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Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Simon Jankelson

By Academy Xi

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From expanding the services of an Australian charity, to getting hired as a Human-Centred Designer, Simon’s decision to upskill in Design Thinking has enabled him to make bold changes in his career.

Keen to carve out a career in Human-Centred Design, Simon enrolled in the Design Thinking for innovation: Elevate course. Find out how Simon’s Academy Xi experience has helped him find practical solutions for all kinds of design problems and land an exciting new role with Nous Group.

Can you tell us about your career before Academy Xi?

Until recently I’d been working as a music program manager at a charity called A Sound Life. The charity is Sydney-based and aims to build resilience and wellbeing in the lives of vulnerable people by offering free music, yoga and meditation programs.

The programs operate in hospitals, disability centres and mental health facilities and are all volunteer run. My role as a program manager entailed training volunteers in community music, connecting them with the right program and bringing on different hospitals and centres throughout Australia where we could make a difference.

Around 2019, the bushfires and pandemic meant that mental health was a widespread issue in Australia. It dawned on me that A Sound Life had the potential to take its services beyond Sydney and scale-up its impact nationally.

I knew we could only move into other parts of Australia as a result of digital transformation. To bring volunteers onboard and train them in other locations, our systems and processes would have to become digitised. I realised if I picked up some new digital skills, it would help the charity grow.

How did you end up becoming interested in Design Thinking?

Before Academy Xi, I took an IDEO Service Design course and then carried out a Service Design project with A Sound Life. The project involved rebuilding the service and implementing new digital systems and processes. The project was a real success, improving volunteer retention and allowing us to branch into other parts of Australia.

During the course I was introduced to the concept of Human-Centred Design, which I immediately fell in love with.

Truthfully, I haven’t followed a traditional professional path. Instead, I’ve been listening and responding empathetically to the needs of the people and communities I’ve encountered throughout my career. This has led me to design and deliver workshops, experiences and programs that have had a positive impact on people’s lives.

Throughout all this, something was lacking – I wanted to add more rigour to my practice and bring a bit of method to the madness! As I started digging deeper into Human-Centred Design, I knew I had found an approach that would support my empathetic and inquisitive nature, while offering more structure. It was a perfect fit, and I knew immediately that I wanted to find a role that allowed me to work with Human-Centred Design’s principles.

Why did you choose to study with Academy Xi?

The IDEO course had given me a step-by-step design process to follow, but I knew I needed a much deeper understanding of the methodologies. I researched Human-Centred Design courses, including Service Design, UX Design and Customer Experience, but eventually settled on Design Thinking for Innovation. I wanted to be a generalist, who could solve problems with products and services, and also plan changes at a higher level. 

An attribute that I really wanted in a course was to have a group of people I could collaborate and engage with in my timezone. Plus, I’m a facilitator in my role and wanted to be able to immediately use any skills I learned. It was important to find a course that focused on practice and applying new skills in an organisational context.

Academy Xi is Australia-based, highly collaborative and places a strong emphasis on practical experience, so it definitely ticked all the boxes for me. Because I was working with a charity at the time, I was lucky enough to be offered a scholarship, and choosing Academy Xi was ultimately an easy decision to make.

Simon Jankelson

What was your main highlight of the course?

The course mentor, Anna, was excellent. Anna was just really cool, really flexible and really smart. She had this amazing ability to go with the flow of the group, which made the live sessions so open and enjoyable. 

Anna has worked in Human-Centred Design with KPMG for a long time, and offered a real depth of knowledge and industry insight. She brought fresh thinking to every session and the whole class was in awe of her problem solving techniques. 

Anna encouraged us to question everything and always ask ‘why?’. If there were any underlying assumptions that came with solving a design problem, Anna helped us unpack them and scrutinise them very carefully.

How did you find studying online?

Honestly, I’m normally someone who likes to be out in the world and doing things in person. However, I’d have to say that online learning really does work. I loved collaborating with my coursemates – we were constantly bouncing ideas back-and-forth online. Having a group connection was very important to me, and we made that happen virtually.

It was a really fun, diverse group. One guy was in marketing with a non-profit, another was a member of a project team at Telstra, and we also had a young guy who had just started his career in construction. It was an amazing mix and we learned so much from each other.

Simon Jankelson

What Design Thinking projects did you work on?

The first project was a case study for a business card seller. Because of the lockdowns, he wasn’t selling any business cards and we had to figure out if he needed to adjust his product, or come up with an entirely new one.

I did real-world research to understand why people weren’t using business cards, and eventually came up with the solution of offering webinars that trained people in the art of Digital Marketing. The webinars covered sales calls, emails and all the touchpoints people still had with businesses. Essentially, it used online mediums to perform the same function as a business card.  

My second project was personal and I chose to work with a youth mentoring initiative that I started a few years ago with A Sound Life called Sound Mentoring. Sound Mentoring connects volunteer musicians with disadvantaged young people who might not have access to music equipment, music lessons and recording studios. It helps young people amplify their potential, achieve their music goals and grow as people too.

In preparation for the next Sound Mentoring program, I posed the question ‘How can we improve the self confidence, social connection and engagement of mentees in the sound mentoring program?’. I interviewed 15 mentors and 15 mentees, performed quantitative research with 20 mentors and 20 mentees, and created empathy maps and personas. 

When my research was completed, I uncovered that engagement was a problem, mostly because mentees were not always getting the access they wanted to software and instruments. In the end, specific training and checks were put in place to ensure that the technical setup of the mentor and mentee was compatible with the mentee’s goals.

