User Personas in UX Design: When Are They Useful?

Of all design deliverables created by User Experience (UX) designers, few spark as much disagreement as user personas. A Google search for user personas in UX design reveals descriptions ranging from extremely valuable to completely useless.

But what are user personas? Why are professional designers sometimes skeptical of their value? And is it possible to use them effectively? Let’s take a look.

What Are User Personas?

User personas are fictional, archetypal representations of a certain type of target user of a product or service. They exist to document research findings. The better you know the tasks, needs, and frustrations of your target audience, the more realistic and effective your user personas.

User personas are designed to be shared with team members to inspire empathy for members of a particular audience segment and to motivate design decisions that solve pain points faced by that audience.

A user persona describing "reliability researcher rachel"

Source: Personas vs Archetypes

If a product or service has multiple customer segments with different customer journeys and distinct needs and goals, it can be helpful to create a persona for each group.

When Do Personas Lack Value?

Documenting and sharing user research insights and inspiring empathy for target users sound like useful goals, yet many argue against involving user personas in UX design. What characteristics lessen their value?

When They Contain Assumptions

Design teams often begin research projects with assumptions about their target users. In fact, teams will sometimes create what’s known as a proto persona to make these assumptions explicit before beginning research.

Proto personas are fine, as long as your team remembers the following:

  • Always conduct thorough user research to validate or invalidate your assumptions
  • Never allow unvalidated proto-personas to influence decision-making

Making decisions based on unvalidated assumptions actually decreases empathy. A failure to understand who you’re designing for leads to personas based on stereotypes, which means wasted effort building a product your audience doesn’t want and can’t use.

When They Highlight Irrelevant Information

Imagine a hypothetical scenario a user of a digital product might face. This is something design teams should be doing before creating a persona: generating scenarios that respond to very real and very specific pain points faced by your target audience and observed by your researchers.

Imagine your product is a poison control resource for pet owners. Alice, your target user, dropped two of her ADHD meds on the ground, and her labrador mix swallowed the pills before she could pick them up.

As she looks up safety information on her prescription before deciding what actions to take, which of the following descriptions are relevant to Alice completing this task?

  • 34 years old
  • Lives in Seattle, WA
  • Fitness instructor
  • Earns $65,000 a year
  • Favorite brands are Apple, Nike, and Fitbit
  • Extrovert
  • Infrequent social media user
  • Takes her three-year-old labrador mix jogging twice a week
  • Distracted and worried by her dog’s pacing and trembling after ingesting the pills

Only the final two points in this list matter, right? The dog’s breed, age, and health might influence the action Alice takes, and her anxious state impacts her ability to concentrate on your product’s interface and information.

Yet most example personas tend to be bloated with meaningless demographic details.

A detailed user persona describing "Alyssa Wilson" and her personality attributes

Source: 50 must-see user persona templates

According to UX Researcher Indi Young, demographic details actually make user personas in UX design less convincing. Demographics “cause assumptions, shortcuts in thinking, and subconscious stereotypes by team members.”

When They’re Designed at the Wrong Fidelity

A Google search for user personas mostly brings up high-fidelity graphics resembling core portfolio deliverables.

A user persona describing "Drew" and his demographics, motivations, and core needs

Source: 50 must-see user persona templates

But polishing user personas to a portfolio-ready level is a waste of effort. You’re probably aware that UX design is an iterative process; this is no less true of user research. 

User personas reflect your team’s current understanding of your target audience. Each time a new research session uncovers new insights about what motivates your users, adjust your personas to reflect this new understanding. 

Sharing high-fidelity personas with other teams signals that your knowledge of your target user is complete, when in fact it’s ever-evolving.

How to Create Meaningful User Personas

So can user personas in UX design remain meaningful? Yes, provided you follow four important rules.

1) Build From a Specific Scenario

Your user should be facing a specific problem that prevents them from reaching a specific goal.

2) Reflect Actual Research

Personas should share real insights uncovered by speaking to target users and observing the problems they face in context. 

One powerful way to communicate these insights is to include meaningful quotes from research sessions.

“There is nothing better than a choice quote that encapsulates what people are feeling and communicates it clearly. But too often, I see personas using obviously fabricated quotations to communicate what a persona should say, rather than what an actual person did say.” – Christian Ronan, Type/Code

If you’re not sure what your target user would say given a certain scenario, conduct more research.

3) Skip the Demographic Details

When adding details to your user persona, make sure they’re specifically relevant to the scenario you’ve established. Your persona’s salary might matter when completing the onboarding process of a financial investment app, for example. Or your persona’s ethnicity could affect the process of filtering out conditioners inappropriate for their hair texture while shopping for beauty products. 

But whenever demographic details aren’t vital to your scenario, leave them out.

4) Stay Minimal, Low-Res, and Up-To-Date

Resist the temptation to create wordy, highly polished user personas. Instead, focus on emphasizing the goals, needs, and frustrations relevant to users when completing your chosen scenario.

Two user personas side by side describing bodybuilder's and parent's pain points and pleasure points.

Source: The Big Problem with Personas

Each time your user research team uncovers something new about the motivations behind your target audience’s behavior, update your personas to reflect that knowledge.

Is Product Design Right for You?

If learning more about what motivates users of digital products and services sounds exciting, consider applying now to Flatiron School’s Product Design Bootcamp. You’ll learn the design skills you need to build a competitive portfolio and land your first job in the product design industry.

Not sure if you’re ready to apply? Download the syllabus to learn more about the skills you can acquire in our bootcamp, or check out our free Product Design Prep Work to explore the material we teach in the course.

What Do Designers Use Figma For?

Succeeding in the product design industry requires far more than just software mastery. You’ll need the curiosity to observe users to find out what motivates them. You’ll need a passion for solving complex problems, and the ability to articulate your ideas and collaborate with developers and product owners. But if you’ve ever looked into product design as a career, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Figma. After all, most product designers use Figma every single day. According to the 2023 Design Tools Survey, Figma is increasing its dominance every year. It’s now the software of choice for building prototypes and designing user interfaces.

Block chart showing the most popular design software with Figma, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Sketch, and others.

Image source: 2023 Design Tools Survey

But what is Figma, and why do designers love it so much? What do they use Figma to accomplish? And why should prospective designers learn Figma? Let’s take a look.

