Aug 8, 2019

Learning That Not All Design Is Made Equal

Paula Esguerra R

How learning UX Design 13,000 miles away from home changed my perspective as a designer

My journey in design started when I was a Visual Communication Design student at University Javeriana in Cali, Colombia. I had amazing opportunities to work on a variety of projects ranging from editorial pieces to be part of a hotbed research team. In addition, I got to do an internship in Dallas, Texas for an interior design blogger where I worked as a product photographer and media content creator.

Personal Work

While I was able to gain great experience during my internship, I found that I wasn’t happy or motivated with repetitive tasks, mostly because the challenge was always the same and the final products were typically “forgettable”. They were not intended to have long term visibility or impact. It was during this time, when I was looking at my next steps, that I found an opportunity to intern for a month with a company called UXReactor.

In the beginning, I thought it would more or less the same as the work I had been doing before; however, after a month, I discovered that I was wrong.

UX Design challenged me to think more at a system level rather than a visual level to solve complex problems for different industries. I was learning about scalability, consistency, and functionality; a completely different world that I wanted to become more immersed in. The only thing that made me hesitate from taking a longer-term role to learn more at UXReactor was that I would have to move across the globe from Colombia to India.

Photo: Juan Fernando Gordillo

This was a frightening prospect, but for me, the idea of committing to training in something means to go beyond “great” and achieve true mastery which I understood meant that I would have to be willing to take many obstacles head-on. Needless to say, I decided to take the risk and work through these challenges.

Personally, this included going to a different country, with a new culture and language as well as sharing a living and working space with people I didn’t know. All the while learning in an extremely intense and exhausting program. Professionally, I had to unlearn hard-earned knowledge from my time as a student and learn to have an adaptable mindset and how to deal with unfamiliar situations.

The entire training curriculum was built around pushing trainees out of their comfort zone. We would receive a seemingly simple task, for example, to create a data visualization. This simple task pushed me to learn relentless urgency as I had to scramble to understand the vast sets of dense data, research technologies I was not familiar with, ask strangers for help, accept feedback from mentors, make game-time judgment calls, and deliver the task within the deadline. It was challenging to deliver simple, understandable visualizations that contained so many layers of complexity behind the curtain. Let’s just say that the fist delivery wasn’t the best, but it was a part of the learning process.

UXDAcademy 2019

Training at UXReactor, I experienced that the best way to learn is from your peers. Seeing their mistakes helped me improve my work just as seeing their success motivated me to work harder. I learned that supporting each other would take me far. It let me build a companionship through the rough and happy times. When training was over, there was nothing like the feeling of making it out of there together.

I also learned that mentors are there to give feedback in a constructive and helpful way. It is my duty to shape that feedback in opportunities and grow. Mentors pushed me far out of my comfort zone to deliver the best and this took me places I didn’t know I could go.

Looking back, now that I’ve graduated from training, I can see that this training helped me realize new things about myself:

  • I needed to be extremely uncomfortable to be able to learn more and perform better
  • Learning never ends, and there’s a lot about Design I have yet to learn
  • I have strong willpower to succeed when I set my mind to do so.
  • I am able to be decisive and have a more critical eye than I had before
  • Strong teamwork enables learning to be amplified because I am able to learn through tribal knowledge

From this journey, I learned to mold my failures into lessons. Having experienced lessons through failures means I will never forget them, and I will be able to carry them forward as I continue to evolve as a Designer.

UXReactor Team

Would I recommend moving to the other side of the globe to learn and try something new? That would depend on how bad you want it and if you are willing to face what you might encounter: immersion into a new culture, mentors who push you to the extra thousand miles, and the ever-present doubt you feel when you’re out of your comfort zone.

For me, it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

About the Author
Visual Designer

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