What did you enjoy about learning Design Thinking?

For me, Design Thinking is a process for dealing with ambiguity, questions and problems. I don’t think that it really ever professes to reach an exact answer, but it helps you to get much closer to solutions that work.

If you were designing a pen, you would take into account the wants and needs of your customer segments, but then if you zoomed back, you might also take environmental considerations into account. There are all these different stakeholders that you could aim to create solutions for, but Design Thinking helps you make rational decisions about whose problems you’re going to address.

Design thinking now seems to be evolving consciously, taking into account a range of stakeholders such as the environment, communities and the planet as a whole. I’m really excited about the direction the field is heading in and looking forward to playing my part.

Can you tell us about the new role you’ve landed since graduation?

Not long after the course finished I got hired as a Human-Centred Designer at Nous Group. Nous is an international management consultancy with over 500 people working across Australia, the UK and Canada. As a values-based organisation, Nous partners with leaders to shape world-class businesses, effective governments and empowered communities. 

As an Experience Design manager at Nous, I design Human-Centred products and services that really do make a huge difference for the people using them. What pleases me most is that it’s a role that allows me to follow my passion for helping others. Nous work across a broad range of sectors, such as environment, education, human services, health and many more.

Working with Nous offers endless opportunities to find projects and teams that align with my purpose of using Human-Centred Design to make a positive impact in people’s everyday lives. I’m grateful to have landed the role – Nous is recognised as Australia’s top workplace, ranking first in the 2021 Great Places to Work Awards.

Finally, would you recommend the course?

I certainly would. The Design Thinking for Innovation course has set me up for success with a full Human-Centred Design toolkit, as well as the methods, mindset and practical approaches needed to apply the principles of Human-Centred Design on the job. 

Traditionally, I’m somebody who appreciates order and struggles a little with ambiguity, which is probably why I enjoyed the Design Thinking course so much. Carl Jung said “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” I’ve found so much personal growth in using Design Thinking to deal with uncertainty and work with it in a meaningful and productive way. 

I’d definitely recommend the Academy Xi Design Thinking for innovation: Elevate course. It’s perfect for anyone getting started in Human-Centred Design, or anyone who wants to deepen their capabilities in UX, Service Design or another design related field. As well as giving me tangible skills, the course has really boosted my confidence and left me well prepared to take on all the challenges that come with my new role.

Academy Xi Blog

Going solo: A guide to freelancing

By Academy Xi

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Are you new to the world of freelancing? This blog will explain what freelance work is, its perks, and five freelance professions that allow you to reap the benefits of going solo.

Freedom – that glorious ability to do what you want, when you want, without too many external restrictions. In so many words, that’s what freelancing is all about.

Yet many of us live with the opposite – trapped in an office, confined to a desk, watching the clock hands slowly grind to 5:00pm. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

What is freelancing?

Freelancing is a form of self-employment, which entails delivering services on a per-job or per-task basis. Rather than being permanently employed by a single company, freelancing allows you to work for yourself and complete projects for a number of different businesses and clients.

In recent years, tech innovations and the improvement of remote work systems have broken down traditional employment structures. Businesses of every kind are now paying for the services of freelancers.

Far from being an employment niche, the stats indicate that freelancing is the future:

  • There are now 3.15 million freelancers in Australia (28% of the national workforce).
  • The freelance employment market is currently growing three times faster than the employment market as a whole.
There are approximately 1.1 billion freelancers in the world. This means around 31.4% of the world’s total workforce is freelance, and this number is expected to grow significantly in 2022 (Source: Thrivemyway)

How do businesses benefit from freelancers?

By supplementing core staff with freelancers, companies are able to:

  • Access a larger and more diverse talent pool than a permanent workforce offers.
  • Get the specialist skills they need just-in-time and complete projects with increased agility.
  • Spend more efficiently by accessing talent exactly when they need it.

What are the benefits of freelance work?

There are a number of benefits that come with striking it out alone as a freelancer. Some of the biggest perks include:

  • Choosing your clients
    As a freelancer you’ll have the unique ability to select the clients you work with. You might pick clients based on their brand image or stellar reputation, or because of a personal affinity with delivering a particular product or service.

  • Managing your workload
    Freelancing means you can manage your own workload and work as much or as little as you like. If you want to work full-time most of the year and only part-time during the summer months, you’ll have the flexibility to make that lifestyle a reality.

  • Following your passions
    Freelancing allows you to focus on the work you love without the distractions that come with a permanent contract (no more long commutes, office politics or meetings that hardly relate to what you do).

  • Working independently
    Freelancing means you’ll have the ability to work alone for long stretches of time (if you’re a people person, there’s always the opportunity to collaborate). Because freelancing is often remote, you can work anywhere wifi-connected.

  • Diversify your exposure
    Freelancing enables you to work on projects and with clients in a variety of industries, enabling you to broaden your horizons, diversify your professional exposure and build a unique CV.

What responsibilities come with being a freelancer?

As well as acknowledging the perks of freelancing, it’s important to understand the extra responsibilities.

As someone who’s self-employed, you’ll be responsible for:

  • Calculating and paying your own taxes. 
  • Funding your health insurance, pension and other personal contributions. 
  • Covering the lost income of holidays or being sick (it’s wise to put a little extra money aside, which will also support you when work proves hard to find).
Freelancer earnings statistics suggest there will be more freelancers in the tech domain soon (Source: Forbes)

Getting started as a freelancer is relatively simple. Essentially, a specialist skill-set + wifi = freelance capabilities. However, once your freelance operation is up and running, there are a few steps you’ll need to take to set yourself apart from the competition.  

