Sean Norton graduated in 2016 as a member of the Ruby Cohort. Prior to joining Designation, he taught English in Korea.
Tell us briefly about your job.
Vanguard Technology specializes in building websites for associations. It’s a small team of 12 people, which means we wear a lot of hats. I’m currently the UX/UI Strategist, so a lot of design questions come to me and I do the majority of the design work needed.
What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?
I was living in Korea. My wife and I had just gotten married, I finished my master’s degree in International Security and Policy, and I was teaching English in an after-school program. I tried to get a job in government, but came up against a huge experience wall, so we were looking for what was next. We started looking into coding bootcamps because we thought that’d get me into the workforce, but I found Designation and liked it because it was design-based. That was more up my alley.
What made your Designation experience unique?
For me, in the Ruby cohort, it was the people. Working with different people, being in the same room for hours and hours. There were such unique characters and backgrounds. Being able to work with people from a lot of different walks was an amazing part of the experience.
What was your favorite part of the Designation experience?
Getting to work on Glance and the 100 Club of Chicago as clients was really fun and challenging. Being asked to be a designer-in-residence afterward and working to help the next cohort through the process was incredibly rewarding and a blast. Guest speakers and creative directors who guided me and gave me things to think about while I worked made a huge difference and really grew me.
What did you find was the most useful skill, tool, or experience from your time in the program?
Learning to think critically. The skills and tools can come with time, but being able to say, “wait, we should do ABC because of XYZ” and knowing that my design process became refined (and will continually be refined) is probably the best thing I took with me.
How did you stand out from the competition in applying for, interviewing for, or getting this job?
Having a portfolio ready to go at a moment’s notice was one thing that helped. Presenting my work to clients while at Designation also gave me a lot to share when talking about design to potential employers.
What’s your favorite thing about being a professional designer now?
I don’t have to wear a suit to work. And working with people—interviewing them, seeing what they’re seeing, designing, iterating, and then putting it in front of their eyes again and hearing them say, “Oh man, that’s amazing.” I think it’s the coolest thing to be able to delight people with design and build products that actually make sense, and stand on real, human input.
What advice can you give to someone trying to start in the design industry?
Go for culture. Show your values and your culture. There were jobs I thought were going to be amazing, but the culture just didn’t fit. I’m actually glad I didn’t get some of the jobs that advertised free snacks all day because I probably would’ve hated working there. If your personal culture and their culture matches, then you’re in the place you want to be in.