How to become a designer in 8 months
There’s my clickbait title. I may be stretching the truth. But let me tell you a story.
A year ago, to the day, I was working in New York City at a photo studio that did not hesitate to embrace the surplus of unpaid interns willing to working for (literally) nothing. Overworked and under-appreciated, my self-esteem was at a lifetime low. The humiliation of having failed at the one chance I gave myself to pursue my passion brought on lots of depressing nights crying and stress eating about how I have nothing going for me. The girl who worked her way through college, survived an architecture program, took on a overwhelming amount of responsibilities, and won awards and acclaim for the things she set her mind to was now delivering packages, shopping for other people’s groceries, and cleaning cobwebs with no paycheck or career in sight.
A year ago, as I sat in the dark retouching room of the office doing admin work and hating life, I stumbled upon UX design. I was job-searching, as I had been doing for the past year, and I was intrigued by the types of design I’d never known about.
That’s something I can do. I combed through hundreds of Glassdoor/Indeed job descriptions, reached out to designer friends, and watched some Skillshare videos to learn more.
A month later, I settled in the Bay Area. I was about to start a contract job in a hybrid role as a photographer and graphic designer at an exciting startup. It was a dream come true. I got to do all the things I love to do and get paid for it. The people were friendly, the office was nice, and I was happy to end the year with my stride back.
2018 began, and after a blissful month in, I got my hours cut. Half laid-off, is how I like to describe it. Well shit.
The job hunt was back on. I finally learned what a product designer is, applied to many roles, and improved my portfolio everyday. But the deafening silence in response only meant I wasn’t good enough. I had to teach myself things again. So I hacked together a bootcamp.
I was interested in improving my website. I redesigned and learned some CSS to spice things up. I participated in my first hackathon, where I learned to use Sketch, create a style guide, and basically pretend to be a designer who sort of knew what I was doing. (I didn’t, but I learn fast and work fast!)
I discovered Dribbble. (Very late to the game, I know.) I found case studies that motivated me to become a better designer, and fell in love with illustration. I was inspired by Alice Lee, Ryan Putnam, and all those illustrious illustrators on Dribbble with huge followings. Obsessed with flat design, I did my own outline illustrations. I also met Alice Lee. That was cool.
I also learned After Effects. Wow was I obsessed. I took a Udemy class, learned the basics, and started animating my illustrations. Motion graphics opened up a whole new world as I broke free of the bounds of basic Photoshop gif animation. I obsessed over keyframes and created Fraser Davidson-inspired walk cycles. That was fun.
Oh, also I tried another hackathon and won. Confidence surged. It was around this time I decided to really start going after UI/UX design.
I found web design and digital illustration freelance work on Upwork, and self-initiated a UX research project where I redesigned the LinkedIn profile page. I spent hours culling through BestFolios and revised my resume and website accordingly. I designed an app for work, and also started learning prototyping tools.
I attended Facebook’s F8 developer conference and did an overnight hackathon. I started working full-time at my company and learned more about the marketing side of things. Interviews also kept me busy.
I attended portfolio reviews and got really good feedback. But I applied to jobs and got rejected. It wasn’t meant to be…yet. Confidence plummeted.
I improved and refined my portfolio some more. I beefed up my resume. I won another hackathon.
I was in full-time job hunt mode. I audited UX courses on Coursera, and learned to prototype with Principle. I interviewed, but this time I had hope.
I got offered a job as a product designer at thredUP.
I love looking back on the past year and seeing this incremental process. It was slow and killed me on the inside every time I faced a rejection, but every figurative slap in the face was worth it. I developed patience and learned so much about the real world, the job industry, and how to build a professional career.
I spent a lot of my days off around month two and three at the local coffee shop, and they were some of the best self-development days. I got to focus and get work done and teach myself and explore anything I wanted to. Anywhere the wind blows, anywhere inspiration flows, I followed.
I’m proud of how far I’ve gotten, but I still have so much to learn, in both job skillset and my personal career development. I want to be more confident about my work. I need to remember who I’m designing for in a world that likes to follow the latest trends. I want to have a closer relationship with PMs and be better at communicating my ideas to engineers. Over time, I want to know what it’s like to lead a team. I want to optimize for growth, in every aspect of things. Ultimately, I want to design my career, instead of letting my career design me.
Even though I say I learned to become a designer in 8 months, doesn’t mean there was ever a starting or stopping point. The accumulation of my self-taught part-time jobs and design education in architecture school led me to become the product designer I am today, and I’ll never stop learning. Getting to this point doesn’t mean I made it.
It’s just the beginning of a another journey.
As the year is wrapping up I’m in full-on reflection mode. Stay tuned for my next few posts as I discuss our favorite subject to not talk about — money, examine my love for secondhand shopping, and review my 2018 reads!