You’ll need to build a professional portfolio that showcases your certifications, skills and examples of past work. Prospective clients will use your portfolio to assess the quality of your services and your suitability for a particular project. 

You’ll also need to create a brand and strategically build skills, work experience, a strong network and an online presence that helps you target a need among potential clients. 

If you want a steady supply of work, you’ll need to seek it out. There are a variety of portals that freelancers use to find work, including Upwork and Fiverr, which act as job marketplaces connecting businesses with specialists who are suitably skilled. 

There’s a wide range of specialist services that clients are searching for these days. To give you some food for thought, here are a five of the more popular options:

Freelance Digital Marketer

The internet and social media are crowded places where companies are striving to be seen and heard. A freelance digital marketer uses online platforms and digital tools to promote products and improve sales for their clients. Freelance digital marketers use various channels, including: 

  • Website content
  • Email
  • Social media marketing
  • Search engine marketing
  • Display advertising

Your goal as a freelance digital marketer is to help a company expand its brand awareness, increase conversions and ultimately grow as a business. All of this requires a razor-sharp strategic mindset. 

You’ll also need to be finance and budget savvy, data-driven, analytical, and a strong leader. Marketing is definitely a field where who you know is as important as what you know – so be prepared to network. 

To give yourself a headstart in a competitive industry, it’s wise to get a formal certification, as well as a portfolio demonstrating your real-world marketing experience. Academy Xi Digital Marketing courses give you all this and more, helping you develop the tactics and techniques needed to manage a digital marketing campaign from end-to-end.

Freelance Social Media Manager

With over 58% of the world’s population actively using social media, freelance social media managers plan, execute, filter and monitor the social media presence of a product, company or influential person. Some of the services this entails include:

  • Planning social media strategies
  • Creating content calendars and scheduling posts
  • Content creation – including photography, video and design
  • Copywriting – posts need to be short, snappy and attention grabbing
  • Community management – engaging with followers, answering DMs and replying to comments
  • Forecasting, analytics and reporting

Many social media managers have a formal certification. To be competitive, you might choose to get one too. Formal training will give you the practical skills and know-how needed to plan and execute an entire social media strategy.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, freelance hourly rates remained stable and as many as 17 percent of freelancers actually saw their business increase (Source: Payoneer)

Freelance Web Developer

Every business needs a website these days, and good freelance web developers are in high demand. Freelance web developers design and build websites using coding and software design tools. You’ll liaise with clients and normally receive a creative brief outlining the project’s content and style.

Establishing a web development specialisation will give you an advanced skill-set that clients are searching for. There are several areas you can specialise in as a web developer, these include: 

  • Back-end development – using code to communicate between an application, server and database.
  • Front-end development – turning that code into a visual website that users interact with. 
  • User experience – making the website intuitive and user-friendly.   
  • User interface – designing the look and style of a website. 

Most clients will require you to be able to use HTML, CSS and JavaScript at a minimum. As websites are rarely built in vacuums, web developers who possess an understanding of UI Design and SEO will find their services highly regarded. 

Academy Xi Front-End Web Development courses give you hands-on experience writing and maintaining user-facing code for user-friendly, responsive and easy-on-the-eye websites.

Freelance Graphic Designer

Freelance graphic designers work with clients to produce branded logos, illustrations and other visual collateral. As well as being highly creative, graphic designers are excellent problem solvers, using their designs to convey a brand’s identity and build an emotional connection with a target market. 

Graphic designers work with text and images, delivering designs for a variety of media, including:

  • Websites and apps
  • Social media
  • Print – magazines, pamphlets and brochures

By using computer applications and software, you’ll develop sketches and layouts that bring your ideas to life. A client might need to see a rough draft of any concepts you generate, so editing and revisions are a big part of the job.

Industry-standard graphic design software includes the Adobe suite – InDesign, Photoshop and/ or Illustrator, all of which you’ll likely need to be fluent in. As the field of digital design progresses, you’ll also need to incorporate emerging technologies and software innovations into your practice.

Freelance graphic designers need an attractive portfolio of work, as well as a certification demonstrating those hard-earned skills. Academy Xi Graphic Design courses offer you both, helping you to combine business objectives with creativity and put together a portfolio of eye-catching designs that resolve brand or user challenges.

It is estimated that by 2027 freelancers will constitute over 50% of the total US workforce with a growth rate of around 65% over the next five years (Source: Thrivemyway)

Freelance Writer

Freelance writers offer their services to different clients, working across a variety of platforms and topics.

Unlike writers employed by a single company, who must consistently maintain that company’s brand voice, freelance writers have the freedom to explore their own writing style and preferred subjects. However, it’s possible to find more freelance writing work by being adaptable enough to complete any brief a client assigns.

If you’re keen to go solo as a professional writer, there are a few simple steps to follow:

  • Choose your niche – picking what you want to write about and the platforms your writing will be published on is a crucial first step.
  • Develop specialist skills – there are courses offering formal training in creative writing, copywriting, social media communications and journalism, to name a few.  
  • Set up a website or blog that tells your professional story and houses samples of your best work.
  • Pitch yourself everywhere and regularly check writing job boards.
  • Collect testimonials from your clients – these are your most powerful form of marketing.
  • Stay up-to-date with the hottest topics in your subject areas – the key to keeping your writing relevant is lots of reading.

So there you have it – an introductory guide to becoming a freelancer!

