Careers in UX Design Roundtable: 5 Designers Share How They Navigate the Industry was originally published on Forage.
User experience (UX) design roles rarely look the same. The role of a UX designer depends significantly on the employer you work for. Because every company has different needs, audiences, and products, each defines UX design differently. UX designers work on everything from websites to mobile apps to enterprise and desktop applications.
Ultimately, a UX designer’s primary goal is to create the best experience a user could ask for, so they oversee a product’s conception, design, usability, and marketing. UX designers are focused on the entire interaction a consumer has with a product, while user interface (UI) designers tend to hone in on specific elements of a product, such as its color, layout, and typography.
>>MORE: Explore Product Design with our Accenture North America Virtual Experience Program.
As the tech market surges, so does the demand for UX designers, with the overall employment of web developers and digital designers expected to grow 23% from 2021 to 2031, according to the U.S. Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We asked five designers to highlight their career journeys and share advice and tips for aspiring designers. Read on to see what they shared.
- What drew you to UX design? What made you interested in it as a career?
- What is the best way to break into and learn UX design?
- Is there anything you wish you’d known starting out? Is there anything you’d do differently?
- What are the most important skills UX designers need to have?
- What does your day-to-day as a designer look like?
- What advice do you have in terms of managing projects and duties?
- What has been your biggest challenge in this role?
- Where do you look for inspiration?
- What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in UX design?
What drew you to UX design? What made you interested in it as a career?
Prithi Sridhar (UX Designer at TaxSlayer): UX design is perfect for those who come up with out-of-the-box solutions and for those who have a creative flair. I come from a behavioral psychology and art/animation background, so I felt like UX design was the perfect field for someone with my skill set. I also really like the fact that UX is constantly evolving and it challenges and pushes me to keep up with the trends. You can’t be complacent as a UX designer, and honestly, I love that.
Deia Green (UX/Immersive Experience Designer at The Walt Disney Company): For undergrad, I attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where I majored in industrial design. The major itself was great and very creative, but too hands-on for what I would be willing to make my full-time profession. Around my junior year of college, I started looking at other creative disciplines to pivot into once I finished my degree. A few colleagues that had graduated before me pivoted into the UX design field, so it was at that moment that it caught my attention. I did some research, talked to people actively in the UX design field, and decided that this was the career path I wanted to take. From there, I started doing passion projects to build a portfolio and started applying to graduate programs, where I ended up at the Rochester Institute of Technology for a [Master of Science] in Human-Computer Interaction.
Ashley Kennedy (UX Designer at SteelSeries): I’ve always been drawn toward art and visual design, but I also hold a deep passion for research. When I began looking into potential careers, I found UX Design and loved that it was at the intersection of so many of my interests. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who was a UX Designer, so I began to reach out to designers at various companies. When I spoke to them and learned more about their journeys and experiences, I felt as though it was a space I could excel and experience growth within. From there, I concentrated on developing my skills as a designer and researcher, going to graduate school, taking on freelance work, and pursuing design-focused internships.
Frankie Kastenbaum (Senior UX Designer at United Airlines): I have always been interested in solving problems. When I was younger, I was able to satisfy this desire through code. However, while at college, I realized I could problem-solve through design, and for me, that was even more gratifying. Specifically, design in terms of UX is interesting as it not only allows me to solve problems, but it also allows me to do so while having data to back up my decisions.
Jennifer Annor (Junior UX/UI Designer at IBM): I had finally reached a point in my life where I wanted to make a career out of what I’m passionate about: design. I decided to look into becoming a graphic designer, and in doing so, I came across UX design. It really resonated with me as I researched all about it, and I knew immediately that is what I wanted to build a career in.
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What is the best way to break into and learn UX design?
Sridhar: To best answer this question, you have to know yourself. Are you someone who works best under structure and guidance with the help of a third party like a school? Or do you prefer to teach yourself? I used a bootcamp, but not all bootcamps are made equal. So whichever way you choose, make sure you do a lot of research and speak to students who graduated from those different pathways.
