Antje joined Hike One as a UX trainee and here she tells her story of how she got into UX, why she choose for a design agency experience, and what she took away with her. Read on to discover her journey of becoming a UX designer.
I come from an academic background, having studied interactive product design, architecture and design history at the University level. Moreover, I worked as a research assistant at the TU Delft for 2 years, at the chair of ‘Methods and Analysis’. I have always been interested in the fuzzy front end of the design process and the research phase. So, my background is as theoretical and conceptual as it gets. From such a background how do you make the transition into the field of practice?
How I got into UX
After graduation I started as a freelancer helping out UX’ers, overloaded with work - this way I learned on the job. I was trained in user research and design processes, but not in applied digital design. But hey, as Pippi Longstocking said, ‘I’ve never done it before, so I think I can do it.’ I immediately liked the combination of user research, logic (solving complex issues) and design details. I knew this was something I wanted to dive into further.
Why a traineeship?
With my limited experience in the field of digital design and no applied training, I was looking for a way to grow as a UX designer. When I got the opportunity to be a part of the independent Humanoids traineeship, I took it with both hands. This traineeship offers a diverse look into the work field, by placing trainees at different companies (startups, corporates, design agencies). Furthermore the traineeship provides a hands-on program for talented academic graduates. This combination allowed me to push myself to grow fast as a digital designer.
Post-its are a big part of a designer's work
What I wanted to learn from Hike One
As part of the Humanoids traineeship, I got introduced to Hike One, who gave me the chance to spend a period at their Rotterdam office. As I had never worked in a digital design agency before, I had specific things I wanted to learn. How do you sell UX to clients? How do you guard the users perspective in a commercial project? And in terms of company culture, what would it be like to work amongst fellow designers?
So, the design agency experience
As a trainee at Hike One I immediately felt welcome and part of the team. In client work, I found some similarities with the freelance work I was used to. As a designer at an agency you are also continuously presenting to the client, and tracking your activities by the hour.
However, it was a new experience for me to be surrounded by so many design colleagues at different points in their career. It is great to be a part of such a group of motivated people that are researching into new tools and methods all the time. Especially because at Hike One there is no competitive culture, just a supportive one (except when it comes to Foosball).
Although there are always colleagues available to give you feedback or help you out (there is even a ‘#help’ Slack channel), as a designer at Hike One you are responsible for your own projects. I got sent to a client on my own in my second week, which showed me that at Hike One you are trusted to do your job your way. This way of working fit me really well, as intrinsically my motivation thrives in such situations.
Hike One Academy
Next to client work, Hike One offers their employees different ways to specialise in the Hike One Academy. I took this as a way to feed my other interests: prototyping, emerging technologies (interaction design beyond the screen), research & writing.
I, for example, worked on researching & writing for the UX Playbook. I experimented with prototyping for Voice UI’s, and I was one of the first at Hike One to test the Framer X Beta. And at the moment I am setting up a masterclass on ‘Early Prototyping for Emerging Technologies’. Experimenting, gaining knowledge and finding ways to share it with colleagues and clients is an inherent part of the Hike One culture.
Masterclass on Facilitating Design Sprints by the Hike One Academy
My biggest take-aways
There are many things I have learned over the past period. The following stand out the most to me.
Create & support an open atmosphere
Hike One excels at their company culture. I felt I could be my social self (shameless dancer, amongst others) as well as a hard working designer at the same time. The atmosphere is open and serious. Because people are approachable, and initiatives are encouraged, it is easy to ask for feedback, easy to try out new tools and thus easy to grow and develop yourself. It’s good for the company, because it stays up to date, and also for individuals, because your input is valued & you keep getting better. Being a person that does not care much for status or hierarchy, that’s a great place to be.
Organise your work
In my practical experience I worked on small projects, close to development. It was quite a big step to large, long-term projects with extensive documentation. At Hike One I came in contact with methods to organise such a design workflow and to get design to production efficiently. Already a structured person by nature, I learned that neatly organising files and structuring documentation energises me. It is something I will definitely take along to future projects. (And preach to every designer I encounter!)
Be the expert
Coming from academics, I was used to highlighting different sides of a solution, not making hasty decisions. In practice, the client hires you for your expertise, so they want to be convinced the whole thing is going in the right direction. Sometimes I give clients multiple options with the plus and down sides, to still satisfy that academic itch (got to weigh all the options!). But overall I’ve become much more confident and persuasive. And pragmatic. Just start doing!
To answer my first question, how do you transition from academia to practice? Find people to believe in you. It started with acquaintances that trusted me with work for their clients. Secondly, the Humanoids traineeship that picked me out of a pile of applications and keeps supporting me, promoting me to interesting clients. Finally, I am thankful for having spent the past period at Hike One, and for them giving a theoretical architect the chance to design digital products with them. I think it worked out pretty well.
By Antje Adriaens
Antje Adriaens with colleagues
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