Freelancing offers you the chance to escape that office cubicle and the regimented 9-5 regime. Instead, you can cherry-pick your projects, manage your own workload and personally mastermind a career that you’re truly passionate about.

If you back yourself, develop the right skills and go it alone, who knows where your career will take you? Remember – the best opportunities in life won’t just fall in your lap, you have to get out there and create them.

Need some help in upskilling in any of these in-demand skills? Speak to a course advisor today and take the first step in your journey with a course from Academy Xi!

Academy Xi Blog

The fireside chat transcripts: I’m a UX Designer–Ask Me Anything!

By Academy Xi

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Here’s the transcript of the latest Q&A in Academy Xi’s Fireside Chat series. We met with Senior UX UI Designer Sylvia Xu Connor and discussed what it’s like being a UX designer, the current UX industry landscape, the UX interview process, and much, much more.

We also got the chance to answer some of our audience’s burning questions and trust us, whether you’re a seasoned UX Designer or an upcoming junior in the design world, Sylvia delivers the goods, and we had a blast! Enjoy!

Academy Xi (event host):  Our guest today took the human-centred and digital design route after 15 years in the fashion industry. She graduated from our UX UI Design Transform course last year and is now helping to deliver cloud communications as a senior UX UI designer at Symbio. In addition to her striking portfolio, she also serves as a speaker and mentor to our emerging designers here at Academy Xi, and recently hired two of our UX design grads to work with her! Please welcome Sylvia Xu Connor. 

Sylvia: Hi, everybody! 

Academy Xi: To start, can you introduce yourself and take us through the journey that led you to UX and UI Design?

Sylvia: I’ve been a [fashion] designer for many, many years. I have a Bachelor of Design from UTS, but realised that UX UI is such an end-to-end process. Even though it was a relatively new term to me at that stage in my career, I realised that everybody goes through UX UI to some degree, whether you start as a designer and have that massive design background or you don’t. 

Because UX is about problem solving and as you get older there are many, many situations –  I’m sure everybody will relate to this –  that you would need to solve a problem, and how you would solve that problem is the UX process. And UI I suppose, comes hand in hand with how you appreciate visual hierarchy and things like that so there’s a lot of graphic designers who also transition into UI. It’s a very natural progression, I did a lot of graphic design work as well in my design career. So to me, UX UI is something that’s always been within me, in my spirit, but never solidly considered until recently.

Academy Xi: What was your motivation going into this industry? 

Sylvia: It’s lovely for me at this stage of my life because I’ve got two young kids and you get a little bit of freedom back when you’re not on the road, going into a physical studio. 

UX work can be done anywhere in the world, because it’s all about problem solving and if you are online, you can solve a problem. 

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi:  We have a lot of potential students here, and some people who are interested in breaking into the industry. You finished the UX UI design course with us last year. Can you take us through what skills or major takeaways you got from this course?

Sylvia: I think what’s important about the course is that it gives you a really good overview from start to finish of what the whole design process looks like. Many people will come in and reaffirm what they already know. Deep down it’s a venue for them to solidify the idea in their head that they already know what they could do to solve a problem, and then apply that in an end-to-end design process. 

You can learn some fresh skills, such as collaborating in a team. A lot of people are really collaborating in teams, whether you are in the design team, or you have been working at a hospital. The course lets you finish a project from end-to-end, so you can have a really good understanding and overview of the design process.

Academy Xi: You mentioned end-to-end projects. Can you tell us a little bit about the projects that you’ve worked on? I hear that you’ve worked with some clients as well during your time with Academy Xi. Can you talk more about that?

Sylvia:  Yeah, I was given this wonderful opportunity whereby we worked with EndeavourX who were such a wonderful team of people and really great with feedback. We were given the opportunity to look at their career site, suggest some changes and make improvements. We were able to survey the people looking to move into tech that fit within the client’s age range. It was really good, because we had a problem to solve and we took a step back and looked at how we could solve that problem by getting validation from the target audience.  So that was one of the projects. 

The other project was also with EndeavourX. We were tasked with looking at their current chatbot and how to make it more engaging. 

Both these projects were just fantastic and helped me springboard into my current career. Even though I came from a design background, with these client projects you could just show what you can do very, very quickly, in a short amount of time - it’s something concrete.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi:  Absolutely – it’s so important to build a portfolio especially at the beginning of your career. How long did it actually take you to finish your course and then land that job at Symbio?

Sylvia: It was funny because I started the course during the Sydney lockdown. It was just timing, you know? Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time. I didn’t want to commute into the city every single day, which came with my old design job. 

Serendipity wise, I started the course and I did the Transform course which is three months. It was hectic. It was hard work. I expected it to be hard, and it was hard. So the expectation was there versus the reality and I got everything I needed out of it. 

I put in the hard yards and learnt new software. Let’s be open minded about software because they are tools. And what a great way to be introduced to tools if you haven’t been using a lot of software, right?

From start to finish, [the course took] three months and I started looking to apply with different companies and I got a couple of job offers pretty much as soon as I finished. Within a week, I had a couple of concrete choices to deep dive into and make a good decision about where I wanted to go. 

Academy Xi: How about some of your colleagues who were in the class with you? How are they doing? 

Sylvia: I’m still really good friends with all of them. There were six of us who finished the transform course and from start to finish, we’re just such good mates. I think that the key ingredient to having a good design team is to actually really value and trust each other. 

Everyone’s going to be good at different things, and so it’s really important to build that relationship whereby you trust that the other person is going to do their job. Obviously, there’s  a healthy amount of discussion. They’re all doing really well, I believe most of them have landed jobs. 

