Interview with Kate Doornbos,
UI/UX Designer at Perkins+Will

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Kate Doornbos is a graduate of the Topaz Cohort. Prior to joining DESIGNATION she worked in marketing and partnerships for an education technology nonprofit in San Francisco.

Where do you work, and what’s your job title?
I’m a UI/UX Designer for Perkins+Will in Chicago.

Tell us briefly about your company and you job.
Perkins+Will is an architecture and design firm that specializes in sustainable design. We’re pretty massive– about 2,500 employees and 23 offices globally. We design buildings and interiors for major universities, museums, hospitals, schools, companies, and others.

I’m on the I/O team, a small team that build websites and tools for things like knowledge management, human resources, and risk assessment. I’m the only full-time UI/UX designer at the moment, but it’s really cool to be surrounded by architects, interior designers, and urban planners.

We’re designing for designers, basically. Projects usually start when a team comes to us with an idea for an application. On a typical day, I’ll do anything from brainstorming ideas with our Chief Information Officer, to wireframing and testing a product, to creating high-fidelity mockups, and collaborating with developers to implement the final design. Another part of the job is updating and managing our pattern library– a set of UI elements we use to build a consistent, branded experience across all our different applications.

What did you do professionally before you started at DESIGNATION?
I worked in marketing and partnerships for EducationSuperHighway, an education technology nonprofit in San Francisco. Before that, I worked in research for Arabella Advisors, a social impact consulting firm. Going through DESIGNATION really helped me realize how those experiences applied to and strengthened my work as a designer.

How did you hear about DESIGNATION? And why did you decide to attend?
I knew for a few years that I wanted to go into design, but couldn’t afford the traditional route. My previous job held a hackathon; I led the design process for the winning project, and that made me feel ready to go into a design program. I found DESIGNATION online and picked it over the others because it’s more rigorous, I’d learn both visual and experience design, and get to work on actual client projects.

How would you describe your DESIGNATION experience?
Exciting! It’s taking a leap of faith. DESIGNATION is a simulation of some of the hardest things you’ll face in your first design job. It’s a ton of work, but it’s also incredibly fun—lots of late-night laughs, silent discos at our desks, and celebratory drinks.

What did you find was the most useful skill, tool, or experience from your time in the program?
There are so, so many things I gained: friends, a solid portfolio with client projects, invaluable career advice, connections to companies, and access to a huge network of other designers across the country. Even now, after graduation, it’s been super-helpful to stay connected with everyone over Slack. I love seeing all the resources other graduates post and being able to ask questions and advice from other designers.

DESIGNATION pushes you to draw connections between concepts, to understand how each step of the design process feeds into the next, and to explain and sell your design decisions.

How did DESIGNATION help prepare you for your job?
I was surprised and really happy with how prepared I felt after the program. There’s still plenty to learn, but it helps to have already gone through some of the hardest things you’ll face in your first design job: learning on the fly, navigating tight deadlines, and working with clients and other designers. DESIGNATION pushes you to draw connections between concepts, to understand how each step of the design process feeds into the next, and to explain and sell your design decisions.

How did you stand out from the competition in applying for, interviewing for or getting this job?
Being able to fluently explain my design decisions and talk about the two or three key lessons I learned from my projects really helped. I went beyond surface-level insights (“I learned how work with clients.”) and into deeper, more actionable lessons (“I found success by using a specific tool to gain a better sense of the client’s preferences.”). As a visual designer, I think it helped me to go after companies and opportunities that valued the same design aesthetic as me.

What advice can you give to someone trying to start in the design industry?
No matter what kind of designer you are, view research as a significant part of the job. Spend as much time as you can learning UI patterns on sites like pttrns and on the apps and websites you use every day. Examine these things critically, analyze the qualities that make something work, and look for ways to incorporate existing patterns into your designs. There are a ton of design systems, pattern libraries, and UI kits out there—don’t be afraid to use them or look to them for inspiration. If used right, they can speed up your design process and add more polish to your work.

Taste is another really important component for visual designers. Especially as a newer designer, focus on developing your design taste and being able to speak to it. It really helps to stay on top of UI trends, so save examples of brands and products that inspire you. When you reference them in job interviews and in your work, you place yourself at the center of design that influences and impacts you.

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