Green: Honestly, I feel like there is no perfect way of breaking into UX Design. I recommend people look up online resources about the field and start networking with people in the field to get a solid understanding of what UX design entails. A great start is to do a bunch of passion projects once you get a good handle on the design process. One example is doing projects around different use cases of the apps you use the most and how you would fix design problems within them. From there, there are options like UX bootcamps, certificates, or even going down the graduate school route to start this new design journey. It all depends on your own career goals and how you prefer to learn the material.
Kennedy: As I was establishing myself, building networks and connecting with other designers really helped me understand the direction I wanted to go in as a designer and the next steps I should take. It always feels a little awkward at first, but reaching out to designers you admire or folks at companies you’re interested in can be incredibly helpful! Not only do you gain a better understanding of what a career in UX looks like, but you are also actively cultivating meaningful relationships. At the same time, honing in on your craft and building skills are equally important. There are countless free, low-cost, and accessible resources that will challenge you and help you grow as a designer. Having a firm grasp of UX design principles is extremely important. As you evolve, you may specialize in specific skills that help you carve out your own space and stand out.
Kastenbuam: I don’t think there is one way to break in. I believe it comes down to the learning styles of an individual. With that being said, I do think one of the most important aspects anyone can do is practice. This practice can be in terms of client-based work or passion projects. If you go the passion project route, I highly encourage you to include constraints (i.e., timeframe, limited budget).
Annor: There isn’t a best way to do so, but rather, the best way for you. Some may do better going the bootcamp route, and others will do great going the self-taught route. Regardless of the various paths out there, figure out which will work best for you and your situation.
>>MORE: Hone your design skills, including persona creation, wireframing, and prototyping with BP’s Digital Design and UX Virtual Experience Program.
Is there anything you wish you’d known starting out? Is there anything you’d do differently?
Sridhar: Starting out, especially while I was doing my bootcamp, I assumed that a large part of my job would be cool designing. But it wasn’t until I started networking and speaking to other designers that I found out that a lot of the job is actually collaborating with other departments, advocating for research and your design work. This made the field so much more interesting in my eyes. Looking back, I wish I had read some more UX-related books while I was studying to really broaden my understanding of the field.
Kennedy: I wish I had felt more empowered to show personality in my portfolio. When I was in college and establishing myself as a designer, I was encouraged to follow a very specific format. While I aimed to keep my portfolio impactful — showcasing the problems I had solved, my thoughts, and my results — it didn’t show much of who I actually am as a person. I later found that there was a way to balance professionalism while also sharing what made me who I am, my values, and my creative style. Because naturally, these aspects of my persona influence my work each day.
Kastenbaum: Looking back to when I first started, I wish I knew more about the proper sizes of touch points. When I look at my old designs, everything is so large. I’m talking the text size, icons, images, you name it. I also wish I knew more about designing for accessibility. Knowing how to select colors that would work for those who are visually impaired and designing for assistive technology. The great news is that there are many resources out there on all three of these skill sets!
Annor: Honestly, there’s nothing I would have done differently. I am incredibly happy with the route I took and the resources I used in becoming a UX designer. Perhaps, my only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner!
What are the most important skills UX designers need to have?
Sridhar: Soft skills are super-underrated, but there has been a lot of discourse on it recently. So instead, I’ll say that one of the most important skills is to learn to ask ‘why?’ — get into the habit of looking deeper into things instead of accepting things for what they are. Not only for UX researchers but also as a UX designer, you need to learn to channel your inner child and ask ‘why.’
Kennedy: I believe communication, organization, and empathy are crucial. As a designer, you need to be able to communicate the needs of a user through your work, advocate for your design decisions, and work seamlessly with stakeholders. Being organized is also important, given that most UX designers are balancing a variety of thoughts, projects, and processes all at once. Additionally, being able to be empathetic not only helps your design work by being able to deeply understand who you’re designing for but also your working relationships by collaborating as a better teammate. Beyond these skills, though, is having a passion for a facet of UX. Whether you’re passionate about research, visual design, UX writing, or another aspect of the field, I believe you have to have excitement in at least one area of UX design — being motivated by salaries, titles, or companies isn’t enough to sustain you for very long.
Green: Communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and empathy are so important when it comes to being a UX designer. As designers, we are working to build the best experiences for our target users, so a certain level of problem-solving skills and empathy are needed to do the job. As far as communication, it is always a great skill to have but especially when working in a collaborative design environment.
