What I learned From My First UX Design Job
You find yourself in a foreign country as a refugee, working hard to speak a foreign language and find a job that will provide for your family.
Maybe you are a single mother, motivated to make ends meet.
Or perhaps, you already have a full time job in a position that makes it hard to advance.
You’ve dreamed of a life where your children and you are comfortable, you enjoy your job, and there are opportunities for growth.
You do not have much going for you, and cannot afford to pay for school, but you do have grit, and you are not afraid of hard work.
You come across an opportunity to learn how to code, and envision the career that could become available to you with this new skill. The course is free with acceptance onto the program, and you are delighted to see other individuals like yourself (maybe even future friends?) on the course. An inclusive culturally diverse community of learners.
Excited by the possibility, you begin the application process.
You are confused by the information required, confronted by a long list of steps, and learn very quickly each step takes easily around 20 hours to complete.
On top of all this, you are unsure if you are submitting the required steps correctly (you have not received any confirmation). You question your ability and struggle with defeating thoughts. Am I smart enough? Am I the only one struggling with the application? Is all of my hard work even being submitted correctly?!
Let’s back up -
Code Your Future is a charitable organization based in the United Kingdom which provides refugees, asylum seekers, and disadvantaged individuals a free 8 month full-stack coding course. The non-profit’s goal is to help disadvantaged students achieve a stable career, and accomplish their dreams of becoming developers.
In 2019, after analyzing applicant statistics, Code Your Future realized there was a sharp drop off after applicants began their application to the course. A few months later, in February 2020, in an effort to reduce applicant drop-off, they enlisted our team of three junior UX designers to analyze, simplify, and re-design their existing onboarding and application process.
Our team dove headfirst into the challenge, with a timeline of one month to finish, we worked in 4 one-week sprints. We began our first sprint and design process, by analyzing applicant drop off data, highlighting gaps, and researching current design trends in the market.
Moving forward, our team spent a considerable amount of time interviewing previous applicants and trying to understand their mental model. The majority of applicants to Code Your Future are not native english speakers. Applicants regularly come from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. In our design process, it was important to understand how we could best design for a wide variety of individuals and needs. Our interviews highlighted the areas that really needed our attention:
We learned in our interviews, the application process was rigorous. Additionally, visibility of system status is integral, and needed to be clearly outlined across all stages of the application. It is important for applicants to know where they are in the process, and keep informed of their application status. Moving on from speaking with previous applicants to the course, we wanted to be sure, given the difficulty, users had information clearly outlined so they could confidently progress through each step. Finally, we wanted to ease applicant concerns regarding expenses, and childcare by reminding them of the resources Code Your Future offered to students who made it onto the course.
In my previous role as a therapist, I enjoyed listening to my clients, and learning more about them. This has translated well in my role as a UX designer. Getting to know the user, their experiences, frustrations, and motivations is one of the strengths I bring into the field of design.
I felt especially privileged to interview Code Your Future’s students. The students I interviewed faced obstacles many would deem insurmountable, and yet, bravely embarked on a difficult coding course (for the majority, in a language foreign to them).
Many students mentioned they found a community at Code Your Future, and although previous applicants spent numerous hours struggling on the application and now the course, many thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.
The inspirational interviews our team conducted with the users really motivated and encouraged us to come up with a design that would make the process easier for future applicants.
Moving into our second sprint, after having a better understanding of the problem, we began to ideate and sketch out solutions. Throughout our design process, we prioritized communication across all teams (design, developers and stakeholders). One of the ways we fostered these relationships was through weekly workshops, and presentations.
Code Your Future had a lot of ideas. In order to manage everyone’s expectations when it came to our product design, I lead a 6–8–5 workshop in one of our weekly presentations.
Individually, we completed our own 6–8–5s in the workshop, then afterwards shared our ideas. After finishing, we collectively chose two of our favorite designs, added them to Miro, and dot voted on ideas we felt should be sketched out and eventually tested.
I believe this exercise gave our clients a higher level of trust in us as designers, while also teaching them more about our design process (a win-win in my opinion).
At this point of our process, we were halfway through the month and had two sprints left. We understood applicant drop off was the result of applicant confusion surrounding steps, lack of visibility of system status, and not properly preparing new applicants with an adequate expectation of how long each step would take for them to complete. We prioritized solving for these problems in our design. However, we came across a few challenges in the process.
Challenge #1 In the applicant steps, originally step 1 was only intended for users who did not have access to a laptop. Many users who could have progressed directly to step 2 also completed this step, which took some over 20 hours to complete. We obviously wanted to clearly indicate this step was only for phone users (after they completed this step they would be eligible to receive a loaner laptop). We spent a considerable amount of time, and energy testing possible solutions. Eventually, we landed on a divergent user flow (seen below). Users would complete an eligibility questionnaire prior to being directed to the relevant flow.
Challenge #2 We wanted applicants to feel empowered throughout their application journey. The application was rigorous, and many of our users told us about feeling defeated regularly throughout the process. We found a breadcrumb trail motivated applicants, having seen their progress, to continue, but it was important to us applicants had an easy way to reach out for support when things seemed impossible. After testing a few different ideas, we found integrating a slack applicant support channel directly onto the application brought the most positive results
Challenge #3 When we first started working with Code Your Future, they mentioned they had a team of developers who could implement small improvements right away based on our advice. Along with our long term vision for the onboarding and application flow, our team decided to work on a quick wins UX audit slide deck. We made these recommendations based off of UX best practices, the first usability test we conducted with their original website, and our heuristic analysis. The quick wins challenged our team to prioritize Code Your Future’s short term goals versus longer term goals. We worked hard to deliver these quick win suggestions in a timely fashion, and in the end felt the small changes being made week by week really led to a cohesive design across the entire website (not just our focal point the application/onboarding process). An example of one of these slides can be viewed below.
At the end of the month, we delivered our solutions and design to the stakeholders. We received positive feedback, went our separate ways, and began other projects.
But months later, I still think about the applicant. In a foreign country, working hard to make ends meet.
At the end of our project, I considered the challenge complete, but now I humbly realize my work has just begun, there is always room for humility and improvement. The responsibility to consider. Regard the users for which I design.
Imagine the struggling user, whether a refugee, worn out professional, struggling small business owner, tired healthcare worker, or motivated social activist. The privileged responsibility every designer carries is to empathize with users.
My journey has just begun.