January 24, 2020

Role model: UX Designer

Katarzyna Marchocka by

Magda Faizov tells us how she started her career as UX Designer in London

What was your professional journey into UX? How did you start?

It all started about ten years ago. I completed a degree in the History of Art in Poland, and I arrived in the UK, hoping to boost my skills and experience. I quickly realised it was very tough to have a satisfying job in that field. I immediately needed to learn something that would keep me motivated and let me develop a professional career.

At that time, I took on a volunteering opportunity as an intern for a London-based art gallery. Among my duties, I was also responsible for editing their catalogues and show brochures. I recognised that designing was what I loved, but I was more curious about designing for screens rather than print. Soon, when I discovered the power of CSS, I was hooked into web design. It became my passion and motivation to do the best I can.

It was challenging to start. I ended up fixing and restyling small websites for free, documenting my work and my learning journey on a personal blog, meanwhile getting paid for working in a restaurant.

I think determination and focusing on my goal, to be a great web designer who is proud of her work, helped me through these highs and lows (more lows at the beginning). For someone who didn’t have any professional experience yet, I was trying to put my foot at the door by engaging in different activities related to web design and development.

When I job my first job, I also completed an MA degree in Web Design & Content Planning at Greenwich University. Starting as an email designer, I moved through front-end development and digital design, to more user experience and interaction design roles.

The industry is still relatively new, and unique specialities emerge regularly. Anyone might discover that there is a job opportunity that better describes what you do or where you want to see yourself. That’s how I felt about user experience design. It’s where my design and development background meets my concern about technology users.

Did you finish any courses focused on UX? Would you recommend any to a person who wants to start her career in this field?

I haven’t finished any UX related course. I learned about it when I landed on my front-end development and designer roles. I had a chance to work together with developers, designers, researchers and testers and learned from other members of the team.

I believe the tech industry is one of the very few that welcomes people without being strict about certificates or accreditations. It’s perfectly fine to become a UX designer no matter what other experience or course you did, providing you have the passion that will help you move forward with your career.

I also think that for those who begin their journey into UX, it’s worth investing in a course. There are various specialisations in this field, and a program would guide you through.

I mentored a few women who wanted to become developers and designers. They all completed on-site courses, in Bristol (DevelopMe) or Amsterdam (Iron Hack). They saw great benefits for having a professional certificate. It gave them confidence and assurance when they started looking for a job.

These courses are rather expensive, and you might need to pay for accommodation, too. However, free online courses are also widely available. Cousera offers a wide range of free studying programmes. Some of the women from my Bristolian tech network recommended this site and their offer. The Women’s Tech Hub organisation which supports women in the South-West of the UK has links to different online resources. When you opt for an online course, find a mentor who could advise you which direction you could go.

How did you prepare for your first UX job? Where did you look for it?

I’ve worked mainly for small or medium-sized businesses, and I gradually started using my UX skills, wireframing, prototyping, analysing users’ feedback, designing user journeys on different projects. You likely take on different roles when you work for such companies. Moving on to UX felt like a natural way of career development for me. With more experience working as a user interface designer, I was often expected to justify my design decisions by researching the most user-friendly solutions.

I consider myself an empathetic person. I enjoy thinking about a digital service from the perspective of another user. To be a good user experience designer (or whoever else who works in the UX field), you have to ask questions about the purpose of a feature and try to understand the reasoning behind adding or modifying it. Taking part in user research or usability testing is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about this discipline.

I’ve been working as a freelancer for two years now. I saw it as an excellent opportunity because I can promote myself as a user experience and interaction designer, learn what I think would be beneficial for me as a professional, and work with a variety of clients and user needs.

Because I have experience in front-end development, I have always preferred to have my website rather than a profile on a portfolio site. I see it as a benefit for those who would like to create a brand around themselves and maybe run a personal blog alongside. However, there are great websites that have the functionality you need to promote your skills. I use The Dots Creative Network to host my profile on a showcase site. It also gives a chance to connect with other creatives from the industry. Regardless of where you decide to host your designs, describe your experience and skills, a profile on LinkedIn is essential.

You work mostly on the UK market. Could you please share with us any tips on what is critical for a UX designer to enter it?

UX course or a UX-related degree is a great benefit. However, if you don’t hold one, it doesn’t mean your door is closed. You can still learn a lot from talking to other people, reading, listening to podcasts, and attending local meetups or tech conferences. Such events always give me a nice boost. I leave them feeling empowered.

UX is still a reasonably new field with a lot to explore and a lot to bring. Companies look for people who are passionate about user experience and user research and are motivated to use their knowledge in designing better digital products.

It’s helpful to know UX patterns, know where to find an answer to a difficult question, and be confident where you see yourself in the future.

Throughout my career, I have never met two people who would get into UX design by following the same path. The UX-ers I know were psychologists, copywriters, sociologists, developers, etc. Anyone can move into the field, bring their insights and point of view. Keep yourself motivated, read and keep learning.

You have experience working both for the business and public sectors. Could you share with us your favourite projects? Any differences in working for them?

I must admit I enjoy working for public sector organisations. Although they haven’t been part of my client base since I went freelance, from my experience working with the previously, I can say that there were good listeners about user needs. These bodies often have to follow regulations to conduct user research and offer an inclusive digital experience for their visitors. As a UX designer, it’s sometimes hard to push through the user-centred design principles when features are sales-driven. However, private companies do more and more user research nowadays.

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