Interview with Sara Legg, Design Researcher at Quicksand Design Studio

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Sara Legg is an alum from the Hazel Cohort. With a background in anthropology, her natural interest in people led her to Designation to study UX Research and Service Design.


Where are you now working, and what is your job title?
I am a design researcher at Quicksand Design Studio in India. My first three months here I’ve worked out of the Delhi office but am now relocating to their Bangalore office and couldn’t be more excited about that!

Tell us a little bit about your new job!
I found Quicksand while looking for agencies around the world that practice service design and do work in the social and humanitarian sectors. Quicksand does both of these things but so much more — we are very multidisciplinary! As a design researcher I do everything from secondary research, the usual user research including diary studies, interviews, design probes etc., to synthesizing research findings and ideating on innovative solutions with my team. During my time here I’ve also facilitated a HCD workshop and a two-week makers lab under the project UnBox which is incubated by Quicksand.

How would you describe the Designation experience?
Appropriately Bootcampy? I thought it was the right amount of work, time, knowledge, camaraderie, etc. Overall Designation delivered what I had expected. I made a lot of friends 4 lyfe, gained a considerable amount of knowledge about UX / UI, and felt competent and confident in making a career move. I really like that it is a non-traditional educational experience – I really didn’t want to go back to college, but absolutely needed this particular new skill to help me succeed.

What was the most interesting or useful thing you learned during the cohort?
The most interesting thing I learned was how to network and market myself — but beyond that as a ‘soft skill,’ the people I was actually meeting, the connections I was making, that was more invaluable than anything else I learned at Designation. As someone who had spent a ton of time in academia in the social sciences / cultural arena, I really did not have much guidance or awareness of what practically was needed from me to be growing a successful career.

“I think the key to making any sort of change is just to do something and gain clarity through action, even if you aren’t sure what you’re doing is right.”

What are the people at Designation like (including staff, instructor and fellow students)?
The people at Designation are all very unique with a variety of interests and backgrounds which makes the entire experience multidisciplinary and never dull. There were varying degrees of expertise in different areas, different educational levels, a range of ages, etc. The instructors were not only knowledgable but extremely passionate about their field, how other areas of design inform that field, and best practices across different forms of design.

What were you doing before you came to Designation?
I was doing a lot of somewhat random things, from babysitting to working on publications to helping curate small arts festivals.

How did you hear about Designation, and why did you decide to come?
I was in an airplane on my way to Seattle and I heard a woman behind me talking to the person next to her about being a UX researcher. I knew this was something I wanted to learn more about, as about 90% of jobs for anthropology graduates are UX jobs, but it had always been very nebulous to me. I made it a point to introduce myself, and the next day I visited her office and educated myself on the UX process. A week later I was back in Chicago and signed up for a GA course in UX design. As a last measure I did some research on other UX bootcamps in Chicago and came across Designation. After doing an informational interview with [Program Director] Will [Shandling], I decided I wanted more class hours and client projects and Designation offered that, as well as a consistent staff, while GA did not. I quickly withdrew from GA and enrolled at Designation and that was that!

How did Designation help prepare you for your new role?
Designation staff and students were very open to me actively trying to complement my UX work with my academic background in anthropology. I was always heavily focused on the research side of UX, and while Designation doesn’t offer a ‘research’ track, I always felt free to take ownership of my work as research-based and be vocal about my understanding of myself as a UX researcher. Learning about the differences between UX, UI, front-end dev, and all the roles in-between helped me understand where research is appropriate, what sort of user research methods should be used and how much research should be conducted for any given project.

What was your favorite part of the Designation experience?
I have two favorite parts. The first is having been able to experience the old space for the first half of the bootcamp as well as the new space in 1871 for the second half. I also like that cohorts are staggered and that I can interact with several cohorts at any given time during my journey at Designation. My truly favorite part of Designation is probably Won. I feel like part is not even correct here, he feels like the ‘heart’ of it to me, likely due to some combination of his equally cynical / ‘don’t give a care’ affect and the real sincerity of how much he personally invests in his students being successful and understanding the material. He wants you to get it – he knows you’re unique. Maybe he’s secretly a dad. He’s also super smart and appears to have his shit together and that’s inspiring.

What advice would you give to someone who was trying to break into the industry?
Don’t go back into academia to do that. Take several months and do some research on precisely which skills you are looking to learn, the same amount of time you’d research any mentor you’d like to study under. Or, if you have no clue, just jump into it and start doing something. I think the key to making any sort of change is just to do something, and gain clarity through action, even if you aren’t sure what you’re doing is right, through action you will always get feedback of some kind.

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