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As a Montessori teacher, Grace Montgomery would observe the classroom for a living. Now, she’s using many of the same skills she developed in teaching as a UX researcher.

“When we step back and quietly observe what the child is saying and doing, we learn more about where that child is in their learning experience, where they need support, or what their focus is right now.

“I would observe and make adjustments to the classroom environment or learning material; or make something new, prototype and test it, and observe again.”

While Grace found being a teacher fulfilling, she also found herself grappling with the decision to change careers for well over a year. With a background in ceramics, she was always artistically inclined. She considered graphic design, but after some research, found the idea of UX design more rewarding. 

With the support of her husband and family, she decided to take our Design 101 and Typography courses. Then, once the school year ended, she left her job as a teacher and enrolled full-time in the Zeisel cohort of UX Academy.

Initially, Grace admits it was a steep learning curve. “But I had so much support from my mentor. I’m so grateful for all his lessons and his consistency. He pushed me to think deeper and work harder than I ever had.”

Depending on what part of the process Grace was in, a normal day in UX Academy might be spent scheduling or conducting interviews, creating wireframes, doing user testing, or creating a presentation and preparing for a critique. 

Grace Montgomery UX Researcher UX Academy Designlab

Grace used the paper prototyping method for her Zeit project in Phase 1 of UX Academy

She found the capstone phase of UX Academy, during which students apply the UX design process end-to-end to three separate projects, particularly valuable. “It was ultimately the most difficult, but after completing that process three times, I felt very capable and prepared.”

Grace’s biggest piece of advice for prospective, incoming, and current UX Academy students? “Invest time learning tools like Sketch and Illustrator beforehand. Find a time management strategy that works for you. Come to every mentor session prepared with questions. And practice critiquing design choices you see in everyday life to prepare for group critiques.”

As UX Academy concluded and Grace completed her portfolio and began applying for jobs, she became drawn to more research-focused roles, and decided that she wanted to be in a place where she could grow her research skills.

“I love the creative process of UX design, but what surprised me over the course of UX Academy was how much I enjoyed user research.”

Grace Montgomery UX Researcher UX Academy Designlab

Grace created a responsive website design for one of her UX Academy capstone projects

During the interview process for a UX Designer position, the team at LexisNexis noticed her passion for user research and analysis too, and offered her a role as a UX Researcher instead. Grace jumped at the chance.

“I probably talked too much about my love for empathy maps.”

We think not.

Grace has been at LexisNexis for eight months now and is learning a lot from her fellow researchers. Much like in UX Academy, they meet weekly to share what they’re working on, present research findings, and discuss challenges and successes. There’s even another Designlab UX Academy graduate on her UX team!

“I’m drawn to the process of gathering stories and hearing firsthand about experiences, and then seeing patterns and themes emerge, from which we can learn valuable lessons about how to improve people’s experience. 

“The chance to talk to people, to hear that their experience is a part of a wider thread or theme, and for them to know that their voice was instrumental in driving a wider decision that benefits many people—that’s what’s really special to me about being a UX researcher.”

Grace says a lot of the credit for her continued interest in UX research goes to her Designlab mentor, Alan Hurt.

“He encouraged me to thoroughly document each step of the research process and always reminded me to ‘never make design decisions based on assumptions.’ He taught me how to ask open ended questions when conducting interviews, and challenged me to defend my methodologies and present my research findings with confidence.”

Grace Montgomery UX Researcher UX Academy Designlab

Final screens from one of Grace’s capstone projects

Over the course of UX Academy, Grace practiced these research techniques by recruiting friends and family for activities like user interviews, card sorting, and user testing.

“I wouldn’t have been able to complete my projects without their help! It was really fun to involve them in my process and (I think) they enjoyed it too.”

When Grace completed her portfolio and graduated, she shared her work with everyone who had helped her along the way. 

“My friends and family were thrilled to see their contributions to my projects show up in the final portfolio, and their enthusiasm and encouragement was so important to me in making this career change.”

You can explore Grace’s portfolio and connect with her on LinkedIn!

Want to follow in her footsteps? Check out our top-rated UX Academy program and grab your free syllabus

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Alexa Harrison

Designlab

Content Writer

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