From Auditor to Service Designer — How to become a designer with no design background in Hong Kong

Interview with Anindita Saha — Senior Service Design Lead

  • How Anindita discovered UX and the exact steps she took to become a UX designer
  • How to know if is UX right for you
  • Four benefits a UX course provided to help her switch career
  • How to overcome impostor syndrome when you feel like you are a “fake designer”
  • The correct mindset to interview for a UX position as a newbie
  • How to proof to future employers that you are ready for a career in UX without a design degree
  • Startup vs Corporate — where should a UX newbie go?

Discovering UX

How did you get into UX?

This is a really funny story, basically, I kind of got into it without me realizing it was UX. My boss at the time asked me to handle a project around building a sales pipeline tool for in-house and they needed someone to spearhead that project. I told her I don’t know how to code and I don’t have the technical background, but she told me that’s okay, we have our engineers and technical specialists, they just need someone to tell them what to build.

What was the job market like at the time?

At that time UX was not really well known in Hong Kong. It wasn’t a job that wasn’t really sought after. I remember what it was like to go through all the job boards, it was not easy to try and find a job as a UX designer because it was literally the first year that the idea around.

What made you decide to learn more about UX?

When I was done with that project, I went back to my regular day job and thinking “Gosh, that was such a cool project to do! I really enjoy doing that project, I wish this was something that people actually got to, I wish this was a real job!”

How did you know UX is right for you?

I took a leap of faith. I guess I’ve always been like that. Our future is going to be around a digital landscape, it’s where many opportunities are going to lie. I remember even well before PwC when I worked in other companies, I was always thinking about: How do I optimize this website? How do I make it better for the customer? How do I make it more delightful or more engaging for them?

Why did you take a UX course?

I took the course because it helped me with structure and also with confidence. There are two prongs to it: One is a soft and a hard skill. The hard skill is knowing what method, what tool to use. When and how you can use the same thing in different ways, and tips and tricks like stakeholder management and knowing how to facilitate conversations.

Facing self-doubt

How did you overcome imposer syndrome — the feeling that you not qualified as a UX designer?

I remember I had written my CV…my very short CV at the time, on the top of my CV, I’ve written my name. In the second line, was supposed to say User experience designer. I remember I wrote down “user experience designer”, and then deleting it. Then writing it again, and deleting it. I was going back and forth about writing it. It took me 2 weeks to write down “user experience designer” and save it as a PDF.

On job search

What was your job search strategy at that time?

  1. Do as much work in UX as I possibly could. I worked for free. It doesn’t matter because you just needed the experience. That supplemented my journey of improving myself, so when I had to write down on my CV about my experience, I already had two projects to talk about.
  2. I networked with as many people as possible and telling them I was a UX designer and I’m looking for a new opportunity at the moment. I pretty much went to those events as many nights as I possibly could. Obviously not every single lead gets you something, but it was still good because I got to learn and know about a lot more people in the industry in that way, and also got some of them to review my work to give me pointers. This external validation helps you to know you’re on the right track and doing the right thing.
  3. I went to every UX forum, every page, every something that had anything to do with UX and basically contacted every single person that had posted in the last three months.

Tip: DO NOT discard your previous experience

In my CV, I wrote down that I had been an auditor and had been a financial advisor, but I didn’t write any bullet points underneath those positions because I didn’t think that they were relevant. Actually when I think back on how I do my work now, I realize how important and helpful those experiences were for me. In the moment, I just didn’t know. Being an auditor, as an example, gave me two things.

  1. Being an auditor makes you extremely structured. In some sense, being very structured in UX can actually help you in both the way you do your job, as well as how you look at a problem and how you structure a solution.
  2. There was one particular thing that we had to do as auditors, what I used to call it — controls. So what we would do is that we would interview all the people involved in a particular process end to end to see how it was done, to see if there were any breaks and to see how it could be improved.

How did you get your first UX job?

For my first proper gig, I did it for free. They were a startup so it’s not like they had a whole lot of budget, so they were making a compromise between high quality versus cost. I was very transparent about it. I said, “Hey look, I’m just learning. We can do it as many times as you want and you can be part of the process as much as you want to be, I’ll do as many screens as you need in order to get you into production, and I will work with your developers.”

What was your mindset for interviewing?

I went into those interviews with just a really humble notion of I’m doing the best that I can. I may not get this job, but I’ll learn something. I remember I got an interview with the head of an agency in Hong Kong. She had learned about this Accountant who was trying to be a designer and she was very interested to meet me out of curiosity. I thought I am probably not going to get this job, but I’m going to learn a lot out of this one.

Startup vs Corporate — What should UX newbies choose?

If you don’t care about money, benefits, number of holidays and assuming all those other things are the same, I would definitely work at a startup. That’s my personal preference, just simply because of the variety of potential roles and hats that you would need to fulfill.

Closing thoughts

How do you embrace the unknown and commit to UX?

Once I realized UX was a real job, it was the only thing that I could think about. In the freelance work that I did, there were some days where I worked till three, four o’clock in the morning not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I enjoyed it and it fueled me in believing this path is my future. Something that made me so happy, how could this not be my future? It just drove me more and more. If it had failed miserably, if I was a terrible UX designer and if I was never meant to be a UX designer, I could always go back and be a CPA, but it was the last thing I wanted to do.

Any advice for people looking to follow a similar career path with no exposure to UX in their current job?

There’s an assumption that I’m making is if you know what UX is, you can Google it and read some of the fundamental steps of research, defining the problem, design, prototype, test, like basic design thinking 101 and apply it in your own way.

What’s next?

My goal is to help wannabe designers to get into UX and provide knowledge to help you climb your design career in Hong Kong.

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Tim Chan

UX designer from Hong Kong. Obsessed about Micro-interactions and Product Design.