Brandon Stambaugh (a.k.a Brandon the Creative) is the Lead UI/UX Designer at Zealic Solutions. He enjoyes refinishing guitars, vollecting vinyls and learning anything and everything! Read on for insight on the ins and outs of his workday.
I've always been a creative type, it just took me a while to figure out what to do with it. For me, getting into and progressing through the design field has been equal parts hard work and serendipity.
My current position is Lead UI/UX Designer at Zealic Solutions, a boutique product development company focusing in the Healthcare and Life Science market. In no way did I plan to be where I am in my career, I didn’t set out to do User Interface or User Experience design and I definitely didn't know a lot about the Healthcare and Life Science industry. But here I am and I love it.
As things are unfolding they don't always make sense but, when you look back at your path, you can see what it all meant and how it led you to where you were supposed to be. For instance, for an elective class in high school I participated in the Adobe Digital Media Academy where I learned how to use the entire Adobe Creative Suite (graphic design, video production, animation, etc.). Then I went to college where I got my degree in Industrial Design focusing in Product Design (designing physical products). I have experience in a lot of different creative fields, so which field did I end up going into? None of that and all of that at the same time.
Out of college, I wasn't having any luck with getting a job at the big corporations so I started to work with small companies and startups assisting them with all of their creative needs. It was pretty much like being a creative handyman where I utilized all of my experience to create literally anything that a company needed to represent themselves in the market. My work ranged from redesigning logos to helping establish creative strategies for a product launch or marketing effort. And, while doing that, it led me into the field I'm in today.
Going into the workforce, I had no idea what UI/UX was and even now it's still a relatively new field of work. The over simplified version is that it's the design of the portion of applications and software that users will interact with. How it looks, how it flows from piece to piece, how the user engages with it all falls into User Interface and User Experience design. For me, it's the perfect combination of Product Design (except it's for digital products), Design Thinking and Graphic Design.
What’s my work day like?
Life is different once you get into the workforce. There's definitely a shift in pace you have to get used to - college being a series of sprints and the workforce being more of an endurance run. The key to the longevity of your career is to figure out how to give yourself a good work-life balance, meaning that you are able to control when you're in "work mode" and when you're not.
I take a lot of pride in what I do which makes me want to work all the time. It's just a personality thing. But, I know that I can't allow myself to do that because I'll completely burn myself out and miss out on the rest of what makes life worth living. What I've found works best for me is to create a routine for my work days that consists of a definitive start and end so that I set boundaries for myself. My standard day goes like this:
Wake up. I like to get up early so it doesn't feel like it just rolled out of bed into the office. So I'll usually get up around 6 - 6:30am.
Warm up. I learned pretty quickly that I can't just jump into being creative right off the bat in the morning. So I have to warm up a little bit. I'll have my coffee and write or do something that gets me to start thinking creatively. This is usually when I work on my personal projects because I'm still in that half-asleep fog for a little bit where I'm not overthinking or getting in my own way.
Work. Right now I'm doing kind of a 50/50 split of virtual and in-office work. Half of our team is in Ukraine and we start a little earlier than usual (about 8am) so we can make the overlapping working hours as efficient as possible. So I'll start my meetings at home. Usually there's about a two hour block of time where I'm just in meetings in the morning. The rest of my day depends on what our current plan is.
There are two different variants of my job which are my client facing job and my internal job. When working with clients, I’m solely focusing on UI/UX work. When we do client work that means that we’re doing some sort of software development which could mean that we’re either starting from scratch or we’re enhancing a system our client already has. Since I’m the lead designer, that means that I’m the face of the design team. I’m in the client meetings, I’m presenting the concepts, I’m leading the design work and acting as the eye for the experience portion of the project.
The other variation of my job is what I do internally or for our own company. Being a startup-ish / boutique company we all end up wearing a lot of different hats which is awesome because I get to do a bunch of different things everyday. Obviously my main job is to design and manage UI/UX work for our products, projects and company but when I'm not focusing on that, I could be doing a number of different things like redesigning our website(s), building a UI Kit, documenting designs, optimizing our design process, writing requirements for development, creating marketing collateral, rebranding or branding something for the company, brainstorming on product enhancements, storyboarding a marketing video, really just about anything that needs a creative eye.
That's the cool thing about smaller companies, you will have your primary job but you'll also be working a bunch of other things the company may be doing. You get to learn new things and hone new skills while getting opportunities that you may not get until you're much further into your career.
Cool Down. After work, I like to do something that forces my mind away from what I've been doing or am going to do the next day. My personality type is very work-driven which makes me want to constantly think about it and continue to work. But I realized pretty quickly into my career that, for my mental health, I can't let myself continue down the work rabbit hole or else I'll burn myself out. So I'll do some sort of activity that acts as the segue from work to regular life. I may go skateboarding, or play instruments, or work on refinishing guitars, or maybe just take a nap if it's been one of those days. It doesn't really matter what the activity is, I just need something to act as a bookend to my work day.
My advice to anyone who’s trying to get into the workforce.
If you asked me 10 years ago about what I was going to do with my career (wow, that makes me feel old) I would have told you that I wanted to design iPhones for Apple. Clearly I'm not doing that, but I'm also glad that I'm not doing that. As much as this may sound like a bunch of smoke, life has its way of getting you to where you need to be and often it's not where you were planning.
I remember when I was just starting to apply to jobs and being rejected by jobs left and right. Every time I brought it up I would get the standard "It'll be fine" advice from every adult I came in contact with. I absolutely loathed hearing it at the time and even now I still cringe a little bit when I hear it. As much as it seems like crap, it is true, everything will be fine. As hard as it may be at the moment, you have to remain calm and not let yourself get too worked up about doing everything "exactly right" in order to get into the field of your choice.
No matter what you read or what anyone tells you, there isn't any true pathway to getting into your career. No one can give you a checklist that will land you your dream job. That may be stressful to some people because there isn't a right answer, but that also means that there isn't a wrong answer either.
As long as what you're doing or pursuing makes you happy, then you're doing the right thing. If you're struggling to get into your field of choice right now, I know it can be tough to deal with, it can be discouraging, and it can make you want to quit altogether. But, if you know in your heart of hearts that you're meant to be in that specific field, don't give up. Your time will come even if it's not exactly how you thought it would. Is it a fight to get a job in the field you want to be in? Absolutely. Is it worth it? 100%.
Want to learn more about what it takes to break into and stay in the corporate creative career path? Check out my book Five Years of Experience.
Don't forget to follow Brandon @brandonthecreative to learn more about working in the creative industries and get some great music suggestions!