Melvin Latham graduated in 2017 as a UI Designer in the Xenon Cohort. He came to Designation from Memphis, where he worked in charter school education, and currently works as a UX Designer for UniGroup in St. Louis.
Tell us briefly about your job today. I’m a UX Designer for QDivision, a technology startup within UniGroup, one of the leaders in global relocation and specialized logistics services. I’m a part of a small, talented team of visual designers, content strategists, communication specialists, and UX designers who collaborate with a variety of professionals to help solve business problems with innovative technology. What does your day-to-day work look like?
I share priorities with my team at our morning stand-up meeting and I’m off to support product teams who have any existing or upcoming design concerns. That may involve presenting the workflow of an app feature to product leads or development teams, facilitating whiteboard ideation sessions, researching logistics processes, building high-fidelity prototypes, or conducting user tests. Although the bulk of my work is in UX, at times I get the chance to dive into other areas—animation, logo creation, branding—to meet team goals.
What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?
Before Designation, I was in Memphis helping a nonprofit executive team launch and support a couple of charter schools. From creating new community outreach initiatives to researching educational technology, I wore a lot of professional hats and spent a lot of time figuring out what I enjoyed doing most. A lot of that extra time went to learning design software to make marketing materials and revamp websites for my schools. I remember telling a colleague how cool it would be to do this kind of work every day; a few weeks after, I researched design and technology opportunities to see if there were any roles that sparked my interest.
Why did you choose design as a career?
Design hit so many marks for I wanted to do with my future. It’s a challenging, ever-changing field helping solve all sorts of complex problems. As a lifelong learner, I thought design would be a great opportunity to pair creativity with my love for tinkering and helping others.
I chose Designation for its program length, location, reputation, and very comprehensive career transition blueprint.
How did you hear about Designation, and why did you decide to attend?
After declaring my goal to do something in design, I searched for a lot of UX/UI programs across the US and stumbled upon Designation through Course Report. I chose Designation for its program length, location, reputation, and very comprehensive career transition blueprint.
What did you think it would be like before you applied?
All the alumni reviews I read said Designation was the hardest, most rewarding experience of their lives. At first, I wasn’t sure if the time commitment was worth it and even thought about attending a shorter program in Boston. However, my gut couldn’t eliminate interest in Designation. I was long overdue for a life-changing adventure and the program appeared to be way more than just a set of tech classes. After sharing plans out loud with family, I held my breath for a moment and took the plunge.
Looking back at your Designation experience, how do you describe its impact?
Designation has made a significant impact in my life. I’ve stepped out of so many comfort zones and surprised myself with learning new things at a fast pace. Challenge: In four one-week Google Design-style sprints, design a mock mobile app to help Chicago drivers park in an exact area based off current city parking rules and regulations. What were your favorite parts of life at Designation? I really enjoyed the Client Phase. Having the chance to share my work with clients and help them meet their business goals was beyond exciting! Also, I liked our Friday cooldown activities. They were a great opportunity to step away from project pressures and not take ourselves (or design) so seriously. Last, I can’t forget about the endless amounts of food my cohort discovered and shared. It inspired me to work on building a food cam for work!
They went above and beyond to make sure I was on the right path to becoming the great designer I wanted to be.
What’s the staff like at Designation?
Designation staffers are an amazing, talented group of people committed to everyone’s success! The discipline they have for making Designation a solid program is inspiring and superhuman! As long as I put in the work, they went above and beyond to make sure I was on the right path to becoming the great designer I wanted to be.
My designers-in-residence, Kit and Briet, were very supportive through all of our in-person phases. They gave me a good foundation for providing and receiving actionable feedback to my peers. James helped me understand the basics of UX/UI during Design Essentials and gave me a lot of great advice for connecting with the St. Louis design community. Megan always gave me valuable feedback on structuring team presentations for clients and challenged me on explaining design’s whys to stakeholders. Her encouragement helped me push through moments in the program where I questioned my design abilities. Dan helped me respect the fine art of design documentation. I’ll always cherish and respect redlining designs late in the night at Designation! Mike challenged me to stay committed to my writing and manage my time better during the Career Phase. I couldn’t ask for a better version of tough love from anyone else! His devotion to pushing designers to be their best helped me realize the true importance of design and how one can literally change the world with it.
