My transition from architecture to UX
Almost 3.5 years ago, I made a transition from architecture to the domain of UX. A lot has changed since then from companies to job titles to cities. But something that has remained constant is UX aspirants asking about my journey.
Career changes aren’t easy and I appreciate everyone reaching out. However, it isn’t always possible to narrate the entire story in that tiny chat box. So, here is everything I cannot express there.
Disclaimer: What I’ve written below is my journey. It is not an endorsement. Do not read it as a how-to blog.
Around the end of my college day, while I was standing on the threshold of my professional life, I lacked clarity on what I wanted to do. The only thing I was sure of was that I did not want to pursue architecture. Not completely sure why but some of it had to do with the fact that I had slight discomfort with the way it is practised. Apart from that, I couldn’t think/ imagine things at the scale required in that domain. So even if I were to become an architect, I would become very mediocre at best. Basically, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have the professional life, I was likely to get while pursuing that profession. My opinion was framed out of 3 internships, numerous freelance experiences, stories from seniors and people already in the field.
That being said, I couldn’t completely rule that option out because that was the only thing I knew and was ‘qualified’ to do. Backups are important. However, considering my interests and strengths, I wanted to pick something between
- Graphic design,
- Product/ Industrial design,
- Web design (at that point, I wasn’t aware of a field called UX design)
- Game design
and if nothing worked out then computational Architecture.
For me any of the first 3 options were good enough but when you put things in lifelong perspective, the decisions can be daunting. I believed this choice had to be a lifelong commitment (I was wrong). Even though I had some flavour of working as graphic designer and web designer through my internship experience, I had this weird feeling that any field I commit to might turn out to be same as architecture.
However, in order to make a transition, I needed some promise for my potential employer that I’ll generate required value. I had some architecture and graphic design work in my portfolio which in my understanding wasn’t enough to make a case (again, I was wrong). So, an option was to pursue masters to fill this gap. However, spending 5 years in academic setting counting my days for the course to get over, I wasn’t super keen on joining another course already; at least not immediately. So, I took a call to try all fields out, get some industry experience before opting for specialisation.
Preparing for the shift
If not architecture then what, and how was a question that started echoing during the final semester of my college. I had to figure out something before entering the professional world because once you’re out, the cushion of student life is suddenly replaced by responsibilities and you simply cannot afford to wait. I feared that if I do not zero down on something, life will create a plan for me and I didn’t want to let go of control. I started looking up for internship roles in graphic/ product and web design online.
My plan was to start with an internship, learn all I could and get a sense of work that excites me. Then look up for a job or pursue masters in that field. Through seniors, I managed to find some companies that were looking for fresher designers and had prerequisites which I could fulfill. So, I went to discuss that with my mentor who was running a startup named UNI.xyz. It was the same place where I did my internship before.
Landing on the opportunity
When I went to my mentor to discuss the opportunities I was considering, he extended an option to join the company as a full-time designer. Basically, I went with an intent to narrow down my options; came back with one more. Good part was that I had worked in the place before, loved the energy and people there and knew that there’ll be a lot to learn. However, the package was insignificantly low. Lower than what a usual fresher architect gets (which is also quite low btw) and almost half of another offer I had with me.
I did want to make it work so I called out this point. After 2–3 rounds of discussions, they matched it to the pay for fresher architect and I signed it (even though it was still less than another offer I had). I knew that I had a lot to learn and this place can provide that environment. So basically, I trained myself to think of the difference in salary as a course fee I would’ve otherwise paid to learn what I was going to learn. In nutshell, money wasn’t a motivation why I chose to switch fields in first place.
I do see a lot of experienced folks over the internet giving interview tips, sharing advice like you need to have at least 3/5/10 projects in your portfolio and all the other things I never relate to. For one that for my first job, I never made a CV or a portfolio. Not that I am recommending you not to make one but this is very utopian way of thinking that having a portfolio equals getting a job or vice versa. Basically, if you ask me, the only interview tip I have is to wear comfortable (ideally running) shoes if you go for onsite interview (That’s another story I’ll share soon ;)). Number of projects really don’t matter if you provide confidence of high ROI to the hiring manager.
Working as a fresher designer
While usual expectation is that landing a job is the toughest bit and things go pretty smooth after that, it surely wasn’t the case for me. For starters, neither I, nor anyone else in the company knew what exactly I was there for. I was asked to contribute to content team (basically make visual assets like social media posts, visual decks, etc.) along with platform team (provide UI mocks).
UI was area I knew nothing about but found it very intriguing. I remember getting into the meetings and writing down all the words that I didn’t quite understand to look up later. I was the first hire designer in the team so neither the culture of design was fully established, nor I had a senior to learn from. I was completely dependent on the people around and the internet. While folks around me were very supportive, but there’s only so much they could do to help. Ramping up was required from my end. Since learning and making was happening in parallel, I would spend extra hours after office to learn whatever I could to make sense of what I was doing.
From learnings pov, those were the most important 6months in my life and the feeling of fulfillment I had was something I never experienced before, even in college. At that point, I was asked to focus completely on platform side of things. Basically, me becoming a UX designer wasn’t completely my decision; I was led to it, for good.
I do get a lot of ‘mentorship’ requests from folks who also want to walk down the same path of architecture to UX as I did. In most cases, the expectation is that I’ll share some insider trick which will help them land a job really quick.
While I understand the pov and desperation (been there), honestly there wasn’t one thing that I did which led me to where I am. I did not follow a conventional path of pursuing masters or bootcamp/ online course. I did not make a CV or a portfolio to showcase my skills. I did not get my job through on-campus placement. I just defined a few things for me like what path not to walk and went ahead with the flow.
If you put me back to that time, there’s no guarantee I’ll reach where I am today or even if that same path would work for me. A lot of what happened can be attributed to luck. I’m still learning and hopefully someday I’ll have answers to questions I’m asked. As of now, I don’t.
However, if you’re also looking to walk the same path, here are some questions I’ll recommend you asking yourself before making a call -
- What is it about architecture that you do not like. Be as specific as possible and don’t lie to yourself. Answer in 3–4 words. On the same note, I’ll recommend reading —
- Why exactly are you considering UX as an alternate to architecture. Do you know enough about what you’re getting into? Do you know enough about other fields you’re missing out on?
- What kind of life you see for yourself 1years, 4years and 10 years from now? Be as descriptive as you can. Now ask if your choice of career lead you there? Basically, if 10years down the line, if you see yourself running your own company, would you rather work in a startup tomorrow or a MNC?
Also, extracting some of the ‘things that worked for me’ from my story, here are some bits of advice if can share. Take it with a pinch of salt that things that worked in my case might not work for you or vice versa.
- Be very mindful of the fact that you’re switching because you WANT to be a UX designer. It’s not easy spending hours learning about something that doesn’t meet your interest. On top of it, learning never ends.
- Focus on the craft. Your work defines who you are. Between the time I entered the field v/s today, I see the competition increased multifold. UX is a beginner friendly field which opens the gates for anyone and everyone who has access to a PC and internet. That means a lot more work is required to stay relevant than entering.
- Do not follow every advice you get (including mine).
- Avoid getting into discussion of tools/ tricks/ right-wrongs, etc. This is a rabbit-hole which takes up lot of time and energy and doesn’t yield anything. I see a lot of designers debating about tools they use, way they name their layers, their job titles, etc. Again, it might not be completely BS but I am not aware if anything meaningful ever came out of it.
Finally, I intend to keep this blog an open repository of my views and will revisit if I find something meaningful worthy to be added. Also, please feel free to drop in any question/ queries you might have. Thanks for reading till the end.
Also, good luck :)