UX/UI Designer at startup Yaguara, Talks About How to Get Your First UX Design Job
"Hey! I'm Emily, I studied Cognitive Science and Studio Art at the University of Virginia. I joined HackCville, a nonprofit that teaches University of Virginia students technical skills, my third year when I took the Wireframe program (Web Design) and co-taught the Vector program (graphic design) last year.
After graduating in May with vague post grad plans, I moved to Denver and worked part time at a bakery as a barista and at a start up called Yaguara where I'm now working full time as a UX/UI designer. Along with design, I am passionate about the outdoors, art, making a difference and trying new things."
What is UX/UI design? and how did you get interested in it?
"User Experience (UX) design is designing for the user. It is about researching and understanding their true needs/pain points when experiencing or interacting with websites, apps, physical spaces, or products. A common example of bad UX is a door with no handles or no words saying if the user should push or pull to open the door. In website and app design UX encompasses a number of things like information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, usability testing and quality assurance.
User Interface (UI) design is more about designing the look or aesthetic of the product or experience. This still deals with designing for the user as font sizes that are too small make the product inaccessible. Here's an example of bad UX/UI on a website.
I became interested in UX/UI as it is an application of both my passions for creative problem solving and empathizing with others. I also found it applicable to my studies in cognitive science and studio art."
I was wondering how you got into UX/UI design and what you learned as a Cognitive Science and Studio Art major that is contributing to your job now?
"Thanks for your question! I switched to Cog Sci after deciding I didn't want to pursue biomedical engineering and took up studio art to get back to my passion for art and having a creative outlet.
What I loved about Cog Sci was how diverse the subjects were (you take classes in computer science, neuroscience, philosophy, cognitive psychology, and linguistics) but how they also overlapped in the "real world". When I was thinking about how I would apply these two majors to a career path, I came across design and more specifically UX/UI since design deals with perception, and understanding how to communicate with people.
I would say a lot of what I studied in college doesn't directly apply to my job now since a lot of the UX/UI skills I learned outside of UVA. However, I did gain experience with dealing with criticism from art critiques and building off feedback along with conducting research (which now helps with user research)."
Do you have tips for getting experience for UX/UI related positions that require experience?
"Great question. First, don't worry about not having the skills or experience that design internships require, you will get there! If it helps, I didn't know a single thing about design until my third year when I started studying designers and teaching myself the adobe programs.
I'd recommend taking tutorials from Lynda or Skillshare on programs like Sketch or Figma where you can prototype some designs and start building a portfolio. If you're able to take a Web Design program like Wireframe at HackCville, you can code your own website (takes time but gives you more freedom and you're not limited by templates). If not you can use sites like Wix or Squarespace.
The important thing is to build your portfolio and show that you know the UX/UI concepts and you can apply them. Good rule of thumb is to have 2–3 case studies or projects you have done. These can be real freelance work, ideas for apps/websites that don't exist or rebrands of existing sites. I know this sounds like a lot, but don't feel like you should rush! It's better to have one really good, thorough case study that explains your decision making and process rather than three half-done case studies on your portfolio. After that, it's just about networking, keeping up with design trends, and looking out for internship positions!"
What is it like to work at a startup and also how you like living in Denver?
"Working at a startup can vary as startups range in size, culture, and funding (sorry that's vague but don't want to sound like my experience speaks for all). I really like the one I work for (Yaguara Co.); I was hesitant if I would fit in at first as it was 6 men in their late to early 30s, but I personally love working in small teams and I have been loving getting to know my coworkers.
The startup I work for is very relaxed; we all share an office and we can work from home as long as we get our work done. It can be a lot of work at times, but it can be worth it if you are proud of the work you put in. Since I'm the only designer, it can be hard balancing multiple projects and not having a design team to learn from, but I have been thankful for the experience. I feel like I've learned so much already and it's been great having autonomy over the company's design.
Denver is amazing!!! I love being close to the mountains and so many great hikes. It's very bike friendly, and sunny 300 days of the year. It's more diverse than I expected, but also quickly becoming more gentrified. The people overall are very friendly and relaxed; they value being outside, healthy and enjoying their lives over salaries."
What is your favorite thing about your current job and what do you find most challenging about it?
"My favorite thing about my current job is overseeing both marketing and product design along with having the opportunity to establish the startup's design. I also love the relaxed work environment and my supportive coworkers.
The most challenging thing is figuring out how to handle feedback from different voices (with not much experience in design) and trying to find a mentor or someone that can help me continue to grow in design. Thankfully, my boss's wife is a product designer, so having her as a mentor has been a huge help."
What were some of your favorite classes or experiences during college? How did they impact the current work you do?
"Great question. My favorite classes: Religion, Ethics and Healthcare; Printmaking, Color Film Photography, Physiology, Abnormal Psychology, Knowledge and Reality (Philosophy), Mobile technology and healthcare (PSYC/SYS).
Favorite experiences: it's hard to pinpoint exact ones, I would say it would be with all the friends I made.
Looking back, it wasn't specific things I learned in classes or specific experiences I had that influence the current work I do. I see it more as the growth and experiences I gained in college that have influenced me and given me life skills that aid current work."
Do you have any tips for students wanting to learn about UX/UI design in college?
"Some tips for students wanting to learn about UX/UI design in college:
• Study designers, go on dribble, instagram etc. and look up popular designers; study their hierarchy and style
• Learn the skills (either on your own or take a class); if you go to UVA HackCville is a great resource but there are also great online classes and tutorials where you can go at your own pace
• Take any design, HCI or UX class your school has to offer, go to office hours
• Study best UX/UI practices; follow blogs like invision's or dribble's
• Stay observant, keep an eye out for poor or great UX/UI you come across in your daily life and take note of it! what would you do better or differently?
• Practice your UX/UI skills! you don't need to have a client or a "real" product you are working on, design something you care about, because it will be better than something you don't
• Start building a portfolio and get feedback from others, apply to UX/UI relevant positions (may involve starting as a graphic designer or front end dev and transitioning to UX/UI role)"