Zack had made a career for himself in front end development, but found the UX design part of his job the most rewarding. He wanted to move from Canada to the US and focus on UX so he enrolled in BrainStation’s User Experience Design diploma program in Toronto! Knowing the importance of a great portfolio for landing a job, Zack worked hard on his BrainStation capstone project, and shared his screen to show us how he designed it! Check out his app to help people get volunteer roles with nonprofits.
What was your background prior to attending BrainStation’s UX Design bootcamp?
I was a front end developer for about 10 years. I always worked in hybrid roles and many times I did user experience work in addition to front end development. Over time, I started thinking about what I really enjoyed doing and realized my favorite parts of my career were when I was hopping into design or user experience. I decided to refocus my career and felt I could move into a UX role without going back to school. However, I didn’t have a formal diploma in UX or a portfolio of work to show. I wanted to dive into UX, brush up on my skills, and immerse myself in that world and get a diploma to show at the end of it.
What made you choose BrainStation’s UX Design diploma program?
One of my career goals last year was to move from Toronto to Los Angeles. I was applying for development jobs at the time, but you needed an engineering degree, which I didn’t have. I started applying for design roles but as a Canadian citizen, I needed a diploma to get the visa. BrainStation was the only bootcamp that provided a certified UX diploma, so that was a major part of the decision.
What was the BrainStation application process?
It was pretty straightforward. I interviewed with a few administrative people to see where I was at in life and whether the full-time diploma program was going to be the right fit. They sent over a design challenge to see if I could understand the basics of UX, so I took a few days to do the challenge. A few days after that, I learned I had been accepted into the program.
Who were the other students in your cohort?
The cohort was great – we were a small group of 15, which was a bit of an anomaly. Because it was so small, we really bonded and were a close-knit crew. It was very diverse – all ages, races, and different career paths. With so many perspectives in the room, it was a great way to learn.
What was a typical day at BrainStation?
We met in the morning for a half-hour warmup design exercise, to get us in the headspace. We might also do a physical warmup like stretches or movement. After that, we’d move into lectures, labs, and workshops. Lectures would take most of the morning and into the afternoon. Then we would have labs to work on our capstone project or other work towards the end of the day. A lot of people – myself included – forgot how intense school is, especially a bootcamp, so you do the work from 9am to 6pm, but then you have homework as well. I totally forgot that homework was part of school!
With your previous experience, what new UX concepts did you learn at BrainStation?
A major concept I learned was the end-to-end process. Being in hybrid roles, and perhaps even in some UX roles, you don’t often get to see the full end-to-end process. It was really helpful to go through the spectrum of establishing a problem space, doing your research and user interviews, and taking that all to wireframes, user testing, and then into your high fidelity prototypes. Going through that whole process was a major element that I took away from the course.
What types of projects were you building throughout the program?
The capstone project is the big one you get to showcase at the end of the program, so you’re always working towards that goal. In the meantime, you have mini projects that address what you’re learning in each weekly unit and are structured so you can apply the mini projects to your capstone. You’ll learn about one concept and produce a project using the concept, and the next week you’ll have a deliverable for your capstone that is related to that mini project. You were always applying concepts from the lectures and it was a really effective way to learn.
Tell us about your capstone BrainStation bootcamp project!
I do a lot of volunteering in my personal life so I wanted to do a project centered around that. I came up with an app prototype called Calling, which enables volunteers to connect with an organization and facilitates the whole process, from discovering an organization to submitting an application and onboarding. I drew from a lot of personal experiences, but still needed to validate it through the standard research and interview processes.
Onboarding Questions: The user is first asked some onboarding questions to help understand what kind of organization they would be suited for and which causes matter to them. Questions include: Name, location, what inspires them, and how much time they can dedicate to a cause.
Background Check: During my research, it came up that a lot of organizations require background checks and by including it in the app, this simplifies that process – the user has the option to skip it, but it’s flagged as a potential item to revisit later.
Social Profiles: I thought it was important to be able to apply to an organization with one tap, so I added the option to connect to LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. Organizations can see a user’s previous work history and experience, and users can connect with other friends and see where they’re volunteering, which was an important item in the interviews.
Organization Matching: The list of organizations is sorted based on those preferences and a match percentage. The user can tap into an organization, learn more about them, where they’re located, and can see which friends are already volunteering there with the Facebook connection. The user can also see what type of volunteer work they would be doing – if you’re volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, you know you’re building a house!
