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Kiruthika Mani, UX Academy Student, Hadid Cohort

Before joining UX Academy's Hadid cohort, Kiruthika was working as a Graphic Designer at a multidisciplinary studio in India, handling Branding, Print and Web design projects.

That was when she discovered an interest in the web and digital design. So, after a year and a half of mainstream Graphic Design work, Kiruthika decided to transition to UX/UI Design with UX Academy. We caught up with her to talk about her time on the course, and find out how things are going in her new position!

Hey Kiruthika, congrats on the job! But before we talk about that... how come you chose UX Academy – and how did you prepare for the course?

I came across Designlab when researching course options. The idea of learning online as part of an international community was exciting! I was also keen to be mentored by a senior designer with industry experience. So I enrolled in UX Academy and prepared for the course by researching the UX Design process, looking up the design tools I'd need to learn and figuring out how to manage the time difference (IST-PST)

Lots of people are reluctant to take the plunge and retrain. Did you have to overcome any fears or reservations before enrolling?

I'd already studied design the conventional way for 3 years before deciding to learn UX Design. So, when enrolling, my biggest reservations were: Will I be leaving behind everything I've already learned? How much “unlearning” will I have to do? Will I be able to go back to Graphic Design once I take up UX? How can I balance both?

My friends and family were very supportive of this decision. I'm glad I overcame my reservations and took the plunge. I've become a better, more versatile designer because of it.

Is there any single consideration that almost prevented you from signing up to UXA?

The cost of the program was quite substantial when converted to Indian Rupees – it was about Rs. 190,000.

So what was your UX Academy experience like?

Initially I was quite nervous, especially about meeting my mentor and fitting in with my cohort. But it turns out I'd worried for nothing. The first meeting with my mentor, Dhaval Gandhi, went very well. He asked me about my design background, my interest in UX design and what I hoped to get out of the course. He went on to describe his own design journey and how UX was important to him. I knew immediately that he and I would work well together.

Throughout the course, I tried to manage time effectively and get through the units within the allotted hours. Not letting up on time management, especially in the first phase, proved to be a huge benefit. I was able to begin my capstones early and use any additional time I had.

Each stage of the coursework came with its own challenges and benefits. Two things really helped me early on. First, reviewing the entire unit before beginning; and second, knowing where my strengths and weaknesses lay, so I could allot time for each unit accordingly. For example, the unit on User Research & Strategy was completely new to me. So I planned ahead and made more time for it. On the other hand, the unit on UI Design proved easier as I was familiar with the basic tools and principles.

I turned to my mentor whenever I found myself struggling. He helped me focus my efforts and prioritise my tasks.

The UX Academy Slack community really helped me settle in and take control of my work. It felt good to talk about the challenges of coursework, and of UX design in general – it helped to know that someone else felt the same way! Participating actively in user tests and discussions within and outside my cohort went a long way in helping me with the capstones.

The thing I was most nervous about was the Group Crits. But, in the end, it became something I really looked forward to every week. After an intense week's work, I was motivated to share my progress and see what others thought of my work. It also helped me approach my work with a level of objectivity and not get attached to one idea/approach. Often, Group Crits revealed areas that I'd overlooked in the design.

At the end of the course, I found that my UX process was stronger, I had a solid portfolio of work, I was more open to critique, and I had a strong network of fellow UX designers to begin the job search.

Could you give an outline of “a day in the life” of yourself as a UXA student?

  • First thing, I’d review the tasks I’d set for the day. I divided the day roughly into 3 sections (9am-1pm, 2pm-5pm, 6/7pm-11pm/12am). This helped me to cover both lessons and assignments within a day.
  • Morning: Mentor session or lessons for the day
  • Afternoon: Continue with lessons or work on mentor feedback from previous assignments
  • Late afternoon & early evening: Work on the day’s assignments
  • Late evening: Group Crits or assignments
  • Last thing, create tomorrow’s to-do list – carrying over incomplete tasks from today and adding new ones

What aspects of UX Academy did you find the most challenging? How did you overcome those challenges?

