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Foong Ling Chen
Foong Ling Chen

Akendi Alumnus

Making the Move Into UX

Finding the right career is no small feat. From a design background perspective, I’ll talk about the things I felt were important to keep in mind when looking for the right job.

This blog post is inspired by someone who had approached me looking for advice on transitioning into UX, in her case, from a graphic design background. At the time I had only worked at Akendi for three months. As someone who was in the midst of finding her footing, I felt I was ill-fit to give others advice.

I was met with persistence. She said, “I know that you’re pretty new to the industry but that’s exactly why I wanted to hear about your opinions and experience. The people who’ve been in the business tend to forget how it is to start from the “bottom”. I think it is good to talk to people who are in the same boat, to see how things turned out for them.”

Understanding What UX Means

UX stands for User Experience. Google defines it as ‘the overall experience of a person using a product…” That sounds pretty basic right? But a lot of people tend to forget the user part of the definition and design in isolation of the user. If you are not talking to end users, you are not practicing UX. That is as straightforward and honest as I can be.

Building a Portfolio

Have an example where you focus on research and how it has influenced your design. I’m not talking just about colour study of the company logo and how you’ve taken it and applied to a website concept. I’m talking about examples of where you have gone out and talked to real users, observed and asked them questions. Nowadays, people resort to designing an app as a solution. But why? It can’t just be an arbitrary decision. If you decide to design an app, how does it fit in the user’s existing habits?

You don’t need to completely redesign your portfolio. Have at least one complete example. Make sure you can support and speak to every decision you made.

Finding Opportunities

Networking is uncomfortable for most, including myself. However, if you muster the courage to talk to one person at every event you attend you’d be on a great track. I landed my first design strategy/research job connecting with someone over Twitter. I was lucky in terms of timing, but it also takes preparation and knowing how to express your intent.

Personally, it came down to understanding what I wanted and also, what I did not want from a career. (How millennial of me, I know.) It was rough because I wasn’t sure what I was looking for even existed.

I knew I wanted to design products that helped real users. I knew I didn’t want to sit behind a computer with no context to the end users. On top of applying for junior design positions, I looked at positions outside of my industry. During my search, I came across the term ‘Strategist’ and was intrigued by the research focused job description. I was hooked but I knew as someone fresh out of school, I wasn’t going to have much success trying to convince a design firm to create a Strategist position and then hire me for that position. Instead I looked into Advertising, an industry where strategists currently reside.

So, don’t limit yourself in one industry from the get-go. Acquire the experience you want. It’ll get you closer to the career you want while loving your current job.

Applying for Jobs

My advice is to apply to everything. Think back to the last industry meetup/event you attended. If you asked everyone in that room whether they work in UX, most people would raise their hand. I doubt each of us is doing the same thing. If a group of designers can’t define the role, then there is no way a Human Resource person can do it.

This field is not new – it is rather decades old. The only thing new about it is the term “UX”. With the creation of new vocabulary, people take liberties and use titles as they see fit. The point is, don’t get discouraged. Everyone encounters this insecurity and skepticism because of the unrealistic expectation that UX designers do everything from research to design to front-end code – and that’s impossible.

The key, again, is to think about what you want to do along that spectrum, sharpen those skills, and communicate the value you bring. If it’s not obvious yet, the whole process is a tricky balance of being completely sure and being completely unsure of yourself. In the end, it will be worth it. I promise!

In Summary

  • Talk to end users and include them in the design process. Show it in your portfolio.
  • Take every opportunity to talk to people in the field and learn as much as you can.
  • Apply to everything, regardless of title and job description.

I hope this helps.

Foong Ling Chen
Foong Ling Chen

Akendi Alumnus

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