A 180-degree career change always comes with risk. Despite the preparation and strong commitment to creating the portfolio, without working on commercial projects with specialists from other fields, I wouldn’t be sure that I want to continue doing it.
After three months of work on real projects, I want to show you my way from a civil engineer to a product designer.
How I decided to pivot my career
I have always wanted to do something significant to improve my and my loved ones' lives in the future. I preferred to solve math problems in elementary school or make a technical drawing rather than write essays.
When I was deciding on my field of study, I came up with the idea of construction. It intrigued me, and I wanted to try my hand. I had planned to connect my career as a builder with interior design in the future, due to my interest in interior design and my love for beautiful things.
In mid-2019, after obtaining a master's degree in civil engineering, I decided to change my career direction. I realized that I prefer to design visually rather than technically. My interest in psychology, people’s behavior, and decisions have also grown.
One day a friend from the IT industry told me about UX and UI. I saw a connection with my interests and was intrigued by this topic. Then I decided to delve into the world of product design.
Understanding product design
I started by understanding what Product Design is. The platform with UX and UI courses helped me with this topic. I learned the basic concepts of UX and UI, such as research, tests with users, creating personas, empathy maps or user journey maps, designing interfaces, and developing products for different platforms.
I explored all of the topics I learned through articles on Medium, UX collective, and reading books. At this point, I recommend the book 'The Design of Everyday Things' by Don Norman, who, along with Jacob Nielsen, is considered the father of UX.
Then I started to make the first sketches and transfer them to the digital design tool. From a variety of software, I chose Figma. It is a free tool that works via a browser or desktop application. It also has a pleasant and intuitive interface, so taking the first steps is not a problem.
After gaining basic knowledge, I created my first portfolio. Shortly after that, I started to look for a place that would allow me to gain experience and broaden my knowledge when working on commercial projects. It seemed impossible at that moment.
How I chose the company for an internship as a product designer
In the beginning, I applied to every company I found. After a while, I realized that it is crucial not only to gain experience but also to be motivated by the product. I found Untitled Kingdom on social media. I was interested in their products and the values they were presenting. I knew that I wanted to contribute to increasing public awareness of HealthTech, IoT, and FemTech. I had an excellent opportunity to test my abilities and see if the decision to change my career path was right.
When I started my first day of internship, I didn't really know what to expect. I imagined a long introductory day and waiting for the first project that would not necessarily be used somewhere.
The reality was utterly different. From the first day, I got the exercise included in the proposal for the partner. Despite the enormous stress, I was glad to be given such a task.
I would like to show you how to prepare yourself for entering the IT world, how to acquire new knowledge, how to ask for feedback and use it in your daily work. Finally, I’ll also give you some tips that I would like to hear at the beginning of my path.
Step 1: Learning a new language. IT jargon
As a person without an IT background, I have been encountering terms that are little known to me, like exporting application elements for developers or the issue of interfaces intended for programmers. It was very difficult at the beginning to actively participate in the meetings without knowing technical jargon. It is an inseparable part of our everyday work as it speeds up communication and makes it more precise.
My colleagues told me to ask as many questions as possible. I learned that receiving a brief explanation is sufficient in most cases - it’s always possible to focus on details later. This allowed me to have a better mutual understanding with my coworkers and concentrate on the tasks instead.
The advice from me: if you have friends from the IT industry that talk to each other using concepts that you don’t understand - ask them about the meaning of particular terms and try to include yourself in the conversation. This will help you to get used to the jargon much faster.
Step 2: How to learn design not from a designer
From the very beginning, I have been surrounded by people from different environments, levels of experience, and roles. All of them pointed out to me areas that may prove useful in cooperation with a product designer. It turned out to be a treasure trove. An important point to remember - it is worth learning to be a designer from people who are not.
At the first contact with the IT environment, the amount of information can be overwhelming. I realized that the industry is continuously developing. I started running a press - reading articles (like Medium, UX collective, UX planet, UX jargon), watching conferences of large IT companies (like Apple or Google), and following the news of the software I use daily.
