In this episode of Pixelated Perfect Ana will talk about self-learning and the way she managed to succeed as a designer and the importance of working on your mental health to find a healthy job.
Dianne: Welcome to the Pixelated Perfect Podcast, Ana! I'm super excited to have you kind of walk through your journey and your story for some background for everyone Ana is a part of the design team at Design Project you've been with us for a year. Ana has been an integral part of the team she's worked with quite a few of our customers she was with one of our customers the longest customer we've ever had which is just pretty awesome so super excited to dive a little deeper and to hear more about her background and where she comes from I know she's definitely more of a self-taught so I think it's going to be really interesting to dive a little deeper on some of those aspects and kind of like her journey and what's next so yeah so let's go ahead and dive in and I would love to hear a little bit about how you got into product design I know it's been a little while since I've heard this story so I think would be really great.
Ana: I actually went to school for advertising and kind of took me those four years to realize I did not want to work in advertising. I just really like the visual side of it so I kind of realized oh maybe the design was really where it was at for me and I just started with like graphic design and got my first job as like the sole designer for like the grocery store chain in Puerto Rico where I was doing like everything print, digital, a little bit of web everything and then moving to New York I really like love the tech scene and got like one of my first jobs there was at a startup they basically made like any sort of glass display into like an attractive screen with like some projection technology and some AI some machine learning so my introduction to that stuff was like pretty early on before I even called myself like a UI/UX product designer anything like that so that's kind of how I got my footing.
Dianne: I would love to understand a little bit more about when you were the sole designer of this graphic design chain from someone whose first job out of more of an advertising background coming into this what did that look like for you like how did you understand how did you figure out how to design from no one to teach you?
Ana: I think before I got that job when I was actually creating my portfolio I learned a lot in the process of making a portfolio so I knew some basics through there but it was really just a lot of Google and YouTube. I think I've gotten more knowledge and experience from those two websites than in my entire life for years of college for sure.
Dianne: I love that so much I actually want to unpack that a little further because so for me my background in graphic design I went to school for graphic design I majored in graphic design I graduated I got my first job and I was like oh my gosh I feel like I know nothing. So I did a lot of Googling and I did a lot of YouTubing and so I think that's really interesting that that also kind of was like how II figured out the industry what was it do you like can you recall what was it that you were like Googling and Youtubing was it like how to use Photoshop or was it like what colors look good together...?
Ana: It really depended because sometimes I didn't even have like the terminology really to know what I was looking for so I guess like that's just attributing to look Google's greatness like their ability to read your mind if you're just like um you know that thing where it's like you know whatever like they totally understand so a lot of that was just like literally just absorbing everything from like these Google searches and like my Google searches would go deep so like it I don't know I'm the kind of person that like can easily open like 20 tabs and I have a hard time like narrowing it down just I don't think that feeling ever really goes away of like feeling like you don't know what you're doing and you just need to like learn as much as possible.
Dianne: What was it that you were YouTubing at the time was it kind of the same thing as Google is like you would be Googling something and then you'd be like oh I need to figure out and actually watch a video on how to do that and how to watch how they actually created that thing that I found on Google...
Ana: It was very much the combination of those two working together because I would learn the terms from my Google searches and that I would take those terms to like form the actual like phrases that I mean into YouTube and then fine like a vast like you know the source of info so it was just like opening up like all these videos and new windows and then just watching all of those so it was a lot easier once you get to that you too stage because they just have so much stuff recommended to you that you're like set.
Dianne: you go down the YouTube rabbit
Ana: hole exactly never get out yeah
Dianne: Let's fast forward to today and the resources you're using so you started with Google YouTube have you evolved, that's the wrong choice of words because we always still use Google when you do but are there any other resources that you really love to use as inspiration or just to Google terms or figure out learning something new what would you do now?
