Interview with Deana Rutherford, DESIGNATION Alum and UI/UX Designer at AdviseStream

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Deana Rutherford is a Chicago native and an alum of the Diamond cohort. In the past Deana has been a journalist, community organizer, and political campaign specialist, and it was her love for communication and her drive to help others that led her to learn more about UX and UI at DESIGNATION.


Where are you now working, and what is your job title?
I’m a UI/UX designer at AdviseStream, which began its life as a startup, but has since been acquired by Kaplan. AdviseStream is a SaaS business that helps students to set educational goals, take control of their career path, and communicate with their advisors. This is especially important for people applying to med school as it’s a really complex process! I wish I’d had something like it when I was in college.

Tell us a little bit about your new job!
My team is pretty spread out, so I’m fairly self-directed. There are only four of us here in Chicago. I’m still fairly new there, but the bulk of my job is listening to university directors, advisors, and students about what they need AdviseStream to do, and then figuring out how to address those needs in a way that can extend to all of our clients.

How would you describe the DESIGNATION experience?
Intense, but fun! The people in my cohort really made it great. Even though we were all trying to get similar jobs in the end, it wasn’t a competition between us; everyone was eager to help a classmate look over a design, proof a resume, or just cheer up in times of stress. I’m still in contact with most of my cohort.

What was the most interesting or useful thing you learned during the cohort?
Maybe realizing that being a good designer is more about having persistence and the right mindset than having natural talent. I’m still not a fabulous visual artist, but I’m good at thinking through problems, communicating verbally and visually, and asking questions that can help me reach useful conclusions. Design isn’t subjective in the way art is, you can get good at it with practice and an open mind.

“If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you’ll find yourself literally surrounded by people who want to help you succeed.”

What are the people at DESIGNATION like (including staff, instructor and fellow students)?
DESIGNATION is definitely a place where you’ll get out what you put in. It’s not high school, you’re not going to get detention if you don’t do the work. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you’ll find yourself literally surrounded by people who want to help you succeed.

Generally, people are nerdy and fun, and the stress and long hours get people to let their guard down and get friendly with one another pretty quickly. We played many animated games of Settlers of Catan when our brains needed a rest.

What were you doing before you came to DESIGNATION?
My background is in community organizing and nonprofit communications. Before DESIGNATION, I was working in the communications department at a labor union. Design and communications are more related than I realized going in, they’re both about meeting your people where they’re at and presenting information in a way that’s relevant to their lives.

How did you hear about DESIGNATION, and why did you decide to come?
To make a long story short, I started picking up minor design tasks (newsletters, Facebook share graphics, that kind of thing) at the union just because I was interested in learning, and, you know, somebody had to do it. I googled my way through the work for a while and enjoyed it, but I wanted to take a more thorough approach to learning design. I also knew I didn’t want to spend another several years (and thousands of dollars!) on school, so I started looking for boot camps, and took the plunge.

How did DESIGNATION help prepare you for your new role?
I did a summer internship at Civis Analytics last year, and my supervisor told me that she specifically looks for people who have gone through boot camps like this, because they understand the value of an iterative design process more than people who have come from traditional design schools. I think that’s the thing I appreciate most. I also really love and appreciate the careers folks, it’s great to have some people in your corner when you’re looking for work.

What was your favorite part of the DESIGNATION experience?
Probably just the insane volume of new things I learned in a short time. I used to daydream about inventing a kind of Fitbit for my brain, where I could watch bar graphs labeled UX and UI and CSS shoot up as I gained skills. See, I told you the people were nerdy.

What advice would you give to someone who was trying to break into the industry?
Do internships! They’re a great opportunity to learn new industries, meet new designers, and not feel bad about asking 1,000 questions a day. If it wasn’t for my love of job security, I’d do internships forever.

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