What is Figma?

Figma describes itself as “the leading collaborative design tool for building meaningful products.”

Essentially, Figma is software that allows designers to create layouts using vector graphics—that is, digital lines and shapes created geometrically, so designers can expand and shrink them infinitely without sacrificing quality. Designers can also import bitmap images like photographs into their layouts.

Alternatives to Figma have existed for decades, however (most famously, Adobe Photoshop for editing bitmap images and Adobe Illustrator for creating vector graphics). What separates Figma from the competition?

Figma Is Browser-Based

Using Figma doesn’t require installing any software. Beginning designers can start experimenting in Figma right away by simply visiting figma.com in a web browser.

Working in a browser offers numerous advantages. If teammates are collaborating in Figma, it makes no difference if one partner works on a Mac and the other a PC, or if one teammate has a different set of fonts loaded than another. Instead of passing files back and forth from computer to computer, Figma files are accessed from and saved directly to the cloud. Changes are saved automatically, and Figma’s sophisticated version history feature allows teammates to keep track of the design’s evolution.

Figma Simplifies Collaboration

If you’ve worked collaboratively in Google Docs, you’ll find Figma’s experience a familiar one. Frequently, designers use Figma to collaborate simultaneously on a single file. Each collaborator is shown as an avatar in the top menu bar and represented with a named cursor as they interact with the design.

Screenshot of Figma with multiple collaborators.

Image source: The Power of Figma as a Design Tool

Designers can also invite stakeholders to leave comments on the work in progress. And Figma even displays code snippets on all design objects in CSS, iOS, and Android formats, simplifying communication between designers and developers.

Figma display with code in HTML.

Image source: Exporting CSS Code

But what if team members are at the ideation stage rather than working on a design project? Figma offers a collaborative whiteboarding tool called FigJam. FigJam’s features are aimed at keeping brainstorming meetings flowing, including a timer, sticky notes, and arrows.

Figma whiteboarding tool FigJam.

Figma Is the Industry’s Leading Prototyping Tool

The 2023 Design Tools Survey indicates that more designers use Figma by far than any other prototyping tool. But what is a prototype, and why are they so important to designers?

When product designers discover a usability problem with a digital product, they don’t jump right into Figma and begin producing polished solutions. Instead, they conduct research, observing users in context and learning as much as they can about the user’s goals, behaviors, and frustrations when the problem occurs. Product designers also speak with product owners to understand the problem’s impact on business objectives.

Once designers better understand the problem, they come up with a hypothesis for what might work as a solution.

Prototyping In Figma

A prototype is a rough version of a design solution that’s just complete enough to test with users and gather feedback. That feedback is used to inform a new hypothesis, which leads to a new testable prototype, until eventually the design team has gathered enough evidence on user behavior to proceed with implementing the solution in the live version of the product. Building and testing prototypes saves the business time and money, since no effort is wasted polishing and developing an unwanted design solution.

Figma screenshot showing prototypic capabilities.

Image source: Guide to prototyping in Figma

Building a prototype in Figma involves designing enough screens to simulate a user flow—the steps necessary for the user to get from a starting point to their goal—and then creating hotspots users can click or tap to navigate from screen to screen. Figma is full of options for overlay and animation effects to add realism to prototype interactions.

And there’s no need to switch tools once your design solution is thoroughly tested and is ready for a high level of polish. Designers use Figma to create beautiful, high-fidelity user interface designs that really shine in their professional design portfolios.

Figma Has a Powerful Free Version

When deciding whether to learn new software, a high price point can be discouraging.

Fortunately, Figma’s pricing plan includes a robust free version. Designers can create three fully collaborative Figma and FigJam files for free. They include access to most of the features found in the paid version. The version history is limited to 30 days in the free version, and some advanced prototyping features are missing, but beginning designers still have an opportunity to explore Figma pretty thoroughly before deciding to upgrade. 

The paid version costs $12/month as of the time of this writing, but is offered free to students and educators.

Figma Is Fun to Learn

Figma has a lower learning curve than other full-featured design software. It also offers a frequently updated help center if you find yourself stuck. Plus the always-active Figma Community offers support, inspiration, and a ton of design components and templates to streamline your design process.   

So what are you waiting for? Log in to figma.com and begin experimenting today!

Want to Learn More About Product Design?

If you’re interested in product design as a career, consider applying now to Flatiron School’s Product Design Bootcamp. During the program you’ll learn design skills to land your first job in tech (including plenty of Figma practice).

Graduates from Flatiron School develop in-demand skill sets that set them up for success in the industry, no matter which path in product design they decide to take. Download the syllabus to learn more about the skills you can acquire in our bootcamp.

Not quite ready to apply? Check out our free Product Design Prep Work and explore the material we teach in the course.

What Do Product Designers and UX Designers Do?

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’re in one of the following positions:

  • You’re considering a career change, and wondering why some schools provide degrees or certificates in product design, while others offer user experience (UX) design
  • You’re new to the design industry, and trying to make sense of job listings seeking product designers and UX designers

The difference between product design and UX design is a good question to be asking. When examining a feature found within a digital product, UX designers focus primarily on whether the user is having a satisfying and intuitive experience, while product designers emphasize the business value of the feature. But in truth, there are far more similarities than differences between the roles.

The Similarities

Both Product Designers and UX Designers Solve Complex Problems

When users experience problems with a digital product, both product designers and UX designers need to employ creative approaches to identify the cause and generate innovative solutions. One common problem-solving strategy used by designers is a five-step, non-linear process called Design Thinking.

  1. Empathize: Get to know your users to understand their goals and pain points.
  2. Define: Name, as specifically as possible, the problem you’re trying to solve.
  3. Ideate: Brainstorm a variety of potential solutions.
  4. Prototype: Create a testable version of one solution.
  5. Test: Observe users interacting with your prototype.
Design thinking: a non-linear process that includes empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Source: Interaction Design Foundation

These steps will be repeated frequently as new insights about user behavior are revealed.

Both Product Designers and UX Designers Work to Understand Their Users

Product designers and UX designers practice what’s known as human-centered design. When designing or updating a digital product, it’s important to understand the perspective, environment, and goals of the humans who will actually use the product. This involves a lot of research work by the designer. It’s not enough to make assumptions about how users will react when faced with a challenge; designers interview users to understand their point of view, and observe them using the product in everyday situations to see how they really behave and where frustrations occur.

