Jessica Peña is a graduate of the Obsidian Cohort. Prior to joining DESIGNATION she was working as a photographer and came to DESIGNATION to pursue a career in UI/UX.
Where do you work, and what’s your job title?
I’m a Product Designer at Allstate.
Tell us briefly about your job.
I’m a part of CompoZed Labs, which is a part of the technology department incorporating agile methodologies to improve Allstate’s product line.
A Product Designer incorporates both UX and UI skills. As part of the CompoZed structure, designers pair with one another in a project. Our main role is to lead the user-centered design process and become a user expert and advocate through the project lifespan. We form design decisions that users find useful, usable, and desirable. To do this, we lead research, present our design decisions to stakeholders, and provide design direction, support, and education for the whole team.
There’s always at least one project manager, some paired developers, and some paired designers on a team. My current team is fairly large—we have people here in Northbrook, Ireland, and San Francisco. My pair and I support and collaborate with about 12 developers and several project managers.
What did you do professionally before you started at DESIGNATION?
I was a recent graduate from University of Illinois in Chicago with a degree in general psychology. During and after college, I worked as General Manager for a local martial arts school outside Chicago.
How did you hear about DESIGNATION? And why did you decide to attend?
I searched for programs in Chicago that could give me the knowledge I needed to start working in the field. DESIGNATION provided a classroom experience and focused on the full design process. I enjoy learning in classroom settings, and it was the right amount of intensity and time commitment to jumpstart a new career.
How would you describe your DESIGNATION experience?
Intense, challenging, and fun. There’s a lot of work and commitment involved into building a new career, which means you have a short amount of time to learn and apply a lot of new skills and get ready for the job market. It felt overwhelming at times, but the program provided me with knowledgeable instructors and support when I felt lost.
I also had my cohortmates to rely on, and that’s part of the fun! I’m grateful for the people in my program; they made my experience fun and unique. It’s motivating to meet and collaborate with hardworking people who have the same goals. I still have friends from the program that I meet up with.
What did you find was the most useful skill, tool, or experience from your time in the program?
Working with startups in the Client Phase. Not only did I utilize my shiny new UX skills, but I was exposed to real design problems. The work during this phase gave me tangible experience and provided me with content to talk about during job interviews.
How did DESIGNATION help prepare you for your job?
It gave me the ability to stay competitive in the industry. During the program, we learned the tools designers in the industry use and, more importantly, learned a user-centered design process. I learned how to defend my design decisions and feel comfortable talking about my work to employers and stakeholders. This alone has been helpful to me at Allstate because I encounter people unfamiliar about what UX is. And I got to experience an agile environment and deliver work quickly and efficiently.
How did DESIGNATION help prepare you for your job?
DESIGNATION really, in all aspects, is a bootcamp. You’re expected to perform quickly and efficiently while being exposed to many new things and people. Above all, DESIGNATION taught me how to navigate the difficult process of making decisions. It doesn’t really matter if you have a fabulous idea; you need to convince your team it is. Also, the information you can groom from stakeholders and interviews depends on your people skills, and DESIGNATION just throws you in a boiling pot. You have to learn quickly to survive.
How did you stand out from the competition in applying for, interviewing for, or getting this job?
Networking helped me most. Going to local meetups and meeting other designers was such a great experience. I got a sense of what skills the industry found valuable and exposed myself to new design topics. I also used LinkedIn as a resource and reached out to UX leaders at hiring companies so I could conduct informational interviews. I was able to personally talk to someone in the company to find out if the role was right for me and have my portfolio seen by key employees.
“Just do it—start designing and learning on your own…Find products or apps you love and try redesigning them. When you start feeling stuck, search for your favorite designers and get inspiration from them.”
What advice can you give to someone trying to start in the design industry?
Just do it—start designing and learning on your own. There are valuable online resources available like Medium, Smashing Magazine, and podcasts. Find products or apps you love and try redesigning them. When you start feeling stuck, search for your favorite designers and get inspiration from them. Don’t forget to attend a meetup or participate in an online forum. Start as early as possible in contributing or becoming part of the design community—they’re fun ways to learn about design topics while building connections in the industry.