How I changed my career from PR to UX design

How I changed my career from PR to UX design

"So you used to be a tech PR person and now you're a product designer.... why did that happen?"

Looking back at it all, it makes sense that product design was something that would fit with my skillset, but I never knew how to articulate how all my random skills - communication, web design, strategy, copywriting, graphic design, organizing information, research, customer service- could fit together.

I started working for a PR agency the day after I graduated (a quarter early, for the record!) from the University of Washington in Seattle, doing consumer/food PR. I then lucked out and got a job as a vendor working for Microsoft, doing corporate and tech PR for all of the big announcements and product launches from 2011-2019. Researching media opportunities, honing the narrative of what story you're trying to tell, pitching/securing/tracking media placements, and nurturing relationships with reporters are the things you do as a PR person. However - what makes a great PR person is someone who can viscerally empathize with what a reporter needs to know in order to write the best story they can.

Empathy -- sounds familiar, designers?

Tech PR was all I knew, so I decided that I needed to broaden my skillset. I started a food blog to teach myself web design and photography and digital marketing. I took on weird side hustle and freelance projects to help people with their Wordpress and Shopify websites. And then in March 2019, I got a gig working at an early (early!!) stage startup in LA, doing jack of all trades work for the niche celeb astrologer Chani Nicholas. As soon as I started working for Chani, we started to dream up what an astrology app could look like for her brand. However, none of us were technical. Being a team player, I maintained her website, designed decks, answered customer service emails, helped produce her book and led her book launch's marketing, and generally filled in the blanks on any project that needed to get done, but I was too shy to raise my hand and say that I wanted to give UI design a shot for this nascent app idea we had.

It was the combination of opportunity, the perfect alchemy of all my disparate skills, and a whisper of self-confidence that changed the trajectory of my career.

So, we hired a design firm to start the process on a new brand identity and thought they could also design an app, but of course that's not what brand designers do. We thought the development agency could do UI design, but that wasn't their speciality either. We thought our graphic designer could do it, but that wasn't a fit either.

We were stuck. We needed to get going on the wireframes. Time was running out.

Backed into a corner on our timeline, I meekly offered to take a stab at designing some wireframes, but wasn't super confident in my capabilities. Imposter syndrome plagued me! So I started watching YouTube videos. I screen-shot every screen of every app in the wellness, astrology and mindfulness space and studied their patterns and how they guided users from a to z. I read some books, curated my Twitter feed, and Googled a lot of tips and tricks.

Then one Sunday afternoon in December 2019, something came over me. I sat down in front of Figma, and mid-fidelity wireframes poured out of me. It was like the vision of how the entire app should fit together lit up in my mind's eye, and it came to be.

Even though I didn't have any formal product design experience, the combination of all my odds-and-ends skills - plus how steeped I became in the company's work - created the perfect alchemy to know how to design the most unique astrology app out there. Because I had answered so many customer service emails, I knew what our customers liked and wanted, and what holes we would have to fill. Because I could tell the type of astrological information other apps were serving (and not serving), I could identify the whitespace and how we could differentiate. Because I could see that meditation apps were effectively a CMS repackaged into a monthly service, I could see how to apply that to what we did as a company. Because Figma is so easy to use, I could just open a project and start.

The dots will connect in retrospect.

It was the combination of opportunity, the perfect alchemy of all my disparate skills, and a whisper of self-confidence that changed the trajectory of my career.

In addition to being on the core team that ideated the features and value proposition of the iPhone app, and doing a zillion things to strategize, build and launch the app, I proudly designed all patterns and every frame in the v1 of the CHANI app. And, upon launch, CHANI hit the top 10 on the Apple App Store top free apps list. It has been downloaded over 500,000 times, maintains a 4.9/5 star rating, has over 10,000 positive reviews, has multiplied company revenue, created 15 new jobs, and been covered by Shape, PopSugar, EliteDaily and more.

But the process of building it, what I learned about the trade of product design, and just how much fun it is to design and build services, is what I take away from that experience.

I changed my career from PR to product design by pushing myself off the path of least resistance. I kept on trusting what my intuition was leading me to, what I found interesting and fun to do, and when the opportunity arose to bring all this things together -- even after imposter syndrome kept me from doing it for a while - it eventually it added up and found me a career that synthesizes all of this information.

So, keep going. Do what you find interesting. Trust that there is enough free information on the internet to learn any skill you want. The dots will connect in retrospect.