Both types of designers have a special responsibility to make sure their products are accessible. Accessible design means making sure you’ve considered the needs of users with disabilities. Your product isn’t truly usable until everyone can use it.

Both Product Designers and UX Designers Consider Business Needs

While researching users and advocating for their needs is important, succeeding as a product designer or UX designer isn’t as simple as designing new features just because users request them. It’s equally critical to consider business needs.

Overlapping pie chart showing that the overlap between desirability, viability, and feasibility is where the most valuable design is.

Image source: Crowd Favorite

If a proposed change to a product satisfies users but causes the business to become unprofitable, the change should be rejected as lacking viability. Both product designers and UX designers need to work closely with product stakeholders and make sure all design solutions align with the business strategy.

Both Product Designers and UX Designers Work Closely with Developers

In addition to desirability (do users need this?) and viability (does this help the business?), product designers and UX designers communicate frequently with developers to ensure the feasibility of each design solution. Can your product’s development team implement this change? How long will it take?

A common question asked by prospective design students is should designers be able to write code? While learning code certainly doesn’t hurt, many designers don’t know enough code to build their own designs. It does help to learn about general coding principles and ask questions about the challenges developers face, so you’re capable of holding a meaningful conversation about the best way to implement a proposed design.

The Differences

So far we’ve covered the similarities between product design and UX design, but what about the differences?

If you research this question, you’ll find a few common answers.

A Difference in Focus

Product designers and UX designers need to remain constantly aware of both the perspective of the user and the needs of the business. However, as the job title suggests, UX designers spend more time with users, understanding their pain points and advocating for their needs.

Product designers, on the other hand, maintain more frequent contact with product owners and might need to have a more sophisticated understanding of business and market strategy than a UX designer.

A Difference in Fidelity

Some articles suggest that UX designers typically concentrate their time on Minimum Viable Products, or MVPs, to be used in the Prototype and Test stages of the Design Thinking process. MVPs are low-fidelity designs that are just complete enough to place in front of users and generate meaningful feedback during testing. Depending on the circumstances, this low-fidelity design might be pen and paper, a greyscale wireframe, or a more polished design containing an incomplete set of features.

On the other hand, product designers might be asked to spend more time at later stages, once testing is complete, designing the finished product to be placed in front of users. In this case, product designers would be expected to have a deep knowledge of user interface (UI) design, creating the navigation systems users rely upon to access and operate your product.

A Difference in Depth

A few sources claim that the difference between UX design and product design is one of breadth versus depth. According to this definition, UX designers switch projects more frequently and concentrate their efforts on the pre-launch stages of new products. Product designers, meanwhile, form a deeper relationship with a single product, and provide continuous support throughout the product life cycle.

This distinction is debatable, however. The work UX designers perform to observe users in real-life contexts, to identify usability problems and come up with innovative and valuable solutions, is no less meaningful once a product launches.

What’s next for prospective designers

Because there are indeed more similarities than differences between product design and UX design, what should the users profiled in the two bulleted positions at the top of the article do next?

If you’re a prospective student, look to see what kind of work graduates from each program are doing professionally. LinkedIn is a great tool for connecting with junior designers and asking what led them to design school and what advice they have for succeeding as a student and as an emerging job seeker.

If you’re researching design roles, your best bet is to look beyond the job title and read the description and required skills carefully. Some companies use the term product designer and UX designer interchangeably, and listings with identical titles (”Junior UX Designer,” for example) at two different companies might differ in daily duties or areas of focus.

Feeling Inspired?

If you’re thinking about a career in product design, why not take the leap and apply now to Flatiron School’s Product Design Bootcamp, where you’ll learn the design skills you need to land your first job in tech.

Graduates from Flatiron School develop in-demand skill sets that set them up for success in the industry, no matter the path they decide to take.

Not quite ready to apply? Try out our free Product Design Prep Work and try out the material we teach in the course.

Fabien Cartal: Sales to Product Design

Fabien Cartal, a May 2020 graduate of Flatiron School’s UX / UI Design program, selected his initial career based on his love of socializing. In his next career, he chose to pursue his creativity. 

He shares his journey from Sales to Product Design below.

Background

Fabien grew up in France, earning a degree in Business and Sales. He cited his social nature as the primary reason for choosing the field, driven by the desire to interact with others regularly for his work. But, a few years in, he was no longer satisfied with his choice of profession.

“I knew something was missing, and that something was an outlet for my creativity,” Fabien explained. 

In the mid-2010s, Fabien moved to Palo Alto, California. It was while living there, surrounded by a thriving tech community, that he began to consider a career change. 

“[It was a] tech Mecca, where you could see that everywhere around you,” he recalled. “I was inspired by what I was seeing around me and admired the people working in design and tech.”

Transitioning Into Tech

Another move later – this time to Austin, Texas – Fabien had resolved to switch to design. He credits admiring others in the field, as well as his natural creativity, as his reasons for choosing the field. 

“I had always been inspired by my cousin who is a Product Designer. He would share projects he was working on at work and it really interested me,” he said. “Product Design really spoke to me because I wanted a creative job. It was an added bonus that it also has a collaborative aspect.”

This desire for a change of careers, he said, is what ultimately led him to Flatiron School.

“I started looking into bootcamps and I saw Flatiron School and that it offered UX / UI. I was instantly interested,” Fabien explained. “I also saw that Flatiron School’s reputation was one of the best ones in the country, so I jumped on it very quickly!”

Bootcamp Experience

Fabien enrolled in Flatiron School’s full-time UX / UI Design program* in early 2020, committing 40 hours a week to his studies. The workload, he said, could be challenging at times. 

“On my third project, we were a team of 2 instead of 4 with a heavy workload. It was very challenging but we were very proud to complete our project at the end.”

Despite the grueling pace of accelerated learning – or perhaps because of it – Fabien and his classmates forged a deep bond that carried them through the course. 

“The people [were my favorite part]! My UX classes gave me the chance to meet amazing people that now 2 years later I still talk with almost every week. Collaborating with my teammates on fun projects was my favorite part of the program.”

