Riana Melendez came to Designation as part of the Viridian Cohort, after graduating from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She graduated in 2016 and currently works as a UX designer at Fusion92 in Chicago.
Tell us briefly about your job today.
I work as a UX designer at Fusion92, a mid-sized marketing agency. We work with a variety of clients from financial to veterinary companies, to execute marketing campaigns, design internal and consumer-facing digital tools, and more. I’m the first UX designer on the team and work primarily with production designers and developers. My day-to-day consists of helping teams understand best practices and address user needs on various projects, as well as conducting research, designing, prototyping, and testing digital tools and platforms for our clients.
What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?
I was a recent University of Florida journalism graduate living in San Diego. Although I enjoyed the field, I wanted a more tangible application for my communication and research skills. After completing a design course in my last semester, I became intrigued with design and began looking for professions that combined research and design. When I came across UX and learned more about human-centered design and the design thinking process, I immediately knew it was the field for me.
General Assembly in LA was my first choice, but after doing more research, I came across Designation and I chose it for three reasons.
How did you hear about Designation and why did you decide to attend?
I decided to seek out an immersive program instead of going back to college for a degree because of time and money. Plus, I valued a more hands-on experience rather than a formal classroom setting. General Assembly in LA was my first choice, but after doing more research I came across Designation and I chose it for three reasons. One, it provided more hands-on and real-life experience by pairing us with actual clients. Two, I liked the intensive hours required because I wanted to learn as much as I could by immersing myself in the field and Designation allowed just that. And lastly, the Career Phase and the community it provided after the program finished.
Looking back at your experience, how do you describe its impact?
The impact Designation had on my introduction to the field is huge. It taught me the value of design thinking and looking at the project at a high-level. I learned to really define the problem to solve for in order to build a solution that truly meets users’ needs. And by allowing us to own the work we’ve presented to our clients, it taught me how to effectively communicate my design decisions.
As a cohort, we pushed each other to think outside the box and kept up the laughs and coffee to get through the long hours together.
What were your favorite parts of Designation?
The community. As a cohort, we pushed each other to think outside the box and kept up the laughs and coffee to get through the long hours together. Although the program is over, I still feel I’m a part of the Designation community that’s constantly growing and helping each other with design questions/advice as we continue to grow out in the field.
What’s the staff like at Designation?
The staff is great and always willing to help. What I liked specifically about their teaching style is that they didn’t give me all the answers. They helped guide me, but ultimately left it to me to think through it and evaluate different ways to get to the solution. Having that push to take control of the driver’s seat strengthened my problem-solving skills and has influenced the way I approach projects. Specifically, our guest Immersion Phase creative director, Kate Eyler-Werve, was an extremely valuable resource. She was always willing to sit down with my team and think through problems we faced, instead of simply giving us a yes or no answer. And she’s just a straight-up boss within the space.
What advice or recommendations do you have for people considering applying to Designation or for those already in the program?
What you put into the program is what you’ll get out of it, so put in the work. When you’re tasked with client projects, don’t just ask what the client wants built (or fixed). Understand the high-level business goals behind their ask and learn how to keep them in mind while understanding user needs, because you’ll have to learn how to speak to and account for them when presenting your designs to stakeholders.
What was your job interview process like?
Interviewing is definitely a skill and being able to clearly articulate my thought process and projects can be difficult. Since I was fresh in the field, I suffered from extreme impostor syndrome and felt awkward just calling myself a designer. But I had to own it! And one of the many good things coming out of Designation was having real projects to talk to. Therefore, being able to speak to my relationship with clients and how my design helped solve a business need through addressing user needs was valuable. Being familiar with Designation, my employer specifically looked at graduates because he liked the curriculum and the design thinking process that Designation teaches.
What do you do in your current job that uses anything from your pre-design jobs?
I ask a lot of whys. The biggest takeaway from my education is the research and communication skills it provided me with, which Designation strengthened. The only way to be cognizant of business requirements, user needs, and technical feasibility is by asking the right questions and understanding the project from every perspective. Having that mindset helped with my transition into UX.
What are your favorite parts of being a professional designer today?
The creative problem-solving aspect and the fact that I’m constantly learning. As a designer at an agency, I get to touch many projects in varying fields. I never get bored.
What are some of your favorite resources that help make you a strong designer?
Meetups and getting involved in the design community in any way is a biggie. All designers bring a different perspective to the table based on their experiences, and I learn a ton by listening to their failures and successes. Slack is a great tool to tap into those communities. A few good Slack channels are Chicago Tech Diversity, Chi Hack Night, and the Designership. And mentors!
What advice do you have for people looking to get their start in the design field?
Document your process and clearly articulate it in your portfolio and in interviews. A big mistake I did when getting started was focusing on explaining how the end product works, but employers really want to know the way you approach projects and think through problems.