Marie's Rollercoaster Ride from Graphic Design to a UI Design Career

March 23, 2022
 Min Read

"What would you like to be when you grow up?" My relatives asked me this question when I was a child. Early on, I was expected to know who I want to become in life.

Initially, I thought I’d become a graphic designer. During high school, I used my design skills whenever I did volunteer work. Then in college, I studied multimedia management at UA&P and later on, transferred to CIIT Philippines and took up graphic design. 

When I finally graduated from college, I was ecstatic to begin a career I love. But reality hit — it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows.

Why I shifted careers from Graphic Design to UX Design

Two years into my graphic design career, I was burnt out, bored, and stuck, as the job I thought I’d love had fallen short of my expectations. Every day, I was required to stick closely to the brief and get the design perfect on the first try, all for the sake of pleasing the client. Although I was promoted to senior design later on, my career barely had any room for growth or impact.

From this experience, I realized that I wanted a career that is both challenging and meaningful — a career where I can create designs backed by research and where my designs could impact others’ lives. 

After realizing this, I looked at various career options, and coincidentally, a friend suggested I try UX Design. Upon learning what it’s about, I did my research and discovered that UX Design hit the sweet spot for my ideal career. First, I could pursue my passion for design while at the same time, create impact through my work. Second, I could experiment with my designs, something that wasn’t encouraged in my previous job. Third, I could collaborate with different teams.

Why I enrolled at UX+ University

I came across UX+ University, a UX learning bootcamp, and saw that one of their tuition options was an Income Share Agreement (ISA), which allows students to join UX+ University without paying anything upfront. Students only pay 16% of their gross monthly salary once they land a job.

As someone new to the UX industry, I had to take a calculated risk to see whether UX Design is the right fit for me. I couldn’t risk paying tuition upfront until I had a stable job. So I took the leap, enrolled at UX+ University, and went for the ISA tuition payment option.

It's an understatement to say that this was one of the best risks I've ever taken. I got a taste of what it’s like to work in the industry during my 16 weeks at UX+ University.

My UX+ University experience

Mentorship culture

Thanks to the instructors and mentors at UX+ University, I quickly got up-to-speed with UX concepts and best practices in less than 4 months. What I believe helped me achieve this feat is because everyone at UX+ University is available to help. There was no rigid hierarchy, so approaching anyone felt comfortable. 

UX+ University also had an open culture, so asking questions and seeking feedback was encouraged. This made it less intimidating for career shifters like me to share my thoughts and work.

Weekly assignments rooted in the real world

At UX+ University, I was given weekly group assignments that required me to apply what I learned from the class lectures. Each assignment was rooted in a real-world scenario, such as presenting designs to business stakeholders. At the end of each week, I, along with my group, had to present my work in front of the whole class and answer questions from the instructors. 

Each week was grueling, as I worked on the assignment with only 2 to 3 people in a group. However, everyone at UX+ University was driven, so collaborating wasn’t a problem. When the going got tough, my classmates were there to cheer each other on. That made my career shift a little less lonely. 

Client projects

In the latter weeks of UX+ University, I worked on projects that required me to design digital products from end to end. This included conducting user research, creating wireframes and mockups, testing designs with users, and presenting the project to stakeholders from real companies. 

The first client we handled was The Final Pitch, a business reality show where entrepreneurs pitch to a panel of investors who are searching to own a piece of the next business idea. The goal of the project was to redesign their current website so that existing startup founders and would-be founders could easily apply to the reality show.

To approach the client project, my group played to its strengths. Michael, who was great at interviewing people, conducted UX research, while Hazel and I, who excelled in visual design, focused on the UI.

When the time came to present the project, we received positive comments from John Aguilar himself, the producer and host of The Final Pitch. That was my first experience of working on a UX project with a real client, and I couldn’t be luckier to have worked with such diligent and motivated groupmates. Shoutout to Michael and Hazel!

