Interview with Rachael Forster, product designer at Allstate

Designation Team Dec 28, 2018 Designers, Interviews


Rachael Forster joined Designation’s Amethyst cohort in 2017 after a varied career that included IT project management, wellness-focused content writing, and teaching yoga. Today, she’s a product designer at Allstate’s office in downtown Chicago.

Tell us briefly about your job today.

I’m a product designer at Allstate. I work on call center software for Allstate Roadside Services. I work on a team with one other designer, ten developers, and two product managers. We work in a software development methodology called extreme programming (XP). In XP, designers work as pairs, meaning the other designer and I share monitors and work on designs simultaneously. This allows us to quickly concept ideas, test mid- to high-fidelity prototypes, and ship new features.

What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?

I did a little bit of everything. I worked as an operations manager, wellness program coordinator, IT project manager, freelance writer, yoga teacher, and nanny. I lived primarily in my hometown of Columbus, IN before spending six months traveling around Australia, New Zealand, and Bali.

I chose a career in design because I love to learn, and I think that, at its core, design is learning—about people, their behaviors, their problems and how to solve those problems.

How did you hear about Designation, and why did you decide to attend?

I heard about Designation through a good old-fashioned Google search. I was looking for coding bootcamps, thinking I wanted to be a front-end developer, when I stumbled upon Designation. I then found, through LinkedIn, that one of my college classmates had attended Designation. After speaking with her and one of the instructors, I signed up for the program. A selling point for me was the “try before you buy” opportunity to go through Design Essentials before signing up for the whole shebang. It gave me confidence that I could make sure UX design was the right choice for me.

I chose a career in design because I love to learn, and I think that, at its core, design is learning—about people, their behaviors, their problems and how to solve those problems.

Looking back at your Designation experience, how do you describe its impact, now that some time has passed?

I would describe it as one of the best investments I’ve made, both with my money and time. Leaping into the world of Designation was no small thing. It consumed my life for the better part of six months. But it was worth every second and every penny because it resulted in a career I love, new friends that I love, and a community of designers around the country.

As someone with no background in creative work, I was unsure if Designation would be enough to help me break into the world of design but am happy to report it was more than enough.

What were your favorite parts of life at Designation?

The people. My cohort-mates and the instructors became my Chicago family. Without them, the long hours wouldn’t have been possible. The fun and energy they brought every day made me want to spend 12 hours a day working. They’re all great humans and I’m glad we got to share the experience together.

And the food.

What’s the staff like at Designation?

They are emotionally intelligent, hard-working, dedicated, funny, and kind. No exaggerations here—they are some of the best people I know. They put in as much, if not more, time and effort than the designers in the program. Because of them, Designation truly is the best UX/UI bootcamp in the world. Not necessarily because the content can’t be learned elsewhere, but because I couldn’t find better designers to learn from.

I think each instructor helped me in different ways.

  • James taught me the principles of design and set an example for how to kindly critique work.
  • Doug taught me how to tell a story when explaining a design sprint. He also gives great advice and pep talks, reasons for which he's the “Designation Dad.”
  • Dan taught me how to think broadly, to not get too narrow too fast when solving a problem.
  • Megan showed me how to facilitate meetings with clients and get outside of the box when approaching problems. She was always looking out and helping when I needed her. And she gives great hugs.
  • Mike taught me how to write case studies, build a portfolio, approach interviews, and navigate job offers. He essentially handed me (and everyone else) a playbook on how to take the Designation experience and use it to launch ourselves into successful careers. Without Mike, it probably would have taken me twice as long to find a job.

My cohort-mates and the instructors became my Chicago family. Without them, the long hours wouldn’t have been possible. The fun and energy they brought every day made me want to spend 12 hours a day working.

What advice or recommendations do you have for people considering applying to Designation, or for those already in the program?

For those considering it, try Design Essentials. It’s a low-barrier way to explore the world of UX if you’re seriously considering it as a career. It’s a great way to dip your toe into the pool before you dive in head-first. It can help you to decide if UX/UI is right the right path for you.

For those in the program, enjoy it. It goes by fast. It doesn’t always feel like that when you're pulling all-nighters.

What was your job interview process like?

I was lucky in that Allstate is a big recruiter of Designation grads. I met my hiring manager, Dustin Hamilton, many months before graduating when he came in as a guest speaker. Through Designation, I met other grads who were also working at Allstate at the time. I remember my hiring manager joking that I was famous at Allstate because so many people stopped in to say hi during my interview. Many of them I had met before, so it was a very low-stress, comfortable interview.

What were the skills, tools, or experiences at Designation that have been the most useful for you in your job?

To be able to empathize with both users and clients. We don’t design for “clients” at Allstate but we do have business stakeholders that we have to consider for our designs to be successful. And also all of the technical skills like using Sketch, prototyping, journey mapping and testing, which I do now on a day-to-day basis.

What do you do in your current job that uses anything from your pre-design jobs?

My background in business and project management often helps me. Like I mentioned above, we have to understand where the business is coming from when we’re making design decisions. I feel that I can better balance the user’s needs and the stakeholder’s because of it.

What are your favorite parts of being a professional designer today?

It’s really, really fun. We get to come up with ideas and try them out all day long. We learn constantly and even if things fail, we’re learning from it so nothing can ever really go that wrong.


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