Academy Xi: Lots of prospective students ask us “How do I pivot or transition into a career, such as UX UI design, if I don’t come from a design background? What skills or mindset do I need to have as a junior UX designer?”.

Sylvia: That’s a very common question and I think something that could potentially put a lot of people off transitioning into a design career. UX Design is primarily about problem solving and about validation and, as I mentioned earlier, anyone could have those skills. From the day you’re born, you’re problem solving. Believe it or not, even though you might not think you’re a good problem solver, you really are! 

You’ve got lots of problems and you have to find different routes into thinking – “how am I going to solve this problem?”. Normally it’s by trial and error. 

So trial and error would be your testing. You trial something to see if the idea that you’ve got to solve a problem works. And you should be able to get validation very quickly, if you test it with the right people. 

So having a problem-solving mindset is the best thing you can do as an aspiring UX Designer.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi: So it’s about having that open mindset and always being empathetic? 

Sylvia: Empathy is so important. There’s not going to be many UX designers who are not empathetic because it’s so fundamental to being a good UX designer. 

If you are an empathetic person, you’re going to look at a product and say “what are the pain points that are currently in this product?”. 

You’re going to ask the people who are using a product and really try to understand where they’re coming from. As soon as you understand that there is a problem to solve and you really try and get into the mindset of what it is that they’re struggling with, then you’re going to be able to offer a better solution.

Academy Xi:  That’s right – it’s all about putting yourself in the user’s shoes. Let’s shift gears a little bit – what’s happening in the Australian market right now in terms of UX? Can you paint us a picture of the big and small challenges of the industry?

Sylvia: I think we’re probably not as mature as overseas in terms of the understanding of what UX can bring to the table. I know that UX arrived early in the States and in Europe. And a lot of companies in Australia because of COVID they’ve been pushed into thinking more about “how do I get my product that already exists into the digital world and then into the hands of people who are always on their phones, their laptops, their tablets?”. 

I think in that way, the challenge would be really about educating businesses to know the value of UX and what UX can bring to the table.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi: And how does that relate to the number of jobs that are out there in the market for UX designers? 

I think there’s going to be a snowball effect. The more UX designers get into the job market, the more that they will be able to stay at the top of the hill.  They’ll add value to a business and that business will show another business that, “Oh hey, I’ve got ‘UX’ on my side and we’re growing really well and very healthily”. More companies will be inspired to hire UX UI designers. In that way, I believe it will have a snowball effect. 

To answer your first question on how and what the job prospects are, they’re good. It’s certainly better than it was even 12 months ago, but the challenge is still there because businesses don’t know what they don’t know. If they don’t know anything about UX, then they don’t think they need UX. It would be like a constant education piece.

Academy Xi: We often have people ask us what’s a typical day in the life of a UX designer. Can you give us an example of your work day from start to finish?

Sylvia : Oh gosh! Lots and lots of meetings, because you’re always collaborating, and not just with other UX designers. If you’re lucky enough to work in a design team then you would collaborate a lot with other designers that specialise in different stages of the UX UI cycle. 

But if you are not as lucky to work in a design team and you are a one-man band, you’re doing end-to-end design work–that’s also good because you get to experience the whole lot. But it doesn’t mean you’re not collaborating. You’ll be collaborating with your product manager, product owner, the back-end engineers, front-end engineers. 

There’s a lot of collaboration. UX is not in its own bubble.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi: For sure – it’s all about collaborating and making sure that everything works together, because then you’re balancing user needs with business needs and seeing what’s feasible, right? 

Sylvia: And what is possible with technology – can you build what you and the business want to build for the client? If you imagine the venn diagram, you’d be sitting in the middle as a UX designer –  designing a product that the business needs, the user wants, and what is possible technology-wise to deliver.

Below are questions from our audience ranging from career, salary, software, skills, and more. 

Audience question: I am considering a career change, at 38 years old. I am currently a learning designer, writing assessments and curriculum for Universities. I am a photographer, so I seek creative jobs. What advice would you give me to calm the fears I have about starting anew with really no background/ experience, but hopefully some transferable skills? My plan is to start the Transform course with Academy Xi and I’m just doing some research to build my confidence. I’m also studying a short course in Figma but I’m nervous.

Sylvia: Hi there! I think that’s a valid question and certainly it warrants the amount of research that you have already been doing, because research is your best friend. I think you definitely have a lot of transferable skills. Don’t forget a lot of UX skills are actually soft skills. You seem like you have a lot of those. 

As a learning designer you need to talk to the people that you are designing the learning material for, so you already have the right background, believe it or not.

And then also you’re upskilling in Figma and any software that certainly helps because if you are going to be into design, you need to obviously solve a problem. But how you show the solution would be down to how well you’ve grasped the tools, so I think it’s definitely a really good move to try and upskill in Figma and any other software, because when you use one software, you’re more adaptable to using any other software that comes along. 

Audience question: What could I develop further which is not covered in the Academy Xi course, which could help for transitioning from a student to UX UI designer?

Sylvia: So I think a lot of the time, it’s very valuable to be able to grasp the tools, because that is something very concrete and you can demonstrate your capabilities straight away. For example, your portfolio is going to look amazing. And also, you might be given a design challenge when you first go into a lot of job interviews. If you grasp the tools really well, that would definitely be an advantage.

[Academy Xi: What tools specifically?]

