From Accountant to UX Designer: How Yu Siang Turned His Passion into a Design Career

by Patrick Faller

posted on 09-18-2017

design’s hottest fieldInteraction Design Foundation

How did you go from accounting to UX design?

I chose to study accounting in university because I wanted job security. Although I had dabbled in graphic design since I was in my teens, I’d never considered it anything but a hobby. Besides, in Singapore and in my family, there was a general sense that an arts or design education wouldn’t provide you with ‘a good future,’ which is a euphemism for ‘a well-paying job.’

Two years into my four-year accounting program, I started feeling that I’d never been satisfied with a career in accounting or auditing. After all, I thought, my career would define a large chunk of my life, and I would never want to spend it doing something I didn’t enjoy. So I started finding opportunities to do design professionally. I managed to get internships, one at Ogilvy as an art director and later in a local startup as UI/UX designer. After a while, I realized that I really enjoyed the processes and multidisciplinary nature of a UX career.

Now I’m a Visual Designer at the Interaction Design Foundation, a Danish non-profit offering online, self-paced UX courses. I do a mix of interaction, UI, and UX design, and I also help create some of the educational materials used in our courses. I feel immensely satisfied knowing that my designs directly impact the lives of tens of thousands of designers around the world, all of whom are learning to get better at doing what they love.

When did you first realize that design your passion?

I’ve always loved beautiful things and creating beautiful things. When I was young I used to recreate the Windows XP desktop UI out of PowerPoint together with my twin brother (who has, in turn, made the switch from finance to UX design). Of course, now I know that great design is more than aesthetics, but I think my eye for visuals has definitely helped in my UX career.

It wasn’t until I did my design internships that it clicked in mind that my passion in design could be transformed into an actual, decent-paying career. When I was offered a job at the Interaction Design Foundation one semester before I graduated, it sealed the deal for me. That’s it, I thought, I’m gonna be a UX designer!

What challenges did you face when you made the transition from accounting?

There is a great deal of inertia in Singapore when it comes to pursuing a career that’s not conventionally deemed as a good, secure job. When people think ‘nice career,’ they usually think accountant, engineer, banker, lawyer, and doctor. This is changing now, of course, but not as rapidly as the tech industry has changed in recent years.

My first challenge was facing some resistance from my family. There was one point where my mother had specifically told me that it’s impossible to make a career out of something I love, that I’d grow to hate it and thus destroy whatever I liked about design. She had good intentions of course (after all, our family isn’t well-to-do), and she was worried about the career prospects of a design-related job. It was very disheartening to hear, but I’m glad that I decided to go ahead with my design career. And she’s 100% supportive of what I do now, which is great!

Another challenge I faced was the perceived waste of effort and time when I decided to swap my education in accounting for something not even remotely related. I saw this is a sunk cost fallacy, however, so it didn’t affect my resolve to become a UX designer.

Lastly, having transitioned from accounting to UX design, I think the imposter syndrome is much stronger than what most UX designers already feel. To cope with this, it’s useful to read about what other designers have felt (you’ll realize that the imposter syndrome is much more common than you think, which is reassuring), and learn as much as you can from more ‘orthodox’ literature sources like Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things.

How have your accounting skills helped you in your current design career?

I think it’s very important for UX designers to have a good sense of the business models they’re working with. After all, UX design is an alignment of business needs with user psychology. In that sense, my accounting training has made it easy to understand how businesses work. I recently calculated the opportunity cost of not conducting A-B tests and presented it to my team, for instance, in order to persuade stakeholders to kick start the testing process.

Design is also not the stereotypical opposite of numbers and mathematics–data and numbers play a significant role in a UX designer’s job. Having an accounting background, I feel, makes me much more at ease with dealing with numbers, and it also means my mind is much better at organizing my designs, files, feedback, etc.

You worked hard to transition in your career. What’s the best part of now being a UX designer?

I love creating beautiful and meaningful things. That’s the part I love about being a UX designer. In my current role, I control not only the user flows but also the interface and interaction design. It gives me so much satisfaction to see a carefully researched and designed mock-up be transformed into an actual, live site.

I also love the multidisciplinary nature of UX design. It’s about aesthetics, data analysis, interview techniques, psychology and biology, and so many other fields. This means there are always new things to learn. It also means there are very little barriers (in terms of formal education prerequisites) to a career in UX.

What’s your advice for anyone out there, in accounting or otherwise, who wants to break into UX design?

Start by doing. Take action, on multiple fronts.

For one, practice doing UX design. Learn that UX is more than just about pretty interfaces (this idea is prevalent in many design showcase sites like Behance). Start conducting interviews, creating wireframes, designing interfaces, etc. Start making mistakes to learn faster.

At the same time, look out for opportunities. When you’re transitioning from another field to UX design, internship or job opportunities can make a big difference. They will tell you if you actually like the job, and if you’re cut out for the job. They will also help you build a network from which you might get new career opportunities.

Lastly, start learning. There are many ways to learn (the best way is to learn by doing), and many platforms that offer courses. This might be a shameless plug, but the Interaction Design Foundation offers around 30 UX design courses from beginner to advanced level.

Other platforms like Udemy and Cooper also offer courses, but their prices tend to be ironically affordable only after you’ve secured a UX design job. You can also learn from good old books. Really, any learning is better than nothing. Just be wary about one thing wherever you choose to learn: When someone tells you that you can be a UX designer in weeks, run, don’t walk, away from them! Becoming a UX designer is a (life)long process. Thankfully, it is a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable one.

To read more about Yu Siang’s journey from accounting to UX design and to see his work, visit his website here.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

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