Michael Castledine offers advice on getting started in UX

Though it may not be immediately obvious, behind every great product is a team of user experience (UX) designers. These highly-skilled individuals work at the ‘big picture’ level, making sure that their product is optimized for its users.

We recently spoke about UX careers with Michael Castledine, who brings 17 years of industry experience to our UX & Product Design instruction team. In this interview, he shares his insights on UX careers and his tips for beginners.

Michael has spent the better part of the last three years teaching in various capacities. Whether it be at the university level at OCAD and Sheridan, or coaching sports like hockey and soccer, he is always excited to share his wealth of knowledge with anyone who will listen. He’s also run his own consulting practice in Australia working in spatial design with architectural firms and interior designers.

Q: What’s been different so far about your time teaching in an accelerated bootcamp, rather than at traditional institutions?

Michael: In terms of pacing alone, the two environments differ quite a bit. The bootcamp setting allows you to dive in and absorb the information on a daily basis, while university courses typically have up to a week between classes. This gap between learning creates a space of time where information can be lost, forcing you to waste time recapping over and over.

The students often have different goals than those in university, where students are in a more exploratory mode. At Bitmaker, most already have had a career and are now looking for a lateral change. The mix is great because different perspectives can be shared. Everyone’s going to have a different approach.

Q: What advice might you give to someone considering the industry and what to expect?

Michael: If you’re taking the course, be prepared to work really hard, take risks, collaborate, and make friends. Today’s world is all about networking and who you know. Simply taking the time to have an interesting conversation with one person can lead to job opportunities you didn’t even know were available.

I think learning UX can lead to a range of outcomes. Your path can go in lots of directions, and having a UX perspective adds an extra layer to your existing experiences. The jobs today will be different than the ones in 5 years. Your thinking and approach may stay consistent but the tech will change how you use it.

Q: What do you mean by jobs being ‘different’ in 5 years? How do you keep up with change?

Michael: When I graduated in the late 90s, Flash and HTML were new. Our instructors didn’t emphasize these technologies in the curriculum beyond a crash-course, so I taught myself about them. More recently, there’s been a move not only from print to web design, but to mobile design and product design. Our approach to design hasn’t changed, but product interactions have – and what we can create. This change will continue.

While I tend not to actively follow the trends, I keep an eye on what particular artists, groups, and studios are up to. I also love to go to conferences, as I get the chance to meet real people, see what they are actually doing, and listen to what they have to say.

One example of someone to follow is Joshua Davis, an abstract artist that started out with flash-based, interactive pieces that leverage various different technologies. He’s also recognized as being an early adopter of open-sourcing, and played a role in designing the visualization of IBM’s Watson (an intelligent computer program designed to answer Jeopardy-style trivia questions).

Feeling inspired to start your own path towards a career in UX? Sign up for our next UX & Product Design cohort starting on April 10th.