Trixy Woodhouse likes to joke that her prior career in visual merchandising is like “UX design in analog form.” Visual merchandising is the art of using floor plans, color, lighting, in-store displays, shelving, mannequins, technology, and other elements to attract customer attention in a retail store. While this involves advocating for the user to some extent, the focus of visual merchandising is to meet or exceed the retailer’s metrics such as sales per square foot or average transaction value. Unlike in UX design, visual merchandisers don’t perform user interviews. Instead, they use tried-and-tested strategies based on industry-accepted assumptions, such as using certain colors to elicit a particular emotional response or guiding customers through the store with focal points.
“Visual merchandising is mostly based on assumptions stemming from the retail store’s viewpoint rather than the customer,” said Trixy, who was a visual merchandiser at Nordstrom for over six years. “In UX design, you can interact with the people who use your products and understand why they make the decisions they do. It's so fascinating to me.”
When she first enrolled in Springboard’s UI/UX Career Track, she told everyone– friends, family, and even her mentors and career coaches at Springboard–that she wanted to work for Nike, her dream company. Now she’s a UX designer at Nike where she gets to marry her prior retail experience with her new UX design skills.
I did visual merchandising for 14 years before switching careers. I always say that visual merchandising is basically UX design in analog form. We work in the retail space and we have to think about what the customer sees. Our job was to advocate for the customers who walked through the store–being mindful of accessibility, what direction customers are mainly coming from, and how to best capitalize on all the opportunities on the sales floor.
I’m still very passionate about visual merchandising, but I wanted to evolve my career even further. I also run a graphic design business on the side where I design wedding invitations. Then I discovered UX design. I figured it was the perfect evolution of my career to move into a field like UX design where the mindset is very similar to what I did before.
While I was enrolled at Springboard, I really appreciated the emphasis on networking in the curriculum. So I joined a few UX groups and made some friends. People tend to be afraid of networking and it’s kind of a taboo term, but I like to reframe it as making new friends. I got involved in a community called IterateUX and I landed a couple of freelance projects from the friendships I made through these communities and on LinkedIn. For example, if someone posted about a friend who has a startup and needs a prototype for their investment pitches, I would be very proactive in responding to their post.
It’s about not having any expectations. My best advice would be to not think of it as networking. Just immerse yourself in interacting and making new friends. You don’t have to exclusively network with senior designers or lead designers–you can just interact with other Springboard students. Some of my close friends that I still interact with today are from Springboard. We check in on each other to see how our jobs are going, and catch up on life in general. I've been lucky to meet a couple of them in person, which was great.
I work on an internal team where I help design the enterprise software. My manager liked that I had actual retail field experience because the products that we work on are meant to support the retail stores and ensure the in-store equipment such as the tech printers, PCs, and cash registers are running smoothly. I'm the sole designer on my team so Iinteract with front-end and back-end developers. I've been loving it so far. Nike has always been my dream company.
Nike has always been my dream company because I love the products. During my work in visual merchandising I was around a lot of Nike products. I grew up wearing Nike and I was a runner in high school. I also love what the company stands for. They inspire others to be open-minded,and welcoming with their campaigns around diversity, which really aligns with who I am as a person. Working for my dream company has exceeded my expectations.
I would say the most challenging thing is not being able to have another designer to run my ideas by. There are a number of people on my team who have a really good eye for design and they're learning from me but I'm also learning a lot from them. I’ve created a strong relationship with my developers because I use them as my second set of eyes.
I chose Springboard for a number of reasons. I liked that it was self-paced so you could move as quickly or slowly as you needed to. I definitely loved the fact that there was an Industry Design Project where you had the opportunity to work with a real company. We got to work with real constraints while partnering with a real client and a developer.
I also loved that we could connect with career coaches throughout our journey at Springboard and that there were career units sprinkled throughout the curriculum so that we were as fully prepared to find work as we could possibly be by the time we graduated. I researched a number of boot camps and Springboard was the only one that checked all the boxes for me as far as ensuring the success of their students.
My mentor was Maxim Latanovschii [lead UI designer at BMS Group.] I loved his mentorship. He was super transparent with his feedback and really great at answering my questions while sharing his own career experiences.
At the beginning of COVID, he was looking for work, so it helped a lot to hear his firsthand experience of interviewing. He was great at teaching me the kinds of things you only learn through experience, things I couldn’t necessarily learn at Springboard.
The company was called KOVAWORLD. What I loved about the Industry Design Project is that we were paired up with another student. During job interviews later on, I could speak about having worked on a design team. We worked on a product called ShopCountyKildare, which is an Ireland-based marketplace website similar to Etsy. We had to do a redesign of their e-commerce website.
The job search was exhausting and challenging, but obviously a great learning opportunity. I learned that the majority of interviews involve portfolio reviews, no matter how short or long the interview. So my advice is to always be prepared with a slide deck to present a case study or two.
I was also intentional about responding very quickly to recruiters who would reach out to me on LinkedIn and that's how I was able to get interviews. Finally, don't be hard on yourself. Rejection isn’t really as personal as it feels.