding the front end. Phew! It wasn’t until I discovered a video titled The difference between Web Designer and a UX/UI Designer in 2012 on the Mike Locke YouTube channel that I realised I was doing the role of a UX Designer, and then some!
I also became aware through further research that a UX career was possible without the coding and visual design. I spent more time perfecting my craft, understanding users, creating my own style for wireframing, which eventually got me noticed by a top French IT consultancy where I was thrown in at the deep end on some of the UK’s largest digital transformation projects. I had to learn quickly, picking up skills on design leadership and evangelism.
For me, the transition from start up to consultant was easy, in my previous roles I was wearing so many hats (researcher, designer, front end dev), it was a relief to relinquish most of those responsibilities and focus 100% on the UX. That mixed with my work rate inherited from the start up world, helped to accelerate me to promotion quickly and gain more responsibilities, speaking and assisting at industry meetups, evangelising UX design internally and taking on a larger role on our key projects.
What now and any advice for upcoming designers?
I am Head of Design (UX & UI), enjoying the challenge and excited to be a part of a talented design team who are playing a strong part in the banking revolution and FinTech boom.
My advice to aspiring designers is to always believe in yourself and in your own ability. When times get tough, just know that you can always create your own route to success, by grafting harder than everyone else, and learning from the experiences of others. Always say yes to more responsibility, you will be surprised by how much you can take on and you never know if your are ready for something until…you just do it.