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How To Make A Career Switch To Become A UX Designer?

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“How do I make a career switch to become a User Experience (UX) Designer?” A question every mid-career professional has on their minds when trying to break into the User Experience (UX) industry. Senior UX Design Leader, Keith Oh, the current Head of Product Design at Carousell (one of Asia largest and most active mobile-based classifieds and marketplace app), shares his take.

Other than his current experience of being Head of Product Design at Carousell, Keith was previously the Design Lead at IDEO. Keith is also an alumnus of the highly rigorous Masters of Science, Human Computer Interaction (HCI) program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Keith kindly agreed to an online interview where he answers all of your burning questions about UX and transiting into it.

“Focus on building an awesome portfolio — one that goes beyond the typical coursework and attempts to solve some
real-world problems
with real users.”

Q1 What’s the difference between UX, UI and Digital Product Design?

I don’t differentiate these labels.

They are all part of a designer’s toolkit for creating great user experiences. Getting fixated at any of these labels go against the ethos of user-centred design, because we are putting the solution before the problem. What if the solution isn’t in the product, the UX or the UI?

Q2 How does branding come into play when designing a digital product?

Branding clarifies the purpose of the digital product.

A great brand goes beyond the visual identity (which is important) to clarify the purpose of the product—both its functional promise and its emotional promise to the users. It informs the roadmap of the product as much as research & strategy.

Q3 For an organisation, looking to hire their first designer, what should they look out for?

Senior Designers.

Many companies, especially smaller ones, need to hire senior designers first. They might be hiring their first designer, or finding that they don’t have a sufficiently experienced designer to coach the juniors. Hence, it is important for the designers in your company to know where NOT to look.

Q4 As a student or mid-career switcher who has no degree or certification in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) or UX, how can I break into the industry?

Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio.

Focus on building an awesome portfolio—one that goes beyond the typical coursework and attempts to solve some real-world or familiar problems with real users.

Q5 What are your thoughts about hiring people who went through a UX career conversion program?

I look out for portfolios which showcase the solving of real world problems.

Career Conversion Program vs. Traditional Schools
Graduates of career conversion programs like General Assembly (GA) compete with the pool of fresh graduates from “traditional” backgrounds, whose portfolios typically consist of projects from school, so they can be quite theoretical.

Importance of Showcasing Real World Problems
The better ones solve real world problems (albeit no real client), e.g. booking a Grab, buying movie tickets, redesigning Instagram, etc. I have hired a fresh grad who did a redesign of DBS PayLah! The portfolio in itself is a real world project! The user is the prospective employer.
How can you design a great experience for the various types of users?

Positioning Past Working Experience
Many GA graduates are career switchers, meaning, they already have a few years of working experience. They can use that to their advantage when competing with fresh grads. If they are in customer service, can they do some research at their existing work? If they are a graphic designer, can they showcase how their graphic skill add to the the UX? If they are an accountant, how can their number crunching skills help them during their research process? And so on.

I’ve also hired designers from “non-traditional” backgrounds. I’ve interviewed a few GA grads last year, and hired one.

Q6 How do you tell what someone is strong at during an interview? E.g. research, design or strategy

Design starts with being curious about people.

And being able to channel that curiosity into meaningful insights that lead to innovative solutions. That is what I look for in candidates through interviews and design challenges.

Q7 What’s one of your favourite questions to ask candidates during an interview?

“Why do you want to be a designer?”

Q8 Are you hiring or are there internship opportunities?

Not at the moment.

I am not hiring and Carousell does not have a UX internship program at the moment.

Grateful for the insights? Feel free to share this article and tag Keith Oh and myself, Daylon Soh.

Which question was your favourite? Comment below and we might do an article dedicated to that question alone with more juicy insights from other Senior Design Leaders in the industry. Also, check out our 4-month UX Course by clicking on the button below.