Bootcamp student to Product designer
After a year of working full-time, I wanted to look back at my journey as a career switcher to being settled in my career.
Here are the 4 stages of my transition:
- Bootcamp Search
- Designlab + Training
- Job Search
- Full-Time Work + Ongoing Training
1. Bootcamp Search
Before paying some big bucks on a bootcamp, I did a thorough bootcamp comparison. You can read about my findings here. Ultimately I decided on Designlab and still feel the course provides the right training to challenge a new designer to prepare for a career. Advantages of Designlab include:
- 1–1 mentorship
- Practice presenting work and receiving feedback through Group Crits
- Flexible project topics for portfolio building
2. Designlab + Training
Once you are in a bootcamp, you have to put yourself in a learning mindset and not get overwhelmed by all that you don’t know. It’s a learning process and you will work on multiple projects as an opportunity to practice.
Top tips to get the most out of any bootcamp course:
Create portfolio projects that you are passionate about.
Solving interesting problems, or creating for industries you are interested in, will add confidence in your design when discussing your projects with recruiters.
Ask your mentor for resources.
Pattern websites, design systems, YouTube tutorials, articles, newsletters, or anything of the sort. You should be a sponge and start bookmarking everything that will be helpful to reference in the future.
Learn from existing patterns.
Good UX design already exists on a lot of popular websites and apps. You don’t need to be overly creative when you are first learning. Don’t only pull examples from Dribble or Pinterest, because many of those examples were never developed for best usability. Learn from real, functional websites or apps from example sites like Mobbin or Land-Book.
Compare other portfolios.
Your portfolio is your most important asset post-grad and you want to be competitive with what’s out there. Check out bestfolios for examples or from other bootcamp graduates. In Designlab, we can also view portfolios from graduates in the “I Got a Job” channel.
Use student discounts.
Designlab provides student perks for Figma, AdobeXD, Sketch and Webflow — A lot of the relevant tools for working as a product designer.
There’s a lot to pick up on and I recommend doing additional training outside of the course. Some of my favorites include:
- Behance, Daily Adobe XD Creative Challenges
Though AdobeXD is not most companies’ preferred design tool, it is a great platform for learning UI design and interactions. The tutorials are fun projects that can be added to a portfolio or just a way to learn from an experienced designer how to navigate around a design workspace with shortcuts, layers, and tools.
Even after graduating, it can be hard to keep track of patterns and design terms. I found Uxcel a great resource to gamify learning a lot of the basics. They site Nielsen Norman and other articles for the information, so it serves as a good “source of truth” for best practices.
3. YouTube tutorials
Designlab unfortunately does not provide a lot of Figma tutorials so I had to outsource a lot of my learning about prototyping and interactions elsewhere. One of my favorite tutorials is on Smart Animate by Jesse Showalter. Once I learned this, the possibilities are endless with animation on Figma.
3. Job Search
Once it comes time to put yourself out there, consider the following tips:
Ask for recommendations/referrals
On my LinkedIn, I requested recommendations from my DesignLab mentor and Group Crit facilitator. They shared notes on my soft skills including my ability to provide/receive feedback.
Network with established designers
Most jobs are hired internally or through recommendations before they ever appear on job sites like Indeed. Meet with design directors or design managers on ADPList to learn about their team’s needs, company environment, and current projects.
When asking a director, ‘What are you looking for in a designer?,’ he shared that he had a job opening for an interaction designer. I asked to apply and this is how I landed my first UX job.
Prepare questions for every interaction.
For every ADPList session and for every job interview, I prepare a list of questions. Make sure your questions relate to the company and show your interests. For instance, I care about accessibility and sometimes ask ‘What’s your current process of checking how accessible your design is?’
Other important questions include:
- How big is your design team? How are the roles set-up?
- How would you describe the value of UX design in your organization? Is there a design-first culture?
- How does cross-team collaboration work in your company?
4. Full-Time Work + Ongoing Training
Now having experienced UX design in two large organizations, I realized there are additional skillsets to become more familiar with:
- Agile or Lean workflow
Design is not linear and requires designers to scale their effort for every project. It’s important to ‘point’ your work to distinguish how difficult it will be to design/develop. Every company approaches this differently, but you may have to learn how to document work on tools such as Rally, Aha!, or Jira.
- Presenting and annotating work
Creating clickable prototypes and annotating the different scenarios or developer notes is necessary for product owners and other teams to understand the design. Look up different annotation kits in Figma community to help with your note formatting. You may need to familiarize new tools such as InVision or Zeplin, depending on your company.
Similar to the last two points, team documentation is crucial to maintaining consistent design or understanding design decisions. Check out this article from Dropbox on design docs. You mostly want to be able to keep track of change management. This will also help when it’s time to make a case study for your portfolio or team.
4. Research Facilitation
Depending on your team size, you may be responsible for facilitating research. Use templates on Miro, FigJam, or other whiteboarding tools to help create interactive boards. See if your company has access to Userzoom or Usertesting.com that will recruit participants and launch unmoderated tests. (Huge timesaver!) Find out if there are contact lists you are allowed to reach out to for user interviews or testing. At our organization, our NPS surveys provide users that opt-in to be contacted for feedback. Research is so important, so learn and leverage available tools to run it efficiently.
My journey of becoming a full-time designer was not as scary as a lot of people make it seem. I worked hard to grow my skills and make sure I had quality work to show for it. To me, the most important part of becoming a designer is believing that I can design great UX. Over time, I learned how to support my designs with research, examples from patterns, and feedback from users/developers. If you stay intentional about producing great design, you can get to the point of doing it professionally.