In this Final Project Demo, we’re joined by Katie Stakland who took the UX Immersive at Devmountain and created a roommate communication app called Gabble! Because Devmountain teaches tracks in UX design, iOS development, software QA, and web development, Katie got to collaborate with iOS developers on this group project. Katie is now starting her job as a Product Designer at PackBack and tells us how writing a case study about Gabble got her the job.
What you were doing before Devmountain? Why did you decide to attend a UX Immersive bootcamp at Devmountain?
I got my bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in Art Teaching. I loved my degree, but I was a bit lost after college. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or what career path I should take. I played around in retail management before deciding I didn't want to work in retail forever. I made the transition into a Project Management role for a human resources company doing physical products in Salt Lake City. It was a great job, but when I started looking at my growth opportunities, I saw that they were really limited in the physical product space.
I started looking into which skills I might need to pick up to make myself a competitive candidate in the job market. I wanted to find something that I would be passionate about again, something that allowed me to be more creative. That’s when I found UX. I had a few friends that were doing UX already. I was familiar with a lot of the tools like the Adobe suite already from college. I felt like I had a leg up because I already had those skills. I made the jump to Devmountain to get the rest of the skills I needed.
Did you research any other bootcamps before choosing Devmountain?
I did a ton of research to find the right bootcamp for me. I thrive better in in-person situations and I wanted to be around people that were also passionate. I wanted to learn in a one-on-one human interaction environment. So I narrowed down my choices to an in-person bootcamp. Then I narrowed it down based on where I lived and timing. Devmountain had everything I wanted as far as knowledge base, location, and learning environment. It was important to me to make sure I had the right fit and the right community to nurture my learning and get me on the fast track to making that career pivot.
What skills did Devmountain teach you that you hadn’t learned in college?
The top skill was developing empathy for users and a focus on usability. That’s not as prominent in the art world, but to be a successful UX Designer, you have to think about the user (after all, it's User Experience). Developing empathy, learning to write user stories, and user journey mapping were all skills that I needed to learn.
Secondly, I needed to learn to translate those skills from a physical place to a digital place. Some designs work well printed on the wall but don’t translate to a device like an iPhone. Learning about different design principles, what makes a design work, and the different spaces was really critical, for me.
When you applied to Devmountain, was it difficult to get in? Did you need prior UX experience?
I had to do a UX challenge – basically thinking through an idea based on a problem you were given. It didn't need to be perfect – mine definitely wasn't! I'll admit, I was a little bit nervous when I was applying. Not every program I applied to had that challenge requirement to get in. I actually respected that Devmountain required that challenge. To me, it shows that they are looking for people that are really passionate about this career. It demonstrates that you did your research and have some sort of grasp on UX. I didn't feel like I really needed any of my previous art experience to be successful at the challenge.
Did everyone in your cohort have a similar art background as you?
My cohort had a real mix of backgrounds. There were a few other students who had graphic design backgrounds and they realized that they needed to build on their skillset. But there was also a student coming from landscape architecture! Another person in my cohort was a business student, someone that had studied psychology, someone that worked at Target part-time with no education experience. We were all looking to develop our skills and I think that diversity benefited all of us.
What was the learning experience like at Devmountain?
We had a good mix of lecture time and creative time in the classroom. Usually, the typical day would start out with a small, 30-45 minute creative exercise to get our brains going. After that, we had a lecture that included a couple of practice exercises. Then, there would be a break for lunch. After lunch, we usually had some sort of lab exercise about the lecture. This lab could be card sorting with other students, going outside and interviewing people on the street, sketching something, learning a technical skill like Sketch on the computer, or tackling different problems. After that, we had time to work on a project.
Tell us about the group projects at Devmountain – I heard that the UX design track students work with the iOS development students.
For our first group project, we worked with other UX students. In our second month, we partnered up with one other student from the UX course and two students from Devmountain’s iOS Development Immersive.
