An Unexpected Journey to Becoming a Designer
Being a UX/UI designer was never a clearly planned move for me. When I was at university, I spent up to six hours a day on painting and ceramics, and fully intended on studying fine arts in my Cultural Studies major.
However, life doesn’t always go as planned. Halfway through my bachelor’s, during a misguided attempt to fix a Starbucks oven, I electrocuted my hand badly enough to affect my fine motor skills. Since art was no longer a realistic option for me, I had to change my trajectory a little.
Challenges take you where you need to go.
I’ve never been a person who only has one passion. I still wanted to travel, so when I completed my undergraduate degree, I went on to do my master’s at the Karl Marx University of Economics in Hungary.
After Hungary, I tried making use of my master’s working as a business analyst at a startup in Turkey. At the time, the designer left. With no one to replace him, I thought I could step in and mock up a few screens and flows. As it turns out, although I liked being a business analyst, I loved doing design, especially designing the business process.
Luckily, the startup had enough resources to allow me to swap careers.
At the time, there was very little bridging the gap between graphic designers and front-end developers. Nobody was figuring out visuals and flows with a single strategy aimed at optimization and conversion. I had to learn on the job. Eventually I ended up crafting my own position, which is now known as UX design.
I was in Turkey for two years, before I moved to Thailand for a fresh start. I’d always liked Thailand when I visited on vacation, so it seemed like a good place to set up while I was working on contracts remotely.
Freelance work can be incredibly varied. I did everything from web design to content writing, and eventually settled back into UX/UI Design.
However, an 80-hour work week wasn’t sustainable for long. I started working at TMB bank (now rebranded as ttb bank, who coincidentally, Morphosis helped out with their app rebranding) as a Senior Product Design Manager, where I learned what it really means to be a good designer.
Mentorship builds better UX/UI designers.
When I first started working in UX/UI design, there wasn’t any official training available, but I was lucky to have people guide me in other aspects of my journey. The CEO of the startup in Turkey started me on the right track by recognizing my talent for design and giving me the resources I needed to start learning.
However, the best career guidance I ever received was from my manager at TMB. My manager advised me on how to navigate the corporate system, and to stay motivated by finding projects that interest me personally – especially the ones that make an impact. Instead of trying to be the best, aim to make a project measurably better.
There were many interesting, impactful projects at TMB. I helped embed two-factor authentication into a banking app, which would serve as an alternative to OTP. I developed eKYC journeys, and even got a chance to work on the first version of PromptPay, Thailand’s most groundbreaking real-time interbank payment system.
Sometimes, interesting digital products fail.
As with all big organizations, it’s not unusual for projects to fail or get rejected by an executive further up the line. As someone who worked at a big organization, this inevitably happened to a project I’d devoted a lot of time and energy to.
Until this point, I had never worked on something that felt to me like a complete waste of time. Even though I still got a great performance review, it destroyed my motivation more than getting electrocuted ever did.
I only managed to overcome this obstacle when I realized that I needed to change the way I look at things. A mistake is a chance to spot an opportunity that wasn’t seen before.
Not to sound corny, but the journey matters more than the destination. As long as you gained insight from the process, it isn’t a failure.
I learned a lot from the unsuccessful digital products at TMB, but I learned my next big life lesson when I joined Morphosis.
Design isn’t just digital. There’s always a human element.
There is nothing more rewarding than combining people’s unique skills and seeing them work better together. I am proud when I see my team achieve their goals because I helped steer them in the right direction. It’s a privilege to be a part of each career journey, and I’m honored whenever I get asked to write a recommendation.
The advice I like to give younger designers is this: a design approach is more important than the tools you use.
UX/UI design may change 10 years from now. You can design anything, as long as you focus on the usability of a digital product and can prove that, despite someone’s subjective opinions on aesthetics, people will actually use your product. This means balancing creativity with logic, art with science. At the end of the day, outcomes matter more than outputs.