Next year’s work goal: Have fun with UI!

December 27, 2023
3 min read

I fell into a career in product design by complete accident.

By the time I graduated college with a graphic design degree, I already knew that my real dream was to someday become a professional illustrator. I joined Lumosity a couple years into my career, originally starting out as an illustrator who was focused on supporting the needs of our product team. But within the first month, I was also doing design projects for our brand new mobile app. By month three, my title was changed, and I spent the next three years as a Visual Designer who also made some illustrations sometimes.

After Lumosity, I finally got to do my thing full-time! I did freelance illustration for three years, and I actually exceeded my own expectations for success. Pretty sweet! I felt like things were really starting to take off. But then I took a small breather to move to Minnesota and get settled in as a first-time homeowner, and then…a pandemic started. My clients seemingly disappeared overnight, and my momentum and mental health nosedived right along with them.

That's when I started at my current job: a Visual Designer at Vetted. A former Lumosity coworker recruited me in, and I originally saw the role mostly as a friendly stable place to regain my footing until I could go back to what I actually wanted to be doing (sorry to my coworkers if you read this, but it's true, lol).

Three years later, so much has changed! For illustration, things have gotten harder. Platforms that you could once build a thriving career off of have turned into ghost towns (see: Dribbble), and algorithms have made it more and more difficult to break through as they prioritize sponsored content and videos (see: Instagram). My bread and butter was illustrating for the tech industry, but there are fewer opportunities for that now amidst layoffs, tighter budgets, and shifting design trends.

Meanwhile, the AI industry has absolutely exploded, and I accidentally fell into it through my current job. We use AI to build a better online shopping experience, and my current day-to-day mostly involves integrating ChatGPT technology into a shopping UI. The door I actually wanted feels more and more like it might close on me, while this other door I never cared much about is suddenly wide open with opportunities.

It's something I've been feeling conflicted and sad about, even though I like my job and have grown to really enjoy product design. I enjoy working directly with engineers, and I like getting to iterate and continuously make something better and better over time. But compared to illustration and pure graphic design, it's just…kinda boring? I'm less excited to publicly share my UI work, and it takes more self-discipline to get started in the mornings.

That brings me to my goal for the next year: maybe I just find UI boring because I haven't actually tried to make it fun. What if I did?

When it comes to illustration and graphic design, I've invested so much time over 15 (!) years into personal projects and fun little one-off pieces. I've made work that supports causes I believe in. I've injected my personality and humor into my work and developed a personal style that people know me for. For UI and product design, I've never done any of that. I've done what my jobs required me to do and tried to do it really well, but that's about it.

So that's my goal: to have fun with it. I have a couple ideas for silly little apps I'd enjoy designing, and I want to use my own portfolio website as a canvas to get weird. I'm excited to see what happens!