Job Search

Fabien graduated from the Flatiron School UX / UI Design program in May 2020, just two months into the COVID-19 pandemic and global market shutdowns. To say that it made his job search difficult would be an understatement. 

“My job search experience [during covid] was very challenging,” he said. “It was a difficult period for me.”

But, throughout the ordeal, Fabien’s dedicated Career Coach kept him moving forward. 

“My career coach was great and very motivating. She taught me how to create an edge against other candidates when I interviewed [by] continuing to evolve as a designer and to constantly renew my portfolio.”

When we spoke with him in early 2020, Fabien was working as an Associate Product Designer at Red Hat and thriving in his new field. 

“I love this career. I feel incredibly lucky to have pursued this field and it was what I had hoped for.”

Reflecting On His Journey

A continent and career change later, Fabien has come a long way from where he began as a business student in France. Looking back at the journey, his main takeaway is the importance of endurance. 

“Persistence when looking for a job [is key]. And when you feel overwhelmed, just try to do your best each day.”

Fabien’s advice for current Flatiron School students centers on his ideas of persistence. 

“It’s very important to stay with the program! Don’t stop after one phase – I learned that even if one was hard, you could miss something great later.”

Ready For A Change, Just Like Fabien Cartal?

Apply Now to join other career changers like Fabien Cartal in a program that’ll teach you the design skills you need to land your first job in tech.

Not quite ready to apply? Try out our Free Product Design Prep Work and test-run the material we teach in the course. 

Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.

*UX/UI Design course is no longer available. For prospective students interested in this course of study, visit the Product Design course page to learn more.

Eric Saber: Professional Organizer to Product Designer

Eric Saber, a March 2020 UX/UI* graduate from Flatiron School, followed a self-defined winding road to get to Design. But, by following his need for a change throughout his career, he’s now thriving in tech.

He shares his journey from professional organizing to product design below.

Beginning In Business

The route Eric Saber took to becoming a Product Designer was, in his words, a “winding journey”. Eric began his career in sales as an Account Executive working with non-profit arts organizations. But, a decade into his first profession, he was ready for a change.  

“I felt an itch to strike out on my own. So, I made a bit of a left-turn and started my own professional organizing company (a la Marie Kondo). I’ve always been an organized person and I love creating order and efficiency,” he explained, “so it was a natural fit for me.”

Eric had his organizing business, Outer Calm, for just under 3 years. But eventually, the itch came back that told him he needed something different.

“While I loved organizing and helping my clients, I preferred a more structured work life vs. being a freelancer.”

Pivoting Into Product Design

As he contemplated his next move, a chance encounter with a family member put him on the path toward tech.

“I was talking with my father-in-law who was redesigning an app he built. He was asking my opinion on the interface since he knew I was pretty well-versed in tech, and that was the lightbulb moment when I knew I wanted to be a designer. Shortly thereafter I found Flatiron School.”

Looking back, Eric’s eventual decision to pursue a career in Product Design was a long time coming. 

“I’ve always been a bit of a tech nerd, but I’m also a guitarist and songwriter, so for the longest time I was looking to have some form of creativity be a part of my work life,” he said. “I thought that that ship might have sailed until I learned more about product design as a career.”

His decision to apply to Flatiron School’s UX/UI Design program was informed by the testimonials of peers who’d previously attended the Software Engineering program and had a positive experience.

“All the alumni I spoke with said that it was a really difficult program but worth it if you put in the hard work […] Flatiron had one of the more robust design programs and I also got the impression that, of all the bootcamps out there, Flatiron had some name recognition that was respected (which would help with the eventual job search).”

Bootcamp Experience

Eric enrolled in Flatiron School’s UX/UI Design program on the NYC Campus in late 2019. Eric, like many students, initially struggled with the accelerated pace of learning. 

“Soaking everything in and putting it into practice at such a breakneck pace to meet deadlines was not easy. As a brand new designer and student, it felt like learning to build a plane while flying it,” he recalled. “That said, in hindsight, it was super valuable to learn that way because it mimics the real-world deadlines designers face on the job.” 

What’s more, after spending over a decade in careers where he worked independently, learning to work cooperatively with the other students in his cohort presented a learning curve that he appreciates looking back.

“The group work was invaluable since so much of the work you do in the real world is going to be collaborative and cross-functional.”

Even with the demanding schedule and rapid learning, Eric found that he thoroughly enjoyed his coursework.

“My favorite part of the program was the initial education around design thinking and the overall process that goes into solving some of these big problems. It takes so much work to make things work. When you’re using a great website or app, it’s easy to forget that a lot of people did a lot of hard work to make that experience a good one for you.”

Job Search Journey

Eric graduated from Flatiron School’s UX/UI Design program in March 2020, right into the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

“As you might imagine, the job search was tricky, though I’m sure it would have been even without a pandemic. It was hard getting my foot in the door and convincing hiring managers to give me a phone screen, having no prior design experience,” he explained. “Even though I knew all my other experiences and soft skills were extremely valuable to the work, many hiring managers just wanted to see your past work in design.”

Despite the rough launch post-graduation, Eric’s dedicated Career Coach supported him throughout the job search.

“[My Career Coach] helped to focus me and frame my applications in a way that allowed me to stand out not despite my unconventional background, but because of it.”

Working In Tech

When we talked with Eric in early 2023, he’d been working as a Product Designer at FCB Health in New York City for almost 2 years.

“I love being a designer and I am so grateful for my experience at Flatiron. I really feel like I have found my calling and I owe so much of that to you guys. The reality is even better than the dream, and I think the way that the program is set up allows for designers to be well-prepared for real-world work.”

The overlap between his previous and current work, he says, is more than one might expect. 

“It has been a perfect marriage of my skills and experience in sales (where I learned how to present work and help clients) and the time I spent running my own company (where I had a direct impact on people’s lives by creating order out of chaos). Add in the creative aspect and you couldn’t draw a better Venn diagram of the things I’m passionate about.”

Reflecting On His Journey

Eric’s advice for other Product Design students is to lean into the hard work required to thrive in the course. 

“You really do get from the program whatever you put into it. If you’re willing to hit the ground running and realize that it won’t be easy, that there might be some nights where you don’t get much sleep, you will get so much in return. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the structure and support of Flatiron. I feel very lucky to be an alumn!”