We picked a project that we wanted to work on from a list of problems the instructors put together. We were assigned a 'project manager' which was one of the program mentors to help us with our project and give us a little bit of leadership as we worked. We had a total team of 5. We met every day for our project like you would in an ordinary tech team. That was a valuable experience that allowed us to learn more about agile project development which is standard in the tech industry.
Can you tell us about the app your team built for this group project?
Sure! I published a case study blog post on Medium and it actually got picked up by a Medium publication. It's gotten quite a bit of attention – it has over 15,000 views now. It actually helped me get my first position in UX!
The problem that we were addressing with Gabble was improving roommate communication. Basically, an app to make rooming with roommates more enjoyable.
Who was on your team for this project?
Imani was the other UX designer on my team. We were paired with Greg and Andriy who were students in the iOS Immersive. We designed Gabble to go on the App Store. This was our first project for iOS specifically, but we had quite a few lectures on iOS at Devmountain so we had dove into Apple's user interface guidelines and Material Design from Google as well.
The main screens on the Gabble app are:
Could you take us through how you built the project – what parts of the UX curriculum did you use in the project?
Research: Imani and I did a ton of research before starting to design the app. That meant:
Assumptions: We listed out assumptions we had about roommates and countered each of those with an anti-assumption. This is an exercise we learned in Devmountain that I actually still use. It's a way to get out of your head and not think of yourself as the user. One of the assumptions we had was that these roommates were going to be college students. Turns out, that wasn't the actual truth. So many people older than 22 are using this kind of living situation to offset financial burdens or for companionship. We also found other products on the market. While that was not surprising, no one had a complete solution and for this project, we were trying to find a complete solution.
Interviews: For further research, we went out and interviewed people on the street, talked to some people on the phone, sent out a survey, and pinpointed problems we wanted to solve. I also went out and interviewed an apartment of girls that I knew that got along well. I asked them about how they managed their time and living together.
A large portion of this project on the UX side was research. The iOS developers on our team did help us with designing the surveys.
User Personas: Another thing we learned at Devmountain was how to build a user persona. That meant distilling all of our research into an actual user that we could relate to.
Story Mapping: We did user story mapping as a whole team. Imani and I lead this exercise, but the iOS developers and our project manager all helped us in completing the user story map. Story mapping together allowed us to solve some problems before they arose during development. One of those problems we were able to intercept early on was how the user would join a ‘home’ and the best way to execute that on the iOS side while also being user-friendly.
Wireframing: We started sketching out some ideas for what it would actually look like. Here we got into wireframing. One of the concepts we were taught in bootcamp was called “Crazy 8” where you spend just a few seconds on each of 8 designs to start fleshing out ideas to find an overall look and tone.
Then we fleshed out our wireframes. This is what we sent over to our developers after that first week and a half so that they could start their storyboarding and get things laid out. We used Sketch to make these. We used InVision to hand them off because it has some inspector tools that developers can use to look at specific spacing and typeface and things that help them build stuff out.
Usability Testing: I had actual users go through a ‘card sort’ to test out the information hierarchy and navigation of our app. Having real users test the app was a great way to double-check what we had done and validate that things were where they should be. The test users were other students in the class, friends, and neighbors. Getting out of my head and reminding myself that I'm not the user was important.
Was there anything you learned through the project outside of the curriculum?
The way that Devmountain structures it, learning visual design comes later in the bootcamp. It is not the main focus, but it does play a critical part.
We transitioned over to Adobe XD at this point which isn't something that Devmountain currently teaches in their bootcamp. Imani and I wanted to teach ourselves how to use it. But we had a guest lecturer who had introduced it to us. We imported our designs over to XD, came up with a color palette, some typeface, pulled some icons, supplemented icons with some that I drew in Adobe Illustrator, and then worked on some branding.
Logo design is something that is taught in the bootcamp as well but it's not necessarily the job of the UX designer. Sometimes in a smaller startup environment, if you are a UX designer, you are often called upon to do different things like a logo or a brand and also support in those kinds of roles.
