Why I Stepped Out of my Comfort Zone to Work in UX/UI Design
The foundations for design
I’ll start my story with my journey to working in UX/UI design.
I’ve had a love for art since childhood. Because my older brother liked to draw cartoons—and was very good at it, too—I copied him and drew cartoons as well. As I got older, however, we both stopped drawing. I never thought it would turn into a career.
I became interested in design when I started high school. Although I wasn’t able to pursue design in school, since they didn’t offer it as a class, I knew that I could make a career out of my interests. I also discovered that there was a university that offered design courses, where I would sneak into classes at the art studio (even though I was still in ninth or tenth grade).
Fortunately, the professor let me join those classes. He also gave me a lot of advice, especially about university. It helped me understand that studying something you like is better than forcing yourself to study something you don’t.
I was initially accepted into the Faculty of Fine Arts at Lat Krabang. But, I felt like that was a bit too fine-art for me, and it was a bit of a deviation from my interest in design. I also didn’t consider myself talented at drawing. So, I transferred to Computer Graphics and Multimedia at Bangkok University’s International Department, which I thought was more in line with what I wanted to do.
I learned many things about design, including illustration, graphic design, website design, product design, cinematography and photography. Every subject included an element of technology. Since UX/UI design wasn’t a part of formal education back then, I pursued graphic design.
University helped me realize that design is closer than you think. You don’t have to be an artist who draws beautiful pictures to become a graphic designer. I liked studying graphic design, because I got the opportunity to design many things.
Starting UX/UI design work
I started designing in university. I would design posters for a group of friends who organized parties at bars and clubs, who needed someone to design promotional artwork for them and saw that I had the right skills for the job. Coincidentally, the owner of one of those bars also ran a graphic studio, so he asked me to join his company.
I worked at the graphic studio after graduating for about four years, doing a lot of branding and illustration. After that, I freelanced for two years. I then went on to work at a few startups, where I discovered that the nature of startups is all about new technology that has passed trial and error. Some projects don’t work out. Not all things become as successful as you dreamed them to be.
My time working at startups introduced me to UX/UI, which was both very interesting and followed a completely different thought process to the things I’d studied before. Helping my colleagues with their work was my first step into the world of UX/UI design, starting with a foray into UI design.
I had the chance to design different stages, where I developed an interest in the interfaces people used. I tried to learn more about UX/UI design from YouTube, and checked out websites that host compilations of design portfolios. Luckily, I already had a basic background in design so I picked it up quickly.
Pivoting my career by leaving the comfort zone
Once I started to get familiarized with UX/UI, I took the risk, made my peace with a smaller salary, stepped out of my comfort zone and applied for a UX/UI design job. It was a far lower pay than what I was used to, but my experience as a UX/UI designer was still limited.
I spent roughly two years collecting experience in UX/UI. Morphosis had a great reputation for UX/UI design, so I applied to work here. I’ve now been with the company for about three years.
The thought process behind this line of work was very new to me, because normally, in graphic design, your client gives you a brief of the company branding. You’re told what your final product will be used for, the audience, theme, and mood and tone.
When I actually got to work as a UX/UI designer, I realized that design is not just about beautiful aesthetics. Even if an attractive UI is important, you have to think bigger than that. Place your users and their experience at the center of your design.
A beautiful design that isn’t functional is useless.
And, there is still the matter of creating personas and journeys to better understand your users. This includes adding structures such as an information architecture or sitemaps. These were quite challenging processes for me, since I had never thought that there was so much going on behind the scenes.
My greatest challenge
Since joining Morphosis, I’ve worked on several projects. However, the one project that was both very important and challenging was with Kerry Express. We were faced with a strict budget and time constraints when designing Kerry’s business-facing and customer-facing platforms. The planning had to be airtight. And, since I was one of the main UX/UI designers on the project, there was quite a bit of pressure.
I tried to complete the project as efficiently as possible, while answering as many of our client’s needs as possible. This was particularly challenging for Kerry’s business-facing shipping platform. The users that would log in to manage and review information on product shipping didn’t just include the average user, but had to account for users with many packages – sometimes up to hundreds or thousands of items. We had to come up with a design to make this as easy to do on the platform as possible.