Looking back on where he started, Eric’s biggest takeaway is that hard work pays off.

“If you have the right mindset, a good eye, and a strong desire to learn, you can make your design dreams come true. I pinch myself every day that I get to do this for a living!”

Itching For A Change, Just Like Eric Saber?

Apply Now to join other career changers like Eric in a program that’ll teach you the design skills you need to land your first job in tech.

Not quite ready to apply? Try out our Free Product Design Prep Work and test-run the material we teach in the course. 

Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.

*UI/UX Design course is no longer available. For students interested in this course of study, visit the Product Design course page to learn more.

Alisha Murray: Fashion To Product Design

Alisha Murray, a 2020 UX / UI Design graduate from Flatiron School, credits her grandmother for her early interest in fashion. Her love of creativity, however, eventually led her to a career in Product Design.

She shares her journey from Fashion to Product Design below.

An Early Fixation on Fashion

Alisha grew up in the small town of Sabinal, Texas, where she spent a lot of time on her grandparent’s chicken farm. It was there that she was first introduced to the world of fashion through humble beginnings.

“My grandma would make Halloween costumes for me or fix a hole in my grandpa’s pants,” she recalled. “It was always intriguing to me when I saw her pull out her Singer sewing machine and work her magic.”

She got her first sewing machine in high school and went on to earn a degree in Textiles and Apparel, Technical Design from the University of Texas. But after graduating, Alisha said she felt lost.  

The hobby that I grew to love turned into a real prospect as a career but it turned into just that. A hobby, a prospect, something I didn’t know how to attain anymore.

After graduating from college, Alisha worked as an Assistant Manager at a department store. 

“I loved interacting with people and being active; not always sitting behind a desk. I could be involved in fashion without actually creating it.” 

But, after two years, she knew she needed to make a change.

“I just grew tired of the same old day-to-day business,” she explained. “Something was missing. I wasn’t being completely myself and I wasn’t using all of my creative capabilities.”

Pivoting To Product Design

Once deciding to pursue a new career, Alishia began to research her options.

“I wanted to find a new way to express my creative energy […] to figure out what I wanted to do and be for the rest of my life. I looked at trade schools and Masters’s programs.”

Eventually, she stumbled upon the concept of coding bootcamps, which led her to the Flatiron School website and Product Design. She recalls going down a “rabbit hole” learning about UX / UI Product Design, combing the course’s website, and watching videos about the subject.

“I’ve never felt more drawn to something than I did learning about this field of work,” she said. “When I came across Flatiron [School’s] website the answer to what I was looking for was staring back at me, this was it. I immediately signed up for an interview to learn more.”

Her Flatiron School Experience

Alisha applied for and was accepted to Flatiron School’s UI/UX Design course.* But, having been out of the creative field for several years, there were growing pains getting back into the imaginative mindset. 

“[It was challenging] learning how to open up my creative mind again. It felt like that aspect of me was lost a little bit,” she said. “I had to retrain myself to have an imagination and cross boundaries and just be open to being scrappy with my work.” 

Her classmates eased her transition back into the field, serving as a source of both support and inspiration. 

“So many of my classmates had come from different areas of design already, and I was able to learn a lot from them. I learned about different areas of work and they helped me better my skills.”

Overall, she reports having a positive experience during the course and growing as a creative professional.

“Once you start giving it your all, and not worrying about how perfect the work is, you open up to a much larger picture of what can be accomplished.”

Pandemic Job Search

Alisha graduated from Flatiron School in February 2020, a month before the onset of the pandemic. To say that it made her search difficult, she says, would be an understatement.

“Graduating straight into a pandemic was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I quickly started seeing interviews fall off my calendar and companies telling me that they just can’t hire right now. That was the longest 8 months of my life.” 

Throughout her difficult job search and the evolving pandemic, her career coach was there to support her and keep her motivated and moving forward.

“My career coach kept reminding me to network and how things can be done virtually. I utilized LinkedIn and reached out to Senior Designers and managers,” she said. “I received so much more insight into product design that I wouldn’t have gotten if I didn’t ask people about their day-to-day business.”

Despite setbacks, Alisha ultimately accepted a job as a Product Designer at General Motors in November 2020. When we spoke with her in February 2023, she reported that it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

“Working as a product designer has been so fulfilling. I am constantly working on different projects. Priorities shift so much that I am never bored and always stay creatively active. I have found the career that fulfills parts of me that I wasn’t using in retail.”

Reflecting On Her Journey

Looking back on her path, Alisha highlights the importance of connecting with others.

“My biggest takeaway is understanding how important networking actually is. Whether that’s just chatting with your colleagues and learning about their career backgrounds or reaching out to a manager at a company of interest,” she said. “You can learn so much from people and being able to compare your interests with a prospective job title is important to know if that’s what you want to do.”

As for her advice for others who may be considering a career change, she recommends leaning into the inherent uncertainty of the process. 

“Don’t stay in a job you are not completely happy at, and just have fun finding yourself along the way. Step outside of your comfort zone and be scrappy with your work. We don’t know how far we can push ourselves until we actually try. And then continue to push yourself.”

Ready For A Change, Just Like Alisha Murray?

Apply Now to join other career changers like Alisha in a program that’ll give you the tech skills you need to land your first job in tech.

Not ready to apply? Try out our Free Product Design Prep Work and test-run the material we teach in the course. 

Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.

*UI/UX Design course is no longer available. For students interested in this course of study, visit the Product Design course page to learn more.

Matthew Thomas-Wicher: Law to Design

Matthew Thomas-Wicher, a March 2020 UX Design graduate*, spent 5 years pursuing a career in law before dropping everything to pursue design.

He shares his journey from law to UX / UI Product Design below.

Pivoting From A Path To Law

Matthew Thomas-Wicher graduated from college with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and a minor in Pre-Law. Followed by an internship in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., his path toward a career in law seemed clear. 

“After [my internship], it just made sense at the time to break into the field before going to law school,” he said. “Unfortunately, after five years working in Corporate Law, I realized that path wasn’t for me.”

In the search for his next career, Matthew didn’t have to go far to settle on tech. 

“[My interest in tech] started with coding, and how each project you work on is essentially one big puzzle,” he recalled. “It makes you really think, and I loved each and every challenge presented to me.”