Kastenbaum: Communication: Being able to explain your design decisions in a non-UX way. It is important to be able to explain to engineering or the business [team] why your design decisions are important. A questioning mindset: It’s important to question everything! It is imperative to figure out where your requirements or requests are coming from and make sure the solution will help your user. An iterative approach: Usually, your first idea is never the right answer. It usually solves the problem on the tip of the iceberg, not the root of the problem. So it is important to try multiple ideas until you are truly solving the ‘right’ problem.
Annor: I know this is a cliché answer, but it is the truth: empathy. As a UX designer, you need to be able to put yourself in the users’ shoes and understand their pain points. That way, you can design with them in mind.
What does your day-to-day as a designer look like?
Sridhar: Every morning, I attend my stand-ups, where everyone on my team talks about what they’re up to and shares their work for feedback. We also talk about cool things happening outside of work which I really like because we all work remotely, and I enjoy connecting with my coworkers. Then for the rest of the day, it depends if I’m meeting with the product owner or developers. If I’m not, I get started on my assigned tasks for the day.
Green: My days usually start around 7 a.m., I plan my daily schedule the night before just to timeblock all of the tasks I need to do for the following day. If it’s the beginning of the week, my team meets virtually to discuss priorities for the week, and throughout the week, I have meetings with various teams to discuss the design projects I’m working on. My team really focuses on growing and connecting so I may have a few one-on-one meetings with coworkers just to catch up and talk.
Kastenbaum: As the classic UX saying goes, ‘it depends.’ Some days are more meeting-heavy, where I am talking to the business [team] and engineers. While other days, I am… knocking out design work to complement the meetings and discussions.
What advice do you have in terms of managing projects and duties?
Sridhar: Start a Notion for your work stuff. Get into the habit of journaling about your work and the people that you need to collaborate with, the constraints, roadblocks, etc. Not only will this help you with your project but [it] also will be super helpful in the future when you need to refer back. I recently created a UX cheat sheet for myself on Notion, and I’ve been finding it extremely helpful.
Green: This is a skill that I am still steadily improving, but time-blocking my schedule has helped tremendously. We have task lists for our projects, and breaking those tasks down even more allows me to complete things a little at a time instead of taking on the entire task at once. Delegation is also a big lesson I’m continuing to improve. Asking coworkers to help in areas where I feel as though I’m taking on too much makes a huge difference in my workload and ultimately helps get the tasks done more efficiently.
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Kennedy: Write down everything! Whether it’s with a pen and paper or a tool like Notion, organizing your thoughts makes managing tasks much easier. It’s also nice to have notes to look back and reflect on.
Kastenbaum: Personally, I love to-do lists. So for me, I always have some form of a Kanban board where I can track my assignments. I find this helps me complete my work on time while keeping a log of the history of the project. I also think it’s super important to end every assignment meeting by discussing the timeline. This way, you can make sure everyone is on the same page about expectations.
Annor: Create a to-do list and tackle them one by one. Take short breaks in between so you don’t burn yourself out because burnouts are hard to recover from and take away time you may not have.
What has been your biggest challenge in this role?
Sridhar: I work for a tax-tech company, so learning about [taxes] has been really challenging. Outside of that, I would say the hardest thing has been learning and adjusting to the way other people give you feedback. Everyone is unique, and it is so important to be flexible and open to the way you receive feedback. One thing I love about my team is that everyone loves questions, so anytime I have a question about the feedback given, I can always reach out and ask for clarification.
Green: My biggest challenge so far is time management. I love the work that I do, but as I’m growing in my role and gaining more responsibilities, time management becomes a lot more crucial to how well I perform in the role.
Kastenbaum: My biggest challenge as a UX Designer is the fact that our industry is still new, so it is not understood by all. Due to it not being that mainstream yet, I find it causes UX to not always be prioritized on projects. Currently, there is a push for a wider acceptance of this field, but I still think we have a long way to go.
Annor: My biggest challenge so far is being the only designer on my current project. It has pushed me to grow in many areas, and while growth is hard, it certainly yields great rewards.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Sridhar: I do look at my other coworkers’ work for inspiration. They are all so incredibly talented, and I also turn to online resources like LinkedIn and Medium. Instagram has a few really interesting UX design accounts that I like learning things from.
