Student Success Story: Sydney Schaefer
Sydney completed our 12-Week Product Design part-time course in November 2020. She has been working as a Junior UX Designer at Rehab.
We caught up with her recently to see what she has been up to since completing her course, how the course helped her achieve her goals and her pearls of wisdom for any budding product designers.
Looking back before you joined the course at Experience Haus, can you tell us a little bit about what you were up to and what led you to consider a course in Product Design?
I studied general design practices at university and as soon as I graduated, I got a job as a designer at an advertising agency, but it wasn’t really for me. I’m not necessarily a graphic or visual person, but it was a good steady job to have when I first left university. Over time, I felt it wasn’t the right place, it wasn’t the right fit, so I did end up leaving and searching for other jobs as I wanted to do something that was more Service Design/UX orientated. I pulled together my portfolio, but it wasn’t really suitable for those disciplines. I applied for lots of jobs and had lots of odd, small jobs and freelance gigs here and there that were closer to what I was looking for, but still not quite right for me. There were a lot of instances where I’d meet up with someone, they’d give me a bit of work but things didn’t always pan out. I think I got luckier than a lot of people in those situations, because I went out and talked to a lot of people which helps, but there’s only so much you can do!
Then the pandemic hit and any kind of traction I had immediately stopped. I knew I was interested in UX. I knew I wanted to do some form of digital products. I thought this was a good transition for my skills and where I wanted to be in the future, so I started doing some independent projects. That worked out well for the time, but I kept hearing over and over again ‘you don’t have enough experience. Your portfolio isn’t quite right.’ It was always the same message of hearing I was good, but that I needed a bit more. Around that time I thought I had been doing this for a while, and it was time to figure out how to get that experience and get that certification under my belt.
How did you come across Experience Haus? What made you decide to pick our course?
It was actually my partner that found Experience Haus. He sent it to me because we were talking about doing courses and I didn’t want something big or long-term because I already had a design background. I just needed a top-up really! I already knew how to go through a lot of the procedures, I just needed someone there to critique my work, so that was what was really important to me. I had a chat with one of the team about it and he was the one who really sold me on it! It was a really good conversation and I actually felt like he cared about it. He was honest about where I’d learn things and where I’d potentially be repeating but I would still get something out of it.
Thinking about your time on the course… What did you want to achieve from your Experience Haus course?
The main things I wanted to achieve were getting my portfolio and just refreshing my skills. It was also a bit of a stress test to make sure this was the next direction I wanted to move in. I had committed a lot of time but actually going through a project from end to end was really important as well.
What did you enjoy most about the course?
The course was great! I think I was able to commit a lot of time to it. It’s definitely one of those courses where you get out what you put in.
I enjoyed being able to have 1:1 sessions with people on a regular basis – I really appreciated that. That’s one thing a lot of people don’t realise about design: it is a team sport and not something you can just do by yourself. We all have our own assumptions and come from different places, so having someone to sit there and be like ‘you’re actually wrong here but it’s alright that you’re wrong as you’ve built up assumptions. Let’s talk about this’ or ‘Let’s test this to see if you are right’. It helps make my work better.
I liked the fact it was in-person. Everyone on the course was really lovely. Having that interconnected critique of everyone’s work was really useful and fun!
Turning now to your time post-course… Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to since the course finished? What sort of things were you working on that led you to securing your recent Junior UX Designer role?
Afterwards it was about pulling together the project, which does take a bit of time. I reached out to Dimitri during that time, to go through the work again, even after the course ended, and that was really useful. I felt like I could still get help and assistance on my portfolio even after the course had finished.
Once I’d got my portfolio up to scratch, it was back to sending it out and I was actually getting a lot of traction with it! Unfortunately I did still hear people say they didn’t think I have enough experience, even though the jobs I was applying for were Junior or entry level roles! Like when people told me I didn’t have enough experience for an entry level role I thought they clearly don’t understand what ‘entry level’ means.
I actually ended up getting my role because my partner’s old boss posted on LinkedIn looking for UX interns and then within a week I was working there – I was very lucky in that respect! Most jobs or internships I’ve had in the past I’ve gotten through talking to people or going to meet-ups. It’s scary to do that but it’s always been useful for me! You might meet people for a coffee and they don’t necessarily need you for a particular role, but they might know someone who you could potentially work for.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your new role entails?
I’m working for a company called Rehab that are based in Shoreditch. I’m now a Junior UX Designer for them and I really enjoy it! Basically I’m doing a lot of ‘discover’ and ‘define’ phases from the Double Diamond Process. I touch on the design stuff as well but our team is lucky as we have a lot of designers that focus on the visual side of things whereas I work more on the research side, which is the side I find more interesting anyway.
Do you have any advice, or nuggets of wisdom for any one trying to break into the industry – anything you wish you had known beforehand?
- ‘Fortune favours the prepared’ – have your portfolio ready, be ready to talk about stuff at the drop of a hat. If you have your portfolio ready even in a PDF form, or rough draft, having something is always better than not having anything. Getting the portfolio together is usually the hardest bit because then you can just send it out again and again.
- Reach out to people to ask for advice. Go talk to people you admire – don’t ask for a job off the bat but make that connection and start having conversations.