On how I got started with User Experience Design [Part 1]

This is Part 1 of X on how I got started in the UX Design field. These series of posts are not intended to be an “How-to Guide” to start a UX career, but rather to demonstrate that there’s no “right way” to become a UX practitioner.

“So what the hell is it that you do?”

That was my friend Michelle’s response when I told her I was moving to Silicon Valley in May of 2015. Having graduated from college in 2013, I was pretty discreet about my work plans until that moment, particularly because I was unemployed or under-employed following my exit from the Notre Dame bubble. It would take me a little more than two years before I landed a full-time job in User Experience Design.

Here’s how I got here.

The beginning

My unemployment was voluntary at first. I had a standing offer from a media marketing company in Chicago my Senior Year that I rejected because 1. it was too cold in Chicago 2. the pay was extremely low and 3. I was newly fascinated by the startup world, which led me to spurn any semblance of “corporate culture.” After turning down the offer, I was subsequently rejected and ignored by more than 100 companies (my story was in the New York Times, here). Ouch.

Having a tiny bit of marketing experience in college, I was convinced that was the direction I wanted to take in my career. UX Design wasn’t even on the radar yet, probably because I had no idea such an industry even existed. And as a Film, Television, and Theatre major with no internship experience, I wasn’t the most appealing job candidate for companies.

So I offered to work for free.

I stumbled into a 3-month startup that I thought was a great idea (cataloging and curating MOOCs), then I cold-emailed the founder with a proposed marketing internship for the summer of 2013 by outlining all the tasks I would fulfill. All at the cost of nothing. To my surprise, she agreed. But during the internship, I found myself continuously coming back on the product, our design, and the “feeling” of using the website. What will set us apart from our competitors, I believed, was our intuitive user interface and how we displayed our information.

Unfortunately, the startup didn’t last long and the founder (who is still a great mentor) is now the Head of Product at Uber China. After the conclusion of my internship, she told me: “maybe you’d be more interested in User Experience Design.” I never heard of UX Design up until that point, so I immediately started Googling.

At first I was skeptical because I was never the “visual” type, which meant I couldn’t really be a “designer.” I quickly found out UX Design not much visual at all. In reality, UX Design really challenged my predisposed beliefs about what it meant to be a “designer.” Instead of designing things to be pretty, there was a whole industry based on designing to make things work.

At that moment, I knew. This was what I was looking for.

– B. Kim

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