Step 3: Fail fast, early, and often
While working on my portfolio, I rarely had the opportunity to present and consult the results of my work with experienced people.
As soon as I joined Untitled Kingdom I had to change my thinking and see that presenting partial results is the key to success, which allows me to improve my work. I have learned to be open to constructive criticism, learn from it, and to defend my own opinions.
According to one of the Untitled Kingdom's rules - Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat - mistakes are not bad if you draw the right conclusions from them. Asking for a review at the early stage of the project allows me to fail fast or ensure that I approach a particular problem in the right direction.
My first task was to design several application screens for the medical industry. After two hours, I presented my work results, i.e., full screens, copies, buttons, and graphics. Some of my ideas were good, but there were also many things to improve. Because I only presented the final effect, we had to go through the whole process to discuss the individual elements. After this experience, I started to approach the design process differently - first, I create low-fidelity wireframes to check whether the chosen approach works. Then I move on to high-fidelity wireframes and specific designs.
Sharing progress helped me verify mistakes quickly, gather opinions, gain valuable information, and get to know a different view on a given topic.
Step 4: Feedback is the best tool to help you grow
Feedback is one of those things that may be simple for some and a milestone for others. For me, it has become a tremendous problem-solving tool. At Untitled Kingdom we use Management 3.0 and the feedback wrap.
At the end of each week of my internship, I had a feedback meeting with Greg, our Head of Operations, to summarize my work.
We talked about what was done, what the results were - what went well, and which parts needed improvement. I also got many great tips on things I wrote about before, such as asking questions, running the press, and delving into IT related topics. I also learned about the value of making freehand sketches before starting to design in the program, composition, and the correct implementation of wireframes.
Finally, the time has come to evaluate the entire month of my internship. It was one of the most interesting conversations and an experience that I will remember for a long time. My internship period allowed me to approach tasks and decisions with greater awareness.
Step 5: First things first. Understanding user’s needs
Each task was a big challenge in the first months of my adventure in the company. Already during the recruitment process, I noticed a lot of emphasis on understanding the undertaken task. From the first day, I try to ask myself the design problem, who should it be reached, what are the behavior of the target group - what are their characteristics, routines, and habits? What are their feelings, needs, and fears towards the discussed issue? This is one of the most important things that I perform before each new assignment.
After my first three months, I can tell that I love the workshops at Untitled Kingdom. Their purpose is to cooperate with the team to investigate a particular problem. Such an approach allows you to look at the product from different perspectives. Thanks to this process, we can better understand the target group and develop better ideas for implementation.
A few more tips and the answer to the most important question - was it worth pivoting my career?
It was worth it! Every day at work, I make sure that my decision was a perfect idea. I develop in the field of interest, do what I like, and learn new topics is a pleasure for me. Besides, I have the opportunity to work on my interpersonal skills.
I'll give you a few more tips that I would like to hear a year ago:
- 1. Product design is not only about designing nice screens. It consists of the entire design process - research, understanding the topic, collecting requirements - these are the essential points without which you won't create a useful product.
- 2. Don't spend a lot of time selecting an interface design tool. During your path as a Designer, you will see that you will only need paper and a pencil in many cases. :)
- 3. Use the knowledge you gained during your studies and in your previous profession. Everything you learned is valuable, and often, you will be able to use it. For me, it was scrupulousness and taking care of details.
- 4. Don't worry that you don't know everything. Work is continuous learning. You must want to deepen your knowledge.
- 5. And the most crucial piece of advice. There will be times when it will overwhelm you, and you will doubt if you want to do it or you will have enough. Don't break down. Take a day off, and come back with new energy.
Finally, I would like to mention the whole Untitled Kingdom family. From the beginning, I met the warmth and openness of every person. The incredible reception allowed me to quickly forget about the stress of my first job as a product designer. At this point, I would also like to thank Greg, who helped me with my first steps at Untitled Kingdom. The tremendous amount of knowledge and guidance that he gives me all the time is invaluable!
Now it's time for a deep breath. There is still a lot ahead of me!