The next client project I worked on was for NextPay, which was my favorite project during my stay at UX+ University. Having emphasized the importance of personal finance within my circle of friends, I wanted to help Filipinos become more financially literate. The NextPay project enabled me to do just that — my group designed an app that helps employees develop better financial habits.Through this project, I was able to hone my design and research skills. My collaboration and communication skills were also developed, as I became more confident in explaining my work to a bigger audience.

UX career placement

After many sleepless nights and hours of hard work, I graduated together with 30 of my classmates. I started job hunting as soon as the bootcamp was over. Through the help of Frances, who served as my “career advisor”, I landed a UI designer role at Paymongo, my dream company. Having always wanted to work in FinTech, I was excited to start my UX career at PayMongo.

Life at Paymongo

So far, I’m enjoying my first month at PayMongo. In terms of the work, I’m responsible for improving the user interface of the product by collaborating with a Product Manager and fellow UI Designers.

My daily routine usually starts with a cup of coffee to get my brain kicking. I then see which tasks I have to accomplish and structure my day through three parts — morning, noon, and afternoon. Mornings start with reading design documentation or going over design tickets set by the Product Manager. By noon, I start blocking my work into Pomodoro sprints. In the afternoon, I attend re-alignment meetings to ensure that I’m on the same page with everybody else in the team. Lastly, I wrap up my day by checking off my to-do list and rewarding myself with a good afternoon walk.

Although I'm still settling into the role, my fellow designers have always lent a helping hand by sharing resources to improve my design skills. We even have Open Design Sessions, where the team could critique and provide feedback on each other’s works.

As a newbie in the UX industry, I still get a lot of the imposter syndrome. I felt that unless I become immediately good at my job, I’m taking the current opportunity I have with PayMongo for granted. My recent one-on-one call with my direct manager changed my perception though. He mentioned that I should be kinder with myself in the transition process and not expect to be instantly good with UI design. He told me that I should acknowledge that I’m still starting out and that careers aren’t sprints but marathons. What matters is that I finish the race.

My 4 key takeaways from UX+ University

My journey from Graphic Design to UX Design has taught me that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a career. There will always be moments of ambiguity, frustration, and unexpected twists and turns, but what’s important is making the most out of it. 

Throughout my 16 weeks at UX+ University, I’ve learned a great deal not only about UX Design but also about life. I’ll share 4 of my key takeaways. 

1. Take calculated risks when shifting careers

Before shifting and committing to a new career, make sure to cover all your bases. Do research, reach out to people in the industry, and explore possible career options. If you’re already transitioning, have a game plan on how you’ll go about your career shift. 

If you plan to study full-time (and possibly leave your job), have enough money to cover for your expenses in the next few months. And don’t forget to leave some to cover your tuition as well. That is, of course, unless you’ve signed up for an Income Share Agreement.

2. Stay aligned with your ikigai

One of the things I learned is that I should continually assess if I’m still aligned with my ikigai, a sense of purpose and a reason for living. Ikigai is the intersection of passion, mission, and vocation — it’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me going.

I define my own career. No matter how my peers and community may make me feel, it’s up to me to determine what makes me fulfilled or not. And it’s up to me to take accountability of my actions. If a particular career isn’t serving me well, then I need to take steps to realign myself with what I’ve always wanted to do, what the world needs, what I’m good at, and what I can be paid for.

3. Be hungry to learn

Even though I have a stable career now, I should keep stepping outside my comfort zone, as there’s always more to learn in this world.  By being catalysts in our personal careers, you never know, we may even have more impact on society as well.

4. Find the right people

Finding the right people is just as important as studying in the right course and school. When shifting careers, surround yourself with people who are just as motivated and driven as you are. This makes your career shift a lot easier because you now have like-minded people who can keep you accountable. 

Wrapping it up 

"What would you like to be when you grow up?" My relatives asked me this question when I was a child. While I was expected to know who I want to become in life early on, it doesn’t mean that I have to stick to a single career path all throughout. I yearned for more in my career and so I made the shift. I hope this inspires you to do the same.

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