We spoke to Gerard about what drew him to UX, why he created his podcast, and what it’s like to be a BrainStation Instructor.
We asked Pavla about how BrainStation helped her transition from an architectural background to a career in UX Design, and what her day-to-day looks like as a designer.
BrainStation: What did you enjoy most about your BrainStation experience?
Pavla: I love the people, both my fantastic classmates and excellent instructors. Our cohort really stuck together and learned from each other. It was great to walk in every day and see how motivated and eager to learn everyone in the class was.
A 10-week, full-time course is a serious commitment, so whether we were looking for a complete career shift, or to level up, it was a deliberate choice with a meaningful cost and we all worked hard to make the most of it.
Has BrainStation influenced the way you view digital skills and professional development? How so?
Definitely. Having studied Architecture Design, and taking a couple of computer science courses at University of Toronto, I was accustomed to learning more theory and moving forward more slowly. But taking the UX course at BrainStation made me realize that one can learn digital skills much faster and more effectively.
Putting everything we learned into practice and learning from experts who are actively working in the industry substantiated our professional development. Starting my career in the field right after finishing the course proved how valuable digital skills are.
What were some of the most valuable skills you gained during your UX Design program? Why were these skills important to your professional development?
The most valuable skill that I learned is design thinking. Adopting this process taught me to approach problem solving and innovation in a new, effective way. The software skills I learned were necessary to get started in the industry and get competent in the craft, but are just a means to an end.
Design and prototyping tools keep on changing, and while it’s important to stay on top of knowing how to use a couple of them effectively to be able to deliver solutions fast, the most important tool for me as a designer is using design thinking as an approach to problem solving.
How did you go about finding a job as an international student and professional?
While studying at the University of Toronto, I worked on-campus jobs, which were the only kind of work my study permit allowed. Those jobs helped me to get my first local work experience. I started looking for UX/UI jobs while studying at BrainStation, and I was very lucky to get multiple job offers based on presenting my work at the BrainStation Demo Day at the end of my course.
Can you describe the demo day process and how these offers came about?
I was really excited for Demo Day from the beginning of the course and hoped for it to be a great opportunity to land a job in the industry, and I’m very grateful that it ended up being just that. Together with a couple of my classmates, we spent quite a few evenings towards the end of the course preparing for Demo Day – figuring out where to host our portfolios, developing personal brands as emerging designers, figuring out which projects to include, how granular to be in describing our process, making our prototypes pixel perfect, polishing our resumes, practicing talking about our work and giving each other feedback.
Demo Day is a great opportunity to practice talking about your work and your approach and even if it doesn’t lead to any specific job offers, it’s a great experience that will make the interviews to come run much smoother. If I were to give advice to future graduates, I would say don’t underestimate the preparation, and when it comes to the day of, just be yourself, be present, confident, and have fun!
Where are you working currently, and what do you do there?
I’m currently the Head of Design at Nudge.ai, a relationship intelligence platform. I lead both product and brand design, including launching new products, website, brand renewal, as well as constant user experience improvements to our web and mobile apps, Chrome extension, and multiple integrations.
I previously worked as a UX/UI designer at Canada Post, serving as the design lead on fraud prevention payment integration.
How do you use the skills you learned at BrainStation in your position at Nudge.ai?
Having learned, adopted, and practiced design thinking throughout the course at BrainStation, I approach problem solving through that process constantly, and it helps me design creative solutions. I try to maintain a fresh-eyes perspective on the product by constantly talking to our users about their needs, rather than our current capabilities, and challenging the team’s assumptions by surfacing user feedback and usage trends.
Having practiced soft skills that are part of the design process, such as working with teams, facilitating ideation and strategy sessions, receiving and giving feedback definitely helps me in my day-to-day.
Can you describe your day-to-day activities as the Head of Design for Nudge.ai?
It always starts with an espresso, happy dance, checking Slack and a walk to work – lip syncing still involved.
Once I get to my desk at Nudge, I check my email, Slack, agenda for the day, set up my design tooling and get into my workflow. Let’s say we’re working on a new feature – I might look over my notes to help prioritize key requirements, check the backend progress on GitHub to realign on our release plan, check in with the front-end team to understand where they are and which assets or flows they will need from me next, and then work on those.
I usually have a meeting or two before lunch to re-align with different teams on our progress and next steps. I often take lunch with my teammates, and when I don’t, I try to use that time to read a bookmarked product post or have a working session with the Hand Up Mentorship team, which is a mentorship program I helped to start with a couple of other people here at OneEleven.
After lunch with fresh eyes and more coffee, I might take a few hours to continue the work I did in the morning, alternating between research and solutioning. I try to spend some time getting user feedback, whether it means informal testing with other teammates or members of different teams in the building, or more formal feedback call session with a user. Then I iterate based on that feedback and hand off the ready assets through Zeplin.
At the very end of the day, I look over the projects that are currently ongoing, try to plan my priorities for the next day, and try to take a moment to see how the ongoing work ties into our overall strategy and which parts to re-evaluate – whether it’s messaging, effort put into a set of features, or benchmarking different product metrics.
Do you feel that BrainStation’s UX Design course prepared you for the workforce?
Yes, I feel BrainStation provided a good view on what the workforce will look like. It successfully walked us through the different areas that we, as designers, might want to specialize in (research, UI, copy, interaction, etc.). It taught us techniques and processes to approach problem solving and innovation creatively (Design Thinking, practicing Google Venture’s 5-day Design sprints). It helped us master different design, prototyping and collaboration tools including Sketch, InVision, Zeplin. The course also helped us practice some soft skills necessary to become a successful designer (e.g. facilitating user testing sessions and gathering feedback), gave us an overview of how design teams might fit into larger organization and which methodologies we are likely to encounter (agile or waterfall), and offered a sneak peak into product management and how to work with a team as a designer. In my current and previous job, I experienced all of the above scenarios, and although practice is the best teacher of all, BrainStation was a great start.
If you’re interested in transitioning into a career in UX like Pavla, BrainStation offers a full-time User Experience Design diploma program.