How to Break into UX Design: Tips from Design Instructor Beth Koloski
For many aspiring UX designers, Beth Koloski has been the teacher and mentor that’s helped them turn their professional dreams into realities. She teaches the User Experience Design Immersive course at General Assembly in Denver, and also runs her own business focused on UX research and strategy.
Beth started in tech in the late 90s, rising up in the ranks from administrative assistant to information architect to design lead on the first site for Orbitz.com. She’s loved UX design since before it had a name, so we asked her about her passion and her best advice for those wanting to break into the field.
What’s your best advice for designers who want to transition into UX design?
You have to involve yourself in that world. You have to meet people in UX design, talk to them, and just find out about the world of technology. This is super helpful and important.
The other thing that’s important is you get yourself to a design-thinking class, a UX course, or something that can help you understand that UX isn’t just aesthetics. The core of UX is really understanding what human problems are out there, then trying to solve those. If you’re not doing that, you’re not really doing UX.
So it’s about a change in mindset, as well design skills?
Most of us don’t grow up with the mindset to think of design as understanding and solving human problems. The media depiction of design is more about style and presentation, not this idea that you should be getting inside the heads of people first to determine what you should be designing in the first place. That’s the shift.
Doing it is how you really learn it. I learned it by reading and watching videos from IDEO. I was just like ‘this just makes sense to me, why doesn’t everyone think this way.’ Having someone teach you is wonderful, but I think the more important thing is really applying your design thinking. Once you’ve done it a few times, and see the power of it in action, I think that’s when people both become effective at it and believe in the methodology.
What if you’ve never done design before, but want to break into the field?
Most of the students we have that come to General Assembly don’t have a design background, so what I try to do is help them leverage any pre-existing strengths or skills. If they came from coding or project management or television production or anthropology, those all bring with them things they can and should use from day one in UX.
I try to help them identify what they already have and know, so they don’t downplay that or forget that that’s valuable.
What’s it like when your students start to grasp UX design principles?
I think for a lot of people it’s very exciting. It’s where the lightbulb goes off. A lot of us realize at a surface level that not everyone thinks like we do, but we don’t really ‘get it’ until we do things like interview 25 people about how they want to shop for groceries online, for example. That’s when I see students light up and say ‘oh, I get it. They really don’t grocery shop like I do. I would have never thought in a million years that’s how someone thinks of grocery shopping,’ for example. Then I see them applying that information to their designs and that’s when they really start doing UX design.
When they hit that point, what advice do you have for them on the ‘job hunt?’
My biggest career advice is really networking, especially in places like Denver, which is a smaller market and it’s very relationship based. It’s hard to break in if you don’t know folks. The General Assembly model appears to be working, especially for full-time graduates who have almost 100% employment in 180 days.
Basically you become a UX designer by showing you can do UX design, whether you end up volunteering and pulling in some projects that way to build a portfolio, or you go to school. It’s definitely a ‘show what you can do today’ field.
What’s the best part for you about a career in UX design?
For me, it’s really about getting inside people’s heads. That’s what I enjoy most, and that’s why I’ve shifted more to research in my career. I never get tired of hearing about how other people want to buy car insurance, or how they would do their taxes online. It still all surprises and interests me.
It appears to be a growing field and is nicely paid. It can fun, it’s generally fast-based, and it’s always changing. If you feel like you’ve figured it all out you’re probably just not really paying attention.
I’ve had a chance to do things that were seemingly unrelated to screens and technology. I’ve had a chance to apply design to helping prevent teen suicide, nothing to do with online or digital. Help agricultural workers in Peru get the best job for them, that kind of thing, there does seem to be a shifting mindset of what design can be applied to.
You can learn more about Beth Koloski and the UX courses she teaches on General Assembly’s website.