Janina Boyle was at a crossroads in her career. On one hand, her government position was safe and secure, it paid well, and she liked the people she worked with. On the other, she was feeling creatively stifled, unenthusiastic about the work she was doing, and frankly, a bit stuck.
It’s not an unfamiliar story and you might already know how this story ends.
But Janina’s journey to becoming a user interface/experience (UI/UX) designer is packed with insights about how to make a big career change, learn something new, and make an impact with the work you put out in the world.
How to learn web design—or anything, really
When learning something new, writer and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss suggests the DiSSS (or DS3) system. It’s a digestible process that makes learning anything easier. Here’s an overview:
- Deconstruction – what are the key building blocks to start with?
- Selection – which 20% of the blocks will get me 80% of the outcome I want?
- Sequencing – in what order should I learn them in?
- Stakes – how do I create real consequences to guarantee follow-through?
The path Janina took to become a web designer followed a similar cadence. Our story begins right after she decided she wanted to switch careers. So what next?
How to choose a new career path
Follow your enthusiasm and curiosity
Janina knew that doing a 180° on her career would require learning a new skill, making new connections, and a lot of trial and error. In short, hard work. But she wasn’t sure where to begin.
Famed UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden said, “industriousness is unattainable without enthusiasm.”
So when she decided to change careers, she wisely began the search where her natural curiosity led her—making stuff.
“It’s kinda funny. Ever since high school—remember MySpace?—I would always play around with the designs and make desktop backgrounds of my favorite musicians, nothing too serious. It was just for my own personal projects. That was the first time I actually started,” says Janina.
As she narrowed her search, she shifted her focus to digital design.
“I would see different websites and apps that were frustrating to use. So I started looking into the field a little bit. My husband is in tech, and I saw some of the stuff he was working on and how interesting it was.”
In Adam Bryant’s book, Corner Office, he tells the story of interviewing 700 CEOs to find out what qualities they saw most often in people who succeed.
The number one response? Passionate curiosity.
Designing things and solving problems grabbed her curiosity. And away she went.
Learn by doing (in other words, make stuff)
Now it was time to start the process of learning the trade. But with so much to learn, where should she start? (Deconstruction—the “D” in Ferriss’ method).
“I was looking for something that had some sort of certificate of completion but would also allow me to start while I was working full-time,” says Janina.
The search led her to Designation, an immersive digital design program that blends elements from boot camps, apprenticeships, and higher education to prepare designers to excel in their careers.
“Lots of other places had a class they offered for maybe a couple of weeks, but this was an actual 18-week long commitment, and I knew that I’d be able to learn a lot in that time-frame.”
The program offered the opportunity to do a deep dive on the craft and learn by doing. It turns out that’s how we learn best. Studies have long suggested we retain 90% of what we do compared to reading, seeing, or writing.
Master the tools of the trade
To learn any new skill, you have to master the fundamentals. For designers that means learning to use digital design software. But which ones? (Selection) And in what order? (Sequencing)
“I would read different job postings and learn what requirements and software they wanted a designer to have. I saw Sketch and InVision coming up a ton,” says Janina.
After identifying a few programs to learn, she went digging around on the web to find quality resources to help her learn them.
Designers have a lot of tools in their toolbox and there are always new ones to add. Reverse engineering is one of the most important ones and was helpful for making the transition quickly and effectively.
She honed her skills with Figma, Sketch, and InVision while studying how to do UX research, user testing, and all types of design—interaction, visual, UI and more.
Now it was time to put it into action.
Practice with real stakes and constraints
After Janina completed the virtual phase at Designation, she left her full-time job to complete the in-person phase of the program.
“At that point, you get to start working with clients so it became real very quickly,” says Janina.
Working with real clients presented very real stakes. It was an opportunity to put the work she was doing into practice the same way she would working for agency or brand.
“We had two client projects with real businesses. There’s a lot of stuff you’ll read online about how to become a designer that says to do passion projects or rebrand a company you like. That’s helpful, but at the same time it ignores real-world constraints that you have working with clients.”
