Written By Lauren Stewart
What is your background before RED Academy?
It’s been a pretty winding road! Out of high school, I worked in TV and film production, then digital media marketing and advertising in Los Angeles and San Diego, and learned some visual graphics design and Photoshop along the way. I then worked as a photographer, videographer, and editor in Hawaii.
I felt I wasn’t developing intellectually so I took some general education and EMT community college courses in Sacramento. It was great to actually use my brain. I worked as an EMT for 3 months, then moved to Salt Lake City, Utah where I got back into video production with professional sports teams. After a year, I went back to school, started a job in phlebotomy while simultaneously continuing to produce video content. I then moved to North Dakota to work with a friend in the oil industry as a Health Safety and Environment (HSE) Manager for a year. Finally, I moved to Sweden and started studying programming online with Treehouse and Codecademy.
What motivated you to start to learn programming on your own?
I had friends in computer science courses at Berkeley and UCLA and I could see how their career was opening up for them – there were a lot of job opportunities. I’ve always been a tech savvy person and interested in how things work and operate. I thought it would be cool to learn how to build a program. I started learning with the potential goal of becoming a developer, but after a month my dedication started to fade away. I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida for a year and worked at a restaurant while still freelancing in video production.
When I spend too much time away from doing something mentally stimulating I get a little restless. I reached out to my network to find a new role and got offered a role in North Dakota as a Data Analyst for Hess. During this time, a coworker and I created a physical mechanism that helped truck drivers identify power lines on rural dirt roads called DakotaFox.
What made you want to start learning UX Design in at an immersive technology school? Tell us about your research process.
Coding was something I liked to do as a hobby, not a career. When I was in Utah, a friend was going to DevMountain. I saw that they had UX Design courses and I really didn’t know much about the field. After I did more research, I realized that UX Design was the skill I wanted to learn. DevMountain seemed pretty cool and convenient – I was accepted, but 10 days before the course started they needed to push back the start date by two months.
How did you decide to attend RED Academy?
After that experience, I came across RED Academy online. I was traveling in Rome when I had my interview and I felt good about the conversation. I did consider DESIGNATION because they focused strictly on design, but I was looking for something less expensive since I had been traveling over the year. The US to Canadian conversion rate for RED Academy was great because I could save a lot of money. I was also really excited to move to Toronto, a place I had never been. So I just went for it and that’s how I ended up at RED Academy.
What was the application and interview process like for you?
It actually happened pretty quickly. When I called RED Academy I had five days before the early bird registration deadline. I had an interview with the lead UX/UI Instructor and received my acceptance. I started the course January 5th and finished on March 31st.
How many people were in your cohort? Was your class diverse?
There were 17 people total and half were women. We had people from animation, copywriting, defense, industrial design, graphic design, film production, and programming. Many people came with diverse career backgrounds.
Could you share a typical day at RED Academy? How was student life?
I typically arrived at 8:30am. At 9:15am, we would have a two-hour lesson on a topic like how to conduct user research or the purpose of rapid prototyping. We would then have lunch followed by a continuation of the morning’s lesson or some kind of creative collaborative project, like a design sprint or partner project work. A lot of times we would have to present our design sprint at the end of each day. We also worked on our community projects on specific days – where you get to work with real clients from RED’s community. We had our morning session with instructors and then in the afternoon, there was an open format to work on our projects. If we needed help we could ask our instructors or other classmates.
Student life included Friday socials, town halls, and teamwork. (#REDFAM) I feel pretty fortunate to have been in my cohort. The friendships that were formed were definitely one of the best takeaways from my time at RED. The individuals I met challenged me quite a bit to learn design on a deeper level. I feel that we all really supported each other emotionally and mentally. Having certain people in my cohort kept me motivated and on-track. They also made my experience that much more enjoyable.
What Real Client Projects did you work on?
In the UX Designer Professional you work on three client projects, I created a responsive website design and cross-browser compatibility for TheBrewBox.co. A two-sided platform was designed for B2B operations and I collaborated with an industrial designer to create their new product packaging.
I also created a design for a new mobile app for MoveSnap.com. We used rapid prototyping and usability testing, which enabled me to validate my design choices. A new UI was designed to reflect updated branding and restructured and tested information architecture using card sorts.
Lastly, we looked at the optimization of an existing product, using analytics for Lendified.com. I redesigned desktop and mobile-specific experiences, restructured top and bottom navigation for optimal task completion and optimized the site for load speeds, search rankings, conversions, and acquisitions.
Did the RED Academy teaching style benefit your learning style?
Our full-time instructor definitely helped me in my journey of design exploration. He was a really smart guy and a big picture thinker. He could question my questions to make me think harder. He was also really into technology and design in general, like me, so it was great to speak to him and be excited about things that we would see outside of class.
What tools did you learn at RED Academy to be a designer?
Learning the methodologies of design was one of my most favorite parts of the course. We learned about rapid prototyping, user research, storyboarding, task analysis, information architecture, and human-centered design.
Prior to going to RED Academy, when I was founding my company DakotaFox, we used a lot of these methodologies without knowing what they were called. We were doing iterative design processes but had no idea that we were doing it naturally. Now I can put a name to those processes.
RED Academy pushed the importance of empathy pretty heavily. I think one the greatest skills that a designer can possess is empathy. It’s hard for some people to be empathetic with design because they want it to be their way, rather than the client’s way. It’s hard to accept criticism when building products for other people. What I benefited from most at RED Academy is learning how to build and design for others.
How was your job search after RED Academy? Did your Portfolio help you with the search?
Because I was a U.S. citizen in Toronto, I didn’t have a work visa. RED Academy was supportive, but couldn’t sponsor a visa. I did get help with my resume and with the job search from my instructor.
Without the real client projects I worked on at RED contributing to my portfolio, I don’t think I would have been in a position to apply for any type of design job. After the cohort, I really felt like my portfolio was solid enough to start applying for positions. Disclaimer: It’s not unrealistic to search for a job for 3+ months. Start preparing for that.
Do you have any tips for those on the job search looking for design roles?
There are a lot of myths about making your resume only one page and amazingly designed etc. I was applying to a lot of places with no responses so I decided to completely redesign my website to focus more on the process of my design and my thinking. That was key, emphasizing the way I thought about design and the process I follow. I also found a website called VisualCV where you use pre-made templates that help in getting past ATS (applicant tracking systems). After I did those two things, I started getting callbacks. Obviously, your resume and website have to be good, but timing matters. It took a long time to hear back from different companies, but I eventually landed a Product Designer role at Rokk3r Labs.
There were a lot of times I felt discouraged. I would think “I’m not going to get hired as a designer because I’m too junior” or “no one really cares that I graduated from a bootcamp.” I then realized it’s not about your education, it’s about how you present yourself with your resume and portfolio. It’s about your process and how you think about design. That’s what separates you from a general graphic designer and someone who truly understands design thinking.
What advice do you have for people thinking about learning design at an intensive technology school?
Don’t rely on the school or the instructors to teach you everything. Make sure to fully immerse yourself by learning from your classmates, and every additional resource you have while not in school (youtube etc). You have three months to grow as much as possible, so it’s worthwhile to fully commit yourself mentally and emotionally.
Lauren is a communications and operations strategist who loves to help others find their idea of success.
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