blog post | marketing

My journey from Design Intern to UX Designer

Jess Haines Team Photo
Jess HainesUX Designer

Everything I learned in college helped form the skills I needed to become a designer—but my work experience and mentors led me to become a user experience designer.

In this post, I share my journey from design intern to user experience designer as proof that even if you’re just starting your career (and it might be scary!) it’s alright to diverge.

Getting my start as a design intern

I started with WebMechanix in 2017 as a part-time intern. My college required an internship to graduate and I was fortunate to find WebMechanix’s ad.

At the time, they only had one previous design/dev intern, and no real design department. I was still a sophomore in college and could only work a few days a week. But the team was eager to have me and I felt a connection with the company right away.

(Some serious 2017 Snapchat investigation by the interns)

I stayed on as the design intern for the next two years as well. I worked more hours during the Summers, but still found days to get into the office during Spring and Fall.

I learned so much so quickly: I was designing real ads for the first time, for real clients, with short deadlines. I had the Adobe Creative Suite skills to keep up, but I was relieved when I learned we were hiring a full-time designer.

Meeting my first “real-world” design mentor

Justin Kalaskey was actually a rehire. Together, we reinstated the design team.

My first impression was that Justin was a very talented designer: highly intelligent, with similar drivers as me. He worked fast and taught me how useful shortcut keys are. He was also the first person to truly teach me the importance of accessible design.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a focus in interactive design throughout college. I understood how to design with users in mind, but there is only so much you can learn in a semester. Accessibility was sprinkled over our education, but never a focus.

I started training under his wing. He showed me how to concept and draw wireframes. Web design was something I had little experience in. He used terms like user journeys and archetypes which I had never heard my professors using before. He was teaching me holistic user experience design.

I was sold. My interest really took off after we did a persona workshop with a client and I could see the impact we were making in the room, building connections between what the stakeholders knew and the assumptions we were challenging.

My transition from intern to full-time designer

I became a full-time employee right after graduating in the spring of 2019. I’ve had the pleasure of working with WebMechanix ever since.

Let me break it down for you:

2017-2019 – Design Intern

Type of work: Editing graphics and text, icon designs, pulling stock photos
In this role I was learning about agencies, internal branding, and marketing jargon.

2019-2021 – Digital designer

Type of work: Display/Social ads, webpage designs, pop-ups, graphics, branding, presentations

Programs used: Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Animate

Principles used:

  • Alignment
  • Proximity
  • Emphasis
  • Contrast
  • Balance
  • Hierarchy

In this role, I was combining principles, brand guidelines, and creativity to make design decisions that fulfilled a design brief.

2021-Present – UX designer

Type of work: Audits, wireframes, IA/Navigation, data analysis, interviews, workshops, presentations

Programs used: Figma, Miro, Google meet, Hotjar, Google Analytics

Principles used:

  • Visible response
  • System matching
  • Consistency
  • Helpful dialogue
  • Error prevention
  • Freedom of control
  • Recognition over recall
  • Aesthetics and user-centered design

In this role, I combine principles, heuristics, accessibility, and creativity to make UX design decisions to either create a design brief, or to fulfill a UX brief.

(Our team used to be so small!)

The shift between roles happened fast because I was already applying UX principles to my digital design work. And it felt like the right direction for my career.

For a moment, I felt like I was being thrown into the deep end. After all, I had only been a full-time designer for two years. My team helped me fight off Imposter syndrome: they had so much trust in me and the work I did.

Riding the waves of change and growth

Over time we grew, and we grew fast. We bloomed into a creative department with designers, copywriters, and UX members. And like many others, we transitioned to being remote-first as of 2020.

There was a learning curve, of course, but I always had help. Justin went on to further his career. In his stead came Elina Rapoport, who also helped challenge my understanding of human-centered design.

Her confidence and passion rubbed off on me. She is a critical thinker, and is highly skilled at wrangling stubborn information architecture. Together we stood ground within our department. We defined what the UX process looks like at WebMechanix, and even wrote a UX playbook while juggling client work.

The main differences in my new role are with the type of task I am working on, and the stage of work I am a part of. I no longer take on ad design work, something that had been my comfort zone. Maybe it became too comfortable. I wasn’t pushing myself as far as I could.

Instead of concepting, I kept thinking more about the bigger picture. When the user clicks on that ad, what does the page look like? Does the experience on that page match the ad? Is there something on that page preventing the user from completing their goal? Answering these questions became more interesting than time spent perfectly aligning text on the ad.

Now that I am focusing on UX, I get to spend time looking into these types of questions for all of our clients. I primarily do work in the first phase of any design – for larger projects as well as client retainers. Sometimes I am brought on even before a brief is made.

Research is an essential part of my job and I get more time to do that than when I was a digital designer. I can dig into data, find areas of concern, and propose solutions for the larger creative team to implement. I also talk to clients in new ways. Rather than presenting a finished design, I now might report on audit findings, conduct interviews with stakeholders, or run UX-related workshops.

Reflecting on the journey here and beyond

When I started as an intern, I had no idea I would still be working here 5 years later. I have seen many necessary changes within our department, as well as changes in myself, my work, and my goals.

As someone who prefers consistency in life, it was a challenge, but an exciting one. I can say I am a better designer, presenter, and researcher than I was when I started. I am grateful for those skills.

About the writer
Jess Haines Team Photo
Jess Haines | UX Designer
Jess has a strong foundation in both digital and UX design. She specializes in user research, heuristics, and accessibility.

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