Isobel Kieran began her career in publishing and spent over a decade trying out different areas of the industry, including Editorial and Creative. She was a Creative Director when she left the publishing house, Unbound, to make a career pivot.
While she was very happy in this job, Isobel felt she had explored all the opportunities that publishing had to offer her. Drawn to Product Design, she decided to enroll in General Assembly and take UX Design to pursue a new career. Today, she is a Product Designer at Red Badger.
Here’s Isobel’s story.
Tell us about your background. What were you doing before attending General Assembly?
I worked in publishing for over 10 years. I started in Editorial and then, after becoming a Managing Editor, began to move into Creative. By the time I left my company to make a career pivot, I was the Creative Director. The company I worked for was the wonderful independent publishing house, Unbound.
What motivated you to explore UX Design, and why did you decide to pick General Assembly?
I think the decision to take the leap came about as a manifestation of the change I recognized I needed in several different spheres of my life.
It actually wasn’t until I started thinking about retraining that I fully paused and took stock of what I had learned over my career. There are some things you can’t learn in a classroom, like staying calm when nothing is going as it should be. The wonderful thing that I noticed about many people I’ve met in the tech field is that these skills are valuable to them regardless of the field from which they originated. That attitude was one of the things that drew me to General Assembly (GA).
I think from the beginning, the contact I had with them didn’t feel transactional. I had been toying with the idea of a Software Engineering course for a while, and Ellen, the Admissions Producer at GA, took the time to understand my background and the direction I wanted to go in. She sent me resources and suggestions, which helped me realize that Product Design was a better fit for me.
What did you like about General Assembly? Are there any highlights that stood out to you?
I really enjoyed the way that the program was run. There was a lot of structure, which meant that by the second or third week, we had settled into a good rhythm. Each week had a clear focus, with some intense work leading up to (usually) presentations of our work at the end of the week and then some much-needed social time to finish off.
On the weeks that had a quite specific focus, we would often have guest tutors come and teach, which was great. Hands down the best thing about it, though, was the group. We spanned three continents, definitely more than three time zones, and a multitude of different backgrounds and careers. But during the time we spent together, we became a close-knit team. I am still in touch with many of the people I studied alongside and genuinely think I will be for a long time.
How did you fit the UX Design Immersive program into your schedule?
It was intense! I have two young children, one at school and the other only part-time at nursery, so we called in a lot of favors. The program has the same hours as a workday, so in that respect, it’s sociable hours to fit other things around. For me particularly, I had to draw on a lot of mental strength to have coherent thoughts in the daytime after being up all night with a one-year-old, but I’m always game for a challenge.
Can you give us any examples of projects that you worked on during the program?
I worked in a team of four to create an app for a mental health platform that was founded during the pandemic. This was such rewarding work—the client will be using our work to take the business into its next phase and apply for investment funding.
We redesigned the existing website as a mobile app, created a bespoke UI system, a personalized onboarding experience, and a user-friendly therapist matching tool (a kind of ’Bumble for therapists’). The UI for this was a real joy to create.
Do you have any advice for someone considering General Assembly’s UX Design Immersive Program?
Consider your options. Ask yourself what’s holding you back. It’s okay to be happy in your job and want to change direction. Get your life in order before your first day. Don’t forget to eat and sleep. And fill your freezer with food you can heat up after a mentally taxing day!
How did the program support you in finding a job?
General Assembly has a dedicated Career Coaching program that kicks in after the course ends. The Career Coaches are hugely supportive, giving help and feedback on your portfolio, applications, and CV and helping find open roles to apply for. I knew this was available when I signed up for the course but didn’t realize how crucial it would be until later.
Was the job search process different from what you expected?
No, I would say it was what I was expecting, mainly. I was slightly surprised by how many rounds of interviews there were, and how formulaic they were (’tell me about a time when…’). I found some aspects of interviewing frustrating. One thing that set apart the company I currently work for from its counterparts was that they weren’t so preoccupied with the rounds that arguably bog the whole application process down.
With how many companies did you interview? How did you choose which one to work with?
I interviewed with eight companies. I chose my current company because their values align with mine—Red Badger has a lot of respect for people, both their own and their clients. And I think with a foundation built on mutual respect as a goal, you can genuinely do some really wonderful work and build some brilliant things. RB aims high, which as a perfectionist appeals to me greatly, but they do it with pragmatism and empathy. And we have absolutely killer teams—I love my colleagues.
How are the skills you gained from the course helpful in your current career?
I would say that I probably use something from the UX Design Immersive Bootcamp every day at work in some shape or form, but what I really appreciate in particular are the presenting skills that I gained from the course. Working with a client, we often present our work back weekly, and knowing how to do this engagingly is such an impactful skill to have.
What do you think is different about your life now versus before the program?
I am generally happier with my life and the direction in which it’s going; I look forward to the future and see my own professional growth ahead of me. I have a better work-life balance, and I also earn 40 percent more than I used to, which is a pretty huge perk.
What do you enjoy about working at your current company? Are there any specific perks you enjoy?
Flexible working, a huge understanding of the challenges of being a working parent, a clear career progression structure, and (my favorite!) an annual learning budget to continue developing and growing.
Do you have any job search advice for someone considering a UX Design career?
Make yourself easy to find online, and be willing to make some speculative approaches to people for a quick chat. You would be surprised how many people are keen and willing to help you, and if nothing else, enjoy meeting new people.