Sylvia: Figma, definitely. Miro would be another one that is used industry-wide. Figjam and Miro are whiteboarding tools. They would be the ones that I’d be looking for specifically and then the other added bonus would be Adobe Creative suite. A lot of graphic designers are whizzes in Adobe Creative Suite. I am because I come from that sort of background, but I think it just really helps top-up your software skills. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but if you’re looking for something extra that would be what I would look at.

Audience question: Is it reasonable to expect resistance to human-centred design as opposed to business or process centred?  Also, given the niche market of UX right now, is it expected that you will do everything with the end-to-end process including UI?

Sylvia: I think it depends on the business and how mature the UX function is. While you’re studying it is probably really important to look at UX UI as a holistic design process, whereby you should try to do it all. And then I think, as you mature as a designer you’re probably going to realise and really understand yourself a little bit better what you excel in and then focus on that.

It’s really, really important that you understand that you can’t do everything, and that you really need to try and get knowledge from other experts that might have better insights.  For example, if you are a UX-heavy designer, you are really great at research and problem solving and not so good at tools, try and really feed off your colleagues who might be better at tools and don’t think “I can do it all”, because maybe someone else has got better ideas than you.

[Academy Xi: Absolutely, it is all about teamwork.]

Audience question: Do you have any advice/tips for what to include in a portfolio and also what to avoid putting into a portfolio?

Sylvia: I think it depends on what it is that you’re looking for. So if you are thinking you are going to go heavy on UX because that’s what you really want to do as opposed to UI, then you really need to show your thinking process in your portfolio. It might not be as pretty or polished as a UI portfolio but it doesn’t certainly doesn’t stop you from making your portfolio, top to tail, design process plus extremely polished-looking, look good. 

You really need to understand what your strengths are and how you want to sell yourself in this end-to-end process, so, as I said, if you think that you are going to be quite a UX-focused designer, and this is the type of roles that you want to go for, really show how you approach a problem and show all the data or the insights that you get from looking at a problem and then try to show that in your portfolio. 

Audience question: How many case studies do you recommend to have in my portfolio as a beginner who is looking for a job in the UX industry?

Sylvia: Probably no more than six. Mainly because a lot of hiring managers are really busy, and they’re looking at a lot of portfolios. As well as reading CVs as well as doing their jobs. So I would say, quality over quantity for sure. 

Audience question: How much did your website and case studies help you land your current role?

Sylvia: That’s a good question! I don’t know because I didn’t hire myself (laughs), but what I think happened was that I certainly had what I thought was going to get me an interview, and I think it’s only a springboard to how well you’re going to do in an interview. The portfolio is not your be all and end all, because you would still need to do well in the interviews. And it’s during the interviews you need to get across how well you can explain your design process and what you could bring to the business.

Audience question: I see a number of people on LinkedIn saying that they have been looking for jobs for months and starting to get deflated. What do you think could be the reason? Is there anything as a soon-to-be UX designer that I could do to avoid this long wait for my first gig?

Sylvia: I would say, keep at it, but maybe try something different so don’t keep doing the same thing. In the way that you know if you never refresh your portfolio, then perhaps if it’s not going to get you noticed six months ago, it’s not going to get you noticed now, so try different things and see if any of them stick. 

Keep doing the projects, I know that there is some volunteer work around UX in Australia and I think from what I hear these volunteer work can help you basically bump up your skills.

While you’re looking for a job, I know it sometimes can be really difficult to work for free, but I think as a designer who’s been working for many years, I have done my fair share of free work as well, because I know that, eventually, it would lead to something but also look at it as a way to practice your skills and perhaps once you get hired, it would all be worth it. 

Audience question: The full-time course recommends 25-30 hours per week. You mentioned the more you put into it, the better the outcomes. Would you recommend allocating more time than that recommendation to get the most out of the course? If so, how much more? I am balancing part-time study and work.

Sylvia: That’s like seven hours a day which is a full day of office work. I would say, I did more than that. Yeah so serendipity, as I said. What happened was it was during the entire Sydney lockdown, I really had nothing else to do except to just be in my house and do my projects. 

So I suppose, maybe, it’s not fair to compare but I also have young kids and personal responsibilities but I am also very goal-orientated. So I knew that if I just put in the hard work now, three months down the end is what makes it all worth it. 

So I would probably say it’s fair to say that I stopped my life for about three months, and I just went really hard in the course. Any skill that you pick up is good, it’s going to be beneficial to you.

Having said that it’s not required, you know, like it’s not something that someone is going to look over your shoulder and say you haven’t put in enough work, but I think the quality of work speaks for itself after the course, because whatever it is that you put in your portfolio or or at the interview process, you might just be able to explain your process a little bit better–if you actually might be a fit or like, went above and beyond, during the course.

Audience question: I’m 24 years old, wanting to change my career from medicine/sports science to UX UI Design, so I essentially have limited experience. My greatest concern is getting a job after completing a UX UI Transform course as someone with less experience in design. What are the key skills (both technical and soft) that you think employers search for?

Sylvia: Great question. The junior designer that I’ve got on board comes from a podiatry background. 

I would say he’s brilliant at his job because from day to day, while being a podiatrist, he was diagnosing problems, you know, he was talking to people about how they were feeling. What hurts, what we could do to make it better, those are kind of all the things that you do as a UX designer anyway! So obviously having the people skills really helps.

It just gives you that extra level of being able to ask someone openly about what are the pain points, for example. Do not be discouraged, because you definitely have something to bring to the table.