Matthew had previously learned coding during a 6 month in-person course in D.C. and saw Product Design as an opportunity to repurpose those skills. 

“I was always interested in Product Design and even tried to incorporate it into my job at the time, combined with a bit of coding knowledge,” he explained. “Product Design, just like code, requires a deep understanding of the problems you are trying to solve and that’s what drew me in. The fundamentals are transferrable, and together, they are very useful.”

Deciding On UX Design

Matthew’s decision to attend a User Experience Design course was based on the positive review of a friend. 

“One of my good friends in D.C. went to a [bootcamp] a couple of years before I did, and he had nothing but good things to say,” he said. “He had been successful in the field for some time, and [the bootcamp] was his starting point.”

But, he acknowledged, that switching careers after spending years building experience in a field was daunting. 

“To be honest, I felt like I spent so much time in [law], that it would be almost impossible to completely start over,” he recalled.

Despite his doubts, Matthew was committed to changing careers. 

“I decided to jump in head first! I quit my full-time job working as a paralegal and moved to Chicago to do the Full-Time UX Immersive Program.”

Spoiler alert for any nervous readers: looking back, Matthew said “it was a great experience.”

His Bootcamp Experience

Matthew enrolled in a full-time User Experience Design course*, committing 40 hours a week to his studies. The grueling schedule, he said, was made easier by the people he learned alongside. 

“[My favorite part of the program] was working with so many different people. Everyone there had similar goals, and we all worked together to meet them,” he said. “After spending so much time with everyone, day in and day out, you get pretty close.”

Those new connections also led to additional challenges. 

“The most challenging part was working on a team with people who have all different ways of doing things. Having to adapt and learn how to keep the cogs turning was a challenge,” he said. “But after working in the field for several years now, it definitely prepared me for working with multiple stakeholders at various companies.”

Matthew sums up the outcome of his bootcamp experience succinctly: 

“At the end of the program, I got a certificate and a bunch of new friends.”

Job Searching During The Pandemic

Matthew graduated in early 2020 right into the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The last two months of our cohort was during the beginning of the 2020 pandemic,” he recalled. “I had low expectations going into the job market.”

Despite entering the market just as the world shut down, Matthew landed his first job quickly. 

“I feel like I got pretty lucky with the job search. After I applied to a bunch of places I found a really cool startup based in Chicago that took a chance on me,” he said. “I took on the role of Founding Product Designer at a small seed-funded company that had coincidentally been in the process of moving its headquarters to DC. It was tough. I worked with the company from the beginning, all the way up to their Series-A funding in late 2021.”

Matthew worked at his initial company as a Founding Product Designer at The Demex Group until October 2021 before moving to his next opportunity. As of writing, he is working in a remote role as a Product Designer & Design Strategist at Oportun.

Working In The Field

Three years on from graduation, Matthew is enjoying working in Product Design immensely. 

“I absolutely love it! It definitely matches up to the dream, and I am so happy I made the switch. I feel like I look at the world around me and how people interact with technology so differently now.”

Having been in a senior-level design position right after completing his bootcamp, he has quite a few projects that he looks back on with pride, especially those where he got to flex his coding skills. 

“Back at my first company … I was a product designer but also a full-stack engineer. For my last task at The Demex Group, I got to take the lead on a huge project which was pretty groundbreaking in the field,” he explained. “I was able to take it through the entire design process and code the entire platform with the help of one other designer. The project ended up being one of the main things that helped them secure their Series-A funding and it was just amazing to see my work out in the wild and watch people interact with it.”

To see Matthew’s work, visit his portfolio.

Reflecting On His Journey

Looking back at where his journey into Product Design began, Matthew’s takeaway is that of inclusivity and keeping oneself open to differing perspectives. 

“In this field, you work with many diverse groups of people. These could be the users who you are building for or the stakeholders who you work with at whichever company,” he said. “Different styles of working, understanding, communicating, etc. Having that experience at [the bootcamp], working with so many different thinkers was a bit frustrating at first, but looking back, it prepared me so much for my career.”

His advice for other students getting ready to enter the workforce is a single word: network. 

“My biggest piece of advice is to network. There are tech events all over no matter where you end up taking your program. I landed my first contract role at the same time I got my first job in the field, just by networking at an event and getting referred to someone.”

As for how he thinks of his bootcamp experience almost three years on, Matthew is all positivity.

“It was such a great experience.”

Ready For A Change, Just Like Matthew Thomas-Wicher?

Apply Now to join other career changers in a design program that will set your portfolio apart from the competition. 

Not ready to apply? Try out our Free UX / UI Product Design Prep. Or, review the Product Design Syllabus for the full list of skills you’ll learn to prepare you to launch your next career.

Read more stories about grads who have successfully changed careers on the Flatiron School blog.

*Featured student was a graduate of Designation Labs, which was acquired by Flatiron School. The User Experience Design course is no longer available. Visit the Product Design Course page to learn more. 

Women In Tech: 4 Grad’s Stories | Women’s History Month

As of 2022, women make up only 28% of the tech industry workforce. For technical roles, that number is even lower. There are simply not enough women in tech. 

That’s why Flatiron School offers the Women Take Tech scholarship to begin closing the opportunity gap for women in tech. With this scholarship, we aim to do our part and start to help make tech equal for all.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are the stories of four recent female Flatiron School grads making waves in the tech industry.

Victoria LeBel: Registered Nurse to Software Engineer

Victoria LeBel began her career as a registered nurse. She spent 4 years working on a high-risk labor and delivery unit but felt that she needed to make a change.

“I was missing an element of creativity in my work,” she explained. “[But] I wanted to continue to use my critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”

Combining her acquired skills and her love of continuous learning, she determined that Software Engineering would be a great fit. To make the transition from healthcare to tech though, Victoria knew that she would need to pursue some additional schooling. It was then that she learned about Flatiron School.

Victoria enrolled in Flatiron School’s full-time Software Engineering program and graduated in September 2022. After a short job search, she accepted a Software Engineer position at Econify. 

“If you set your mind and efforts toward something you can accomplish anything. So long as you have the focus and determination, you can achieve anything, no matter where you started.”

Read her full career change story.