How long did it take to complete the project?
This was a three-week project. But we had to allow time for the iOS developers to do their part. We basically had to be done with the UX design portion within the first two weeks. Then we switched roles to supporting the developers in the last week.
Writing a Medium post or a case study seems like a great idea – what inspired you to reflect so thoughtfully on your experience?
It was actually a requirement from Devmountain. In the UX bootcamp, to fully graduate (they call it ‘badging’) at the end of the course you have to have two case studies in your portfolio. A well written UX case study can get you a lot of attention right out of bootcamp.
For any project that you do, it's important to spend some time reflecting. This is something I did with my first UX position and it also helped me get the job I have now. It's one thing to be able to show that you can use Illustrator or Sketch, but it takes a unique kind of thinking to do UX. People who are hiring UX designers are looking for design thinking capabilities and critical thinking skills. Writing about your UX projects really shows off how you think, what kind of person you are, what kind of designer you are, and how you tackle problems. It started out as a requirement but it's something that I continue to do that is well worth the time.
What are you up to now? Are you working as a UX designer?
Right out of bootcamp, I took an internship at Progressive Leasing in Draper, Utah. I loved doing an internship. It was definitely the best way for me to pivot into a new career. I had the proper mentorship and support that I needed to get on my feet and figure out what I was doing as a UX designer. I worked there for a few months and then I moved to Chicago. I recently got hired at a small startup called PackBack which is a learning tech software. I start in a couple of weeks! I'm very excited about it. I'm going to be the second person in product. The only person designing the product right now is the founder and chief product officer. It's a great opportunity to jump in and have some leadership but also have a lot of direction and say in what the product is actually going to be.
Did Devmountain get you ready to apply for UX design jobs?
Devmountain does a lot of job prep in terms of helping you build a resumé, making sure you have portfolio pieces, LinkedIn optimization, they set up headshots for us, they helped us network with people in the industry, guest lecturers once a week that we could connect with, helped us find UX meetups and Slack channels.
How did you land your internship at Progressive Leasing?
I had actually applied for a Senior UX Design position at Progressive Leasing. I was just trying to put my resumé out there as much as possible. But the UX Product Manager at Progressive saw my resumé and saw my case study on Medium. He reached out to me on the Product Hive Slack Channel and said, "Hey, this job is for a senior designer and you're not quite there yet. But we have an intern position that we haven't filled that we'd love to bring you in for an interview for." I went in for an interview and I started working about a month after my bootcamp ended.
As a UX Designer, are you working with developers in the same way that you were during your Devmountain collaborative project?
Yeah, definitely. It's very similar. In an actual work environment, because you're not dedicating as much time to school and learning, you spend even more time with developers. In my internship and in this next job, I sit with developers, we interact on a daily basis, I’ll have stand-ups every day, we talk about what's going on. There's constant communication between the UX designers and developers and that's key for getting out a product that really works.
Are you using the technologies you learned at Devmountain in your job today?
The tool that’s used most broadly in UX Design is Sketch, which I learned at Devmountain. A lot of companies also use InVision, which we learned at bootcamp and I continue to use. All of the software that I learned at Devmountain prepared me for what I needed. I haven't needed to spend much time learning other tools.
Do you have any advice for folks making a career change through a UX bootcamp?
Doing a bootcamp was definitely the right choice for me. It has truly changed my life. I wouldn't have gotten a job in Chicago less than a month after moving here without bootcamp. If you're thinking about a career change, whether that's for your own personal development or for a raise in salary – both of which I found – then do it!
You get out what you put into it. Just like any type of education or job, if this is something you want to do, make your time there worth it. Three months sounds like it could be a long time, but it flies by. If you put the work in and really put the work in, develop relationships with your classmates and instructors, and dedicate yourself to it for those three months you're going to get a lot out of it. Probably more than you thought you would.
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
Just tell us who you are and what you’re searching for, we’ll handle the rest.