My UX Journey: How I made the transition to UX Design – Medium

When I reveal to people what I studied before completely immersing myself in all things UX, I always (well, almost always) get shocked looks. Then of course, these looks are followed by “How did you get started in UX?” or “Why UX?”. I am just at the beginning of my career in the User Experience Design world, but these questions have driven me to think about the steps I took and the circumstances that led to where I am right now. Hopefully, sharing my journey so far will also motivate others out there who are interested in this fascinating field.

My College Years

My interest in UX started before I even knew what UX stood for. My sophomore year of college, I took my first computer science class and I was hooked. I was fascinated by the complexity of programming. To me, coding was a tool that I used to teach the computer how to accomplish a specific task. The psych enthusiast in me however, couldn’t help but ask the question: how do computers teach humans how to accomplish a certain task? Little did I know, I would find the answer to this question my junior year. That year, I joined an organization called Women in Technology. The president at the time was a budding UXer and our faculty advisor, who ran our school’s media lab, had a masters in Human-Computer Interaction. These two ladies were my personal heroes. They embodied the person I wanted to become: a techie that solved users’ problems using psychology and design. They did not only inspire me to look further into UX, but they introduced me to a whole new world within tech that truly spoke to me.

My senior year of college I became the president of Women in Technology and remained closely in touch with our faculty advisor. Through her, I also started working at the media lab as an intern for that year. As part of the internship, I developed a prototype for a mobile app concept that was created by a professor at my university. This was my first “UX related” job. I was responsible for all stages of the process: research, ideation, design, and prototyping. This is when I started educating myself by consuming everything I could find online on UX. These were some of my favorite resources:

  1. Udacity course on The Design of Everyday Things (Or anything related to Don Norman on the internet, including his book The Design of Everyday Things)
  2. Lean UX
  3. UX Magazine
  4. UX matters
  5. UX Beginner (Good blog for when you have yet to learn everything about UX and don’t know where to start)

One semester into my senior year, I had fallen in love with User Experience Design and I wanted to learn about it more in depth. The traditional path to start a career in UX would have been to get a full time job in the field after graduation. For me, it was different. I craved for deeper knowledge in anything related to human centered design. My personal goal was to continue my education and learn as much as I could about UX so I could become the best professional I could be. So naturally, I applied for a masters program and decided to attend in the fall after college.

Graduate School

This is where I am right now. One and a half semesters into my masters program (and 2.5 more semesters to go!), I have to say that this was the best decision I had ever made. I have gained so much more from pursuing this degree than I expected. I have learned how to blend my technical skills with UX Design, how to define (and refine) my own UX process, and how to apply UX to technologies that will define the future. I signed up for courses that would challenge my UX Design skills and through them, I was able to participate in projects that were beyond my imagination. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be designing interfaces for Hololens applications or to create a prototype for a music application that could be used by blind children. All these opportunities have helped me experience the boundaries of UX design: what I call “futuristic” UX Design. UX best practices have yet to be defined for these new technologies and getting to learn more about UX by being given the freedom to contribute to this new knowledge was amazing.I have also looked for opportunities that were at my disposal as a graduate student. I became a fellow at one of my university’s incubators and I’m working as a UX Designer for one of their startups. This work has been very fulfilling since I was able to experience the fast-paced work environment that comes with being the only UX Designer on the team. Some of the other perks are that you get to be in charge of your own work and you get to learn a lot from your boss! In addition to all this practice, I have naturally also been reading about UX on the side. These are two brilliant UX must-reads:

  1. Universal Methods of Design
  2. Don’t Make Me Think

Lessons Learned

This has been a very long journey so far and I can’t say that it was easy. It took a lot of hard work and self reflection to go from wanting to be a UX Designer to becoming one. For those of you who are on the same boat as my undergraduate self, my piece of advice is to never leave your future to chance. If you want to become a UX Designer, become one today and not someday. Start googling “user experience” right now and see what you come up with. Start absorbing all the knowledge that the internet provides you with. Start following your UX idols on twitter, direct message them, even ask them out for coffee! Most importantly, be an active learner. Look for opportunities that might lead to the career you want a few years from now. Volunteer your time to design apps for friends or even local non-profits. Be creative in your approach to shaping your future and be open to any new opportunities that cross your path.


What I Learned From Designing for Augmented Reality – Medium

We’ve heard it pretty often already: Augmented Reality (AR) was the rising star of 2016 and will probably gain even more relevance in 2017. In the (near) future, our everyday applications will move away from the flat screen and occupy our surrounding space. For this reason, working on the user experience of these applications has been particularly exciting. This past November, I was lucky enough to collaborate with the JPL Ops Lab to design a file visualization feature for their AR application ProtoSpace. ProtoSpace is used by mechanical engineers at NASA to view a realistic model of the rovers they are currently building. This application is used with the Hololens headset. As of now, engineers have to look at CAD files to view different parts within this model. My task was to think of a way in which engineers could navigate this file hierarchy in an AR environment without having to go back to their computers. While designing a solution, I found that I have to approach the problem from a different angle. Since there are no established “UX best practices” in AR yet, I’d like to share my own personal approach to UX in AR:


Think about how we interact with physical objects within our environment and use that as inspiration.

