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Teatime Topics with Robbin Arcega

Hey there, design reader!

Welcome to week eight of my UX Academy Journey—a weekly review of my experience as a part-time student in Designlab’s UX Academy, Weingart cohort. Get ready for a guest star appearance!

We’re taking a break from our regular programming this week to bring you something new, and a little different for this series—with a whole lot of fun on top! Enter UX Academy alumna, current UXA weekend Group Crit Facilitator, and generally awesome person/designer/writer/tea drinker Robbin Arcega!

I had the particularly distinct pleasure of meeting up with Robbin IRL this past week, during her two-day jaunt to Seattle. Word is Robbin’s brother is considering going to school here in my beautiful hometown, and I not-so-secretly hope he does for many reasons, the most obvious (and self-serving) being that it will mean more opportunities to galavant around town talking UX design with the woman herself. What can I say? We had that much fun!

Robbin and I being design dorks and selfie dorks (and tea dorks) all at the same time

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that, like me, Robbin has an affinity for multiple potentials, a characteristic common among UX designers. And she works—a lot.

Before we get into the meat of our teatime chat, let’s get to know Robbin a bit, shall we?

Fun Facts About Robbin

  • Robbin is a native San Franciscan and a Senior Support Escalation Lead at Udemy. Don’t worry, I had no idea what that title means either—it’s something like a customer support liaison. Although “UX designer” is not strictly in her job description, Robbin has applied the lessons from her UXA studies, morphing her own processes into ones focused on the end users and designing for and around their needs.
  • She loves drinking tea and crocheting, describing herself as “basically a little old lady”
  • Robbin graduated from UXA just over a year ago, as a full-timer in the Ive cohort—and while she was kicking butt on her course curriculum, she was also working full-time and blogging about her crazy demanding schedule (see Designlab: That Overtime Life, Part I and Designlab: That Overtime Life, Part II for some schedule hustling inspiration that puts even my very real struggle to shame)
  • She writes about UX almost as much as she drinks tea (aka, a whole, whole lot), and in addition to her duties at Udemy and Designlab, is also about to start a three-month content internship at Oz Chen’s UXBeginner.com
  • Robbin carries reserve biscuits with her at absolutely all times (the British kind—essentially delicious tea cookies, for us biscuit-ignorant Americans) so that she is prepared in the event of a tea emergency. I’m not kidding. Even when traveling to Seattle, she pulled out a packet of milk chocolate Hobnobs and announced that they would pair nicely with my yunnan Chinese black tea, instantly taking me back to the semester I studied abroad in London in 2008 (oh nostalgia, you fickle, sweet, chocolate covered oat biscuit, you!)

If you’re not sure what all the Hobnob fuss is about, just ask comedian Peter Kay

Planting the UX Seed

Robbin, like so many of us, found her way to UX design through a friend—an ex, in fact. She had just started working at Udemy (four years ago now!) and said she “had no idea what tech was,” much less UX design.

She would watch over her ex’s shoulder while he worked, stopping him while “he did his engineering things,” to question him on his methods and reasoning.

“I would ask him why he was doing things the way he was doing them,” she said. “He told me he thought I would like UX design.”

“It’s what you’re already doing,” he’d told her.

“You mean, complaining about things?” she’d replied.

The Problem with UX Design (or Robbin’s Patient Zero)

“A big part of it is there’s no real definition to UX and I feel like that makes very logical people very upset,” Robbin said, while sipping her lemon mandarin black tea, which she paired with lemon shortbread. “And I’m a very logical person.”

It’s impossible not to be jazzed about the possibilities of UX design when talking to Robbin—she’s absolutely oozing with enthusiasm and will happily discuss design topics, debate research methodologies, and bemoan process hiccups with anyone willing.

Here's some work from one of Robbin's UX Academy capstones.

Robbin and I had met at Perennial Tea Room in Pike Place Market, a beautiful and well-stocked little shop hidden down the famed Post Alley that, in all my years living in Seattle, I had never before visited.

As we sipped our tea and began chatting about our experiences with Designlab’s UX Academy, Robbin became increasingly enamored. It’s clear the program worked for her—she managed to tackle the full-time course track while also holding down her full-time job. Upon completion, Robbin started working with the company as both a student advocate, and later, a group crit facilitator—a weekend gig that she still maintains is her absolute favorite part of the work week.

There’s no doubt Robbin loves UX design, but going through the course also coaxed another passion she didn’t know she had: for teaching and community building.

This is the logo set from Robbin's King Kog capstone.

“I freakin’ love teaching. Teaching is one my favorite things to do in the entire world,” she said. “I want to be a UX designer not because I want to do good work—though I do want to do good work—but specifically I want to become a thought leader and teach and encourage other people to pursue UX design.”

Robbin sees the potential applications for UX designers everywhere—there's a need for creative solutions in every system around her, whether it be government, business, technology—you name it.

The way she sees it, our current systems go about solving today’s problems all wrong, throwing countless investment dollars at solutions without bothering to stop and define what the problem actually is first.

It’s a wasteful and unnecessary practice, and one problem she aims to work to address as the industry grows and she grows with it.

“We have a really huge responsibility as UX designers,” she said. “That’s my ultimate goal: teaching and making sure people know what they’re getting into—and as teachers, knowing how we teach it.”

A more realistic mindset

After watching many of her friends go through various UX design bootcamps, and completing the UXA curriculum herself, Robbin says there’s a disconnect between the picture some of these institutions paint of the path to a UX design career, and the reality of training up and entering the workforce (especially for those transitioning in from other industries).

“I feel that many bootcamps offer these shiny jobs immediately after graduation and that’s just not realistic,” she said. “That’s the ultimate problem that I want to solve… being able to help people in that ‘beginning’ stage of ‘maybe I want to be in UX,’ and give them the resources to see if it really is the right choice for them, minus the shininess.”

“Really, I want to help give people a more realistic mindset toward bootcamps and the field of UX [design] in general,” she said.

Check back next week for Part II of my interview with Robbin, where we’ll explore one of the biggest obstacles new UX design students commonly face—the Battle of Imposter Syndrome—and how to overcome it.

We’ll also pick the brain of the master multipotentialite herself and distill down Robbin's best advice for turning UX design studies into a successful UX design career in a segment I’m fancifully calling, “Robbin’s Teatime Tips” (this would be a good time to dunk your biscuits in a cup of hot tea, fyi, so come prepared for that). Oh, and then there’s Robbin’s reading list (and listening list) for the best of curated UX design media. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. Trust me, you won’t want to miss it.

Until then, happy UX designing!

Looking for a change of careers?

Designlab’s UX Academy program offers rigorous curriculum, personalized mentor support, and a thriving, global student community. Ready to launch your new career as a UX designer? Get all the details here

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