Tell us briefly about your job today.
I’m a health and fitness nut, so I lucked out with becoming an in-house UX/UI designer for the US team at Vitality. The company creates wellness incentive programs that gamify healthy behaviors and choices; I’m constantly working my UX and UI muscles in this role, and I love that my day-to-day work changes. I started out re-creating screens for our marketing team and designing little banners for the web experience, but I’m now going through full journey mapping to prototyping and user testing experiences for our mobile app redesign.
What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?
I worked as a customer support representative for different companies in Chicago, which usually included some medley of answering calls and emails from angry or upset customers. I chose to go into design partly from attending an architecture intensive and partly from recognizing patterns in customer complaints at my jobs. When I learned that I could make a career out of being creative to find solutions to pain points I learned in speaking to users, it was like everything I had done professionally was finally coming together.
How did you hear about Designation, and why did you decide to attend?
I was talking about possibly going into UX/UI at my college reunion, and by crazy random happenstance, [Nectarine Cohort graduate] Angela Kung overheard me. She moved to Chicago for Designation and stressed that I look into it. My tech friends pointed me to alumni like [Nectarine Cohort graduate] Kelly Graver and [Hazel Cohort graduate] MB Stanton, and even my future Virtual Phase instructor Jancy Liu—hi everyone! I’d read about the high employment rates, the strong alumni network, and depth of study, but being able to talk to the Designation community before I even visited the website sold me.
Looking back at your Designation experience, how do you describe its impact, now that some time has passed?
I’m closer to being the person I was meant to be because of Designation. I love how I lived design for months with Designation, and it didn’t stop after I graduated and started my job. Spending months of reading, researching, sketching, illustrating, iterating, testing, and presenting work put me into a mode I never got from college or my past jobs. I’m incredibly excited and passionate about what I do, and it all really grew from what I got with Designation.
I’m closer to being the person I was meant to be because of Designation.
What were your favorite parts of life at Designation?
I was incredibly lucky to have a Designation Wife, Mom, and Dad. Having a fellow design spouse go through the same experience with you (ride or die, Sabrina Gagliano) and have the same sense of humor as you? And having two mentors (love you lots, Marjan Ghahrejmani and Kyle Skidmore) who’ll listen to—and laugh at—everything that frustrates/excites/bores/
What’s the staff like at Designation?
The Designation staff had an odd way of knowing a lot, being there for me, and intentionally not giving me a solid answer for design questions; to this day, I believe they did this to get me to research and ask questions, but also learn there’s rarely ever a concrete answer in design. “It depends” is something I heard a lot at Designation, but it’s incredible to hear it so much in the working world.
What advice or recommendations do you have for people considering applying to Designation, or for those already in the program?
Lean INTO the struggle. Rock with it. No situation or test or experience or design is ever going to be perfect, especially the first time around. You’ll work with someone you don’t like, get torn apart in user testing, have to spend late nights in the office cranking out a prototype, but it’s a learning process. The sooner you embrace this, the sooner you’ll make breakthroughs in your own work.
Lean INTO the struggle. Rock with it. No situation or test or experience or design is ever going to be perfect, especially the first time around.
What were the most useful skills, tools, or experiences at Designation that have been the most useful for you in your job?
Iterating, iterating, iterating. I’ve been able to deliver what clients and employees think they want, but I’ve also taken time to show what else can be done. When I present more than just the one solution I was expected to have, I show my approach to thinking through design as well as my drive to create the best possible experience. Clients, teammates, managers, and stakeholders love that level of effort.
What do you do in your current job that uses anything from your pre-design jobs?
I feel like I’m supposed to say that working in customer support made me more personable, but I really think it just helped me listen past what users say and understand what they actually need. I like knowing how to ask questions to hone in on specific issues in a user experience while keeping the conversation casual and natural.
What are your favorite parts of being a professional designer today?
My favorite part of being a designer is realizing that I’m never really done “working.” I’m constantly absorbing information and inspiration while going about my day-to-day, I’m experiencing good and bad design, and I’m getting more and more involved in the Chicago design community. My exposure to design is hardly exhausting; the medium differs and changes. Being able to go to a museum or a bar or a corn maze and apply what made that experience successful (or unsuccessful) to my work is what makes my career amazing.
What’s next for you, professionally speaking?
I recently attended an AIGA Chicago studio tour at Next/Now, and was introduced to digital/physical hybrid experiences. I’d love to tap into my history in karate and dance and work on gesture interactions and motion graphics. I’m playing with the idea of learning TouchDesigner or other motion graphic software. If anyone has recommendations or pointers or (free) software, please let me know!
What advice do you have for people looking to get their start in the design field?
Embrace. Your. Past. Take it from someone who studied neuroscience and dance in college, then worked in customer support for nearly five years: your experience, no matter how unique and odd it is, will contribute to your thinking and design process. A concept you learned in that architecture immersion or group activity you did in that one juggling workshop can (and will) find its way into your work, and that’s what will make you different and appealing to the right employer.