Ana: I mean I think it's an interesting question because I still Google a lot of my stuff still like stems from Google. I may be no more of the terms of what I'm looking for now so maybe my searches aren't as exploratory as they were initially but you know a lot still stems from those initial searches I think that's kind of where I'm at right now where I'm trying to find like some staples that I constantly go back to so I don't have to even like to think about like oh what sites would I would be good for this like I want to just already have like my own sources you know like embedded in the process.
Dianne: And you know that's always the challenge I feel like there's always like these new trendy sites to go to and you're using those for installing then there's the next new...
Ana: there's no shortage of resources and in a way it can be very overwhelming...
Dianne: "That's true which one's the best one which one's the right one how many should we go to yeah and I know at Design Project we're trying to and you've helped put together like a resources page like these are the resources that some of the designers use and I think that's been that's been really helpful for us to kind of at least have a starting point but yeah it is very overwhelming.
That's interesting to think about like how can we solve that problem how can designers solve how to create one-size-fits-all resources and I think there are so many out there. Going back to kind of this you as a sole designer of this grocery store chain you said you did a little bit of everything web Graphics what was it that kind of or maybe it wasn't at the shop but what kind of guide you into product design was a 10 your next position?"
Ana: It was while the digital stuff like Tech absolutely it was more my experience had always been more like up until that point of my first like startup job just web design very basic like on a CMS like WordPress or whatever, pretty much just that and that was pretty much the deal with what they needed pretty much just like a website it wasn't too high-tech the grocery industry.
Dianne: There's such a thing as high-tech grocery stores now, haha.
Ana: I did more like physical product design like designing a line of private label products actually they did like they release their own in-house line of spices, bottled water, and like some like prepackaged foods from like the deli and stuff so a lot of it was like physical packaging.
Dianne: "That's interesting stuff yeah it's like where you have to actually like go create dye lines work from dye lines and go check the printer and see how the packaging is fun.
What was that process that you kind of getting a design brief and working on it or do you have a team that you were bouncing ideas off of how did you get that into that final production stage?"
Ana: That's the thing about being a sole designer as there's no team. If something doesn't like already exist it's like okay well you're the designer so you know how to start it, so I think that although it's not what I do today really like it was a good lesson like how to start things from scratch and just like figure it out because you know no one else is really going to figure it out for you and a lot of that just goes in hand with like being self-taught you kind of learn like the hard way or the long way but definitely Hands-On.
Dianne: I want to talk about being the sole designer and no team because you started out in the sole designer space I guess I want to go back to us we already started here and then I think your next position also was you were one of the sole designers was there a team or you were the only designer.
Ana: I had a creative technologist okay he wasn't a designer but he had like more development experience so I would create assets and then he would program them like you know make them move and do cool things.
Dianne: working in a team versus being a sole designer? Is there one you prefer that maybe you would recommend to another designer that's starting off kind of jumping in without having any experience and being self-taught...
Ana: I think what I would have really loved and I wanted this like my entire design career regardless of what I was calling myself was a mentor I don't feel like I got that experience and I was desperately seeking it I feel like being self-taught is great like you really learn to take initiative and just be kind of just like operate that way but to have someone it's just nice to have someone to like look over your stuff and tell you like oh it's actually like better if you do it this way or you know there's just a bunch of random tips that we all like to pick up collectively and I feel like sharing that with each other is sometimes like one of the most useful ways to pick up good nuggets of info
Dianne: I never had that Mentor person either and I think that's something that I really wish I would have had as well and really like searched for it and sought it out and kind of made it happen because I feel like I tried and I was like it's not going to happen but maybe it is kind of a lesson or maybe if you're starting off if your midlevel, wherever you are in your career maybe finding that Mentor,r could kind of be that missing piece that you're you're seeking
Ana: It's interesting I did get close once. LinkedIn had this they had a pretty cool program where like you would sign up for free if you wanted like essential mentorship like someone to reach out and be like hey how do you like what do you want like help with like there's some sort of
Ana: pretext that they're going to help you out and when you're looking at who are these like potential advisers they have in their little profiles like they're their areas so you know if I'm interested in like art direction I'd look for someone who you know it has like a matching bio or whatever and I met someone who was not super Hands-On but like pretty proactive about wanting to like have a conversation actually talk not just like a message on messenger or whatever and he did give me some good info but like it really couldn't progress because at the time I was doing brand design and he was actually very well versed in UX/UI.
