Inside The Mind Of The Designer

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UX Design Career Change

How do user experience (UX) designers think? What does the thought process look like from initial challenge to user-friendly solution? What if you could just peek inside the brain of a UX designer and watch the gears turn?

Join us for a Design In Motion panel event happening at your local General Assembly campus. Until the end of June, we’ll gather the leading minds of UX and product design to discuss design strategy. You’ll be able to see the design thinking process in action as industry experts walk through the design challenge they’ve been tasked with—whether it’s revamping a flight search app or thinking up a genius digital experience for the Rio Olympics.

We asked some our guests from a wide range of backgrounds about their unique paths to building memorable experiences, where they find design inspiration, and what advice they’d offer to aspiring designers.

Meet these seasoned designers, who will appear at Design In Motion at General Assembly campuses around the world. In Sydney, hear from Adham Dannaway, a UX designer and front-end developer; Adrian Ciaschetti, a UX and digital product designer; and Damian Norton, a UX/UI designer at Qantas. In Chicago, stop by to meet Yazin Akkawi, UX designer and Founder at MSTQ; Anna McFadden a UX designer and GA grad; and Coleman Collins, a UX and product designer at ThoughtWorks. 

Here’s what some of our guests had to say:

How did you get started in user experience design?

ADHAM DANNAWAY: In my university days, I was an intern on the St. George Bank web team. I met a few co-workers there who were starting their own businesses and I designed simple websites for them. Over the years, I built up my skills and experience working on a range of websites and apps and became very interested in understanding why users do the things they do. I’ll always love pretty pixels, but in the end, it’s all about giving the user what they need to achieve their goals.

ADRIAN CIASCHETTI: At the time, I didn’t even know I was practicing UX! I was building a web app in 2010 to raise money for Movember [a global charity raising funds for men’s health issues by growing mustaches throughout November]. You uploaded your face, dragged and resized your mustache, and shared it with friends to raise awareness for the charity. I wanted to make sure that it was easy to use, so I quickly built what I thought would work, got some friends to test it, and revised the app. After three or four rounds of this, I pushed it live and managed to raise a good amount of cash for the charity.

YAZIN AKKAWI: In a past life, I studied psychology and economics and worked primarily in marketing and analytics. I took a few UX courses and realized that I could transfer a lot of the skills I already had to UX and found lots of freelance work after marketing myself.

COLEMAN COLLINS: Accidentally, I guess. My degree is in graphic design, but in my first design-related job in the real world (which happened to be website-oriented), I asked too many questions for a graphic designer: Why? How does this fit into the flow? Why am I just thinking about this page when it’s just like that page? Should it be a template? How do we know this is what’s right for the customer? And when the answer I got was, “Don’t worry about it, our UX [team] is worrying about that stuff,” I asked one more fateful question: “How do I be the UX guy?”

What advice would you give to aspiring UX designers?

ADHAM: The only real way to learn is by doing, so get involved in interesting projects or, alternatively, start your own. Get to know your user base through interviews and surveys. Create prototypes and test them out to see what works and what doesn’t. Read articles and books to learn how other designers solve problems. Sweat the details and always ask why. Above all, try and put yourself in the shoes of the user and make sure that every decision you make benefits them in some way.

ADRIAN: Sharpen your ability to read between the lines and question everything. Filtering what people say they want versus what they actually need is an essential tool for a UX designer. And remember, you’re responsible for the experience customers have, so make sure it’s a great one!

ANNA MCFADDEN: Embrace the redirections—often referred to as “fails”—and understand you are designing for people, not designing at them.

YAZIN: You can do it. The best UX designers I know come from diverse backgrounds and have degrees in English, physics, psychology, and finance. Just keep at it. Worry less about wireframing and focus more on things like user research and everything it encompasses, such as journey mapping and persona development.

COLEMAN: Remember that design is a craft, but it’s also a job. There are a lot of things to say about craft, putting in the practice, and nailing the fundamentals. Doing these things well is necessary, but not sufficient to success. Virtually no school that I know of teaches you this, but being good at the job of design—working well with others, managing clients, tactful self-promotion, selling, presenting, and explaining your work, hitting your deadlines, understanding contracts and invoicing, etc.—is the real work of a designer. It’s what truly makes successful designers successful. You can be as skilled as the day is long, but if no one is hiring you, paying you, or, most critically, referring you, it just doesn’t matter.

What inspires you to achieve awesome UX?

ADHAM: I think I just love solving problems through clever design. The process of designing a solution, testing it, and improving it bit by bit is very rewarding and quite addictive.

ADRIAN: Two things really motivate me to achieve awesome UX: getting the “wow” response from a customer on designs I was involved with, and being surrounded by other awesome designers. Both of these inspirations push me to become a better designer.

ANNA: Insatiable curiosity, a constant need to solve problems, and the opportunity to create an effective visual dialogue.

YAZIN: All the bad UX in the world. Technology has become so ubiquitous in our lives, and that’s really exciting. But what moves me is making it all fit.

COLEMAN: Let’s start with the idea that “awesome UX” isn’t and shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself. It’s just a tool in a big arsenal. That said, I’m inspired to solve customer and business problems, to delight and surprise people, to make their world a little better because of a piece of software that helped them through their day, because it helped them do a thing they needed to do. And the way I get jazzed up about that is by interacting with people—by working with and for those customers, hearing about their needs and problems, and watching them use the solutions I’ve come up with, and so very often, watching those solutions fail. Nothing pushes me harder than seeing something do poorly in testing.

Why should people consider a career in UX design?

ADHAM: To me, the best thing about being a UX designer is being able to create something from nothing. Some of the coolest products out there started from a vague idea floating around in someone’s head. The process of turning that initial idea into a reality is challenging but really fun and rewarding. It’s great working with other talented designers, too, as they’ll often bring out ideas in you that you never knew you had. There are also heaps of companies looking for UX designers to solve a whole bunch of interesting problems and they’re offering competitive salaries and great perks.

ADRIAN: A career in UX is very challenging and very rewarding. A lot of time is spent talking with customers, having your designs validated or broken, and solving many complex problems on a wide spectrum. Also, there is a large cultural shift towards design-centric organisations, so the demand for UX is only going to grow.

ANNA: It’s an exciting combination of behavioralism, ethnographic research, design, and business. I’m always on my toes and excited for what I am going to learn and discover by working as a UX Designer.

YAZIN: It’s a great career for those that have a curious nature and enjoy wearing lots of hats because that’s required. You also have to have some interest in technology, business, and, most importantly, people. UX is great if you’ve got that.

COLEMAN: It’s not [a great career]. Really, it’s not. It’s a pain in the ass, the hours can be long, the pay is good but it’s certainly not the most lucrative career. The day-to-day of working with teams and clients and billing your time and understanding the requirements far outweighs the part where you’re actively practicing your craft, or seeing your work in the world being used by people. You’ve got to be in it because you love it, because when you heard about it as a career your first reaction was, “Someone does that? For money?” And if you’ve got that love, that passion for the work, the greatness is self-evident. It’s the thing you should be doing. It’s obvious and blinding.

Go inside the mind of these designers. Join us at your local General Assembly campus to see Design In Motion this June.

ATLANTA

AUSTIN

BOSTON

CHICAGO

DENVER

LONDON

MELBOURNE

SEATTLE

SINGAPORE

SYDNEY

WASHINGTON, D.C.