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So I've just learned about UX/IxD design a few months ago while talking to an alum of my program and have been becoming more interested in it since then. I'm wondering where I go from here to prepare myself for at least an internship.

My background: BS in biology with lots of premed classes, BA in fine arts, did research in a plant lab, and am now in my last year of a masters program in medical illustration at a very good university. I took a pretty weird path to get here so I won't go into detail about it.

But anyways, I have a lot of sketching/illustration/3d modeling/animation skills with some graphic design and a couple courses of instructional and web interactive design. My thesis which I'll be working on for most of next year will be on designing an interactive learning module for a new surgical procedure.

In the future I'd like to eventually do design for healthcare - medical devices, patient experiences, medical simulations, etc (no idea how big that market is btw since it seems like a lot of UX is web related). I'm still very much committed to my original goal of using art/design for making a difference in healthcare.

Anyways, a couple questions:

  1. Am I being naive? Considering my background could I even get an internship in UX which will hopefully lead me to a job afterwards? Or do I need to go back to school?

  2. Where do I go from here? How can I prepare for applying for at least internships or junior positions in the field?

I realize I have a long way to go. The main thing I want to know is if my goals are possible to get to without going back for another degree, and if so, where to go from here to do it. Any kind of feedback would be really appreciated!

  • Coming from a science background myself, I'd say that your greatest strength would be to use the skills and knowledge you have in research and supplement it with the IT side of things. There is a large degree of research and testing involved in UX design that you can definitely leverage. For more advice please try and look for other similar questions or reach out to us directly if you are not able to join a chatroom discussion. – Michael Lai Sep 7 '14 at 22:37
  • 5 years ago, I was in the same boat (MSc in Pharmacology). As mentioned by @MichaelLai, you have a lot of skills that can be brought over into the field. The forum isn't the best place for deep discussions. I would recommend you to attend a local UX meetup. Also feel free to reach out to me, I'll be happy to share my experiences with you. – nightning Sep 8 '14 at 19:56
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Your question is going to be closed because it's a bad fit for this site, but just to cheer you up:

UX is filled with people from extremely diverse backgrounds. And as weird backgrounds go, yours isn't as weird as you might think. You have a combination of natural sciences and fine arts, which means that you have both analytical and visual/creative skills - that's a great combination for a UX person, who is often located at the junction between programming and graphic design.

Moreover, your thesis is a spot-on UX project, and not a trivial one at that.

Read up, get as many courses as you can (there's a couple of good ones online and there are probably some available at your university too), base the design of your project on solid UX principles. Use UCD methodologies when you work on it. It will be a great showcase of your abilities.

The market for UX in medicine is enormous. It's very easy to get the impression that UX is all about the web, but that impression is false. I think this mostly stems from the fact that when you do UX for enterprise software or niche products, it's much more difficult to share it and to wow people - because they don't even know what they're looking at.

Educate yourself in the field (it doesn't need to be formal education) and be able to apply your knowledge to your project, and to talk about it later. If it's an interactive learning module for a complex procedure, your knowledge should be very applicable to every aspect of it.

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15 years ago? You'd be hired on the spot just for showing an interest. Some of my best co-workers back in the day had equally bizarre backgrounds. One was an ex-film producer, one a geologist, one majored in classical music.

Today? It's a bit tricker. As the industry is now much more established and schools have actual UX programs.

But you do have some good background. Illustration and Fine Arts are certainly a plus. Do you have enough to put together a portfolio? That will help with the internship route.

Also note that your interests (medical devices) is certainly UX related. Other areas of applicability would be Human Factors Interaction and Industrial Design.

I'm not sure where you live, but if that's the industry you are after, Minnesota would be a great place to relocate to. Dozens of medical device companies are located there. The UofM also has programs.

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Vitaly's right, the market for UX in medicine is enormous.

Here's part of a job spec working on medical equipment, which should look familiar:

Stakeholder needs identification
Development of user profiles, target audience descriptions, and use scenarios
Task Analysis
Requirements Specification
Participation in concept generation activities
Formative and summative user testing
Human Factors validation studies for regulated medical products
Failure and misuse modes analysis
Work collaboratively with other functions including marketing, engineering, industrial design, manufacturing, quality and regulatory to produce user-centered designs that meet user needs, but also factor in business priorities and any technical, cost and/or manufacturing constraints.
Plan and conduct user evaluations of product concepts and prototypes, analyse data, document evaluation methods and results, and present design recommendations to project teams, including external clients
Interact professionally and communicate effectively at all levels throughout the company and with clients
Serve as a resource for business developers to help define work plans, scope, and budget for proposed projects and participate in prospective client meetings
Some international travel will be required as part of the role
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Welcome!

I hope you get lots of feedback from different people, because I get the impression that no two people in this field have the same background.

To answer your questions:

  1. You are absolutely not naive. You should always consider your background as an asset -- no matter where your life takes you. Your biology background may help in the medical field, where user experience is primordial. Consider the following:
    • We always talk about how doctors need an excellent bedside matter; as patients are presented more and more with automated solutions, it's important that the tools they are given are both comforting and reassuring... not to mention foolproof!
    • Medical professionals themselves are using technology more and more themselves. We need to make their experience as smooth and natural as possible so that the focus remains on satisfying their patients and not their tools.
  2. I humbly suggest you read this summary of carreer advice. There's a thousand different avenues, but I would maybe recommend with this one. A famous expert in the field of usability named Jakob Nielsen commissioned a survey of UX professionals to ask them their background and advice to newcomers. After that, I recommend diving into the detailed report also. Yes, it's 189 pages long but it reads and scans well, and I think you'll find a lot of insights there that may help you find your own path.

Another couple of points on some things you mentioned:

  • You've rightly noted that what you read about UX talks a lot about web design. You should know that it goes beyond this, to software, hardware and even beyond. Recently I got to help design the packaging that a piece of hardware was going to be sent to, so that it was user-friendly and included clear instructions on how to install it.
  • That eclectic background you have may actually give you a leg up over the rest of us, if you can apply it to the field, and I think you'll find you can. If you read that report, it details a lot of the attributes of people in the UX field, and by the looks of it you have knowledge and experience (and even degrees!) in most of it.

Best of luck! I hope you find your path, be it here or elsewhere.

And if it is here, or while you decide, won't you join us in conversations? Anyone can contribute and we'd be happy to have you. :-)

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