An artist in a tech world
Today’s fastest-growing industry is no longer just for the left-brained
The tech industry isn’t exactly the first place one would look for an artist at work. Up until the past decade, “tech” was widely regarded as a purely practical, left-brained subject. But for Bo Ha, UI Designer at Colony Digital and Visual Arts university grad, the fastest-growing industry in the world is where her inner artist was allowed to set loose.
As a little girl, Bo was enthralled with the creation process. “I was always passionate about making things with my hands,” she recalls. Pursuing a fine arts degree was a natural next step post-high school. But like many fine arts students, she didn’t know where it would lead. “I knew postsecondary was a place of exploration,” she muses. “It was an open environment to try and fail and discover ideas and interests.”
While she learned a lot about herself and how she learns, Bo says, she also discovered the limitations of the classic art mediums. “At times I felt stuck within art, because often there weren’t any solutions to problems that came up.” Despite the revelation, she wrapped her degree with one solid takeaway: “I knew for a fact that I would always be a lifetime learner.”
Learning from experience
It’s nothing new that a BFA is one of the harder degrees to land a job with out of university. Knowing this, Bo set her newly minted fine arts degree aside and jumped into the general work world. She was searching for a way to apply her interests in a viable career. “I wanted to learn about what aspects of work I truly appreciated before fully committing myself to a particular industry,” she explains.
E-commerce was where she landed. It’s not known for being a creative industry—but it drew on her people skills. Her job was recommending products to suit customers’ needs and hearing their questions, concerns, feedback and woes. She liked collecting information on customer experiences and learning what they liked or didn’t like. But company protocol was stifling Bo’s creative side. Instead of being able to problem solve, she had to defer all customer issues to different departments. “I wasn’t being creatively challenged,” she says. “I wanted to solve problems, not just listen to them.”
One area she could apply that creative problem-solving was her own life. How could she use her artistic side in today’s modern workforce? What should be her next move?
The intersection of design and art
Design creeped onto Bo’s radar. Particularly, User Interface (UI) Design—a field focused on crafting an experience for users of digital products based on its look and feel. Bo saw a lot of similarities between design and art. “Researching, testing, reiterating—they’re all part of the process of design, which is quite similar to art making,” she points out. “It’s just that the two results are different.”
By pursuing design, she could be a part of the solution—both to customer issues and to art’s limitations. “I could combine design-thinking with visual elements to provide an experience for the user,” Bo says.
Choosing her career field of choice, however, was only half the battle. It was daunting deciding how to gain the technical skills she needed. “I had no idea where to start building my knowledge,” she says. “I wondered what design foundations I would learn, what software I would need to learn. And who would teach me? How would I know that I would be learning relevant things?”
The thought of having to grow a network in a whole new industry was another thing entirely. “Would I find a mentor? Who would be a part of this community? How will they encourage me to push myself?” Bo puzzles, remembering the questions that circled in her brain.
Creative flow on the short-track
Knowing someone who can give you a firsthand recommendation is often a boon when making tough decisions. Luckily for Bo, a family friend had just finished the UX Professional program at RED Academy. She had a great experience to share. Bo decided to take a sampler class for the course, talking with instructors and getting a glimpse of the program structure. “Immediately after the sampler, I knew RED was where I needed to be,” she says.
Although RED’s short-length programs tend to raise eyebrows for those who spent years learning the same subjects, it was a selling feature for Bo. “I had already spent the last couple of years learning myself,” she says. “I didn’t need to spend another couple of years to find out what kind of learning worked for me.” The immersive bootcamp-style was exactly what she was looking for. “I wanted an experience that was fast, streamlined, geared towards teaching relevant design knowledge from professionals.”
Once in the program, Bo’s creativity to flourished. “It was a safe environment where risks and explorations are encouraged,” she says. Problems that arose were not only solvable, they were worked on as a team. “Whether I had a technical, professional, or personal question, there was always someone who could help or refer me to someone one who would know an answer.”
The job search that ends in a job
When it came time to dive into the industry and apply her new creative skills as a UI Designer, Bo admits the doubt and anxiety was still there. “I would question whether I was a good enough designer at times,” she says.
But the nerves of job hunting weren’t lost on Bo’s instructors. Besides career counselling, meet and greets and Personal Professional Development (PPD) sessions, they also offered genuine encouragement—which she gratefully accepted. “My instructors were extremely comforting and supportive,” Bo says.
“Their thoughtful and powerful words gave me an enormous amount of courage and confidence.”
And, as so often the story goes in the tech industry, the job search ended in an actual job.
Letting the artist loose
Now working as a UI Designer at Colony Digital in Vancouver, Bo is spreading her artful wings. “I get to work on internal creative projects, but also with many interesting clients,” she says. “It’s absolutely exciting to see how design enhances a company by building and executing solutions crafted specifically for their values and goals.”
She is more than satisfied with where she works. “Colony Digital is a young, hungry and open company,” Bo says. “Together, we are collaborating with like-minded creatives, challenging each other to provide the best product and content.” As for company culture? “We work hard, but we also play hard,” Bo laughs.
In her position as UI Designer, creative problem-solving is part of her daily work. “For each project, a different set of problems arise,” Bo explains. “Solutions can be infinite, but that’s what makes it creatively challenging and exhilarating.”
Drawing on her time working with customer experiences in e-commerce as well as her Visual Arts degree, Bo is absolutely maximized. “I’m able to integrate user needs and emotions into my designs to actively engage people with the most appropriate solution,” she revels. “It’s such a thrill, and motivates me in my career as a UI designer.”
And in her free time, she still actively sees and makes art. She was recently involved in a collaborative digital installation at Telus Garden Building. “I think as individuals we can help society by communicating through visuals,” she muses. “Everything from film, photography and digital installations can create an experience.”
Written by Carly Walde
Find out how RED Academy can help you make a change in your life like Bo – speak to one of our career advisors today.