Also, work on Figma! Because it’s tangible. You can look online and look on YouTube and learn, it’s something that you can actually do. Whereas you know if I say to someone who’s perhaps not the biggest extrovert, improve your people skills–it’s harder to grasp how that could help (or how to even do that). But anyone can learn to work on software.

Audience question: What job titles are you able to apply for as soon as you finish a UX course and what’s the range of pay for beginners? I would also like to ask about the range of pay from beginner to a seasoned UX design and how fast or slow is the progression.

Sylvia: I think it’s not a one-size-fits-all question and it’s a very case-by-case basis. I would think that if you have no design background and you come out, you might be a little bit more handicapped to look for a senior position, a UX position, rather than starting at a junior mid-level. 

However, having said that, I’ve heard people coming out with no design background and then going straight into a senior job because they could explain the design thinking process and they’re at the right place at the right time, with the company looking for something very specific that they could give.

I think it’s really a case by case basis and really hard to answer! So I’m sorry if I kind of skirted around that question. 

In terms of pay, again, case by case basis, but if you’re starting as a junior UX designer, I would say the benchmark of a junior UX designer would be more than what you would get as a graphic designer, that is an industry benchmark.

Audience question: As a UX designer how much work do you do remotely at home in comparison to in person? 

Sylvia: I would say, as a UX designer you probably would be able to do all your work remotely. However, it would be up to the company to implement any sort of mandate to come to the office normally during team days. Sometimes you do get a little bit more out of a collaborative space if you’re all together socialising and doing a bit of work as well.

Audience question: Are there any tips, advice or insight, you can give regarding the interview process for UX design role and what can we do to prepare? 

Sylvia: Make sure you are as approachable as possible and as empathetic as possible, because they’re going to ask you whatever they want to ask. Aim yourself with the knowledge of how you solve a problem and how you approach your testing. How you solve a problem is possibly what they’re really interested in.

Academy Xi: Thank you so much Sylvia, you shared your story with us today, and I think you’ve shared a lot of really interesting insights about the industry and how to break into it, especially for anyone who is a novice in UX and UI. 

We’ve all learned a lot, I learned a lot today, and I hope that all of you here on the call as well have been able to take something away from Sylvia’s story.

Kick start your career and gain in-demand skills with our 100% online UX UI Design course.  

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Sylvia Xu Connor

By Academy Xi

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Seeking a new lifestyle and a fresh challenge, Sylvia left the fashion industry and entered the exciting world of UX UI Design.

After 15 years as a Fashion Designer, Sylvia retrained with Academy Xi and landed a Senior UX UI Designer role within a week of graduating. Read about Sylvia’s UX UI Design: Transform course experience, her fast start in the industry, and how she’s helping more Academy Xi graduates into design roles.

What led you to a career in UX UI Design?

I realised after the first lockdown that I didn’t want to go back to my old work routine, which meant commuting five days a week to physically be in a fashion studio. It was tiring and I have young kids who didn’t see me enough. I had skills that allowed me to work remotely, so I started casually searching for work-from-home design jobs.

It took about a month to discover this new term – UX UI Design. I was really intrigued by the concept, but UX UI is digitally-focused. I come from a more traditionally creative background, with lots of big personalities discussing branding, graphics, patterns and colours, and I needed to be sure UX UI was a good fit for me. At that point, I did what I do best – a tonne of research!

The more I found out about UX UI, the more I realised its principles completely aligned with how I approach design, which is 50% problem solving and 50% how well you can solve those problems by your grasp on tools. By that stage, I was fully committed to switching to a career as a UX UI Designer.

Why did you choose to study UX UI Design with Academy Xi?

I looked into all the course providers that offered UX UI Design, from short bootcamps to master degrees as I already have a UTS Bachelor of Design degree. I am extremely time poor so needed to be job ready in as little time as possible while fully leveraging my past experience in the design industry. I narrowed my search to two providers who could transform my career very quickly; Academy Xi and General Assembly.

Academy Xi had a more competitive price. Plus, the course advisors were super friendly and took time to answer all my questions. If I was unsure at any point, they encouraged me to do my own research. It was a big investment of time and money, so it was important to get honest advice without any pushiness.

After five months of weighing-up my options, I decided that if the course advisors were giving such a personal service, that was a positive sign for the course itself. Eventually, I settled on the Academy Xi UX UI Design: Transform course.

What were your first impressions of the course?

I did a lot of research and knew what to expect from UX UI before the course started. I wanted to push myself from the outset, because I knew I’d get back what I put in.

It was serendipity that the whole three months of the Transform course coincided with the entire Sydney covid lockdown period. I felt like I was in a time capsule of intense learning and delivering results. As a mature student who hasn’t done any studying since finishing my bachelor’s degree 17 years ago, it’s important to have a lot of attention and guidance. The course mentor, Hayden Peters, gave the cohort everything we needed and more. He always made himself available online outside of classes to answer our questions, or give that love and support when the course content became challenging.

All the students were blown away by Hayden - his commitment to everyone in the cohort went above and beyond what you would expect from a mentor. He did everything he possibly could to help us understand the value of UX UI and the best ways to apply it professionally.

Sylvia Xu Connor

The first personal project was a bit like learning to ride a bike. I pedalled really fast and got to grips with the UX UI Design process by making mistakes. During the first phase of the course, Hayden and my coursemates were my only stakeholders, so I had a safe space to experiment in. I made all my mistakes early, which gave me the experience I needed to really nail the live client projects.

Can you tell us about the live client projects?

