Finding UX: Growing my roots

This is the story of my UX journey. This is where I plan to go

Photo by Mette Køstner on Unsplash

The human experience is not a monolith, and it’s just as evident in the design work we do as it is in our own design journeys. You never know where you’ll get to plant yourself and flourish; you never know which door(s) will open for you to walk through.

My high school English teacher, Mr. Delo, asked us three questions that are essential to reflect on in understanding our parts in life:

Where did we come from?

Why are we here?

Where are we going?

I knew that where I came from would complement my transition into UX (first part here). I have my north star, my why (second part here). Now, it’s time to tie it all together and chart a course ahead (or maybe just see where the roads of this industry take me) by leaning into the third question:

WHERE AM I GOING?

Where I’ve Been

A wooden board of fake dark green grass hangs against a beige wall. On the grass are 3 dots of lighter green: one large in the center, one smaller to the right, and another smaller above. In the middle of the board as well is the company name, Beam, spelled out in white.
First thing you see when you step off the elevator into Beam’s workspace. Green is a soothing color 😌

It’s been a long time since I shared my UX journey in this format (part 2 is about a year old!), so let me paint a picture of where I’ve been since then. It was a long and arduous struggle transitioning into the UX industry, but a door opened and I found someplace I can plant myself and grow. As fate would have it, I applied to and accepted an internship with Beam Dental in June 2021, and was then promoted to full time product designer on the team 2 months later. How I got the job feels rather serendipitous…and is a reminder that opportunities knock in ways you don’t expect.

A recruiter friend of mine tagged me in a UX research internship opportunity with Beam she found on LinkedIn and encouraged me to apply. I have a tremendous respect for UX research but I admit it isn’t my forte; regardless I applied on the off-chance I could build my research skills and then cross over to more design work. I got on a call with the recruiter, Liz (a wonderful and awesome person to talk to, by the way!); she started off the conversation telling me that she and the hiring manager felt I would be a better fit for their UX design internship rather than research, if I was interested. Cue the hype, because I didn’t even know there was a design opening!? That 45-minute conversation was high-energy, super positive, and inviting from start to finish.

I walked through my bootcamp capstone project explaining my process, then we talked about the company. I had a strong sense of the culture based on my interaction with Liz, and before we ended the call, I gave my availability for the following week for a second-round interview. That next round involved a panel interview with non-managers across the org, then a meeting with the hiring manager that I would work under (which ended up just being an hour of us just talking). I got the offer later that same day and signed on as a UX design intern with Beam on June 8, 2021. I forgot who mentioned this or when, but what got the recruiter and hiring manager’s attention in my application aside from the resume and actual UX work was this page on my portfolio dedicated to random design explorations and challenges I’d worked on. I wanted to highlight this because sometimes, doing things for fun is the best way to stand out beyond your design work.

This is a GIF of a design concept I prototyped called “Sleepify,” as part of a series of weekly design challenges a few friends and bootcamps graduates and I competed in. This challenge involved using a color palette of purples to create any design(s) we wanted.
This was one of my most favorite one-off design challenge projects (and I ended up winning first place for that weekly challenge!)

The internship would last for 3 months, but 2 months in I had a 1-on-1 with my manager, who actually opened up the conversation about my career plans by asking me what I had in mind after the internship. I said I would love to work at Beam full time, and within 3 weeks, it was so! Throughout my time thus far, I’ve been able to contribute to many aspects of the business while having ownership over my work, and that’s such an empowering feeling. My first project involved working with two other designers to revamp a public tool from the ground up, and was a major success, saving members a few minutes in completing the task(s) we were designing for. Since I’ve always had an interest in design systems, I got to contribute two components with documentation and have them published while still an intern! Check this post out if you’re more curious about my experience working at Beam so far.

Outside of Beam, I’ve been working with other designers on an exciting project that we’re hoping will go live in the near future (be on the lookout 😉). I’ve also been inching towards completing a few personal creative projects, as well as indulging some of my childhood nostalgia through LEGO sets and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards (reconnecting with your inner child from time to time is an essential experience and you should definitely make time and space for it).