How do we notice a sign when we walk down the street? How does a particular object catch our attention? It’s useful to think about these elements and to learn from real life situations when designing an interface in AR. Since our design solution will be integrated within our space, we want it to feel as natural as possible. For example, while I was working on the ProtoSpace project, I encountered an interesting problem. I had to figure out how NASA engineers could comfortably search for a particular file (like a specific rover part) within a hierarchy through the Hololens if the file size was extremely large. I was then given great advice on how to approach this problem: let’s say you’re at a subway station and you see that the train approaching the station is packed. How were you able to tell that it was packed? This prompted me to think about how we instinctively know that we are dealing with a large number of something (whether it’s people or objects). Within a confined environment, do we notice the lack of space first? Or do we just see a large number of one thing and only then notice the lack of space? Or most likely, both at the same time? As a derivation of the train example, these questions got me to think about how I would search for a particular person within a crowd once I realize that there are too many people to conduct a “linear search” (picture the nightmare scenario of going to a concert with over 500 people and having to look through every single one of these people in order to find your friend). Maybe to make things easier, I could pick out a set of characteristics that I know about this person to narrow down the search (I know what my friend looks like and maybe what they’re wearing). Now that I have thought about a real life version of my design problem and the logical steps I would personally take to solve it, I can then think about how this solution could be visualized through design. Pretty simple right?


Don’t try to apply 2D UX best practices to 3D.

This one is a bit of a given. Looking at a flat screen is a completely different experience than interacting with a virtual tridimensional object right in the middle of your office or living room. Then why should you use the same design principles for both?


The most effective initial prototypes are always physical.

This goes with my previous point. If you are going to create something that you will be seeing within a physical space, then it makes more sense to prototype accordingly. It’s a bad idea to use your typical Sketch wireframe or Axure clickable prototype to present your initial designs. By doing this, you will not only get inaccurate user testing results, but you also won’t get a good grasp of how your design will work/feel. A better low-fidelity alternative would be to create a cardboard model of your designs and take pictures of the different stages of user interaction. For extra points, you could even create an interactive prototype that can be tested using Google Cardboard.


UI Elements don’t necessarily have to be in 3D.

Not everything in your AR application has to have a 3D shape. For example, when you’re driving on a highway the signs will most likely be flat rectangles or squares. You rarely encounter cube signs. It’s totally fine to display some elements that are in 2D.

I hope that the following approaches are useful for those of you brave souls out there who want to venture into the world of AR. If you have experience designing for AR, I’d love to hear about your own approach in the comment section below!


Why “I Think This Could Work” Never Works – Medium

Before adding new features to my designs, I often catch myself thinking “This feature might be useful” or “I think the user could benefit from this”. I get really excited about this great idea I had (don’t we all think our ideas are great?) and am determined to implement it. I’ll admit it, I have been guilty of passionately defending my ideas and trying to explain why it’s the ultimate solution. It’s difficult to stop yourself when this happens. When we think of a solution that could work, it’s hard to take a step back and figure out why this works (or in many cases, why it doesn’t work). This natural state of mind can be dangerous and can harm the quality of your work. At this point, you might ask yourself: “How can I avoid making a big design mistake?”. Well, I asked myself the same question during my time working on the teacher site redesign at Vidcode, and here is what I learned:


1. Ideas are just assumptions

and assumptions are almost never good. I mean, it’s a good start, but in the end they will remain just that: a start. While I was creating my first mockups for the new Vidcode teacher site, I had so many different ideas on what I should add to the pages. My thought process went a little bit like this: “I think it would be great if I added a student progress graph here, a teacher training link there, and maybe even a page with all the student info.” While I would personally prefer to have all this information if I were a teacher, the truth is that I will never know this for sure because I’m not really a teacher. This is when user testing and research comes in handy. Your assumptions of what features should be included in your design only become valid when you have results to back them up. If you have real evidence in the form of quantitative data that your idea is good, you instantly gain more credibility. Who would you trust more? The designer who says “I think adding a student progress graph would be cool” or the one who confidently states that “ 90% of the teachers who tested my prototype had an easier time visualizing how their students were doing in the class thanks to the new student progress graph”? Taking your assumptions to the next level through user testing and research is what makes you a reliable user experience designer.


2. Most of your time should be spent researching and user testing

I know, I know. There is usually little time for testing and research when you’re supposed to be presenting your designs in only a few weeks. However you should really make time for at least some kind of testing, even if you don’t have access to many resources. Working at a startup usually implies that you don’t have the means to recruit a large number of participants for testing sessions. However, this does not mean that you should skip this step of the process altogether. Since I wasn’t able to bring in many Vidcode clients to test my prototype, I created a “clickable survey” using my mockups instead. In this survey, I gave participants a simple task such as “Where would you click to add a new student to your class?” and they would have to answer by clicking on the corresponding area in the mockup. The survey would generate heatmaps displaying where participants were clicking in the mockups and I would then evaluate them to see whether the results match my expectations. While this method is definitely not perfect (I probably would’ve gotten more accurate results if I had watched participants navigate through an interactive prototype), I was still able to learn a lot about the way teachers were interpreting my designs. Through this very elementary remote user testing method, I was able to learn more than I would have if I had solely relied on feedback and research.


3. A user testing session is not equivalent to a feedback session

This point is extremely important. Sometimes when we are talking to our users, we want to get straight to the point and ask them for their opinion on a feature we thought of. While this might be a good step when you’re brainstorming and researching, it is not good enough to call it a user test. The main issue of asking a user for feedback is that the answer you will receive is not reliable data. Saying that your idea for a feature is good because a client said so is basically just backing up your assumption with another assumption. Truth is, sometimes users don’t know what they want.The best way to find out whether a feature would solve a usability problem is to watch the user interact with it. If I were to ask a teacher whether it would be useful for them to view all their students’ information in one page and they said yes, I would get a hypothetical answer. However if I watched the teacher completely ignore this page during a user testing session, I would get a definite answer. Long story short, actions speak louder than words.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of integrating lots and lots of testing into your design process. In the end, being a user experience designer implies meeting the user’s needs and learning how and for what purpose they use your application.