I’m studying to become a UX storyteller. That is, a UX Designer with a storytelling core.
I remember years ago thinking that I would never do just one thing for a career. I was a kid when this notion came to mind. It came from having almost too many interests and imagining that a career in one place would be uninspiring. I wanted to taste a lot, and to this day I feel the same about keeping my options open.
Having that kind of appetite might make it seem that I’m very fluid and perhaps free-spirited, which may or may not be a good thing. One negative side effect that I’ve experienced for a long time is a fuzzy sense of direction.
I decided at the age of fourteen to study film in college. My goal back then was to learn the cinematic arts so I could create exciting stories. I had mostly adored watching films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series, because I like a little magic and loads of art. I’m actually not a fantasy fanatic, believe it or not – I equally like the historical genre and foreign dramas.
I’d been very keen on storytelling since I could write my name. I wrote poems and stories growing up, spending a lot of time sitting in front of my dad’s Macintosh computer and typing out character backstories, outlines, and research notes. Beside my bed, there were several notebooks filled with hastily penciled ideas. I was a little flaky with my story projects; I’d get interested in another topic or character and move on from story to story, almost never finishing anything!
In college, I initially discovered that I wasn’t quite as possessed by a love of movies as many of my peers. Most of them seemed to have somehow watched every great film on the planet, could list off their favorite directors or cinematographers, and had been making films since they were eight years old. Even so, I caught up quickly with skills in directing and production design, and had a lot of fun making movies. Professors told me I was a good writer, a good director; my name was passed on from student to student so that I consistently had lead art department roles throughout those four years.
My minor was art history, and it filled a few of my cravings for knowledge: besides artworks and artists, there was general history, religion, politics, economics, trade, and more. I also took studio art classes in painting and drawing/typography.
Over the years (not working in film), I’ve reminisced a lot about film school and how I thrived on doing anything from devising and writing a story to organizing props on set to writing up a call sheet. There was so much activity! It was wonderful to watch a film on the screen weeks or months later and celebrate with cast, crew, and friends.
For a long time, I’d felt sad about not getting to work in film right after college, because I had my student loan responsibilities and PA’ing for films was not going to cut it. It soon became time to stop being sad and move forward.
I had some vague ideas about what to do. Continue working in communications and content? Eventually become a creative director, perhaps? Work on my graphic design skills? Study anthropology so I could get into some area of research? Get my post-bac and become a nurse or doctor? I had a lot of thoughts; in some ways, it was like my teenage self who had trouble deciding on film or psychology or pre-med for undergrad studies, anxiously not wanting to make the “wrong choice.”
In my final year at my former job I’d joined a group called Tech Ladies, which has a job board. I scrolled over most of the categories – Engineering, Programming, Design – to get to the Marketing or Operations listings. The very first week I joined the community, I skimmed their first newsletter to me and flagged it to read later. In it was an interview with a woman who was a UX Designer. I had no idea what that meant, but I was intrigued. About three months later, I must’ve read the newsletter; that’s when I signed up for the interviewee’s emails and began receiving Sarah Doody’s UX Notebook. I didn’t open most of her emails for a long time.
Then last fall, the question What Do I Want? became suddenly loud and bold. I’d been asked that question by a couple close friends, without knowing what to say in response. In October of 2017, about a year from flagging the email interview with Sarah Doody, I began to read about UX. I got a lot of good answers about strong job prospects for User Experience Designers, and then I became overwhelmed with the number of resources about this field. It isn’t new, and a lot of people have a lot to say about a lot regarding UX. I started a Trello board and began to organize articles I’d read, articles and books to read later, courses to research, tools I’d potentially use, people to follow on social media, UX project examples to review, and the list goes on…
One of the first things I realized was that if I could work in UX, like in film, I’d get to tell countless stories and I’d get to make things. UX is about making things people love. That is, ensuring that a sample of those people are part of the process from conception, empathizing with them and designing a product that they’ll enjoy using.
UX is an excellent fit. I’ve been studying UX online for the past few months. Plus, I’ve even joined several online communities and local groups of lovely people who want to support one another in practicing/developing UX skills, gaining UX knowledge, getting hired in UX, and such.
For quite some time, “I should be film directing or doing something else” floated around in my thoughts. I couldn’t put my finger on what the other option would be, and nothing I came up with would stick for long. I loathed, for many years, that I had no drive for writing, for directing, for other artistic endeavors. Maybe I didn’t like them enough at the time, but I think there was a lack of self-care and self-love involved too.
As of late, I have made solid and practical plans. It makes me get up with a bit more bounce and delight in the morning! I’m filled, more and more each day, with a sense of viability. I have a purposeful insight on where I’m heading now, persevering as a storyteller and an (up-and-coming) UXD practitioner.