Dianne: Just bad timing! Oh, man have you ever thought of reaching out to him again?
Ana: I do every now and then I do but I'm like mmm...
Dianne: so much time has passed I feel like it's like online dating or some yeah like I started chatting with them and then wasn't the right time would he yeah what do you still be interested... hahaha
Ana: Haha, mentorship is like dating.
Dianne: I want to talk a little bit more about your first job when you move to New York and worked in the AR field this was like right now it is super trendy but this was a few years ago right like kind of before that.
Ana: You know being a start-up we talked with a lot of like investors and Founders from other companies we went to tons of like these little startup events in New York which like there's a lot of startup events in New York for basically every sub-sector you can think of and in having a lot of these conversations people didn't really seem to understand like usage for AR outside of like Snapchat, I guess the biggest app that used AR at the time so like that's all people really knew yeah it was seen as like a kind of like a fad like a really wasn't taken seriously and I think VR was very similar my partner Works in VR and he had a lot of the same conversations.
Dianne: How could you go about designing for an industry that wasn't really there how are you able to tackle that?
Ana: A lot of it was through like Partnerships when you think about it like what kind of businesses would benefit from making their like you know Windows interactive there's really a lot that you can do with that a lot of businesses especially in New York we're like foot traffic is everything so I think it it was just a lot of like Partnerships with people in which we would pitch ways that the tech can work for them like they would tell us we actually had like a skincare client that was doing like a holiday pop-up shop and the pop-up had window displays and they wanted it like have some sort of like something on there to make it you know extra special or like really like Garner attention on the street which in New York can be like a pretty hard thing so like we pitched a bunch of concepts for how they could use the screen in front of like Soho and they like chose a concept we revised and I created assets working with their like design team and then worked with the creative technologist to make the assets and the tech work together to create the experience that we wanted to make so it was a lot of just like proving by showing.
Dianne: Which is yeah that's interesting proving by showing is a lot of what we as designers have to do to write like a lot of times we'll have Concepts and we'll have to get to that wireframe stage sometimes it's even the UI stage before they're like oh wait this doesn't make sense we hope it doesn't happen at that stage but a lot of the time when these concepts are hard to grasp especially like UI/UX best practices and they need to like see it or see what pulling inspiration from what others are doing so I definitely can see how that would also be relevant and they are VR world programs. Where were you using to design or what was the technologist using to build?
Ana: I don't remember too much now of what he was using
Ana: I was using like Illustrator, Photoshop and after effects which was pretty much as complicated as it got. A lot of our apps were web-based so a lot of it was just like coding I don't know how many platforms he used outside of you know what knowledge he came with.
Dianne: I guess I actually want to take one step back because I'm curious how did you like to set up your portfolio or what was that experience trying to get that first job in New York with your experience as the designer of the grocery store chain was it fairly easy for you at that time as I think it wasn't like super trendy as it is now to be a product designer or a designer in general or was it a challenge during that time too?
Ana: It was a challenge because like different jobs had different descriptions for the same titles, especially the more
Tech-focused it got it seemed bigger I frankly wasn't sure what got me hired with the startup company
Dianne: Your winning personality and your great design skills!
Ana: It was my smile...
The job was like it was very it was actually pretty big it was General creative or something like that so I wasn't even sure what I was going to be doing if my experience was relevant like what my job was going to look like it was pretty impossible to tell."
Dianne: I think it always goes back to you being a designer and coming up a designer on your own you bUIlt your own skillset and so I think you weren't as afraid to go into these unknowns because you knew that you could kind of tackle and handle anything you Noob you had your best friends Google and YouTube to guide you
Ana: I can't say I know less than I know now haha.