Overcoming the challenge
I had to talk to the customer to figure out where the problems were, and how we might solve them. We prioritized tasks to complete and continuously communicated with the team.
The UX/UI design team were instrumental in helping me overcome this challenge, especially Michimasa Kataoka, who is an expert in creating dashboards. Michi was responsible for the dashboard’s components, while I was responsible for high-level issues like user flows. Although our work was difficult and had its obstacles, we managed to successfully complete our designs.
I later worked on a project for TrueID, which was unique because this project had a fixed structure. We worked in sprints with different briefs. There were, however, still challenges, since we couldn’t alter the design too much because our client had limited resources and a lot of factors to consider, such as their developers. To navigate these design limitations, I had to talk to the developers to figure out which designs were possible—or which elements of the design could be implemented, if not all of them—and which designs could not be developed.
The fun(damentals) of UX/UI design
I enjoy coming up with design plans and solving a client’s problems through design. For example, if a client wants a feature but doesn’t know what to do next, then I would go research to pinpoint how best to solve this pain point based on the client’s existing designs and platforms. This was particularly true when I was working on the TrueID project, because each sprint had a goal or main idea. And, even if that idea couldn’t always be implemented, each sprint produced a result that could be used at the next stage.
Once more into the breach
These days, I’m a design manager. Being a design manager allows full participation in design planning. As a UX/UI designer, my job was finished at the design stage, while the planning was someone else’s responsibility. When it became my job to take charge of the process, I realized that planning isn’t easy. It takes several teams to make a plan come together, which means you have to contact many people. This was all very new to me.
Before becoming a design manager, I was never really comfortable with initiating conversations to coordinate work. A UX/UI designer usually works alone, or with a small group of people, and your interactions with people are limited. Most of the time, your job is to make improvements to the design if your client requests it. But, a design manager has to work with a lot of people. This forced me to start more conversations, both to ask for help and to provide support.
This is key to being a manager, but it is the most challenging part for me, because I have to make sure everyone is aligned and can move forwards in the same direction.
Honestly, I didn’t plan for this. I thought being a manager wasn’t a role I was suited for, but it was a door that our executives opened for me because they believed I had the capabilities for it. And, even if I was uncertain, I thought it was an interesting role.
I’m someone who likes stepping out of my comfort zone, ever since I shifted from working as a graphic designer to UX/UI design. The reason that I push myself is because I sometimes feel that the journey that I’m on has come to a dead end, and I just can’t progress any further on that path. I guess you could call it the driving factor behind how I keep learning and improving. It’s why I want to put maximum effort into all of my work.
Important things learned
Based on my experiences, planning is vital. This includes clear communication with clients at the start of the project, because this sets the tone for all the tasks and work that follow. Even if you don’t achieve the absolute best outcome, it will be the best you could do at the time.
Even though planning might seem a boring and arduous task with all the people you have to talk to, there’s fun to be found in figuring out how to meet your goals.
I feel lucky to be a design manager in a leading company like Morphosis, because it isn’t every day that someone gets this kind of opportunity. Looking back, I find that I learned a lot from the short time I’ve worked here, especially from the people I’ve worked with – from juniors to executives.
This is because Morphosis's work culture is that everyone in the team helps each other, offers each other advice, and aren’t shackled by hierarchy. We believe that everyone brings different skills to the table, and nobody knows everything.
The next goal
I can’t predict how far my career will grow in the future. Instead, I like to focus on everything I’ve learned on the way. Did I do my best? Were there any shortcomings? It’s why I want to learn as much as I can and put as much effort into my work as possible, even if it doesn't all turn out great. After all, it’s impossible for us to be good at absolutely everything.
Besides, at least I was able to improve the way I work with other people. I’ve learned how to plan, and be someone that junior designers or other designers can rely on when they need help. These achievements are very fulfilling for me.
A final word to those who want to work in UX/UI design.
If you’re interested in working in this industry, you should know that it doesn’t matter when you start. There is no such thing as starting too late, so long as you dare to step out of your comfort zone and truly commit to your goals. If you can do that, then it will drive you to your goals, no matter how far away or impossible they seem. Anything is possible.
If you are interested in joining Morphosis, you can go see our job openings here. And, for examples of our past work, you can read our case studies here.