Designers are faced with challenges that a pretend website redesign or mock up for Dribbble doesn’t account for. They work with deadlines, branding requirements, and have to weigh multiple points-of-view.
“We got to work with the actual business owners, getting to know what they liked and didn’t like. It was my first experience working with constraints like colors and budget instead of a free-for-all where you make what you think you like or think they would.”
How to get a design job and improve your skills
Find a supportive community
After earning her certificate at Designation, Janina started her search for a place to practice her newly earned skills.
She already formed relationships with people in her class, but she also wanted to be part of the bigger design community.
“Tools were first. Then I tried to get involved with the design community. There’s lots of UX/UI meetups that are specialized for whatever you’re interested in. I went to BuiltIn Brews where you can go to different companies, meet people, see how they work, and how it is in the field,” say Janina.
Beyond the local groups, she joined communities online via Slack and Dribbble to expand her network. It was also a way to see the work of other designers, get inspired and keep learning.
“I found some designers whose work I really admired. They had different talks and workshops, and I attended to make more connections and keep learning.”
From local groups in the city to online communities, being a part of these groups helps you make connections, learn the lingo, and continue improving your craft and building momentum.
Use “growth” as a compass
Meanwhile, she was putting together a portfolio to start applying for jobs. The challenge of building her portfolio was an opportunity to keep developing as a designer.
“It took me about 3 months to build my portfolio. I didn’t want to use templates, so I learned web flow. Once I was finally happy with it, I started applying,” says Janina.
With a strong portfolio, and a few connections in the design community, she started applying for jobs.
“Designation set us up with some mentors in the beginning. They prepared us to apply and interview. I knew I wanted to work at an agency because it would give me the best opportunity to work on a variety of projects.”
As professionals (especially when changing careers) it can be tempting to follow the money, title bump, or brand name of a company or organization. It’s recommended you take your time to feel out what decision makes the most sense.
“As a career changer, going into an internship where you get a feel for how things are done is a smart play. I’m thankful I didn’t just go for the first offer I got.”
Finding an option that presents the best opportunities to grow and be challenged is particularly helpful. If you continue investing in developing your skills and abilities, you’ll be well-positioned to make a change down the road if you need to.
Surround yourself with a collaborative, ambitious team
After interviewing around town, Janina eventually landed at Clique (thankfully for us). She contributes to our growth and always brings a thoughtful point-of-view to the table.
“On our team, we all push each other and learn from each other. I’m constantly looking at others’ work. The environment we’ve created constantly pushes me to want to get better and do better work. I constantly feel like I’m treading water. It’s inspiring. I want to do better and better. Being around our team makes me grow everyday,” says Janina.
At Clique, we use an interdisciplinary methodology to design websites. It involves collaboration across our design, UX, content strategy, engineering, and marketing teams from the beginning of a project.
“The fact we have content and design and devs all working together from the beginning, it’s given me a whole new view of how to design. For example, by working with devs from the outset you learn what you can and can’t do, and then have those things in mind when designing.”
The process of collaborating—especially across teams—helps you expand your point-of-view as a designer, too. In your job search, keep a lookout for signs of highly collaborative, growth-oriented teams and organizations.
Define your style (or don’t)
As you grow as a designer, you might curate a style—and that’s okay. But for Janina, her “style” is always evolving.
“Some people call it your ‘design eye.’ For me, I guess I don’t want a style. I don’t want people to be able to look at something and say, ‘that’s something Janina would make’.” says Janina.
“If you pigeon hole yourself to the idea that ‘this is my style,’ you bring that same style to every project you work on, and you’re never going to produce work that pushes the boundaries,” says Janina.
The goal is to deliver something that works for the intended user, while pushing the limits of what’s considered “good” design.
Whatever design style you curate (or don’t), whether it’s a minimalist approach, flat design, or a combination of everything, keep pushing yourself to try new things.
Janina’s journey illustrates a great framework for how to learn a new skill, make industry connections, and transition careers to become a UX/UI designer.
But what stuck most from our conversation is her courage to follow her creative intuition, get her hands dirty, and keep “growth” in focus.
It exemplifies our values here at Clique.
Some of Janina’s favorite design resources
- Online communities