Have you ever asked yourself what you want? Like what you truly, madly, deeply want in your career and in your life?

UX designer Christene Fair was in the final year of completing her masters degree in digital media design from Harvard when she sat down to conduct what she calls a self-inventory.

The exercise involved her being extremely honest with herself about her standards for what she wanted to learn, how she wanted to grow, and what her goals were for the final months of her program. She had a successful career as an event design and management professional at the time, but as she sat down to list the things she did and did not like about that career, and she compared it to her list of goals for the coming months, she had a moment of clarity.

“That’s when I knew I wanted to shift my career and use that degree to help me launch myself as a UX designer,” Christene said, “and so I made that the focus of my last year of my courses.”

Fast forward to now and Christene is a teaching assistant (TA) at that very program at Harvard. She’s also co-developed a number of courses, including a 12-week UX certificate program through the New Hampshire Institute for the Arts in collaboration with New England College that is set to launch at the end of March. When she’s not doing this, she’s working as the sole UX designer at a Boston-based startup called Ronoco.

How to take the first step into a new career in UX design

Let’s rewind.

Christene has come a long way in a relatively short period of time and much of this has to do with her tenacity to constantly grow and learn, and her willingness to put herself out there. But her career change has not been without its challenges.

Christene was working in events and communications while attending Harvard. She began dipping her toes into the UX waters and took on some freelance projects in UX design to get her feet wet. After graduation, however, she found it challenging to land UX clients. She decided to start attending meetups regularly and networking with people in the industry, learning as much as she could about the world she was entering.

One of the meetups she attended was Ladies That UX. She soon reached out to them about volunteering at their Talk UX conference and they ended up asking her to join the planning committee. It was the perfect amalgamation of her previous career with her new one, and proved to be a great bridge between the two paths.

Christene would set goals for herself when she attended these meetups and events. “I want to spend my time effectively and I can go to a meetup where we’re eating appetizers and walking around, but I’m going to have a goal for myself of like, get two business cards and give out five business cards,” she said.

 A photo of Christene Fair reading an old newspaper.
A photo of Christene Fair reading an old newspaper.

These techniques introduced Christene to a lot of people she could consult on her journey. “When I had started in UX, I did a lot of coffee interviews with other people that had worked or that were working in the field that I either knew from meetups or that were friends of friends. I tried to get all the information I could, but also told people who I was and how I like to work. Based on those coffee interviews, it seemed like a startup would be a good fit for me because I have a broad skill set,” Christene said.

Although she knew she wanted to work at a startup, a startup is not where she began her career journey. Her first big UX job was at the Digital Innovation Lab at CVS Health. There, she was part of a huge team of creatives including designers, developers, copywriters, product owners, marketers, and more. It was a highly collaborative environment that allowed her to hone and grow her skills, and while she enjoyed it, she kept her eye on the prize with the goal of working at a startup.

This devotion was crucial as she recently joined the team at Ronoco as a UX designer.

“It’s hard to find a true startup,” Christene said. “You have a lot of companies that have 500 employees and they’ve been publicly traded for a year and they call themselves a startup because they may be a disruptor in their industry. I saw a lot of those job listings and then you’d see they already had a design team of 45 people just like we had at CVS.”

That wasn’t what she wanted. She kept looking and finally came across the opportunity at Ronoco. “It seemed like a great fit. I’m their first design hire and so I’m able to do a lot of the basics of user experience design. I’ve been doing a lot of lean UX methodology,” she said.

In her new role, she wears many hats. She’s designing UI kits, working closely with developers to future proof their product designs, and is involved in numerous marketing, product and other verticals, since these verticals don’t really exist yet at a company so small. She also continues to pick up freelance assignments when she’s not busy working at Ronoco, teaching at Harvard, or developing UX courses, because she is a self-proclaimed learning addict.

“I still really love having these one off freelance clients because I think you just learn a lot doing those types of projects,” Christene said.

 A photo of Christene Fair from a trip she took to Czesky Krumlov last autumn.
A photo of Christene Fair from a trip she took to Czesky Krumlov last autumn.

Tips for conducting a personal inventory

Christene’s story shows how pivotal self-inventory can be when it comes to defining your own path and figuring out how to walk it.

Conducting a self-inventory is really about learning more about yourself, and in a way (that we admit might be a bit of a stretch) it’s like doing user research on yourself. You have to think hard and dig deep to learn more about the things that set your soul on fire and what motivates you, and once you do this you too might find more clarity on where you want to take your personal journey next.

To conduct a self-inventory of your own, consider these tips:

  • Make a list of the things you like about your current job and the things you don’t like. This can help you hone in on the skills and responsibilities you’d like to carry with you into your next role.
  • Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, write a list of the things you like spending your time doing, and beside it write another list of the things you actually spend your time doing. Compare the two lists to see how you can begin swapping out things you don’t like for the things that you do.
  • Take a personality test online (though always take these with a grain of salt). Here’s an article we posted for fun a couple years back on Myers Briggs and personal design styles that might be fun for you to read. Myers Briggs is one personality test, but there are plenty of others out there that might be of interest to you on your search for self-discovery.
  • Try a writing exercise where you imagine your perfect day and write out a timeline of what that day looks like. Something like, “I wake with the sun, brew a cup of coffee, and take my dog for a walk. Once we return, I put on an inspiring playlist and begin mocking up my first wireframes for the day, a brilliant idea I’ve had for a new client.” In this exercise, it doesn’t matter if it’s vastly different from what you’re currently doing. Rather, it’s about getting a better picture of what your ideal day looks like and what’s important to you.

By conducting her own self-inventory, Christene was able to start taking steps forward to get to where she is today. For example, one thing she realized in conducting her own analysis of herself was that she loves variety in her job. This helped her focus on moving towards a career in UX, as no two days are ever the same. Now, she enjoys the perks of having materialized this.

“One day, I’m in meetings all day and I’m collaborating with other creative team members, and the next day maybe I’m working from home all day and I do nothing but wireframe and listen to podcasts. I love both of those days so much. It’s just amazing,” Christene said.