Josie Altare combined her research skills with on-the-job training to transition into UX design. The UX designers she worked with recommended BrainStation, and Josie enrolled in the part-time UX Design Certificate Course and the part-time UI Design Certificate Course. Throughout those courses, Josie built the UI for a fitness tracker app and shares her Sketch and InDesign project with us! Today, Josie is a UX Designer at Morneau Shepell – learn how she got there, what she thinks about her BrainStation experience, and how she’s grown as a designer over the past 2 years.
What were you doing before BrainStation?
I graduated from college with a degree in women's studies. I learned a lot about how to properly conduct research, work with people, and understand their experiences and pain points. It felt like my skills were stuck in academia and I didn't know how to move into industry, the real world. After graduating, I worked as an administrative assistant at a tech company. I met some amazing UX designers there. They were incredibly helpful. Even though it wasn't my job, they showed me what they were doing and tried to involve me in any way that they could so that I could learn about it. I liked design and it was a skill that I used as an administrative assistant a lot. I asked those UX designers how I could get into UX and they recommended BrainStation to me.
Did you research any other UX bootcamps or education options?
I looked into General Assembly and RED Academy because andalso researched online bootcamps. I did as much as I could online on my own first. I read and did some free courses. They were all great options, but BrainStation felt the best to me.
Did you visit any of the classrooms before you signed up?
Was the admissions process at BrainStation competitive?
How did you balance your full-time job with the Brainstation bootcamp?
I took these two courses simultaneously. There were a lot of overlapping principles. You can't do UI design without understanding the thinking behind it. I kept my job while I did BrainStation. I was already working with UX designers who were also teaching me so staying at my job made sense. BrainStation helped me learn the theoretical background behind what I was learning at work. I was working on communication design: emails, the customer support website, and social media campaigns. They let me practice my visual design skills on that! It was great to learn how to apply my skills in the real world straight away. But the BrainStation projects were better opportunities to learn how to design actual products.
What was the learning experience like at BrainStation?
It was great! It was a small, interactive classroom. They helped me with the UI design the most. They broke down the whole design process in a way that I could truly understand how to design a project from idea to fruition.
Who were your instructors?
Hillary and Liz were my instructors and they both worked at Connected Labs in Toronto. They were great! Hillary is a great UX designer. She focuses on voice design, which I thought was super cool. She made me think about that part of the user experience as well. Liz was fantastic with visual design. She showed me cool tricks in Sketch.
How did projects factor into the BrainStation curriculum?
We would start each class with slides and a theory lecture. Then we would take that and practice. With our UX project, it began with defining the problem. Once we came up with a problem, we came up with a hypothesis and research questions. From there, we continued exploring and conducting the research and analyzing the results. We would interview our classmates for our projects to answer the research questions. Throughout the week, I would also call my friends and ask people at work to answer my research questions.
In the UI Design Certificate course, we chose a project idea and then worked on it throughout the 8 weeks.
How did you manage collaborative work in the part-time courses?
We communicated via Slack a lot. It's a great communication tool. Working the time into your schedule is something that you have to do, too. To me, that's a selling point of a part-time program – I'm not in school all day! Knowing that I need to spend a few hours each day to do my classwork and Saturdays works out in the end. It also challenged me to reach out to my peers.
What did you build for your final project in the UI bootcamp?
I created an app called TrackFit to track users' fitness. Fitness enthusiasts usually have a whole screen of fitness apps on their phone, and TrackFit solves for that. Because the fitness industry is a broad industry, I decided to pick one fitness niche – running – and solve that niche’s particular problems.
On the home screen, there’s a simple tab navigation at the bottom. The user has three options:
Run (Open Road Runs or Track Runs)
If the user chooses the open road, a pop-up notification asks permission to use your location. Then it will set a route for you based on your location. The track setting guides the user through a track workout. The app works even when the user’s phone is locked. It will break down your distances and times and when the workout is finished it displays a reward screen.
The workouts and the cool-downs are on an automatic shuffle. I decided to do this to reduce decision fatigue for the user, which was a pain point in research. The app runs a video for the user to follow. At the end, it gives another reward screen. Same thing with the cool down. The user can do all three parts of their daily workout in one application.
The profile page stores all of the user’s information, a progress chart, and your goals. There is a first user experience flow where the user inputs their goals and current levels when the app is first downloaded. It also monitors activity and shows a daily summary for visual tracking.
Did you work on this project individually or as a group?
TrackFit was an individual project that I built during the UI bootcamp.
How long did this project take you to complete?
We chose our project and the beginning of the course and then had to finish within the eight weeks of the course. We learned a new principle each week and then applied it to the project.
Which UX/UI tools did you build this project?
I built this one with Sketch and InVision. I learned those tools at BrainStation. They provided you with the resources that you would need to learn more than what the curriculum taught. For example, Brainstation might have touched on accessibility and if you wanted to dive deeper into that, they gave you materials to learn more outside of class time.
