Anne loved helping people as a college counselor, but she always felt like there was something missing in her own career. After a friend urged her to think about UX design, Anne realized she could combine her creativity and psychology skills, so she enrolled at Designation UX Design bootcamp in Chicago (now Flatiron School). Anne tells us how the pre-work phase prepared her for the UX Design bootcamp, how her background in psychology impacted her design skills, and the importance of a great design portfolio. Plus, we hear about her new UX Design job at Accenture!
Tell us about your pre-Designation story. What was your educational and career background before you decided to get into UX design?
I studied psychology and French in undergrad, then I went on to a master's degree in counseling. I was working as a career counselor for college students prior to Designation. I always wished I had done something more creative because I took some graphic design classes in early college, and absolutely loved it. But I went the psychology route.
In my career as a counselor, I loved the creative aspect of helping to uncover people's goals, helping them find their direction, but I always felt like there was something missing. So I career counseled myself out of it! A good friend who's a developer said, "Hey, have you heard of UX?" So I looked into it, and he helped me look at different bootcamp programs. I was initially deciding between front end development and user experience. I chose UX because I loved that it incorporated my psychology background and design into one.
Did you research any other UX bootcamps?
When I started my research, I looked at both front end development and UX Design bootcamps. There are more web development bootcamps out there than UX courses. I wanted to stay in Chicago because that's where I was already based. I would’ve been willing to go elsewhere for the perfect bootcamp, but Designation seemed to fit all my criteria.
I wanted to go to Designation because you actually get to work with real clients, so you get hands-on experience right away. Having that access to UX designers who have so much experience is so valuable to learning. After visiting the classroom in 1871 and meeting a couple of the people there, I decided that I wanted to learn UX at Designation.
Did you think about going back to college to study UX Design?
DePaul has a great program, so had I not already gone to grad school, I might have considered it. I did talk to a couple of people who had done that DePaul program, and it seemed like an amazing program, but I wasn't ready to spend another three years in grad school.
Could you share with us how you were able to pay for the tuition? Did you use a financing partner or get a scholarship?
I had known that I was going to switch careers in some capacity for a while, so I saved up and was able to float myself for those few months. I was very fortunate. I think that's definitely not something that everyone is able to do. A lot of the people I went to bootcamp with did get some sort of a financing or student loan.
What was the application and interview process like for Designation’s UX bootcamp?
There are different admissions processes at Designation depending on if you come from a graphic design background or not. Since I didn't, I did the pre-virtual session. It was a self-paced design course to get you familiar with the Adobe Suite, and some prototyping tools. We would submit feedback online, and there was an instructor available if I had any questions. After that, they review your portfolio and you get firmly admitted into the program.
For the interview process, since I was in Chicago, I came in and met with the Admissions Director Will Shandling. We talked for about 45 minutes, he showed me the space, answered all of my questions about the program, and gave a general overview. One of my big questions was "What are the chances I'm going to be successful in doing this?" After the interview process, I felt really reassured and confident that I wanted to do Designation.
So you do the pre-virtual phase, and then once you’re admitted, what’s next?
After the pre-virtual phase, there was a six-week online virtual program with the cohort that you're going to be with on campus. It’s almost a full-time remote program to get everyone ready to jump in on day one of the bootcamp. We did readings from a textbook, and we built our own prototype for an app. That's where I started to get more familiar with prototyping tools, and what it meant to do low-fidelity, mid-fidelity, and high-fidelity design. For people with graphic design backgrounds, that phase was their first bootcamp experience. In my cohort it was about 50/50 in terms of people who had design backgrounds versus people who didn’t.
My favorite part of the online virtual phase was the interactions with people in my cohort. We would have regular meetings with everyone once a week, and we also had smaller groups of four people with whom we would check in, work on projects, and ask each other questions. It was really nice and it felt like we already knew each other when we arrived in person.
How many people were in your cohort and what kind of diversity was there was in terms of gender, and race, and background?
My cohort around 20 people and it was a pretty good mix. I mainly had younger classmates- one person was just out of college. I was probably on the older side and I'm 31, but there were a few of us in our early 30's. My cohort was about a 50/50 gender ratio.
About a third of my cohort was from Chicago, with other people from all over the US. People had all different backgrounds; some came from graphic design and architecture, some from business, and one person was an actor.
I was really lucky with my cohort. It felt like we were all family. We looked out for each other and cared about each other. After the first two days being there for so many hours, you get to know everyone and quickly get comfortable. One of the greatest benefits of coding bootcamps is going through it with other people, having that support, and learning from each other.
Once you were all on campus, what was the structure of Designation?
For the first six weeks, we would get in at 10am every day and have a standup meeting. We stayed in class until at least 9pm. There were many nights when we stayed a lot later than 9pm and I was there until 2am plenty of times.
The day was a mix of lectures and hands-on work. We were put into groups where we worked on an app together. During the first part of the program, we built an app based on a problem statement that Designation gave us to get that experience of going from concept to high fidelity prototyping and doing testing. At the end, we presented our apps to professionals in the field, so you get that experience before the real thing with clients.
Did you learn any kind of web development or a programming language in the UX Design bootcamp? Was that necessary?
We had optional coding lessons on Fridays, which I (and the majority of us) chose to do. We had an HTML workshop and then a couple of CSS workshops. Each week, we were given an assignment, and our ultimate assignment was to create a portfolio website. Learning some programming really helped me understand what developers are going through and how to work with them. Before this program, I would not have known what a <p> tag was or anything like that.
