Learning to Design

Learning to Design

By: Danny Blackstock
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Danny shares how he has developed as a result of his UX design co-op experiences.

As of the end of this year, I’ll have done four co-op terms; two terms at Evident Point Software in Richmond, and two terms at Visier in Vancouver. Both jobs have helped transformed me into a more confident and competent digital designer. 

My first co-op placement at Evident Point

At Evident Point, a software consulting company, I was the first and only UX designer to join the company of around 30 people. I got my first exposure to working with a highly technical software team, and that experience was invaluable – learning development skills from them like HTML, CSS, and Git allowed me to see how software is made in the industry, I was then able to go back to school and apply these skills to make prototypes, visualizations, and websites. 

Evident Point also gave me my first experience presenting and working with real customers. One time, I was able to go to a meeting with Richmond Public Library and present the product we were building for them, Create & Learn. Getting feedback from users and stakeholders, face to face, was something that I often found tough to do for school projects. Being able to do this helped build my confidence in showing and explaining my work to others.

My second co-op experience at Visier 

My current position as a UX designer at Visier, a human resources software solution company, has also helped me improve as a designer, and allowed me to work on projects at a bigger scale. I quickly learned how complex the domain of human resources is, which I did not fully anticipate. For example, my supervisor was once sent a forty-page text document from product management on the overall vision for a product. He had to understand it all, figure out what the first steps for the team might be from this vision, and start designing from there. He showed me that one tool that can really help in this phase is creating mind maps, using software like MindNode for OSX, which is something I hadn’t learned in school.

I learned how to create detailed design specifications and concepts for a bigger company like Visier, which has over 150 employees. Compared to Evident Point, where my team only had 5 people or less at any given time, most of the development teams at Visier have at least 10. So, learning to write descriptions, annotations, and even emails clearly in order to support the design documents I’ve created has been key to communicating ideas to the team effectively.

One of the biggest confidence boosts for me when I was able to work on improving the front-end styling of our product for a few weeks. After this was done, Visier showed off the product to around 3000 HR experts, at the HR Tech conference in Las Vegas. Normally, front-end development isn’t part of the UX designer position. But I was motivated to keep up the developments skills I had learned at Evident Point, so after I asked, my supervisor allowed me to create a few web prototypes for some design ideas we had. I found making these interactive prototypes to be some of the most fun work I got to do at Visier. After the development team saw some of my prototypes, they were interested in letting me help out. I learned that just letting people know what you would like to work on or learn is definitely beneficial if you want to broaden your skills while on co-op.

All in all, I’ve learned to how to work as a professional designer in two very different software companies, and gained invaluable experience along the way. While I started not knowing exactly what I want to do in design, I found out that I really like making prototypes, since it allows me to quickly mix interaction design, animation, and development together. I’ll definitely being exploring prototyping more in the future, while continuing the search for my next passion!

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Posted on December 13, 2015