Jenny Kreiger: Archaeologist To Data Scientist

Jenny Kreiger began her career pursuing a Ph.D. in classical art and archaeology with the hopes of working in higher education or museums. But, as she helped excavate the ruins of Pompeii for the first summer in a row – a dream archaeological opportunity – she knew she was drifting away from studying human behavior. 

“The academic job market is notoriously challenging, so from the start of my doctorate, I was always researching and preparing for alternatives. Data Science was a possibility for me because as an archaeologist I liked using data to learn about human behavior.”

After trying out some online tutorials, she decided to quit her job and enroll in Flatiron School’s Data Science course.

She graduated in early 2020 and had the unfortunate circumstance of job searching during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but ultimately accepted a role as a Data Scientist at Shopify. 

“Lots of organizations need your expertise right now, and you might be able to find a great fit in an unexpected place, so don’t give up–adapt!”

Read her full career change story.

Carla Stickler: From Broadway Star To Software Engineer

Image of Carla Stickler

By the end of 2018, Carla Stickler already had what many would consider to be a dream career. She’d found success in the arts – a difficult feat no matter the medium – and performed on Broadway stages in world-famous musicals such as Wicked, Mamma Mia!, and The Sound of Music.

But, Carla recalls knowing that she needed to make a change for a while, saying that the continuous grind and needed to reach that level of success had begun wearing on her.

Finally, a chance encounter at her 35th birthday party spurred her to act.

“A friend showed up to my party and announced, ‘I’m a software engineer now and I just got a great job making more money than I’ve ever made with health insurance and a 401k!’ I was confused, since last I checked, he was a composer writing musicals,” she mused. “I held him captive for the next 30 minutes asking him how he did it and what exactly software engineering was. He told me he went to the Flatiron School and learned to code.”

Carla graduated from Flatiron School’s Software Engineering program in the Fall of 2019 and accepted a position as a Junior Software Engineer at G2.

“I cannot begin to tell you the number of things I’ve learned in the past year and the amount of confidence I’ve gained as a developer. I love my job and couldn’t be more grateful for the life that attending Flatiron and learning to code has provided for me.”

Read her full career change story.

Wendolyne Barrios: Food Industry to Freelance Designer

Image of Wendolyne Barrios

Wendolyne Barrios spent the first 10 years of her career in the food service industry. She began helping in her family’s business, then pursued her own career in the field. But a decade in, Wendolyne knew she needed a change.

“Working in the food service industry is tough on the mind and body,” she said. “The field took more from me than I got back, so I knew I had to make a change if I wanted to live a healthy, enjoyable, and sustainable life.”

Fueled on by a lifelong love of the arts and her desire to live the life she’d imagined, Wendolyne applied and was accepted to Flatiron School’s accelerated 15-week UX / UI Product Design program.

Wendolyne graduated from Flatiron School in August of 2022 and began a career as a freelance product designer. In January 2023, she founded wendolyne.design, which specializes in brand design, web design, and mobile app design.

“I pushed myself harder than I thought I could. I pushed myself mentally and emotionally to come out of the other side of it and feel like I was finally going somewhere. It was worth it, for me to feel the way I do now.”

Read her full career change story.

Women Take Tech Scholarship

Studies show that companies with a diverse workforce are more innovative, creative, and productive, and earn more revenue. 

But, with 39% of women in tech saying that they see gender bias as an obstacle to getting a promotion, it is not enough to simply hire more women. There needs to be an industry-wide shift towards working environments that embrace and promote diversity. That starts with creating more opportunities for women. 

Flatiron School’s Women Take Tech scholarship does just that, granting up to $1,000 to eligible female students to get started toward a career in tech.

See if you qualify. 

Wendolyne Barrios: Food Industry to Freelance Designer

Wendolyne Barrios, an August 2022 UX / UI Product Design graduate from Flatiron School, spent a decade working in food service before pivoting to tech for a more sustainable career. She recently founded wendolyne.design, specializing in brand design, web design, and mobile app design.

She shared her journey from working long shifts in food service to owning her own design agency below.

A Culinary Beginning

Wendolyne spent the first 10 years of her career in the food service industry. She began helping in her family’s business, then pursued her own career in the field.

“I sort of fell into this field because it was something I was familiar with,” she explained. “My mom catered events while I was growing up. When I was legally able to work, I just took the skills I had and followed a path that seemed to be easier at the time.” 

But a decade in, Wendolyne knew she needed a change.

“Working in the food service industry is tough on the mind and body,” she said. “The field took more from me than I got back, so I knew I had to make a change if I wanted to live a healthy, enjoyable, and sustainable life.”

Following Her Heart To Design

Wendolyne ultimately decided to switch careers into a field she was truly passionate about.

“Time kept passing and I kept trying to find a way to live the life I wanted but didn’t know how to find a career in the things I was already passionate about,” she said. “I didn’t want to force something I had no interest in and run with it simply because it felt like I needed to make a move.”

But for her next career path, she didn’t need to look far to settle on UX / UI Product Design. In fact, she found that she’d been doing it all along.

“Throughout my years of working in the food industry, I was also [creating collateral for my band]. I created album artwork, event flyers, and a band website,” she said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already implementing so many of the foundations of product design.”

Spurred on by her desire to live the life she’d imagined, Wendolyne applied and was accepted to Flatiron School’s accelerated 15-week UX / UI Product Design program.

Her Time At Flatiron School

Like many other students, it took time for Wendolyne to adapt to the quick pace of the accelerated Flatiron School program. 

“There is a lot to take in, and everything is presented in a way to reduce that feeling, but anyone switching careers or fields can easily be overwhelmed by how quickly [the program] picks up.”

But, her cohort and mentors were a constant source of support throughout the course.

“Thankfully, I had cohort mates to troubleshoot with [and] a team of mentors I could reach out to and ask for guidance and feedback,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to approach certain situations if it wasn’t for my instructors. It may be hard, but nothing worth having comes easy.”

A key turning point for Wendolyne was when she realized the overlap between the course’s curriculum and previous designs she’d created for her band. 

“When I first found product design I wasn’t aware of how much overlap there would be with the work I was doing before,” she explained. “Once my instructor pointed that out, everything clicked and I stopped questioning myself so much.”