Dianne: So let's kind of fast forward to the past couple of years what have you been doing how is your career kind of shifted and changed
Ana: I think a lot more well-rounded well I left that job and did freelancing so it's going to be you know an array of clients and what they need, it was pretty sporadic, and like with a lot if I think it was just like connections at the time most of it was just like basic web design so it was like just like basic CSS and assembling you know on like a CMS you'd be surprised how many people just can't like handle like assembling on like management like a system but also it could be like we're predisposed to be like oh okay dashboard cool instead of being like scared.
Dianne: I guess I think of if someone pulls up Excel I like immediately push it to someone else which that's so yeah like I or I fall asleep like I literally it like makes me tired just thinking about Excel I'm
Ana: I had to use like the outlook for the first time like a couple of weeks ago and I was like what is this right like don't make me do anything with Microsoft, please
Dianne: one of our customers uses Microsoft Microsoft teams and that's hard I think it's hard for us designers / Mac-based designers just like not built for us.
Ana: I'm assuming it's what it's like and with those couples where someone owns an iPhone and the other has an Android
Dianne: "Right, I don't know yeah I'm embarrassed to say that I literally if you put a PC in front of me I like wouldn't know what to do I would be like ""what is this!!!"" But it isn't a good thing I'm not bragging like that's not a good thing I should open my world a little bit.
What would you say to a designer that was looking to make that jump into the freelancing world?"
Ana: I would say you should be really comfortable talking to people all kinds of people because I think that's the biggest thing about freelancing is everything outside of design like managing clients and understanding what they mean because they're not visual people unlike what they want even though they can't come up with the words literally learning how to read people's mind.
Dianne: So if you want to become a freelancer step 1: learn to read people's minds.
Ana: Telepathy doesn't hurt but yeah you just got to like know how to deal with people and be comfortable with it
Dianne: That's a really really great piece of advice and I don't think that's usually the first thing people say and that is so true I think to be able to make that jump it's like you got to be able to communicate like you gotta or you're not going to make it
Ana: I mean I knew like okay it's not the steadiest thing in the world so you know let me like prepare for this like I feel like I prepared in all the common ways that you would think freelance or life would operate so that was probably like just the one thing like I wish I would have known before going into it.
Dianne: it yeah and yeah and I think you also mention this is like all of those additional things that you're doing: project managing, leading calls, and bringing the process...
Ana: Bringing the process literally like they don't if you don't mention it sometimes like it won't even happen which is just chaos you are literally in charge of the organization.
Dianne: And what did that look like for you? I think that you're a fairly organized person but was there a point where you were like jumping and you're like oh gosh I have to figure out my whole process and my organization what did that look like?
Ana: You know I talked to the besties Google and YouTube as much as I could but ultimately it was kind of trial by fire you know taking the plunge taking a project dealing with like a new client seeing what that relationship building a relationship and just you know seeing how that goes a lot of my experience managing is from freelancing a little bit from my startup but mostly freelancing it's everything.
Dianne: I mean it all falls on your shoulders and then right like it's your responsibility it's you can't go to your boss you can't go to your manager like you are it.
Ana: You know I don't know how many people realize just how important process is like how much process dictates success because if you're not it's essentially a road map and if you're not following any particular roadmap if your client isn't particularly decisive it can quickly just get crazy.
Dianne: I think that's an amazing point hard it has its challenges but one of the things you also mentioned was balanced you want to talk a little bit more about how freelance is giving you that?
Ana: I think one of my biggest reasons for leaving like the 9 to 5 type of deal was just like honestly stress it was starting to affect me physically like in my body like I was holding that stress outside of work hours like on the weekends it didn't it really seemed to go away it wasn't like situation all I like oh this is just a stressful project like you know once we reach that deadline there really didn't seem to be likeand end in a way so I needed to just take a step back and just reflect a little more on like what kind of design work was making me happy and also like what kind of things outside of design I needed to make sure like you know my cup is full to be able to like do my work regardless of what it is so I'll some like the first few months of that was pretty slow I didn't like dive into like my Rolodex of people I knew and start advertising for new projects and stuff I kind of just took a few weeks to like just think about what I wanted and think about like the trajectory so far and where do I want to go from here like I got at that point had gotten thought I was going to go into branding and graphic design and you know whatever ended up really liking that UI/UX experience like testing apps and working with the developers were like the highlights of that startup job so I just wanted to like know where how where does this all go has it how does this all like fit together essentially what am I doing.
