My Story: Going From Digital to UX Designer

The last time I published an article was in September 2018 about tips for transitioning from a print to a digital designer. Since then, I’ve gone from a digital to a UX designer! I’ve wanted to jump onto the writing wagon, so I thought it was only appropriate to start by sharing my experience of entering into the world of UX.

To give a bit of context, I came from a graphic design background and figured that print would be my life. So after completing a Bachelor of Design (majoring in graphic design), I spent a year working in Portland, Oregon, for a small software company. Here I realised a real passion for digital design and started transitioning away from print, honing my digital skills at design studios across Auckland.

I was blissfully happy working in a dream job as a Digital Creative for a small digital agency. My team was incredible, and I was able to create designs that turned into beautiful websites. At that point, being a UX designer had never crossed my mind. I loved UI design too much and the creativity that came with it, and I just wasn’t ready to give that up.

A heart with the term ‘UI’ inside it.
The love for UI was strong.

But I started to struggle.

Visually I was pleased with how the websites were looking, but when I considered the user trying to navigate and complete tasks, it was just a mess. How could I strategically tackle this dilemma? Unfortunately, we didn’t have a UX role in the team, so it had to be self-learning! My primary resource was the Interaction Design Foundation, and the courses there provided a good starting point.

I realised that my brain had already been thinking about the user when creating my designs. Subconsciously I had been considering problems like colour readability, font size, button and content placement, but I just had never connected the dots.

With my newfound knowledge, I was ashamed of the websites I was designing. What was the point of them being beautiful if they couldn’t function efficiently for the person using them? It just felt like such a waste. I started implementing design thinking into my typical workflow as much as possible, but it wasn’t easy to fit the work into predetermined timeframes and costs.

I also hit a bit of a wall with a content marketing client. We worked pretty closely with them, designing and building websites for their clients, but the information architecture and content were always provided. I started to notice problems for the user and inconsistencies that didn’t make sense and tried to voice these, but I often wasn’t heard.

I just became so frustrated and felt so powerless over the situation. My team was understanding and sympathetic, but at the end of the day, the client is paying the money, and if that’s how they want to do things, then that’s how it’s got to be.

I couldn’t continue like this.

Around the same time, my boyfriend didn’t love his job either, and we decided that instead of going for a holiday to Ireland (where he’s from), we’d move over for two years and start our careers fresh. So for the next 3 months, I lived and breathed UX. Every chance I got, I was reading, watching, learning and even managed to complete a freelance project (where I could use design thinking and design and build a website). My first UX project! The satisfaction that came from discovering user insights and producing something that worked and solved user needs was just next level.

A map showing a journey to Ireland and Belfast.
Nothing like resetting your career by moving to the other side of the world.

We moved to Belfast, and I got a job as a UX designer for a tech start-up. I enjoyed being in an environment where people cared about users. But it wasn’t enough. I spent most of my days working on UI design, which I loved, but I just wanted to dig deep into user journeys and validate concepts instead of only making assumptions. I was also working with another UX designer who had so much experience and knowledge to share, but the work never allowed us to reach our potential. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to tap into that knowledge base as much as I’d have liked.

The job market at that time was tough in Belfast, but I was so eager to find somewhere I could learn, grow and shine. And somehow, I lucked out! I had started trawling through remote work options and found that Tyk was looking for another UX Designer to join their remote-first company. It sounded like the perfect opportunity with a fantastic group of people, and luckily enough, I was offered the position! In my first three months working at Tyk, I felt like I had learned and achieved more than I had worked nearly a year in my previous role.