What advice or recommendations do you have for people considering applying to Designation, or for those already in the program?
Take notes about your Designation days as much as possible! The program’s pace is so swift that it’s a challenge for your brain to remember everything, and you want to have as many details as you can handy when you start your case studies.
Also, remember to take breaks. Project pressure can weigh on you to the point that the program becomes a blur and you may find yourself not enjoying the process. Yes, it’s hard and you need to have to discipline to push through things. However, this is a rare opportunity to learn new skills among the company of so many talented and diverse people. Cherish those moments while you’re getting stuff done and you’ll walk away more satisfied than if you treated Designation as a career checkpoint.
Challenge: Revise the design language for a mobile/tablet app to improve company efficiency while accommodating needs of restaurant staff and food delivery drivers.
What was your job interview process like?
My recruiter from The Creative Group set me up with a phone interview with UniGroup’s UX manager. After I shared my interest for design and process from Designation projects, UniGroup’s design team invited me for a one-hour, in-person interview a few days after with a product lead, two UX designers, and the UX manager.
What are a few of the ways Designation prepared you for your job?
Mike’s instruction and information during the Career Phase was a huge confidence booster since I was a bit rusty in applying for jobs. Designation gave me the opportunity to conduct mock interviews with professionals, gain honest feedback on my resume, and learn the art of slide deck over-preparedness. Through these experiences over time, I felt more comfortable facing any kind of interview.
A few weeks after receiving the job, my manager told me my portfolio’s case studies helped me stand out from a lot of other candidates who had way more experience or design chops.
Did you get feedback from the hiring manager/supervisor/recruiter about your performance in the interview process that told you stood out from the competition in certain ways?
A few weeks after receiving the job, my manager told me my portfolio’s case studies helped me stand out from a lot of other candidates who had way more experience or design chops. My writing gave him an honest glimpse of how I approach problems and my overall personality.
What were the most useful skills, tools, or experiences at Designation that have been the most useful for you in your job?
Designation’s design feedback sessions have been super-helpful in my job. My designer skin is thicker now and I always check myself to make sure I’m delivering actionable feedback to my teammates. And I find myself delivering the same structure, efficiency, and enthusiasm for facilitating design meetings at work as I did with my teammates during the Client Phase. It was great practice and now my team can’t stop recommending me to facilitate stuff!
What’s a piece of knowledge, skill, tool, or something cool you learned at work recently?
I’m a big fan of motion design, so when I have time, I dip my toes in learning more about Lottie or Haiku to build custom microinteractions for my job and for fun. Also, I’m learning more about Ludus to build better slides for future stakeholder presentations.
What are some of your favorite resources—blogs, publications, podcasts, speakers, tools, etc.—that help make you a stronger designer?
Every week, I read a lot of articles from my favorite Medium publications (UX Collective, UX Planet, and UX Power Tools) to gain inspiration and stay current on what’s next for design. Occasionally, I’ll hop on Twitter to pick up design news. Sometimes, I binge-watch my favorite YouTube design channels (The Futur, AJ&Smart, and Laith Wallace) for UX tips. Last, since I’m a newbie to St. Louis, I try to get a lot of inspiration from the city. Whether it’s an art museum visit, a local design meetup, signing up for a hackathon, or picking up an architecture book from the library, I’m up for learning something new!
What advice do you have for people looking to get their start in the design field?
Stay curious! Question why things are the way they are and try to build a better solution. It won’t be perfect and you may fail many times. However, it kickstarts the story of your problem-solving process, which matters a lot in this field. Technology, tools, and information will always change; the key is to never stop the quest for a solution.