Dianne: I love that and I think that's really interesting because I think a lot of people they like have this crew directory and they always think oh I have to get to that next step I have to get to that manager design lead whatever that looks like because they think that's like what is set like that is the only right and do they even want that dude are they good at managing people like do they even think about like taking a step back understanding what they want before just diving into something like that career trajectory?
Ana: Yeah it's scary I don't know how people do that
Dianne: Me neither. I think that kind of taking the time and reflecting is such a powerful thing that you recognized within yourself and knew that that was going to make you happy and also knowing that work is not the driving factor right like you're a designer you love design I know you love design you have a passion for it and you have other passions and you have other interests and you explore them and you make sure to give yourself that time to explore a little bit of everything that you're interested in and that keeps your cup full so like how what would you recommend to other people that wanted to kind of like take a step back and maybe rethink I know you said you spent some time thinking about it you thought of your trajectory but were there any tools or anything you could tell someone else to start with?
Ana: I think it really depends on the person some people need a certain level of assurance to know they're on the right track others just need you to know a little more time it's I feel like everything my whole career has been experimentation so I would just always go back to that when in doubt experiment think that's really the only way you know what's working what doesn't what you like what you don't and where you want to go from there.
Dianne: I think maybe what we could recommend for whoever's listening and thinking about this is to take that time to give yourself that time to explore but yeah when in doubt experiment I really like that and I think a lot of people just don't take that time they just plan it all out which is interesting because you're a plant you like to be organized I actually don't know are you a planner do you plan things?
Ana: I think yeah like I don't like surprises really unless it's like a surprise vacation and always down for a surprise video...
Dianne: Which mind that now you'd be okay could you just hop on a plane without knowing...
Ana: Absolutely! just tell me hot or cold!
Dianne: "I don't I mean I think I would say like oh yeah I could totally be down for a surprise vacation but I think I would like to be like oh gosh what if my partner is planning something and I could plan it better, haha.
I don't know what that says about me that really got that's like the truth though that really that came out very accurate. I really like that I really like when it got to experiment and just like being open so what were some of that that came out for you and that time that you were thinking about the future? what is next where do you see yourself what are you passionate about?"
Ana: I kind of did with it was in that pause that I did have this like Eureka moment where I realized product design was a lot of what I was looking for it was really like it was user-focused I felt like a lot of the like hardest things about my job were just like things that didn't really serve the user yeah when I wasn't doing strictly UX and yeah I don't remember what was the question...
Dianne: what came out of that time you took to process like what's next for you what did you what we're more of those aha moments.
Ana: I realized product design was like what I loved I was doing it was centering the user which was like essentially the compass that I used at work for like everything that we did and this was when I was still just doing you know General design a lot of those pieces a lot of like kind of design and what I cared about like they'll the behind-the-scenes stuff like the process, for example, I realized all of that like a product designed touched in some way or another so like I still think product design is pretty vast like you can look at to product design jobs and they can be completely different was a big enough umbrella that focused on just enough of these things that like really we're already kind of embedded in my design work already in a way.
Dianne: I was just stuck out to me when you were saying that is you were really you really loved focusing on the user like in your past jobs as a graphic designer that's something that you kept going back to and I think for a lot of us who when we started design product design wasn't a thing and so we kind of found ourselves wanting that research wanting to understand users before it was what it is today and so yeah like you had this Epiphany moment this aha moment of like oh I really enjoy focusing on the user and now at that point you knew that product design was a thing and you could take that path and kind of combine Your Love of graphic design of visuals and being user-centered.
