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Hey there, design reader!

Long time, no see! Welcome to week 20 of my UX Academy Journey, which has arrived at long last (and after a few weeks’ hiatus). 

Having delved into the nitty-gritty of rapid color palette generation in the last post, this week I’m taking a step back, and reflecting on the individual nature of the creative process, mentorship, and how to gear your learning experience to your own unique goals.

Sometimes things do fall apart

As those of you that have been following the series may have guessed, Phase 2 of UX Academy is effectively a practice in rapid UX design. But—Murphy’s Law being what it is—it didn’t matter to the outside world that I was knee-deep in my second capstone project, designing a fully integrated social feature for Spotify. *Life* means that other obligations to it may come knocking at any given time.

And knock they did.

In the space of a month, the apartment building I manage underwent a massive re-roof, my freelance clients shifted timetables (moving up a number of deadlines), and a mini-family emergency plopped itself right in the midst of it all. 

Suffice to say, after a few weeks of schedule meltdown—reminiscent of my first few weeks in UXA—I was forced to take advantage of the Designlab’s option to “pause” the program.

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
—Adapted from ‘To a Mouse’ by Robert Burns

One of the hardest-earned lessons of my career so far has been this: to admit when things aren’t working. Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in our day to get everything done, or the processes that we're using to complete  tasks aren’t working.

It’s important to recognize—whether through being over-ambitious, or through a perfect storm imposed by the cosmos—the threshold of what is possible in the time available has been crossed. 

I am terrible at recognizing this. 

And as a result, I often feel like my own project management has spun out of control, which is not a good look when you’re face-to-face with clients. 

What works for one, may not work for all

Feeling like your project has spun out of control is also not a good look when face-to-face with a mentor whose style and processes that are catered to corporate client-to-designer roleplay—not my first language.

At first I felt guilty that I couldn’t seem to fall in line with the practice of professionalism that my Phase 2 mentor had laid out for me. I was struggling to get all of my assignments done in the 25 hours a week I’d budgeted for schoolwork, and other clients and work obligations were just adding to the pressure. Add in meeting agendas and regular slide decks, and I felt completely overloaded. 

Initially I looked at it as an opportunity to hone my professional skill-set. My mentor had a great deal of knowledge to share and I needed to be up to the task of taking it all in. So I tried structuring my weekly timelines as my mentor outlined, and used the Pomello timer (based on the Pomodoro technique) to keep meticulous track of every minute each assignment took me to complete. I structured in regular breaks, and tried my best to follow the streamlined processes my mentor recommended for each task. 

Still, I just wasn’t able to get through the work fast enough—nor was I fully comprehending it. In fact, oftentimes I would find myself more confused after five or six iterations than I was at the start. 

Having spent a while feeling like I was the problem, I then started to wonder if it was simply that I was trying—unsuccessfully—to make my own creative process conform to a mold designed by and for someone else. 

I was a very square peg trying to jam myself into a very round hole. 

Asking for exactly the help you need

Six weeks into Phase 2, I decided to take the reins and ask for what I really needed—a break, and a change. It was time to acknowledge that, while I hadn’t yet solidified the processes that work for me, I could definitely identify the ones that weren’t.

I took a calculated look at my own career goals, and determined that they weren't necessarily aligned with that of a “typical” newbie UX designer. Personally, I'm hoping to fold my new skills into a freelance career, rather than a standard nine-to-five. Inevitably, this would mean wearing more hats, and remaining flexible in my approach to creative problem-solving. 

So I made a list of my strengths (research, narrative storytelling, and high-level design strategy), along with my weaknesses (time-management, logo design, and a tendency to overwork things and get lost in bottomless design rabbit holes). I decided that it was time to stop trying to make my creative process mirror another person’s, despite their obvious success. Their processes worked for them, but it was time for me to find the ones that would work for me.

I requested a new mentor, and after working with three incredibly knowledgeable and talented men, I specifically requested a woman, curious if there would be any difference in mentorship style. 

Within minutes of meeting Vesna, I knew she and I were a great fit. She introduced me to Scrum, an agile framework for project management often used by software developers, and reminded me that my process may be different from hers or anyone else’s. 

She also made me feel more sane. Designers have a reputation for being methodical and logical, which often reads as cool, calm and collected. I, on the other hand, feel like I'm cut from a different creative cloth—prone taking on too much, regular procrastination, and frequent distraction breaks. 

In our first chat, Vesma reassured me that I wasn’t a square peg surrounded by round holes, and shared some helpful insights into her own process.

“Usually I just mess around for two days, and then do everything crying in four hours,” she said. 

Of course, completing the course—just like succeeding in all work—would take some effort, but it seemed much more attainable after I took a step back and reevaluated what wasn’t working, what was working, and what I would need to move things forward. And having a mentor in my corner who matched both my personality and my personal work habits, was already making the learning that much easier.

It all comes down to finding what works—which I've found Designlab will help you with—and building things from there. 

“You have to make some effort, then I can pull you up,” Vesna said. “But I cannot push you up!”

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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