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Developing my UX Design Skills

because you learn design by doing design

During my internship at Microsoft, I met with a lot of different designers with specialties ranging from voice design to industrial design, but their advice across the board was loud and clear: you learn design by doing design. Most people told me to trust in the design process and start taking on side projects, which is something that I'm also working on. But I thought it would be fun to apply the principle of "do a little every day" to my interests in UX design.

Amid a couple of Google searches and coffee dates, I stumbled on a blog page with the title, "How to Become a Better Designer in 30 Days: The Challenge" and decided to give it a whirl. Here's some of the highlights from that.

If you're interested in trying it yourself, here's a summary of the challenge:

30-day calendar of the design challenge - see the expanded version here

Day 1: Take stock of where you are now

As a writer, the first challenge was the easiest for me! You start by listing your skills and weaknesses as a designer and identify a few specific areas of improvement. Here's what I came up with:

Strengths:

  • I'm a damn good storyteller who leads with vulnerability, resilience, and the strength to survive. This stems from my identity as  a Pakistani Muslim woman, but it also comes from my work as a journalist, writing tutor, and friend who's always giving and taking advice
  • I'm a listener - I want to know what matters to people, and I can ask really good follow-up questions that gets at the heart of what they're saying.
  • I'm really curious, and this is my form of creativity. I inquire about people's tools and process, and I'm always trying to add to me repertoire of skills.
  • I love learning, and I'm not afraid to work really hard to make my dreams come true. That's why I'm doing this design challenge - it's an effort to turn my weaknesses into strengths
  • I love really deeply and have intense gratitude for everything in my life.

Weaknesses:

  • I haven't used the design process a lot in my own work
  • I lack familiarity with design tools
  • I often follow other people instead of setting my own standards
  • I struggle to believe in myself and what I can create

Based on this reflection, I knew that I wanted to:

  1. Gain familiarity with common design and prototyping tools
  2. Work on a personal project where I can demonstrate my understanding of user-centered design 
  3. Engage with the discipline of design through Medium articles, interviews with UX designers, and (hopefully) courses or conversations with professors at the University of Washington.

Day 5: Make a Moodboard

This was surprisingly fun! It was cool to see how I could put together different sources of inspiration, phrases, and ideas about design and lay them out in a way that could inspire my future work! I decided to make a moodboard that focused on how I would create a dream career for myself, and I put it up on my wall!

I put up images from:

  • Tech companies like that inspired me like Microsoft and Facebook
  • Thank-you notes and door tags from my work as a resident adviser and tutor
  • My favorite people and family members - a reminder that community is a central part of my work. 

These pictures are all hung up on the wall of my room - it's a moodboard for the career I'm building for myself!

Although I had never thought about moodboards as a skill and design, I thought this was a great exercise in putting together some sources of inspiration in my field of work!

Day 18 - Visit the Library

The 320th Library in Federal Way, WA

Libraries have been a resting place for me ever since I was in third grade – thankfully, I grew up 15 minutes away from the Federal Way Regional Library and the 320th Library, so I always had an endless supply of books in my room.

For this challenge, I decided to walk over to Fourth Avenue and visit the Seattle Public Library, which is an astonishingly beautiful piece of architecture. I climbed the bright green escalators and walked through the library stacks, and I even saw some technical manuals for Wordpress and Java along the way – isn’t it crazy that most of these resources are digital now?

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After an hour or two of wandering, I decided to sit down in the young adult section, and I set a 25-minute online stopwatch and work on a cover letter for an NPR internship. Setting a timer was very helpful because I knew that I had a limited time to work on it, so I was able to tune out distractions and crank out a solid draft.

I’m so used to following a formula for cover letters: interdisciplinary writing skills + identity as a Pakistani Muslim woman + growing design skills = me, a competitive candidate!

But for this cover letter (I decided to give myself the prompt of applying to be a Diversity intern), I focused on telling a story about myself using really vivid language and moments from my past. I talked about my grandmother and how she taught me to be a storyteller, and how I encouraged people across Microsoft, the unlikeliest of places, to share their tales. I ended up revising my initial draft and applying to be an intern for Story Lab, so hopefully I’ll have some good news!

Throughout this process, I focused on reading a lot more articles on Medium to learn more about other people's design process. I subscribed to people who were UX writers, project managers, and designers and highlighted the main takeaways that I wanted to remember as I built my portfolio and identified skills that I needed to develop.