Staying on top of the coursework was definitely a challenge at first. But I found that it became easier everyday. I tried not to worry about how fast the rest of the cohort was progressing. The best way to manage time was to set a consistent pace for myself and stick to it everyday. It also helped to review each unit beforehand and distribute time accordingly.

What insider advice would you give to new UXA students?

1. Participate and network without reserve, especially in the first few weeks when you have more time. This will help you integrate with your cohort, which will be a huge help during the later stages of the course.

2. Invest time in preparing for group crit sessions. These sessions are where you learn to explain your work and reasoning to other designers. You also learn to ask focused questions and fill important knowledge gaps. In the long run, this really helps you while attending job interviews.

3. Set your own schedule and pace yourself. See what works for you based on your skills, objectives and interests. Don't get anxious, trying to keep up with everyone else. Instead, focus on creating a systematic workflow for yourself. This will not only help during the course but also later, during the job search and further!

How did you approach the job search? How long did it take you to find your new position?

I began my job search hoping to get a position at a large firm with relatively steady work timings. As I was just starting out, I wanted to be a part of a UX team where I could learn from senior designers. It took me 3 months to land a job. I sent roughly 50 applications, interviewed with 7 firms and worked on 4 different design tasks.

The first month, I sent out applications to MNCs and IT companies. But companies like these have a long recruitment process and replies weren't coming anytime soon. My mentor helped me out wherever possible, connecting me to designers he knew at the firms I applied to.

The second month, I focused on sending applications to UX Design studios and startups in India, Singapore, New Zealand and Europe. It was at the end of this month that I applied to Tadaweb in Luxembourg.

What is your new job like?

It's very exciting and sometimes a little intimidating! I've learned a lot over the past few months – to be a good listener, to collaborate within and outside my team and to take responsibility for my decisions. The fluid nature of the work and the close-knit, supportive company culture have helped me grow as a designer. While I primarily contribute as a UI designer, I also get to pitch in on UX decisions and advocate a new design culture within the company.

What skills did you learn in UX Academy that are helping you in your new position?

Everything I learned at UXA is helping me at my new position – honestly! In short, I...

  • learned to understand how important the user is to the design process. This helps me advocate for the user when decisions are made within the team.
  • gained knowledge of the entire UX process, from user research to visual design. As a UI designer, this has given me the confidence to speak to senior UX designers and product managers on subjects other than just visual design.
  • learned how to present work to peers and explain the thought process behind the design.
  • acquired expertise in industry-relevant tools and platforms
  • learned to see design as an objective, collaborative activity as opposed to a personal, solitary pursuit.

What are your longer term goals? Where do you want to take your career next?

In the long term, I'd like to progress to a position of a Sr. UX architect/designer at a product/service company. After five years or so, I hope to join an academic institution where I can plan and execute a new UX/UI design curriculum.

Thanks for talking to us, Kiruthika! Finally… would you recommend UX Academy?

I'd definitely recommend UX Academy. In fact, I already have! A friend of mine is currently enrolled in the Jenson cohort. I’d recommend UX Academy because...

  • Learning from a mentor who's a senior designer in the industry is an invaluable experience – one that isn’t easily available to everyone, especially someone who isn’t from the design industry.
  • The curriculum explores every stage of the UX design process in-depth. And the capstones allow you to learn by doing.
  • The student, mentor & alumni network is a great place to meet other people at the same stage in their design career, who face the same challenges. It's also a great way to share resources, get advice and grow as a designer.

Unlock your potential with UX Academy

We recently launched a major update of UX Academy, including a curriculum revamp, and the full rollout of Group Crits & Career Services. Apply by Monday October 9th to join the next cohort. Find out more – including admission criteria and details of our unique 6-month job guarantee!

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