Kennedy: Since I specialize in visual design, I’m drawn to paintings, graphic design, music, books, and architecture. I’m based in Chicago, so there are a lot of museums, a diverse art scene, and loads of beautiful sights within the city. It’s hard not to feel inspired by what’s around me, even if it’s just going for a walk. When I’m jamming out design work, I really enjoy listening to playlists I’ve made — each with a different vibe to match my energy at that moment.
Kastenbaum: My main places for inspiration are Instagram, LinkedIn, and Medium.
Annor: My faith, my husband, and LinkedIn. Whenever I’m feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed, my faith helps me get out of that funk. On the days when I doubt myself or imposter syndrome tries to creep in, my husband is always there to remind me of how hard I’ve worked and keep working to be where I’m at. LinkedIn inspires me to keep sharing my journey and keep making an impact with my story.
>>MORE: Learn tips and tricks for overcoming imposter syndrome in this Forage roundtable.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in UX design?
Sridhar: Seek a long-term mentor, push yourself, and avoid doing the bare minimum. The field is super competitive, and it is important to find your niche, work on real-life projects within your area of interest, and start networking.
Green: Definitely go for it! But do research to make sure this is the field for you. I’m also a huge advocate for networking. I love meeting and speaking with new people, and networking played an enormous part in where I am in my career. If you can, find a design mentor to help you throughout your design journey. I would try to find one early in the process.
Kastenbaum: Be strategic about the type of work you want to do within the UX field. Too often, I have spoken with mentees who play the numbers game when applying for a role. If you pick two-to-three specific areas within the UX space (i.e., fitness or edtech), it will help you narrow your search and write cover letters that you are more interested in. I promise this [interest] does show through in your documents and interviews! This trick helps make your search more manageable without pigeonholing yourself.
Annor: Just start! It’s not too late. I know it’s a scary time seeing how all these layoffs are happening and folks have been on the market for a long while, but don’t let it discourage you. You have no idea who or what is waiting for you out there.
This interview was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
Meet the Roundtable Designers
JENNIFER ANNOR is a junior UX designer at IBM who is passionate about using creativity and empathy to provide tangible solutions to problems. She successfully transitioned into the field of UX from a non-traditional background as a self-taught wife and mom of three and has been sharing her story and journey to inspire others. Knowing how challenging the transition can be, she’s dedicated to helping incoming UXers make a smooth transition. A fun fact about her is that she has recently started creating user-generated content [UGC] and absolutely loves it because it’s yet another way for her to channel her creativity.
DEIA GREEN is a UX/IX designer at The Walt Disney Company, where she designs interactive features for a variety of Disney’s media and entertainment platforms. She graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2021 with a master’s degree in human-computer interaction for UX design and also has a background in AR/VR design. Deia considers herself to be a multifaceted creative, with a passion for networking and experience in leading different talks to the youth centered around creativity and design.
FRANKIE KASTENBAUM is a senior UX designer who’s passionate about breaking the barrier of entry for beginner UXers. Throughout her career, she has worked at a variety of companies and company environments from a startup, to a design agency, and several corporate companies. She focuses a great deal of her time on mentoring upcoming designers through one-on-one sessions, as well as educational content on both Instagram and LinkedIn. Her efforts as a content creator have been recognized twice by LinkedIn, naming her a Top Voice in Design both for 2020 and 2022.
ASHLEY KENNEDY is a UX designer at SteelSeries, a Copenhagen-based gaming peripherals brand, where she is currently designing eCommerce experiences. Propelled by curiosity, empathy, and human-centered design practices, she specializes in UX design, user research, design strategy, and creative design. Ashley is also a mentor to fellow designers on ADPList.org, which works to foster an inclusive space where designers, product managers, and engineers can come together and build community.
PRITHI SRIDHAR is a UX designer, animator, and storyteller. She earned a bachelor’s in psychology and worked as a behavioral technician for three years before making a career transition into the world of UX. She approaches her design work with curiosity, passion, and thoughtfulness.
The post Careers in UX Design Roundtable: 5 Designers Share How They Navigate the Industry appeared first on Forage.