Interview with Nick Palumbo,
UX Researcher at Solstice

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Nick Palumbo is a graduate of the Ruby Cohort. Prior to joining Designation he worked in digital marketing and analytics at an agency in Rhode Island.

Where do you work, and what’s your job title?
I’m a UX Researcher at Solstice.

Tell us briefly about your company.
Solstice is a consulting agency based in Chicago, but also maintains offices and sibling companies globally. We specialize in new technologies and trends like conversational UX, the Internet of Things, and robotics.

Being a consultancy, the teams within Solstice tend to vary based on the project and client needs. For UX specific teams, we tend to have 1-2 researchers, a few UX/UI designers, and a scrum master. We also work cohesively with the strategists, product teams, and developers, but the level of closeness varies by need.

Tell us briefly about your job.
I’m fortunate because my job toes the line of UX strategist in many cases. We break research up into exploratory (or discovery) research and validation research. It’s important for us to have the flexibility to inform design decisions before they need to be made and subsequently test the designs before they go to development. We leverage this to stay agile and make better decisions for clients before going to production and finding out something isn’t working. For me personally, what I’m doing between those two types of responsibilities depends on the project and client needs, but it’s often a little bit of both.

Because we have a pretty flat hierarchy, everyone is responsible for their own work. If you take on a responsibility you own it, so there’s a level of personal pride in the work you do that’s not always present at other companies. There’s also a healthy level of competitive drive to want to do the best work and provide the best results for the clients, which translates well from Designation.

What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?
I lived in Rhode Island and worked in digital marketing and analytics at an agency called RDW Group. I worked to create social media marketing campaigns for prominent organizations in higher education, energy, and state industries, then analyzed their performance and synthesized data-driven recommendations. The role was very much a client-facing position, which helped me immensely with the work I’ve done since.

How did you hear about Designation? And why did you decide to attend?
I was first exposed to UX research and design at RDW and knew that was what I wanted to do. I took some courses online to complement some of the skills I already had, then applied for a few programs. I was interviewing with General Assembly at the same time as Designation and found the experiences to be polar opposites. With GA, I could tell that I was one of many people in line, and if I didn’t enroll it wouldn’t matter to anyone there. When I talked to Will, the program director at Designation, I could tell that he was actually interested in what I was saying. So I knew if they care that much during the recruiting process, the rest of the experience must also be similar.

What was your favorite part of the Designation experience?
Being so immersed with such a diverse group of people. I don’t think you can really relate that to anything else. Everybody brings something to the table, no matter where they were before the program. You really get the opportunity to learn from everyone. I also tend to be pretty competitive, so there was always motivation to push myself to do better.

What did you find was the most useful skill, tool, or experience from your time in the program?
By far the most useful skills were establishing my workflow and style, and being able to clearly present and defend my work. It’s been so helpful to understand how I work and what I personally need to do to accomplish goals and get things done.

And as an extension of that, being comfortable presenting my work and being ready to explain why I made the decisions that I did. Part of that really goes back to my personal workflow and being thoughtful about what I’m doing. Designation really taught me to be more considerate and thoughtful when it comes to what I’m producing. I can’t begin to estimate how much that’s helped with communicating my thoughts and ideas to clients and stakeholders.

I’m able to go into client meetings and be an advocate for users. It’s so rewarding to be able to see the difference.

How did Designation help prepare you for your job?
One the biggest things that Designation did was getting me used to working at a fast pace. I really couldn’t have simulated anywhere else, especially through teaching myself. Client Phase projects are well-structured with built-in timelines and goals to achieve, which is something you can’t learn by studying on your own.

How did you stand out from the competition in applying for, interviewing for, or getting this job?
I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I reached out to alumni from the Designation network. I knew that Solstice was hiring and I was lucky enough to meet another alum that worked there. I connected with him and asked a handful of specific questions and I was able to get a foot in the door.

From there, I was able to show what I accomplished at Designation and how my past experience complements that. I was able to show that I like to hustle and can go right in with a “get shit done” mentality. Thinking and acting fast can make a huge difference in an agency culture, so it’s definitely something I wanted to highlight. Also, because I had experience presenting my work to clients on a regular basis from the program, I knew what to say and how to present the work in my portfolio.

What’s your favorite thing about being a professional designer now?
The most satisfying thing for me is that I have a lot of say in strategy and decision-making. I’m able to go into client meetings and be an advocate for users, communicate what I know, and things I learned from Designation to help make user-driven decisions; it’s so rewarding to be able to see the difference.

What advice can you give to someone trying to start in the design industry?
You have to hustle and be self-driven. No one’s going to do it for you. No one’s going to expect you to know how to use every tool, or expect you to know every practice. Being ready to hustle and being motivated to do that for yourself is what will set you apart. If you’re expecting hand-holding and perpetual micromanaging, it’s going to take you a long time to get where you want to be. Designation can give you the confidence to stand on your own feet and be proud of what you accomplish.

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