The first client project was for Endeavour X. Endeavour X is a subsidiary of Endeavour Group and owns a number of the big drink sellers, like BMS and Jimmy Brings. With the border closures, Endeavour X had a shortage of talent to hire from. There’s not much awareness of what Endeavour X does, so the project became a branding exercise. We had to do a lot of UX research and design a website that would enable them to attract and retain the best staff, creating chemistry throughout the company.

Take a look at Sylvia and her team’s client project with EndeavourX

The second client project was all about improving a chatbot for Dan Murphy’s. They have an existing chatbot, but it really only provides basic information about stores and opening hours. Our final design made the chatbot a more informative and engaging experience, helping deliver traffic to the existing website. Both Endeavour X and Dan Murphy’s were really happy with the designs the teams came up with.

How did you find working with the other people in your cohort?

I really cherished developing relationships with the other students. The course finished in October last year and we’re still in touch to this day. Some of the cohort based in Melbourne came to Sydney for the Christmas holidays and a bunch of us met up. Without the course, I never would have met so many great people.

We had a shared journey, a bit like pilgrims, and graduated with a collective experience that we can hold on to for the rest of our lives. We were all equals and could share our thoughts and feelings. As well as Hayden, we learnt from each other. Completing the client projects as teams really brought us closer together – that’s when we pooled our skills and really bonded.

How did you find the experience of learning online?

There’s nobody looking over your shoulder and pushing you to work. I think once you’ve broken that barrier and realised you need to motivate yourself, it’s very straightforward. The course is clearly laid out, so you can log in, see the modules in advance and work through everything systematically. There’s an independence that comes with online learning, and you’ll need it to get by in the professional world.

Learning online also enabled us to work on the projects at times that suited our schedules. Some of us were night owls and worked together into the night, while others were more active in the day. I completed the course while my kids were homeschooling and couldn’t start until 10am, but my coursemates were really accommodating. Collectively, we made it work.

If we were physically in a classroom, we wouldn’t have had that level of flexibility. Even though we were online, we stayed connected and worked together like a well-oiled machine.

Sylvia Xu Connor

How did you go from graduation to landing your new role?

I graduated in October on the same day as my daughter’s birthday. I had to tell her “I’m in a meeting, we’ll celebrate when Mummy finishes”!

My objective throughout the course had always been to get a new job, so I worked hard to grasp the skills, develop my portfolio and be job-ready. I immediately started applying for positions and the client projects were so valuable when it came to interviews. Rather than just saying “this is what I can do”, I was able to demonstrate my skills very concretely.

Within a week of finishing the course, I got a couple of job offers.

Sylvia Xu Connor

I didn’t expect to get hired so quickly, but looking back, I realise that I put myself in a strong position. I had all my ducks in a row.

Now, I’m working for Symbio, a big tech-telco company as a Senior UX UI Designer. I was the first ever UX UI staff member in a company of about 400 people. They brought me on board to speak for UX UI throughout the organisation, so it’s a big step for me and the business.

My plan for the next six months is to get a foothold in the company, raise an understanding of why UX UI is important by adding value to the business and to build a team that can deliver on UX UI objectives. I started with a blank slate, which means I’m having to set the benchmark, which is straight up my alley because my whole life is about setting benchmarks, and also a reason why I’ve achieved so much in so little time.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been tasked with a project that hasn’t moved very far in the months before I started. The company does a lot of business in Australia and New Zealand, but wants to expand into APAC. To make that possible, they need a portal that allows customers to self-serve. The head of digital decided they couldn’t go any further with the project without having UX eyes on it, which is one of the main reasons they hired me.

As well as the portal itself, I applied UX to the situation. I quickly realised the project could benefit greatly from having more meaningful dialogue between the internal staff and the overseas developers. I decided to bring everybody together in virtual meetings to get them collaborating more closely. Anyone facilitating online workshops needs to know how to get the most out of the tools and platforms, which is something I could offer straight away because of my experience with Academy Xi.

Now, the project is now fully up and running again. The company is really impressed with what one UX UI Designer can achieve, which is giving me the traction to put a UX UI team together. I recently hired some of the Academy Xi UX UI Design: Transform graduates, because I know first-hand how well prepared they are for working in the field.

What else have you done to stay involved with the Academy Xi tribe?

Hayden invited me back to give talks in his classes. I reassure the students that though the course can be challenging and they might be anxious about what’s to come, it does lead to great outcomes. I tell them if they put in the hard yards now, they’ll get to where they want to be in the long run.

Another ex-student, Diana Miller, spoke while I was studying. Diana now works for NAB and it gave me a sense of perspective to hear from someone who’d used the course to launch a successful career. I felt like I could offer that perspective to other students too.

Since giving the talks, I’ve received LinkedIn messages and offered all kinds of advice. One student received a job offer straight after graduating and, knowing I’d been in the same situation, called me to ask for my thoughts. I was more than happy to help her. It’s wonderful to still be part of the Academy Xi community. I’d like to help as many students as possible to follow that path into UX UI Design, because I know just how rewarding it can be.

Finally, would you recommend Academy Xi?

Definitely! I have a few friends who are interested in other positions in the digital industry and I’ve sent them links to Academy Xi courses. I know a Project Manager and she wants to freshen-up her career. I’ve told her to jump into the digital space, take the Academy Xi Digital Project Management course and completely transform her skill-set.

If someone was interested in studying UX UI Design with Academy Xi specifically, I couldn’t recommend the course enough. I can say from experience that Academy Xi gives you the skills and mindset needed to make a big impact in the UX UI Design industry.

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