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This month I sat down with Dario Fidanza. He is a former student of mine at Austin Community College. Dario is very active in the design community. We spent time talking about the challenges of breaking into the industry and creating opportunities for new UX designers.

Starting out and creating opportunities

Q: Tell me what you are doing now.
I am a Product Designer at Ideation League. While I do more than that, the reality is we are such a small UX consulting agency. So, we all have to wear different hats.

At this point, I can start to see what it takes to see the vision and guide the team towards that end goal.

Q: How did Ideation League start?
I did a hack-a-thon which was my senior UX class at Austin Community College. In my mind, I thought I was ready. All I needed was my portfolio class to graduate. So, I decided to start applying. That’s when I started to get shut down. After 10 or 12 rejections, I could feel my soul getting crushed. Even after an internal recommendation, I would still get rejections. If people gave me any feedback, I would often hear that they loved my enthusiasm, but they went with someone else.

From all of those rejections, I needed to transform that frustration from getting turned down into something positive. I remembered how well I worked with some people during the hack-a-thon, and I called some people in for a meeting to see if they were interested in working together and building some work experience.

Getting started

Q: What did you and the group do to get this off the ground?
We did not have an area of focus. So, I knew we had to have an approach. I thought that we had to have a structure first. Since we were all doing this pro bono, I wanted to organize the meetings in a way that we could get something out of the time we invested. In our first meeting, I asked everyone to start researching and show up with something we would love to do. We all had a lot of interests and passions. Once we narrowed those down, we decided to focus on homelessness, LGBTQ, and women who were reentering society after prison.

We approached six or seven shelters and organizations, and we heard back from pretty much everyone. They were all really receptive. In the end, we wound up working with Out Youth, and that was what we have been doing for the past six months.

Building trust and creating value

Q: What were your experiences practicing UX in the beginning?
With these organizations, they did not know what UX was. So in the beginning, we took them through a few design thinking workshops to 1). clarify their goals and 2). build trust. We needed to show them that we could offer value to their work and their community.

Q: From a UX perspective, what are some of the services you provide?
We do a lot of research. A lot of our time is spent talking to staff, donors, alumni and target population. So in the case of Out Youth, we took that research and synthesized it into materials to help them better understand the problems their audience faces. Plus, we also broke down the challenges the organization has with coordination and collaboration. Our next step was to work from these findings and do a workshop to narrow down attainable solutions. Currently, we are finalizing those deliverables which include a site to give their target population easier access to information.

Piecing together his own path

Q: What have you learned about yourself from Ideation League?
I have found that I am the structure for our work. Jenn Wilson is really passionate about the research. She will dive into finding the right questions and setting up the interviews to get the best information. My priority is to set up the environment where she effectively can do her work. Mina Adame gets really excited about doing visuals. I just do a little art direction to set her on the right path.

I would love to design more, but leading is where my next area of growth will be. This came out of the hack-a-thon. I started to see what it takes to find the vision and guide the team towards that end goal.

Interested in learning more about Ideation League? Check out their site and their tweets to learn more about their work.

Check out other interviews from the archive.

James Hyland, former professional musician turned UX designer, discusses the lessons from diving into micro interactions.

Ravi Morbia, a designer new to his career in UX, opens up about rejection and landing his first job.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.