How have you grown as a UX designer since you built this project two years ago?
Now that I'm working as a UX designer, there are so many complicated situations in the product design cycle that you can't even predict. There are errors that could come up and I didn't even know about mapping those errors out when I was still a student. Looking back, I would probably better plan out some of the UI components in those projects now that I know more about working with design systems. These are things that I learned from experience on the job, mostly.
Have you learned any programming or coding since BrainStation?
There was no programming in the UX/UI design curriculum, but coding is not my cup of tea, to be honest. I know enough to understand and work with my developers. If I sat down and focused I could probably do it but I decided to continue learning about design, research, and product strategies instead. You don't need to actually learn how to code to be a UX designer, which is nice. If it's a skill set that you're truly interested in, go for it!
How do you keep your skills sharp after bootcamp?
A lot of my work now is under a non-disclosure agreement. Because I work on enterprise-based products, I can feel my creativity sometimes stagnate. I keep my design skills sharp by creating things on the side, even if they're small, to reinforce the things that I've learned or am currently learning. You'll get stuck in a rut if you don't keep practicing and flexing your creativity. I don't spend a lot of time on it and I don't make it complicated. I start with a skill that I want to exercise and I go from there.
Give us an example – what have you built since you graduated from BrainStation?
Name That Thing is an idea that I came up with for voice user interface (VUI) and product strategy. I realized that a lot of kids like to bother the Google Assistant that came out about a year ago. The idea was that a kid should actually learn something from bothering Google all the time and I wanted to create a game out of it.
I interviewed parents to create user personas. I created a basic customer journey, product analysis, and a conversation map. Then, I tested it out using a manuscript with my niece and nephew who were both under five at the time. We had fun! I designed the UI for the chat interface and a style guide.
At this point, I was starting to work with design systems a bit more so I was understanding different states and components that need to be considered when designing a product. I made an example of the game that you can scroll through. I wanted to keep my skills sharp and have fun with it! I wanted to learn more about VUI (voice user interface) specifically.
You’ve been working as a UX designer at Morneau Shepell for two years now! What are you working on?
Morneau Shepell is a human resources tech company and I work as a UX designer in the benefits and health and wellness team. Since I've been there, I've done an app redesign called myPlans Connect, which allows the user to view their benefit enrollment details like retirement savings, pension, and things like that. That redesign project was the first project I worked on there. It was intense!
Now I'm working on an enrollment tool that helps users pick their benefits and educates them about the choices they're making. The biggest challenge has been getting people to understand the decisions that they're making. A lot of these older software systems that we're redesigning didn't focus on things like the UX writing and small interactions.
How did you get this job?
My boss messaged me on LinkedIn looking for designers. They usually work with a recruitment agency but he wasn't happy with the selection they provided him. He wanted to hire bootcamp graduates because he was looking for people who had been working in a goal-oriented way that knew design was what they were passionate about. He interviewed me and another woman that I was working with specifically because we'd gone to bootcamp.
Do you have any advice who just graduated from a bootcamp and are looking for their first UX design job?
I had applied to I-don't-know-how-many jobs and cried about the rejection letters by the time I got that message on LinkedIn. It did take some time!
First, make sure your LinkedIn profile is set to "Open to Recruiters." I know it can be annoying sometimes, but literally one recruiter could change your life. Second, know your transferable skills! If you know something about a specific industry or there's a skill set that you're strong in, look for companies that are looking for that and put yourself out there!
Are you happy with your career change?
I love my job. I'm happy that I went with UX design. I’m able to combine my love for creative work and research. It's great. UX is more technical than I had expected it to be but if you're open to learning on the job, you'll pick it up. Being open to learning as I go has been important.
Has your job title changed since you were hired? Have you gotten a promotion?
I started as a contract employee because they weren't sure about hiring someone who didn't code but knew how to design. They've since hired me full-time, permanently as a UX designer. Now that I'm more knowledgeable about the projects that I'm working on I share that knowledge with the new designers that come on as we grow. Visual UI was not my first love but it’s grown on me. The new designers teach me every day. In the last two years, the design landscape has changed massively. It can be good to have fresh eyes.
Do you feel like the two part-time BrainStation bootcamps adequately prepared you for the job that you have now? Do you think you could have gotten here without a bootcamp?
Honestly, I don't think I could have gotten this job without a bootcamp. I needed somewhere to go, the formality and structure, someone to hold me accountable, to teach me things that I couldn't learn from the internet. There are things that the internet simply can't teach you that a real person can. I also retain concepts for longer when I learn them from a real person.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced in the past couple of years in making this career change?
Teaching myself things to keep up. The learning didn't stop when I finished school. It stopped for a little bit, but then I had to learn something new when I was put on a new project or a new feature. You have to learn more about it, how it will work. That all comes with time.
Do you have any advice for people who are going to go through a UX design bootcamp like BrainStation?
Just go for it! Go all in! Enjoy it. UX design is a great thing to learn.