In Pursuit of Invisibility: A Day in the Life of a UX Design Student

In Pursuit of Invisibility: A Day in the Life of a UX Design Student


I’m Tim, a first year master’s student at the University of Texas at Austin School of Information. In my studies, I’m particularly focused on the intersection between information, design, and human behavior. Growing up, I recall always drawing or tinkering with anything I could get my hands on. Over time, my intrigue with technology supplemented my creative energy. At the undergraduate level, I chose to study psychology to enrich my understanding of human behavior. While getting my degree, I discovered that there’s a profession for people like me: it’s known as user experience (UX) design. What appeals to me about the UX profession is that the people who engineer the interaction between man and machine are an invisible layer. The average person doesn’t think in-depth about their interactions with software, yet so much is considered “behind the scenes” about how to bring value to each user’s experience. The responsibility and creative power that UX designers have blows my mind. That’s why I’m a UX designer. In my position, I create through the lens of empathy, with a sound understanding of user needs and behavior.

Let me give you a break down of my usual day:

6:00 am: The first alarm rings. The first alarm is left alone.
6:05 am: The second alarm rings. The second alarm is left alone.
6:10 am: The third alarm rings. The third alarm is entertained.
6:30 am: I actually wake up.

6:40 am: I’m in the shower, mulling over why I didn’t choose to play my music over the shower speakers that a lovely friend gifted me. If I did, I would’ve played a jazz playlist on one of my favorite apps, Google Play Music. In particular, smooth jazz helps me find my morning energy. I enjoy mentally reflecting to smooth jazz music, finding my own voice as Coltrane offers his notion of what comfort could sound like (“A Love Supreme”). I champion on.

Getting ready in the morning is never easy, but it’s necessary. Not only do I attend the iSchool full-time, but I’m thankful enough to work for the iSchool’s IT team as a UX Designer, at an ad agency as an Experience Design intern, and at a local startup as a Biz Ops intern. And yes, my supervisors are amazing, but they didn’t hire me because of the high rate of random sick days that I list on my resume (humor me). They deem me responsible, a compliment I don’t take for granted.

8:00 – 8:30 am: By this time, I’ve successfully made it to the first job (DARN YOU AUSTIN TRAFFIC!). At this job, I do UX work within an incredibly talented team of creatives. We do work for clients who serve millions of people. It’s truly enlightening work. Brands present my team with a problem and ask us to unravel the problem, then converge what we know into potential ideas that’ll lead to solutions. It’s a process that includes asking questions, creating maps, understanding scenarios as well as business needs.

9:00 am: With oatmeal in my belly and coffee in my veins, I grasp the cold curves of a mouse that has no weekend attention and do the first thing every great design intern does in the morning. I check my e-mails. I CANNOT understate how important this is. Once my unread pile becomes read, it is time.

9:10 – 9:15 am: Okay, I’ve been on Youtube the entire time. I just can’t help it! DesignerNews is the devil. Okay, okay. It’s time to WORK!

9:16 am – 12:00 pm: WORKING LIKE A DESIGN BOSS. This can involve creating an idea deck for a project where we’re exploring the possibilities of available technologies or wire-framing a new mobile interface. It can also include checking in with my team, refining our ideas, or COL (concepting out loud). Recently, I’ve learned to ideate without limitations, but within constraints. In the advertising industry, idea decks are created to communicate the ideas of a creative team; they contain visuals for how an ad campaign could look and feel. In the UX industry, mood boards fulfill that same goal. Overall, working in an agency affords me the opportunity to see how I can expand and refine my creative process.

12:30 pm: I leave for class at the iSchool. On my way to class I usually think of how awesome the iSchool is. Imagine a place where future information professionals gather to convene, eat, and be merry about all that is information. No, I’m not talking about the AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management) conference. I’m talking about the iSchool, now focus. Courses in the iSchool are either seminar or practicum, challenging students with the shared responsibility of teaching themselves. Now remember, I’ve been deemed responsible, so I relish the practicum course structure.

1:00 – 4:00 pm: IN CLASS, TALKING ABOUT INFORMATION. So imagine questions such as—Why does digital preservation matter? What does the Dewey Decimal System have to do with mankind? What are user needs? What is user-centric design? Is crowdsourcing really the best option? What will the library of the future look like? —and expect these or similar questions to be answered during class. The beauty of the iSchool is the breadth and conviction of the student body. I am in class with students interested in archives, librarianship, preservation, and UX, all of whom are open to innovation and share a concern with reducing information barriers in all industries. I expected this level of unity when I applied to our program and continue to be validated in my decision.

4:06 – 4:10 pm: I leave class and make my way upstairs to the IT Suite on the 5th floor, where, you guessed it, I do UX work as well.

4:11 – 7:00 pm: WORKING LIKE A DESIGN BOSS. At the IT Suite, I work with other student technicians to manage the official iSchool website. A small team and I communicate with faculty and other stakeholders to ensure that our beloved baby is doing what all babies do, attracting future students and outstanding faculty to the iSchool with up-to-date information. This includes the latest iSchool research, great things current students are doing, our amazing resources, and lastly, our 70% job placement rating after graduation! Woot! Woot! Yay for employment.

7:05 pm – 1:00 am: Go home. Do homework. Meditate. Be creative. Tweet here and there.

2:00 – 5:59 am: Asleep (maybe).

6:00 am: Here we go again…

This is my personal schedule. Although it may seem detailed, exhaustive or even unbelievable, I’ve omitted so much, such as making time for family, that time I had a bad tire, having to take the long way home, iSchool career fairs, etc.… The key takeaway is that as an iSchool student it’s in our best interest to stay busy, yet productive. Something is always going on at the iSchool, and if not at the iSchool, in our community or professional circles. If you can, go to everything, talk to everyone, smile, eat free food, work that internship(s), and remember, don’t ever say, “What to do?” when the opportunities are endless.

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Tim Salau
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I am a first year master's student studying user experience (UX) design.

Tim Salau

I am a first year master's student studying user experience (UX) design.

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