Becoming a UX Designer

Several weeks ago, a few of my closest friends graduated with a Master’s in Design and Internet Web Project Direction from ELISAVA. They are all great designers and have taught me so much. However, did these marvelous people become illustrators, graphic designers, user experience researchers overnight? No. It took them time, dedication and I imagine, plenty of long sleepless nights. 

 Meeting my classmates at the networking event after Registration. From left to right, Ramon, Alberto (Beto), Gabriela and Alejandra (Ale). 
Meeting my classmates at the networking event after Registration. From left to right, Ramon, Alberto (Beto), Gabriela and Alejandra (Ale). 

Back in February, I wrote about why I chose to study my master’s here in Barcelona, Spain. At first, I had my fair share of doubts. Would I be able to do graduate school work in a foreign language? Would my degree help me become a better UX/UI designer? Six months later, I am more confident than ever in my abilities to become the professional that I want to become.

Besides learning Sketch, InVision, Adobe XD, WordPress, Drupal, and a whole slew of other tools, here are a few of some of my key takeaways from my postgraduate course in Design of Network Applications and Services:

Don’t Design For Yourself

Until we learn how to be empathetic and can understand the latent needs of our users, we’ll most likely design a product or service based on what we think is best. Although we think we know what’s best, we all have different biases. Airbnb’s Another Lens inclusive toolkit recommends designers frequently ask, “What’s here that I designed for me? What’s here that I designed for other people?” The description with the card reads, “Designing something that meets your own needs is easy, and it can be a great way to start. But recognizing the boundaries of your own perspective is key. When designing a solution, put in the work to reach out to and listen to the people who don’t share your perspective—they’re also likely to be the people who are the least easy to access. It’s worth the trouble!”

Whenever I feel this toxic “I’m designing for me” mentality begin to creep in, I:

  • Reread the brief and spend some time internalizing the problem that I am trying to solve
  • Have my fellow teammates/colleagues confirm who we are designing for, what their needs are and the solution that we are proposing (always helps to hear something again)
  • Change environments (go outside, go to the library, further immerse myself in the environment of the public I am designing for)
  • Go out and talk to others (especially those who may not share the same beliefs as I do)
 My mentor and friend Martí Gisbert. Grateful for the countless advice that he has given me as I navigate this journey of becoming a UX designer.
My mentor and friend Martí Gisbert. Grateful for the countless advice that he has given me as I navigate this journey of becoming a UX designer.

PR + UX = The Perfect Combination

When I first started my master’s program, I was “adamant” about leaving my PR/comms background behind me. My years in agency and corporate settings had served me well, but now it was time for me to be a UX/UI designer. However,  as I continued to progress through the postgraduate course, I quickly realized just how much the two worlds complemented one another. At the end of the day, it was all about building mutually beneficial relationships. 

As a UX/UI designer with a communications background, I have a unique skillset that allows me to see an entire process through from start to finish. I can create a campaign strategy, design the visual tactics (app interface, website, landing page etc.), and pitch it to the media. If I ever need to pass on work to other designers, I also now understand how long things reasonably take and can make requests accordingly.  

Have a Mentor, Be a Mentor

In my professional career, I have always understood the importance of having a mentor. My mentors in PR have provided me with countless advice, constructive criticism, and have even helped me land a job or two. As I enter the world of design, having a mentor is particularly important. Upon arriving here, I sought out a mentor right away. My colleagues, classmates, and even acquaintances on various Slack groups, are always willing to give me constructive feedback and help me grow.

Too often I have felt that just because I don’t have X amount of years of experience or X amount of awards under my belt, I can’t be a mentor.  This postgraduate course has taught me that this thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyone can, and should, be a mentor. I have lived overseas twice, given workshops in Colombia, Perú and the U.S., and am doing a master’s in Barcelona. These and many other experiences, can be of great value to junior and senior designers alike. 

Looking for mentor and don’t know where to find one? Here are a few tips:

  • Join professional organizations – I can’t emphasize this enough. As a student, I was a part of the Public Relations Student Society of America and served on it’s National Committee. When I graduated, I joined the parent organization, PRSA. Now, I am a member of the Interaction Design Association. These types of professional organizations often have mentoring programs and/or activities for its members.
  • Go to events – Aside from the events that the organizations above hold, look on sites like Eventbrite and Meetup for opportunities to meet people in you field.
  • Social media- I always recommend meeting people face-to-face, but don’t be afraid to reach out to someone via Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • Don’t limit yourself – Look for mentors that may be outside your sector/industry, they too can provide you will valuable guidance.

Design Isn’t Just a Nice To Have

As I look at the successful companies of today (Airbnb, Netflix, Google, Adobe, etc.), I have noticed that they all have a least one thing in common. They are all design-driven companies. Their cultures encourage risk taking and don’t stifle creativity. At these companies, it doesn’t matter if you are an engineer, accountant, data analyst, design penetrates every department.

Design is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must have. (Tweet this) Throughout my career, it is my hope that I can prove to the  companies that I work for that 1) design is valuable and 2) encourage them to invest in a culture where innovation can thrive. 

The Importance of Process

I always thought that the important part of any project is the the deliverable that you hand over to the client. While true, it isn’t everything.  Before I go to any job interview, I always practice a few times how I will explain my work. I make sure that I include as many relevant metrics as possible, in order to show the results behind what I do. However, UX recruiters nowadays aren’t so much concerned about “the end”, but rather, want to hear about the process that you took to get there. Now, whenever I do any personal project or work assignment, I carefully document all the steps that I take along the way. 

 Who else do I draw inspiration from? These people right here. (Photo by Laura)
Who else do I draw inspiration from? These people right here. (Photo by Laura)

Look for Inspiration

As I working on developing my own design style, here are a few individuals that I draw inspiration from:

What’s Next?

I am looking forward to the months ahead. In the next few weeks, I plan to enjoy what is left of summer and spend time with all of my family members that are coming to visit. I will also continue putting my skills to use as a UX/UI designer at InnoCells by Banco Sabadell. In September, I start my second postgraduate course. In October, I have been invited by the University of Medellín to be a keynote speaker at the “VI Congreso Internacional de Desarrollo y Competitividad”. I will be presenting to 1,200+ people on “How to Create a Culture of Innovation” and leading a workshop for about 150+ people on the importance of personal branding. I also have a few personal projects up my sleeve to keep me busy during any “down time”. 

Have you recently completed a course of some kind? If so, share with me what you have learned in the comments below.  

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Ethan Parry is 

... a Service Designer + UX Researcher at Hanzo. Parry frequently leads workshops around the world on topics such as Google Design Sprints, UX research, and service design. Parry also teaches UX and service design in several universities and bootcamps in Barcelona.