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Hey there, design reader!

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post—did you miss me? I most certainly missed you!

In my last entry I was just about wrapped up with Phase 1 of my UX Academy Journey, and celebrated reaching the halfway mark (almost) by taking off for an entire week of dedicated “unplug and play” on a beautiful tropical island. Now I’m back, and ready to ramp up again for Phase 2. Shall we jump right in?

Relax, Reset, Repeat

Boy, time flies, especially when you’re on vacation—though, I must admit, it first appeared to slow to a halt the moment I turned off my screens and instead focused my attention on the non-digital, physical world around me. (Boredom is a good thing, I swear!

It’s amazing how much good a little rest and relaxation will do, especially when you’re a workaholic, as I am (no shocker there). With the busy hustle and bustle of Phase 1 of UXA behind me, I took the opportunity to revel in a thorough brain-break. 

Learning to love the break

Learning to love the break

What I found was, much to my surprise, abstaining from all things tech-related for several whole days actually deepened my understanding of UX design, its processes, and how I work best as a newbie (-ish) designer. 

There’s even some solid neurological science supporting the idea that periods of rest, sleep, and full withdrawal from work are crucial for the consolidation of new knowledge—stepping back can actually heighten achievement

Of course, that’s not why I did it—mainly it was for the tan and the mai tais—but enhanced cognition is certainly a perk. 

Applying UX Design Tactics to Other Work

Remember back in week 7, when I discovered Atomic Design Methodology and it turned out to be a huge “aha” moment for me? Well that lesson, as it happens, turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. 

Being able to understand design simultaneously as a collection of individual elements, and as the sum of its parts, has changed the way I now see and approach pretty much everything—including assignments, work projects and everyday life stuff that on the surface seems to have nothing to do with UX design at all.

Kaus UI Kit

Tackling design at the atomic level—a UI Kit for my Kaus project

I’ve discussed before how UX design methodologies overlap with other lines of work, including my own background as a writer and journalist. The same is true for many industries, especially those in similar spaces—graphic design, architecture, industrial design… the list goes on and on. 

One of the things I’ve noticed lately is that studying UX design, and starting to put it into practice, has also made me more efficient in my other work. I now have systems and processes in place to define tasks more clearly, iterate on ideas, and manage client expectations throughout the process.

For example, I have one client who has built a career on being a financial advocate and wealth consultant. A few months back, he completed work on a book—part memoir, part how-to guide (with the help of my writing-and-general-life-mentor and dear friend). Once the manuscript was complete, I was brought into the mix to work on some of the design elements. 

I created a series of custom financial graphics to be included in his book (which, in fact, was also my first foray into using Sketch just before UX Academy started!), launched into designing the interior of the book, and worked to iterate on cover designs for the hardcover, paperback, and e-book editions. 

Accelerating Returns

The project quickly expanded, and I now have a monthly retainer with the client to spearhead his book marketing and publicity—essentially working as a project manager for his launch. This required me to sit down and take a serious look at what his needs and goals are (defining the problem—aka “the brief”) and outline a clear plan of action. That included developing a research proposal, feature roadmap, and a series of other related project deliverables. 

While I wasn’t designing the website myself, as the de facto project manager I was tasked with overseeing the design. In doing so, I put together a style guide to match the book jacket design, and even wireframed out what the website should look like in order to have optimal functionality for promotion purposes after the launch. 

A first-round wireframe

A first-round wireframe for the book’s landing page

I have been doing book production work like this for years, but it never occurred to me until now that I could fold in elements of UX design and make myself that much more valuable—an asset for both my clients and for my own career development. 

My clients don’t know they’re getting a UX designer (albeit a nascent one) for the price of a content writer/marketer and book designer—but they do see the increased value in what I’m delivering.

That, in turn, means I’ve been able to increase my rates and give myself the authority to handle my clients more confidently and assertively—less like a hired hand, and more like a consultant. And that, as any freelancers out there will agree, is sort of the dream when it comes to client work!

Next week, we’ll be picking up where we left off with this theme of applying newfound UX skills—I’ll be exploring how the principles of user testing, feedback and iteration have all enhanced not only the caliber of my coursework, but also the usability of my client’s book. See you then!

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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Thea Chard

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