Ana: I think it was important that whatever I focused on had enough Variety in it that I wouldn't get bored and I think product design is pretty
Dianne: It is like every project we go into as a designer like it's not straightforward it's never going to be the same so you got to be a little crazy I guess I do not sort since there's only so much planning you can do and there's going to be an owns always.
Ana: You have to be comfortable with a little of that unknown, it will always be there.
Dianne: If you are thinking of getting into product design and you do not currently know that it's always going to be unknown they're going to be elements that are unknown which is exciting for some of us.
Ana: It should be it should
Dianne: If it's not exciting to you then you're not in the right career
Ana: If you need to know everything about how to do your job on day one product design is not for you, product design is always changing. It's just impossible to know everything because the moment you do it's different
Dianne: When people ask me like and this point in my career what's like a takeaway I have now versus maybe when I was starting or mid-level and I say it's that like I know I've learned that I know nothing, always question everything in the best way you're never going to know what you're going to be working on next you're never going to be an expert like you're always gonna end the design there's just so many things that you can always be learning and getting new insights and that's also the industry is changing so rapidly to like what's next we have no idea so being open to that and being open to knowing that you're never going to have all the answers.
Ana: Always being down to learn and flexible, I mean good qualities to have as a person regardless but come in handy extra in product design.
Dianne: One of my final questions for you is with your cup half full what are these other parts of your cup that bring you joy what are these things outside of design that you're passionate about that you've been doing on the side?
Ana: I think it's not it's not like totally left field that I went towards design because I have a background in art pretty much like competing since I was a child like an elementary I think my elementary school like kindergarten first and second grade three years in a row I won first place for like ocean week like this ocean week art contest that we had in elementary school school-wide what I was in it and I didn't win third grade because I went out I went to a different School they didn't have that week so my career stalled but it picked up later on yeah I always loved drawing and I think my dad was into it too when he was younger and I remember actually when I was pretty young he would still sporadically like do it I remember like the last thing when I was like maybe an elementary school he was he took me to art store and bought like a bunch of like nibs like pen nibs and he was doing he was like practicing and like calligraphy he was doing like the letter he's a maintenance man for a reference like there's nothing related to that.
Dianne: He just loves art
Ana: "I think maybe I got some of that in just always being down to like you know no matter what the ask okay we'll figure it out we'll dive into that so definitely art is still a pretty big thing a lot of digital art nowadays but really love all medium, not like the best at it but I don't necessarily do art to be the best always. I think that's one thing that makes are pretty therapeutic is that I'm a perfectionist like InDesign I can very much like be a pixel Pusher which can be bad if you're trying to be Speedy so sometimes I try to like not especially with like wireframes and stuff not get like to like. I really struggle with that so like art kind of forces me to like confront not being good at everything the first time not every stroke being perfect the first time around and like you know just learning just seeing visually that trying and failing trying feeling trying and failing makes beautiful things
Dianne: "Things do other art and I find that really inspiring for me personally because I spend all day working for other people and designing for other people and I don't take that time to just design for myself and I want to because I see the beauty of it I see how it could be therapeutic I think as creative people always want to use your hands always want to be working on something and doing something for yourself where it doesn't have to be Pixel Perfect just something interesting like I love that you do that and I think that's a great lesson for everyone is like find that balance and do those creative things for yourself outside of your everyday creative work.
I think that kind of concludes our talk where we've made it all from the beginning to now 2210 today you know we talked a lot of Concepts we talked a lot about being self-taught and what that takes to be self-taught and I think that keeps you really open and experimental in your career always we talked a lot about our best friends Google and YouTube we did spend some time talking about process and kind of what UX designer is let's see what else we talked about the cup half or the note they come all the way full filling it in your cup all the way so yeah I think we definitely went in a lot of different directions so thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me it was really great to learn a little bit more about your background and where you came from and kind of self-care as well which has been super awesome so thank you so much and I look forward to seeing you remotely in the office tomorrow."
Ana: I'll see you tomorrow bright and early!
Dianne: Thank you, Ana!