Jining (Kea) Zhang
UX (User Experience) designer, Villoid
Degree subject and year of graduation
Psychology, graduated 2013
My current job
I’ve just started freelancing s there are lots of opportunities for UX designers. Until recently I worked as a User Experience (UX) Designer for a UX start up – Villoid – I worked on digital products and services, putting users at the centre of my design to make digital experiences that are simple, easy to use and great looking.
Although a great deal of my time went towards interaction design and user interface design, my role actually involved far more:
- I did user research, which is all about understanding user needs, preferences, behaviours, and motivations in different contexts.
- I researched and designed information architecture, which revolved around understanding how users categorise content, so that I could design the navigation and information structure of products in a user-centred way.
- I also worked with content strategy, which involved understanding what content types and formats are valuable to users and how these should be presented to ensure that they are easily consumable and discoverable.
My career history
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Edinburgh University and an MSc in Human-Computer Interaction with Ergonomics from University College London (UCL). Human-Computer Interaction and Ergonomics are closely linked to the field of UX so it was an easy transition from my Master’s degree into the UX industry.
While studying at UCL, I did some contract work as a UX Consultant and also interned at Bupa, where I helped design a patient portal. I also worked on several extra-curricular projects.
After graduating from my Master’s degree, I started working at a User Centred Design agency in London, where I was able to expand my skills as a UX consultant, working on client-facing projects across a range of different industries.
I then worked for a startup in Oslo, Norway. My role involved not only UX Design, but also product management, for a social/fashion app.
I am currently freelancing. There are lots of opportunities for freelancing in UX as this is a growth area
How I used my degree skills and/or knowledge in my career
My Psychology degree has been useful in lots of ways, and I think developing my research skills and analytical thinking has been most valuable. In particular, learning to design a rigorous study, how to choose the right research methods, and how to analyse research findings in a thorough and systematic way – this has helped me understand the users that I’m designing for in countless projects.
My knowledge of Cognitive Psychology has also been really helpful in my UX career. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of human cognition, such as attention, how information is processed, how short-term memory works – all of this is helpful when you are trying to design products and services that are easy to use.
My relevant experience
It’s definitely a mixture between my education, work experience and interests.
Without my Psychology degree I may not have been accepted into the HCI Master’s programme. My Psychology degree also provided me with the knowledge and skills to help me succeed in HCI and UX.
Later on, having a specialised Master’s degree in HCI as well as experience from an internship and extracurricular projects helped me immensely when I was looking for my first full-time job.
My career decisions and how I made them
I did a number of different things:
- Kept an eye out for interesting internship opportunities, and was proactive in contacting companies that offered internships
- I went to lots of events (as many as I could!) to speak to industry professionals about the work they were doing, where they were working, etc.
- During my Master’s degree I volunteered as a ‘Practical Seminar’ assistant. As a volunteer, I welcomed industry-speakers and helped them set up for their talks/workshops. Look out for opportunities like this – they’ll help you get a better idea of what it’s like working in industry.
- I went to an industry careers fair (organised by the UXPA – the User Experience Professionals Association) which led to several job interviews. UX is a very specialised field, so going to a university careers fairs might not benefit you – instead, try to seek out events specifically targeted at UX professionals – you’ll have better luck with these.
- When I was applying for work, I contacted companies that I was interested in – even those that hadn’t explicitly mentioned they were hiring. If they like you, they’ll interview you, so don’t hold back – send off an email or two to all the companies that you’re interested in, whether they’re hiring or not.
My advice to students who want to get into this area of work
- Do a Master’s degree in HCI or UX Design, or take a professional course in UX (I’ve heard that General Assembly in London offer some fantastic courses).
- Attend UX and Design related events and speak to people who are already working in the field – people are friendlier than you think! And often willing to help. (eg Tech meet-ups in Edinburgh)
- Take every opportunity to practice and develop your skills – start your own research/design projects, take part in extracurricular projects, do internships.
My general advice for students making career decisions today
Don’t jump into anything – get to know yourself, your interests, what you want from your career and then give yourself some time to figure out how to get there. You’ll spend most of your adult life working so it’s incredibly important that you choose something that’s enjoyable and worthwhile.
Be sincere and always try to do your best. I worked hard during my Master’s degree – even when the projects weren’t important. This helped me improve my skills while building connections with my course-mates. Those connections have now led to great friendships as well as valuable professional contacts.
Be proactive – always seek out opportunities to gain relevant experience or new skills that might help you on the right path.