Designation is unique because you actually get to work with a real client- who were the clients that you worked with?
Primarily, the clients are other startups who are based in 1871, which is a startup incubator in Chicago. One of my clients was from 1871, and the other was an external company. One client was in the financial industry, and then one project was a video camera lens prototype company. We got to work on different projects in different industries. You work with each client for three weeks, so the client phase is six weeks total.
What was your favorite project that you built?
I really enjoyed all of the projects that I did! During the final client project, we were almost given a blank slate. This company had come out with a new VR video camera lens that could connect with GoPros, and they wanted to create an app for their users. They were pretty open-ended about what they wanted. We had a lot of fun brainstorming ideas, exploring, and doing research before bringing our final idea together. I really enjoyed the creative formula of that project: the user research, interviews, and throwing different ideas out there.
We were working in groups of three or four people. Then we would have our creative directors who would step in and help us, and be there for all the client meetings. We met with the client once a week to present our progress.
Your portfolio must be pretty important as a UX Designer- did you have a portfolio before Designation?
Generally speaking, your portfolio is very important. I never had to have a portfolio before, because I applied for previous jobs with my traditional cover letter and resume. But your portfolio is what shows off what you can do as a designer. It should be a combination of visuals, your research, pointing at different posters during your affinity mapping, or a PDF of your final prototype.
We also include case studies that describe your entire process because people want to know how you think and how you execute a project. They want to know from beginning to end what you did, what you did well, what you may have failed at, and what you learned.
Did Designation help you develop your portfolio?
Designation has changed the structure a little bit since I went through the program. We had a career counselor who worked with employer relations and would do lectures once a week during our client phase. The current students now have two weeks devoted to portfolio development. We would have lectures on resumes and portfolio building and with an assignment each week. Those lectures were meant to prepare us to be able to build good case studies to apply for jobs when we leave. It was extremely helpful to get that advice. You also continue to have access to the Designation course material after you graduate.
Tell us what you’re up to now! Are you working as a UX Designer?
I am a UX Designer working for a division of Accenture Operations called the Accenture Operations Innovation Network. We are actually also based in 1871 right next door to my Designation classroom.
Shortly after I graduated, I was working on my portfolio and I hadn't really started the job application process. Mike, the employer relations and career counselor at Designation, talked to my current supervisor here at Accenture, and they were looking for somebody to join their team as UX/UI designers, and I was on a list of candidates.
At Accenture, are you using the skills you learned at Designation or have you had to learn some new skills as well?
Both. I'm definitely using the skills I learned at Designation. In spite of being a part of Accenture, we're actually a very small team– less than 20 of us. I am one of two UX/UI designers here. Our tasks can totally change by the day. This week, I've been doing a lot of wireframing and some high fidelity designing. Next week, I'll probably be working on personas, journey mapping, and initial low to mid fidelity prototyping. That part is great because you really get to experience the whole gamut of design based on your projects.
We also do some design thinking workshops when we meet with stakeholders. We actually recently went to our Bangalore office, and we'll be going to our Manila office next week to visit and do some workshops there as well.
Do you think that your background in counseling and psychology has been useful in learning and working in UX design?
A lot of UX research ties incredibly well into counseling. When you're interviewing people, a lot of the job consists of knowing what questions to ask and getting a sense of who the client is, what they value, what motivates them, and what frustrates them. A lot of that can be tied into counseling.
Later on, once you get to the actual design process, design is not necessarily just making things pretty. It's about making them usable and giving people a product that operates within their mental model. So psychology and counseling definitely tie into the design process as well.
How have your first few months been at your job and how did the company make sure you were ramping up and continuing to learn?
I'm coming up on my six-month mark now. When I first got to Accenture, Patrick, the other UX designer, was awesome. He basically showed me the ropes, and got me onboarded. In the Chicago office, you get to know everybody really well. I get to work across the table with our business analysts and innovators; I am currently sitting in a room with one of our developers. So it's great having everybody working together so that you can really go over projects in person. Everybody was incredibly welcoming and answered all of my questions.
What has been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to becoming a UX designer?
When I was initially deciding whether or not to become a UX Designer, it was hard to have confidence in myself and force myself to take that big risk. Switching career fields entirely was the scariest thing, but the best decision I made. You have to take that initial leap, and then dive in and not being afraid.
How do you stay involved with Designation, and have you kept in touch with other alumni?
One of my favorite parts of being a Designation alum is that we have a giant Designation Slack network with tons of different channels. For example, I was recently looking for a new design thinking book so I asked other alumni for suggestions and got tons of responses. It's an awesome network of people. If you are going to a design event and you're looking for people to join you, anything like that gets posted on Slack. I love having that as a resource.
What advice do you have for someone who's thinking about making a career change and going through a UX Design bootcamp?
First of all, talk to people who are in the career that you think you want. Ask them about their daily life. Ask them for their advice. UX Design is an incredibly welcoming field– at least in Chicago the design community. I've had people find me on LinkedIn and ask me if they can just chat about whether or not a bootcamp is the right decision for them. It's really an individual decision, so it's not going to be right for everybody. If you do think it's right for you, then it's very much worth the risk.
Do your research in terms of what program is the best fit, not only in terms of skills, but in terms of culture. Then take the risk and do it.