Application Process: The user can directly apply to volunteer and the application is sent to the organization. The user can follow the status of their application from “Applied” to “Accepted,” and the pipeline interface adjusts as they move through the process. This was another item that was requested in the user interviews – many times users would submit an application and wouldn’t hear back or they would have no idea where they were in the pipeline.
In-App Messaging: Users can have a conversation with the organization through the app – they can receive messages about next steps or interviews. It was important to keep these conversations going so applicants don’t feel like they’ve been abandoned.
Scheduling an Interview: If the user needs to an interview, they can schedule a time slot with the organization directly from the interface. The user receives a confirmation message with any additional instructions and after the interview occurs, they can receive a message from the organization confirming they’ve been accepted as a volunteer!
What is your design process and how did you apply the process to the app?
As designers, we do have an instinct or gut feeling about which ideas are good and bad, but we have to validate it, we can’t just go on our own hunches. In building this app, I started on my hunches and my experience as a volunteer but they needed to be validated. I created a hypothesis, set up some interviews, and set forth to confirm (or invalidate) that hypothesis. I interviewed several people about their experiences, identified some key findings, and validated my hypothesis. I then developed a persona and identified the key steps in the volunteer application process. I built out experience maps and identified where I could intervene with good design. Then I built out some more task flows, went into my low-fi wireframes, then built it all out in UI design.
How did you decide which tools and technologies to use in your design process?
BrainStation focuses on current tools, like Sketch and InVision, and then we moved into high-fidelity prototyping with Principle and Figma. My capstone was mostly done in Sketch and in InVision for the prototype itself. I had used Sketch lightly before and had used InVision on the developer side in my old job because the design team would use it as a handoff tool. As a developer, you have to be involved in some of these tools – I had some familiarity with both prior to the program but am much more comfortable diving into them now.
Did you have any challenges or obstacles while working on the project?
Time is always a constraint. We started working on our projects in the first week, so we had three months but we were also doing a thousand other things on top of it, so it was definitely a challenge. When I was first figuring out my flows, I felt pretty underwhelmed with my progress – was I just doing an onboarding flow? It seemed too simplistic. One of my instructors encouraged me to give myself some credit because we were creating these in a bootcamp with a short time window. I learned how to be easier on myself in this process.
If you had to do the project all over again, is there anything you would do differently?
I would have spent more time exploring visual identity or color and would look at accessibility to see what improvements I could have made there. I also would have loved to have conducted more interviews to get some more perspectives. I hope to come back to the project and make improvements after my job hunt!
How important is this type of project for finding a job?
It’s definitely important, but one challenge I’ve found in applying for jobs is employers are a bit hesitant about student work. You need to have more than this one project in your portfolio. My biggest advice is to do more projects outside of school, especially ones that will give you real life experience. I was really privileged in that I could pull from my past work and build a portfolio that wasn’t just school projects.
How involved is BrainStation with your job hunting process?
We do a big demo day at the end of the course which is a chance to show your work to potential employers. It’s such an amazing opportunity to network with people in the industry. Post-graduation, they have an alumni Slack channel where they post job openings pretty frequently and they reach out and see if you’re struggling in any specific area. I wanted more interview prep, so one of the coordinators reached out to me to schedule time to help. I’ve been wanting to work at a very specific company and I was just in San Francisco interviewing with them!
Congrats! Hope you get it! What advice would you have for anyone exploring a UX design bootcamp at a school like BrainStation?
The concept of a diploma is so ambiguous these days, but for me, that was really important. If you want to relocate to the US like me, you have to have a UX diploma so that was the biggest pull for BrainStation for me. Know what you’re getting into before the program.
Make sure you have good mentorship both during and after the program. BrainStation paired us with mentors who worked in the industry, as well as alumni, and we would spend time doing critiques and reviews with them which was incredibly helpful.
The experience of being back in a classroom was incredible. It’s a very humbling experience and being in the industry, I figured I’m going to get As in everything because I’m choosing the industry and am passionate about it! But when you get there and you don’t get those marks, it’s very humbling and you can share those experiences with others around you. Embrace the craziness of the bootcamp because it’s a very intense experience. Take deep breaths, take a step back when you need to, and remember you’re doing this to better yourself and then keep going.