These experiences every day help shape my thinking and mold some idea of who I want to be as a “senior” designer down the line. So, what might that look like to me?

Cementing Design Foundations & Philosophies

The books laying next to each other on a golden curtain white white-sewn stem-and-leaf patterns. The book on the left is Mismatch by Kat Holmes, and the book on the right is Ruined by Design by Mike Monteiro.
These books are 2 of the most important to read as a designer.

I got to explore the process of design system component creation, iteration, testing, and documentation with much joy and delight. I’ve also been able to apply and stretch some of my prototyping skills in Figma through real-world and exploratory work within my job and side-projects. In my everyday living, browsing the net, seeing new works of art, and learning about crypto, it’s insane to see how far we’ve come as societies and how far we’ve fallen from our roots as a species that works best together. I feel this is an essay-rant for another time that needs its own space, so instead here I’ll reference some things have either helped (re)shape, reinforce, and/or augment my reason for designing (and that I think my fellow designers would benefit from):

We’ve made incredible strides in bringing the world closer together through design, but at the same time have ostracized many with those same design principles, practices, and solutions. Not only that, but the barrier of entry to the UX field for BIPOC especially from “non-traditional backgrounds” is unreasonably high, even though many of us started somewhere before pivoting to UX. For too long, power has been held by those who either don’t recognize that power, don’t understand inclusive design, or actively seek to prevent it. That’s gotta change. As Kat Holmes quotes in her book, “nihil de nobis sine nobis.” Nothing about us without us.

Not only do I want to walk into a position of influence to help folks come up in the industry, but I want to continue building products that help rather than harm; and while one goal of creating products is to earn a living and profit, that should not and will never be my #1 goal, and certainly not by abusing your customers, clients, or product users. How might one manifest this ideal? It starts with knowing yourself. You need to get comfortable with speaking to yourself and understanding what you can and will tolerate, what you won’t, where you can see yourself working, what kinds of experiences and products you want to influence, with whom, and for whom. Remember: nothing about us without us.

This is the Way

I’m going to round out this miniseries with something inspired by a colleague of mine who is also a wonderful designer: Kaity Meade. A long while ago she shared this post on her LinkedIn which detailed her own design “code of ethics.” I highly encourage you to check it and her other posts too, they’re all super insightful! As I mentioned previously, it all starts with knowing yourself (or at least making that effort). While priorities and philosophies may change over time and with experience, I will let the following core values guide me as best as possible:

  • Design towards and not away from inclusion
  • Design to help and not harm (to the best of my ability)
  • Kill or at least call out evil UX patterns (more commonly known as “dark” patterns but I’m trying to shift from that language)
  • Seek feedback by showcasing in-progress work, imperfect work, barebones work, conceptual work, rather than a polished final product
  • Design collaboratively and lovingly (work with fellow designers, PMs, stakeholders, end users, but also push back and ask questions when and where necessary)
  • Spotlight and give credit to others’ works, or sources of inspiration
  • Smash open the gates for BIPOC designers, fortify the gates against malicious design (work or management)

Some of these codes might sound idealistic, and I could chalk those up to my still being a relatively new designer in the space. However, I’ve always been for the people outside of my work, and so it only makes sense that I bring that part of me into my work. After all, being a designer includes being an advocate for people. I challenge you as well, dear reader, to think about where you want to take your UX career, and how. Then give words to those thoughts. because “words will always retain their power.” And that, my friends, is the Way.

This is a GIF image of the Mandalorian, wearing his chromium-colored helmet, turning to face the screen. It includes text stating “This is the Way.”

Thank you, dear reader, for joining me as I recount my journey into UX design! Where do you see yourself moving in your UX career? What are your UX mantras? I love hearing people’s stories and having a hearty conversation about life, UX, food, anime, Star Wars, and many many things in between! Let’s connect on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Clubhouse (@ayoubience; though I’m not active much on there anymore 😅)! And feel free to check my work out at https://ahmedayoub.design/. Cheers :)

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