A Year in Design

CAap6SAW8AAAMOeEarlier this year I was gifted a day-by-day diary, filled with thought provoking quotes, proverbs and reflections. As a man who requires action-lists to function, this little diary has become a very beneficial sidekick of mine, and the quotes; a pleasant, and much needed, chance to ponder. One, which has thankfully struck a chord, is featured on the very first page of the diary and states: “Don’t overestimate what you can do in a week and don’t underestimate what you can do in a year”.

This time last year I was unemployed, having been let go from the startup I had previously been working at, and career wise I was utterly directionless; bouncing between interviews for Account Manager positions for large tech companies and small marketing agencies, investigating my own startup ideas as well as providing business consulting for other young startups. I began feeling like consulting was where I wanted to head, but knew that to be of any value I needed not only more experience, but also a greater awareness of the world in which these tech-heads lived. I began exploring my options and somehow came across the Chicago based design bootcamp DESIGNATION. Drawn by their emphasis on Design Thinking, as well as an extensive introduction to HTML/CSS and Javascript (my perceived ‘in’ with the tech-heads), the short-term nature of the course as well as the confidence that their website exuded, I decided to uproot and immerse myself in their programme for the winter.


And this week marks a special milestone in my professional life, this week last year is when I put my two boots on the ground and was formally introduced to design. I, of course, believe I had been doing design long before this formalisation but memorably (and rather embarrassingly) on my first day I needed to Google ‘UX’ and ‘UI’ to remind myself which one was which. At DESIGNATION, I realised that the empathy within me that was sure to hold me back in my business ambitions, were to be embraced and shape me as a designer. I was wholly immersed in listening to these fascinating stories and journeys of creative exploration, absorbing these new ways of thinking about the world, and absolutely blown away that, as engrossed as I was, I was not the most immersed – others in the room were just as, if not more, passionate about what we were engaging with.


I went through 4 gruelling weeks of formal classes (after 4 weeks of 30ish hours online prep) before moving into an agile agency environment. Acting as Project Manager and User Experience Designer I was part of teams that shaped numerous products for startups (and their users) across America, and I caught the bug.

The guys in DESIGNATION prep you extensively for the job search process and all students must design new websites, resumes and action plans for attaining the much-desired new job. Throughout the process I had been planning on taking this design knowledge and using it as a notch in my belt as a business consultant, or marketing assistant, or whatever roles were available for me to apply to, however when sitting with my Creative Director at DESIGNATION, he noticed that everything I had written and was presenting was bland and generic and he suggested that I figure out what the one thing I wanted to do was and chase it. That night I went away and had a long hard think about what it was that I wanted to do, a reflection which I had previously failed to explore without his prompt. It is from that evening onwards that I have referred to myself as a designer.

My time in Chicago was formative beyond the education I received, I met some fascinating people, explored some amazing places, was the beneficiary of amazing acts of kindness and also learned that very American value of introspective exploration – something we Irish often berate, but could stand to benefit from greatly.

I also learned of the value of being one dimension professionally, and of seeking assistance in expanding professionally within that dimension. As a broad ‘business guy’ I would never have dreamed of reaching out to people asking for, and expecting, their time and assistance in helping me with my job search. I have learned that by focusing on what I wanted and reaching out to the UX communities in both Chicago and Dublin, I received nothing but goodwill. Rather than following traditional recruitment paths, I negated recruiters and online job sites, instead looking to build connections, forge my own path and trust in my belief that I was more likely to create a position for myself then I was to be awarded an open job via traditional routes. These connections expanded my knowledge of the UX world in ways unimaginable and helped me understand the most sensible way I should approach UX going forward. The number of people who humoured me via email conversations or in-person meetings is insane, every conversation leading to a new thought or tool I should explore. I am happy to say some of these connections have maintained and have built into professional friendships, others are strong connections to be maintained and others, again, offered me what I sought most– a job.


One year on and I am blown away by where that experience has taken me, my professional life could not be healthier; after much networking, some freelance work and good old fashioned lateral thinking, I received a bunch of job offers and have landed my dream position in a world renowned User Experience agency. I’ve begun informally mentoring graduate designers, I’m working on uniting the UX community in Dublin through more regular Meetup events and making Dublin a little more like Chicago, and will soon begin speaking about my experience and encouraging others to find what it is they want to do and chase it.

At Frontend, I work alongside people who share the passion of my DESIGNATION colleagues but get to work on products that are global in reach. It is so exciting when you see write ups on your in-process projects from familiar international publications such as the LA Times, Washington Post, etc. and complete work for clients that are household names the world over. I’m still quite new to the craft, and I struggle to lower my estimations of what I can achieve in a week (I’m a ways off being a PM!), but I have a newfound appreciation for what one can achieve with great professional connections, support from loved ones and strong determination.


John will be speaking about his approach to the job hunt and delivering a talk, ‘A Practical Guide to Designing a Career in Design’, at Sketch Labs’ `How to Prepare for Products of Tomorrow’ event, taking place at BOI Grand Canal, Dublin on the 18th November. Other speakers on the evening include Eoin Bara (Founder, V7 UX Agency), Jonny Belton (Product Design Manager, Zendesk) and Orla Cassidy (Design Lead, Tapadoo). The event is open to all students and graduates, or anybody, seeking a career in UX (or related fields), tickets are free and are available by contacting Mindas at Sketch Labs; mindaugas@sketchlabs.io

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