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Ellen Lazaretti is a UX designer based in Austin, TX. I met Ellen in my UX Portfolio class at Austin Community College (ACC). At that time, I had the opportunity to better understand her struggles of switching from graphic design to UX design. We recently sat down to catch up on her experiences after completing portfolio class, looking for work, and designing for a small tech company.

What was your journey to the UX portfolio class?

I was working as a graphic designer for a number of years. For a while, I started to hear the term UI and UX thrown around on job postings and articles, and that peaked my curiosity over time. On the side, I took a few free courses from IDEO and Coursera. Eventually, my casual searches led me back to ACC where I originally started my graphic design degree. I spoke with David Correa about the newly minted UX design program.

Experience at ACC.

I felt like I was an extra non-traditional student. My career started out with an Associates degree from ACC in graphic design, and I also have B.S. degree in Advertising from University of Texas (UT). So, I had credits that could transfer, and I was able to complete a two year degree in one.

Switching into a new career in UX design without taking on more debt was my big goal. I skipped a lot of courses that I felt I could learn on my own. Some were easy for me to study outside of class such as Visual Design for the screen. Others were harder to pick up like Web development.

Reflecting on Portfolio class.

I was working full-time while going back to school. At the time, the company I was working for was undergoing restructuring. So, I pushed to get into the portfolio class while I was still finishing up my other classes. I did not want to wait another year for the class. Plus, I did not want to wait around for my company to cut my job.

It was stressful. I had to play catch up and create a portfolio with work from ongoing classes. This meant that I did not leave the class with a complete portfolio, but I just iterated it a lot after I completed the program.

It was night and day with how employers hire for graphic designers versus ux designers.

Talk about the challenges with switching from graphic design to UX design.

When people looked at my resume. they expect to see my visual design skills. After the program, I tried to move as far away from my graphic design background as possible. So on my portfolio, people saw very plain colors and mechanical typefaces. I am sure the presentation was not very pleasing. Potential employers thought this was the best I could do.

I found that I had to walk a fine line with my past experience and what I wanted to do in UX. Some startups wanted to hire me for graphic design and branding. They also promised to weave me into their product design team overtime. I had to turn offers like these down to focus on roles that were more UX design specific.

Looking for work.

It was night and day with how employers hire for graphic designers versus ux designers. Graphic design interviews went for one or two hours. UX designer interviews usually took half a day. Most of the time I had to do a design challenge to even get to the interview phase.

Onsite interviews took a lot of endurance. I was not used to being “on” for that long. Every interaction was a chance to make the best impression. But keeping up that energy for that long would wear me out. How do you train for something like that?

Ellen Lazaretti Switching to UX design - Portfolio Workshop

Ellen participating in last year’s portfolio workshop

Communicating and collaborating.

When I started working with developers, we did twice a week UX Reviews. These were intense. In the beginning, I tried to take the whole room through flows, but people would get hung up on two or three issues on the early screens. This would burn the hour up quickly.

In other situations, other designers would take up the whole hour. So, I would have to find another way to get feedback on my work.

Big lesson from the first UX design job.

Do not wait for someone to critique your work. By that time, it would be too late. I found that out the hard way when I went a few rounds in the weekly UX reviews without showing my work. When I finally got to show my screens, the team found so many errors, that I had to work late and on the weekend to get them redesigned before the deadline.

Be nice, but do not be shy about getting your work in front of the people who need to sign off on them.

What advice do you have for students in portfolio class now?

Do everything possible to find an internship. Go knock on as many doors as possible. Find ways to present your work as much as possible too. Do not just focus on designers. It is not just about design. In UX you have to have some understanding of business and skills in presentation too.

You can see Ellen’s work here, and check out more about her design background here.

Interested in reading more design interviews? Check out the following.

Dina Williams on Finding her Tribe.

John Challis on Growing as a Designer.

Dario Fidanza on Creating Opportunities for Designers.

Ravi Morbia on Moving Beyond Rejection.

James Hyland on Music and UX.

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.