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A disillusioned graphic design grad finds new life in UX Design

Krys Bihun stood on the commencement stage and accepted her newly minted graphic design diploma with a sinking feeling. Something was wrong. Shouldn’t she feel more prepared for a career by now? Like she was capable of doing great work, and earning good coin for it? But the smooth, rolled up certificate she felt in her hand didn’t fill the hole where she thought her real-world value would be. “I had to admit that I wouldn’t even hire myself,” recalls the 24-year-old from her loft in Winnipeg. “I didn’t have what it took to be a graphic designer.”

 

Finding use in a dead end

This was just over a year ago that Krys came face to face with the greatest fear of every grad who ever agonized over choosing their next move: an apparent dead end. Enough to send despair into the hardiest of hearts, and yet, a common story in North America’s current education and career counselling system. “I felt forced into a bucket from those programs,” Krys remembers. “University seemed so boring and austere to me. I wanted excitement and fun in my life! If I was going to spend most of my time awake at a job then I sure better enjoy it.”

She had chosen graphic design, because it seemed like the option she hated the least. And although Krys would quickly discover the subject was a wrong turn of sorts, it wasn’t exactly a dead end; during those three years in college she encountered an idea that would lead to an inspired and stimulating life in UX design.

 

Uncovering a new path

The seed was sown during a friendly argument with a classmate. “I kept asking ‘How do we know that?’ or ‘why will that work?’” Krys says. “He asked me if I had ever looked into UX and I said no, I didn’t even know what that was.” She researched the acronym, learning that it stands for user experience design and involves the intricacies of making digital products enjoyable to use. The more she read about it the more intrigued she became. “The idea of understanding the reasons behind product design really drew me in,” she says. “I loved the psychology behind why certain designs work or why they don’t.”

The seed had taken root, and Krys began solidifying a goal to learn UX design. Before she had finished achieving her graphic design diploma, Krys had created a two month roadmap to teach herself UX, with topics and lessons lined up. It eased her mind post-grad as she left the country for a month long trip overseas. “I knew that as soon as I got back from China I would try teaching myself UX,” Krys says. “The thought of that was my life raft.”

 

Krys Bihun studying at RED Academy UX Design Grad, Product Designer at SkipTheDishes.com

Stoking the fire

Plans changed when she got home, though. After a week back in Canada, she started looking into round two of post-secondary education. “I realized I’d rather learn from someone who had a bit more of a proven system,” she explains. “I didn’t just want to become familiar with UX, I wanted to really know it and get employable skills from it.”

Hours of research, facility visits, talks with staff and curriculum comparisons later, Krys found herself lingering on RED Academy. There was something more real, perhaps genuine about RED that attracted her, she says.

However, others in her life were less convinced that a 12-week program pursuing a different specialty was right for her. “They said ‘that’s not enough time to learn a new career path.’ or ‘That’s a lot of money for such a short amount of time,’” Krys remembers. “To them, RED was a gamble.”

The well-meaning worry from loved ones only strengthened her resolve. “I wanted to prove them wrong,” she laughs. 

“To me, the opportunity cost of not trying was more destructive to my future.”

A new journey, a new support system

Moving away from their cautionary words, Krys sought out people who thought and believed the same things as her. “I had to create support for myself,” she says.

A leap of faith found Krys amongst her new tribe. Her support system came in the form of down-to-earth instructors and a half dozen classmates on the same journey as her at RED’s UX Designer Professional Program. “It was a place where I could feel free and proud to express my ambitions and no one would say I couldn’t do it,” she remarks. “In fact, I was encouraged to take risks and step outside my comfort zone.”

Treated like professionals rather than students, Krys and her UX classmates seemed unanimously activated in the studio environment. As she remembers, “There was a ‘help me help you’ kind of mindset that was expected. Everyone was hungry to do something with their lives and make stuff happen.”

The instructors, who were not only approachable but companionable and engaged, gave Krys the input she needed. “They really knew their stuff and I felt like I could actually talk to them and get to know them,” she says. “We got a lot of feedback which is so important. It felt more like a mentorship.”

But the biggest benefit, Krys says, was her involvement in group and community projects that allowed her to demonstrate her abilities. “I wanted proof in my portfolio to show that I could actually do what I claimed to be able to do.” Indeed, she had a portfolio to be proud of at the end of 12 weeks.

 

Krys Bihun, UX Design Grad, Product Designer at SkipTheDishes.com - Skip the dishes mural

With a little help from friends

When the day came to graduate from the UX Designer Professional Program, it didn’t have the same effect on Krys as that day she stood on the commencement stage receiving her graphic design diploma. The prospect of entering the career world and looking for work was scary, yes, and there would be challenges ahead, but she had support. The tight knit group she’d had in the classroom would prove to be invaluable in the coming days of job searching, which Krys would later describe as ‘painful’. “Without the people in the programs, I would have been totally lost at the time,” she confesses. They kept each other activated. “We would go to meetups and hackathons. We’d talk about our plans and support each other when looking for jobs.”

 

Living for ‘woah moments’

In the end, the search was fruitful. Today, Krys is a Product Designer at SkipTheDishes, a budding Canadian company that connects restaurants to customers who are looking for delivery. Krys’ job is to recruit test participants, conceive new ideas for testing product features and implement them, then study the data. “Thursdays are my favourite days of the week because I get to bring people in and talk with them,” she says. “I get to understand why they use the product the way they do. Stumbling across insights and ‘woah’ moments are what keep me enjoying my job.”

When looking back on her pre-college self, Krys says:

“I believed what everyone else believes, that college or university will somehow transform you into the perfect version of yourself, ready to be a contributor to society. I relied on others making me great. I had to realize that only I can make myself great.”

Krys Bihun, UX Design Grad, Product Designer at SkipTheDishes.com - only you can make yourself great

Krys still considers herself in pursuit of happiness, but on the right track as she continually overcomes new obstacles—in most cases, the obstacle being herself. I get over a mental block but keep meeting others, she admits. “Then I get over those, and keep meeting more. It never ends, but that means I am growing.”

The key to removing the obstacle of ‘yourself’? “Keep absorbing information,” says Krys. “Reading books and articles, listening to podcasts, watching TED Talks and documentaries—everything I can absorb that interests me, and letting my beliefs be challenged.” Read more about Krys Bihun on her website.

Written by Carly Walde

If you are interested in finding out how RED Academy can help you make a change in your life like Krys – speak to one of our career advisors. 

When I started the UX Professional Program I appreciated that it wasn’t all lecture-style teaching, and involved a lot of interactive learning. Also, the projects were with real businesses.

McKenzie Eggers, UX Designer at Amazon

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