Interview with Stephanie Gough, UX designer at Critical Mass

Designation Team 2 weeks ago Designers, Interviews

Stephanie Gough worked as a graphic designer and planner at an architecture firm in Chicago before joining Designation’s Amethyst cohort. Today, she works as a UX designer at Critical Mass in Chicago.

Tell us briefly about your job today.

I’m a UX Designer at Critical Mass in downtown Chicago. CM is a digital agency that dabbles in a lot of services such as experience design, strategy, marketing science, marketing, and others. Since I work in an agency environment, I’ve been able to work on a variety of projects so far. The projects range anywhere from an internal passion project to a healthcare website redesign to my current project, working on a redesign of a cruise line website.

What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?

Prior to Designation, I was working at an architecture firm in Chicago focusing on planning and graphic design. I saw a lot of opportunities to improve the user experience in government and planning related digital tools. As I was researching my next steps in my career, I found UX design and saw crazy parallels to what I had been doing before. So I decided to pursue it and I haven’t looked back!

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

I did a ton of research on programs prior to deciding on Designation. There were a bunch of factors I looked at—price, location, reviews, client interaction—and Designation won in all categories. The reviews really intimidated me because of the intensity of the program, but after going through it, I realized the structure of the phases is very strategic in preparing people for each step of the program.

I did a ton of research on programs prior to deciding on Designation. There were a bunch of factors I looked at—price, location, reviews, client interaction—and Designation won in all categories.

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

My time at Designation really improved the way I think and produce as a designer. One thing that really sticks out was the timelines we worked under. We learned how to push out good, thoughtful designs with very tight turnarounds. Since we had so many projects throughout the program, we were able to really refine our time management skills and improve each step along the way.

What were your favorite parts of life at Designation?

One of my favorite memories was from my first client presentation. My partner and I were so invested in the research we did for the first sprint and spent countless hours synthesizing our interviews. We put together a presentation deck that we were very proud of and confident in. In the middle of our presentation, our client stopped us and said, “This research you’ve put together is confirming why I started this business in the first place when everyone told me it wasn’t for a good cause.” That reaction is something I strive for in every design now; I want to know I’m making a positive impact in someone’s life.

What’s the staff like at Designation?

Some of the most talented UX/UI professionals I’ve met in the industry so far. Their support helped push me through every step of the process. They didn’t just give me the answers; they gave me the tools to critically think about a solution. They taught me frameworks to use and how to always circle back to the end user.

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

For those who are considering it: Do it! Reach out to any past alum and ask them questions. For those who are already in the program: I bet there are moments you feel very overwhelmed and might experience impostor syndrome from time to time. But everyone does! Take a breath and keep going.

What was your job interview process like?

The Career Phase really helped me prepare for my job search. Mike showed a slide deck almost every morning of this phase and the decks were filled with amazing rules of thumb, tips, tricks, checklists and work examples. After the phase was over, I referred back to these decks countless times while I worked on my portfolio constantly until it was finished. It took me about a month to land the job I wanted after a number of interviews and phone calls. The interview was actually really relaxed; I met with three great women and had a conversation. No work-sharing or whiteboarding. Although I was super-prepared for anything they could throw at me!

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

My background dealt a lot with scale and systems thinking, which allows me to be really detail-oriented while keeping the big picture in mind.

My time at Designation really improved the way I think and produce as a designer. We learned how to push out good, thoughtful designs with very tight turnarounds. Since we had so many projects throughout the program, we were able to really refine our time management skills and improve each step along the way.

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

I love knowing the work I do is going to improve someone’s day. I want to cut out all the pain points and annoyances and allow them to smoothly complete a task so they can enjoy other parts of their lives.

What’s next for you, professionally speaking?

I would love to get into service design and more systems thinking so I can blend my background with what I do right now. I’d also love to work on some projects around social good!

What advice do you have for people looking to get their start in the design field?

Talk to people who have gone through Designation. They are more than willing to share their story and answer any questions you might have. Read Medium articles. Visit company websites and find out what kinds of projects they work on. Ask yourself “What’s my goal?” and “What do I want to get out of it?” Try to define these questions early on so you can do things that are strategic for you. 

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