Interview with MaryBeth Stanton,
Jr. Product Designer at VISANOW

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MaryBeth Stanton is an alum from the Hazel Cohort. Having done work in various creative roles in the past, MaryBeth chose DESIGNATION over the traditional education route in order to break into UX/UI design.

 

Where are you now working, and what is your job title?
I work at VISANOW, a global immigration company that aids in the visa application process. My title is Jr. Product Designer, so I’m doing research, interviews, wireframes, rapid prototyping, and user interface design. I love how many skills I get to flex here!

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Tell us a little bit about your new job!
VISANOW works with individuals, families and businesses to keep their documents, forms and letters organized while connecting them to our sister company, GIA Firm, where the Legal Team can answer questions quickly, review work and eventually ship the visa application off to the government. It’s pretty expansive and has a lot of moving parts to design. Overall there are 5 platforms we’re designing with future plans for a mobile app. Our tech team is rapidly growing and is at 22 people right now. Because our site is used internally, I frequently meet with other departments for interviews and user testing. Our happy-hours and office lunches are really fun. I didn’t know what to expect, but I am pleased with the office culture.

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How would you describe the DESIGNATION experience?
DESIGNATION totally changed my life. I evolved into a new person in a design-related and a personal way: learning how to work with different personality types, how to see feedback as a gift, how to be patient with myself and to “make a lot of work”. I remember climbing the steps of Merchandise Mart and replaying Ira Glass’ “Mind the Gap” on repeat and listening to Debbie Millman’s podcasts all day long for inspiration. Designation is all about long hours, tons of information and making a lot of iterations to generate the best work. It was great to have my cohort with me to experience similar things, but in the end the experience is very individual and you’re going to get out of it exactly what you put into it.

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What was the most interesting or useful thing you learned during the cohort?
I learned the most about myself and my capacity for endurance and forgiveness. I hit a lot of roadblocks during and after the bootcamp. To sum up my DESIGNATION experience I learned that the learning process is ongoing. There is no finish line and it’s not linear. Of course all the design skills and feedback on projects were crucial, but without the right mindset none of that is helpful. It was a very meta experience; I learned how to start designing my life.

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What are the people at DESIGNATION like (including staff, instructor and fellow students)?
The teachers are all brilliant and helpful. They stayed by my side through the process even when I felt like I had exhausted their help. They were always sending me jobs, meeting with me over and over again to walk me though the rough spots of my portfolio or where I was goofing up in interviewing. The students are always different for each cohort. It’s a very real-life experience because that’s the way any design team could be assembled. It’s important to note that while you’re all starting in the same place within the bootcamp, you’re going to be with people from all walks of life with different skillsets and experience. You learn right away to not compare your status with someone else’s; it’s just going to break your heart, distract you and waste your time.

“The teachers are all brilliant and helpful. They were always sending me jobs and meeting with me over and over again to walk me though the rough spots of my portfolio.”

What were you doing before you came to DESIGNATION?
I had always dabbled in different creative fields and had user-centered part-time jobs. More recently, I was doing social media, marketing, photography, videography, blog-writing and event-planning for The Wormhole as well as being a shift lead. Further back in college I worked in my school’s Writing Center and ran a radioshow. Once in Chicago, I worked at a vintage store and created their website and social media presence. I taught art classes to elementary school kids. It took me a long time to figure out what kind of work I wanted to invest in and going back to a university or college for years was out of the question, both time and money-wise. I was a self-taught designer who really needed guidance and an advancement of skills. I didn’t want to be an artist; I wanted to be a career person who got to design and create experiences for people that were delightful and innovative and also be able to pay my bills.

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How did you hear about DESIGNATION, and why did you decide to come?
A year before I enrolled my friend, Igor, who is also profiled here, came into the coffeeshop I worked in and was elated at just graduating from this design bootcamp and landing his first design job. I did research on the different programs offered in Chicago and DESIGNATION made the most sense to what I wanted to be doing. I didn’t know how intense it would be to quit my cozy job, live off savings, or be in an extreme learning environment 6 days a week for 18 weeks. To make big changes you have to take big risks. There was a consistent inner dialog of, “OMG, what have I done?!” but it turned out to be the best career risk I’ve ever taken.

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How did DESIGNATION help prepare you for your new role?
Besides the skills and education, I learned to translate my ideas to developers and non-tech people and how to stand up for ideas that get challenged or need extra backing. It also prepped me for the industry: I find the design community to be lacking inclusivity and diversity, just like the real world, and I want to help things evolve in the right ways. This involves big and small moves, like standing up when something uncool is being said or done and actively making room for those who get pushed to the side. I am a queer woman and am focused on inclusivity at every level, so I created a meetup called Marginally Designed. From being in DESIGNATION to all the meetups, events and conferences I’ve attended, Ive learned about inclusive design and how much inviting yourself to the table can truly change things. Not only do I need to carve out space for myself, I am working to make that space bigger for everyone.

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What was your favorite part of the DESIGNATION experience?
Learning something with such a high ROI was a new experience for me after being a Liberal Arts major in university, haha! The best part of the experience was that it was the beginning of a larger experience that is ongoing. I’m a designer. I design. There are so many paths I can go down now.

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What advice would you give to someone who was trying to break into the industry?
Be yourself. Make. A lot. Of. Work. Don’t be afraid to try different mediums. If the job hunt isn’t going well, create your own work. Ask people to look at your work. Invite people to get coffee and ask them what inspires them, ask them what they do to stay inspired and keep making relevant work. Allow yourself to be inspired by people outside of your realm. Go to meetups, go to events, go to conferences, network with people, work to make the community better. If you are a person who finds a lack of representation in this community, and it definitely exists, invite yourself to the table, and if that’s not enough, make a new table! This industry is not unlike the world outside of it. Get involved and stay involved and help it evolve; there is always work to do.

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