We recently sat down with Quynh Nguyen, a visual and interaction designer at Couchsurfing International, to discuss her transition into the field, her Springboard learning experience, and the advice she has for aspiring UX designers.
The full video Q&A is below, but here are some of the highlights.
You studied biosci and worked in biotech for about six years and now you’re a visual designer. Can you tell me a little bit about your story?
I did major in biological sciences and I also minored in psychology. My initial intention was to go to dental school. Right after I graduated, I wanted to take some time to study for dental school. I started applying for jobs while I was studying. Luckily, I was able to land a position at a large biotech company and I ended up staying there for way longer than I intended to.
After many years of working there, I decided that once again I was going to pursue my initial goal, which was dental school. I think it was during that time when I realized that 1) I didn’t want to work in the lab for the rest of my life and 2) maybe I didn’t want to become a dentist after all.
I think it was during one of my dental [school] interviews that I realized that. I was talking and presenting to the interviewer about all the art and designs and paintings that I made through my portfolio and I think at that moment both the interviewer and I realized that I am way more passionate about art than I was for dental school.
Is there anything else that inspired you to pursue UX design?
With my background in psychology and then also my passion for art and design, I just wanted to find a career that was a good combination of those two things. So after I didn’t get into dental school, I decided to look on the internet, like: what’s the best combination for that? And UX design was that perfect career.
When you made the decision to get on the path to UX design, what were the challenging parts about it and how did you stay motivated during your journey?
I think the most challenging part was taking that big leap. Moving away from a stable job that I had a lot of years of experience in toward a new career that I had no knowledge or experience in—it’s very scary. And I think that’s another reason why I chose Springboard over other programs: because it allowed me to continue my job while studying and pursuing something new.
Every day when I would come back home from work after a long day, I would feel really tired. And I used that feeling of tiredness to remind me that I didn’t want to feel that anymore. I think it fueled me to work even harder. And whenever I do UX design work, I feel really energized. I could be sitting there working on a creative project for four hours and I wouldn’t even realize how much time had gone by.
How did you land your job at Couchsurfing?
After completing the [Springboard] program, I quit my job nine months after that and decided to take some time to travel. When I came back from traveling, I decided to be serious about my job search and I was looking for jobs like 24/7. Couchsurfing had a position open at the time. I knew about Couchsurfing, I really liked that product, and I was also in the mindset of traveling already, so I applied for the position and they called me in, did interviews, and I landed the job.
What’s it like to work at Couchsurfing?
I love the people there. Everyone’s so friendly and open and the environment I’m in—it just allows me to be creative. And my job is very flexible.
Can you tell me a bit about what your day-to-day is like?
My day-to-day job is just to solve problems. Currently, we have certain targets that we need to meet and we look at the application to see if there are any designs that we want to update to meet those targets. And specifically right now what I’m really excited about and working on is the style guide for Couchsurfing. So, that’s a big job and I’m learning so much as I’m doing it as well.
What’s one thing you wish you knew about UX design before you got started?
One thing I wish I knew was that as a UX designer most of the time you’re going to have to make the call. Everyone sees you as the technical expert for what looks good and what works well, so you can end up making four to five designs and show it to your colleagues, but at the end of the day it’s you who has to decide which design you should go for and to be able to articulate clearly why you made the decision.
Related: 5 Designers Share UX Lessons Learned
At any point in your journey into UX design did you ever feel like you had impostor syndrome? And if you did, how did you overcome it?
The night before my first day working at Couchsurfing, I actually had a mini panic attack. I just had a lot of feeling of doubt about myself, like: what if I can’t do the job that they asked me to do? But now that I’ve been there for seven months, I can confidently say that my colleagues appreciate all of the work that I’ve done for them.
Every now and then I will still have bouts of imposter syndrome, and whenever I’m in those moments, I just need to remind myself of all the small wins that I’ve had. I think it’s important to look back at how far you’ve come and all the success that you’ve made.
This Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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