Building A Design Business

Wendolyne graduated from Flatiron School in August of 2022 and began a career as a freelance product designer. In January 2023, she founded wendolyne.design, which specializes in brand design, web design, and mobile app design.

“I am not lying when I say that I love my job,” she said. “There was and is so much to learn in terms of freelancing, but after the hours I put in learning product design, I know I can do anything, even if it’s a little tough or feels defeating at times.” 

She acknowledges that while pursuing a freelance career may not always be the easiest path, it’s given her space to grow as a designer.

“The passion and love for the work are absolutely what I wanted, but starting out freelance is always difficult since you’re overseeing much more than a product designer [on a team],” she explained. “However, I have been enjoying the process of learning who I am as a designer and being more willing to take up that space as the designer I see myself as and want others to see me as.”

But just over 6 months after graduating, she’s found her footing as a professional designer. 

“I recently booked a few clients, so I am incredibly excited to be gaining some real-life experience with real clients,” she said. “I have been creating workflows and setting up routines that work for me and my productivity. It has been really fun to allow myself to find my place as a product designer.”

Takeaways From Her Career Change

Looking back at where her journey began, Wendolyne’s takeaway from her experience with Flatiron School is one of personal pride.

“I pushed myself harder than I thought I could,” she said. “I pushed myself mentally and emotionally to come out of the other side of it and feel like I was finally going somewhere. It was worth it, for me to feel the way I do now.”

Her advice for others, however, is to have patience. Patience with themselves, and patience with the process. 

“Just do your best. Don’t overthink it, which is easier said than done,” she conceded. “Stop expecting yourself to be able to do everything immediately and just let yourself be a sponge and soak up as much as you can. Enjoy the process and things will fall into place.”

Above all, she recommends trusting yourself and the path forward.

“Trust your instincts even if seems a little scary at first. There’s nothing like the feeling of knowing you have the ability to do exactly what you wanted to do. Being on the other side is worth it.”

Ready For A Change, Just Like Wendolyne Barrios?

Apply Now to join other career changers in a program that sets you apart from the competition. 

Need more time to be ready to apply? Try out our Free UX / UI Product Design Prep. Or, review the UX / UI Product Design Course Syllabus that will set you up for success and can help launch you into a new and fulfilling career.

Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.

Black History Month | POC in Tech: Five Graduate’s Stories

For people of color, a tech career can often feel out of reach. A lack of representation can make them feel like there is no place for them in the industry. 

The five POC graduates from Flation School featured in this blog prove that this is not the case. Their stories are those of determination and resilience, of overcoming naysayers and self-doubts to go after the life they wanted. 

Their stories prove that POC belong in tech. 

Micah and Colin: Oil Fields To Software Engineers

Twin brothers Colin Mosley and Micah Mosley began their careers as Petroleum Engineers. Citing long working hours and a bad cultural fit, they knew they needed to make a change.

When they were laid off like many others at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Micah and Colin decided to transition into tech. After weighing their education options – self-taught, university, or bootcamp – they committed to Flatiron School to accelerate their path into the industry. 

“Flatiron School does a good job of giving you a cohort and resources that make it easy for you to learn as much as you are willing to learn, and there is plenty to learn if [you are] willing to put in the time.”

After graduating from Flatiron School’s Software Engineering program, Micah and Colin landed twin Software Engineering roles at CitiBank.

Read about their journey into tech here: Micah and Colin Mosley.

Chuck Pryor, Jr.: Acting To Data Scientist

Chuck Pryor, Jr. had a long and varied career before joining Flatiron School. He’d been an actor, teacher, writer, mid-level manager, outreach counselor, landlord, and a full-time caregiver for his ill parents. After all of his previous experiences and career paths, he felt a pull toward tech.

While evaluating his options to break into the tech industry, he ultimately selected Flatiron School’s Data Science program. He cites the program’s reputation, cost-effectiveness when compared to a traditional university, and Flatiron School’s career services that work with learners to get their first job post-graduation. 

“Had I tried to do this program on my own time without the structure of an on-campus program, I would have failed miserably and not completed the program. Every project applied what I learned to real-world problems that ended up impressing my interviewers.”

Chuck credits his previous careers for building the networking skills that ultimately landed him his first job in tech as a Data Engineer. His advice for others considering a career in tech are simple and concise – Go For It! 

Read about his journey into tech here: Chuck Pryor, Jr

Deka Ambia: TSA Agent to Software Engineer

Over the summer of 5th grade, a young Deka Ambia fell in love with coding. But after being told not to pursue it, years later she was working as a TSA Agent. It was during a government shutdown that Deka used the limbo state to pick up coding again and pursue her original dream of working in tech.

Deka attended Flatiron School’s Software Engineering course and graduated in 15 weeks while working full-time. She distills her determination in building a new life for herself into a single word: freedom. 

“The freedom to be able to work wherever I want, whether that is at an office, at home, or on the beach somewhere. The freedom to look however I want. The freedom that a skillset can be used in almost any industry is filled with endless opportunity.”

After graduating from Flatiron School, Deka landed a Software Engineer position at PopMenu. As for her advice for others beginning the program, her advice is to “take it extremely seriously,” because “it has a real possibility of changing [your] life and mindset forever.”

Read about her journey into tech here: Deka Ambia

Fredrick Williams: Sales To UX / UI Product Design

Frederick Williams spent more than 20 years in sales and marketing before deciding that he needed to make a change. He’d worked with Product Designers over his career and was interested in the research aspect of the role, but worried that he’d “aged out” of tech at 40 years old.

Despite his doubts, he enrolled in a Flatiron School course for UX/UI design. While he entered the program with an open mind and a strong desire to learn, Williams found that his background and personality made UX design a surprisingly good fit.

“I fell in love with UX and I found that UX is for everyone, no matter their age, and the community is incredibly supportive.”

After graduating from Flatiron School, Frederick noted that his job search was a smooth process, with hiring managers immediately interested in him. He ultimately accepted a position as a Senior Analyst US Designer at Avanade. 

As for advice for those considering a career transition, Williams was quick to point to the power of perspective.

“It’s not an age thing, it’s a mindset thing,” he said. “If you can dream it, you can make it happen. You have to put it out there, you can’t operate out of fear. I’m black, I’m queer, and I got a job in tech at 43.”

Read about his journey into tech here: Frederick Williams.