Moving to Bay Area - how to transition to UI, UX, User Experience or Interaction Design?



I would really appreciate if anyone with similar background could share their experience.  I am moving to the Bay Area because of my spouse's new job.  I realized that there are many jobs available in UI, UX, User Experience or Interaction Design and I would like to know how to get my foot in the door without a formal education or experience in those areas?

I have been practicing architecture at prestigious arch design firms for 8+ years after my master's degree from a top program.  I am also licensed in the field although I don't think these credentials would be of much help.

I don't know any coding but I am starting to learn very basic html and hopefully some css too.  I am not expert in graphics software, but I do have a wide range of skills, including Revit, Sketchup, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

I have been reading other threads and the "working out of the box" series, and it seems that I could apply my architectural training/ thinking in those jobs.  To be honest, I have been considering alternate careers for the past 4 years and I am motivated by the potential financial reward in technology sector and its ever-growing influence.

All I can think of is to create an online portfolio that features my architectural/graphics projects and maybe tailor it in such a way that relates to user experience?  Am i too naive to think that this would be sufficient to get my foot in the door?

Please advice.  Thank you.

Mar 4, 13 1:05 am

Hi Kai,

I think this a great initiative. I am in the same boat in considering a career change. If you could post your progress that would be much appreciated!

Good luck!


Mar 4, 13 3:04 am

My daughter is an Interaction Designer and she went to school to get a degree in that specific discipline. Based on what she's told me about the challenges of the work, I'm inclined to think a transition from architecture - without special additional education - will prove difficult. I don't say this to bring you down -- only to be sure you are being objective about the challenges.

If you do decide to pursue this transition w/o additional formal education, I suppose the main challenge will be to demonstrate that you do - indeed - have the knowledge and skills require to make a contribution in what I perceive to be a fairly specialized area. I'm not sure simply publishing your architectural portfolio online will be sufficient -- you'll probably need to go much farther and mount a truly credible campaign. You'll need to demonstrate a working knowledge of the concepts and terminology associated with Interaction Design, and demonstrate your ability to use that knowledge effectively in a business setting to produce results.

In San Francisco, Cooper is considered one of the top Interaction Design consulting firms. They offer workshops to outsiders and you may wish to view their offerings:

I will add this also -- my daughter lives and works in the Bay Area and many of the other interaction designers she knows there work as independent contractors on a per-project basis. You are correct that there is opportunity in this field -- she tells me that Interaction Designers always seem to be in demand. However, it seems that permanent gigs with a big technology firm are somewhat rare.

Good luck. Please let us know how it works out for you.

Mar 4, 13 10:34 am

Right now, it seems like everyone, their brother and sister with a MacBookPro is going this route - Me Too - this market is becoming over-saturated - jeez - every Coffee House I walk into around here - everyone is hunkered over their MBPs coding away in C# even on BART - Where exactly do you see yourself going with this? - architecture is picking up around here - in the long run?

Mar 4, 13 11:51 am

Stone - Thanks for your candid opinion!  I will look into those cooper workshops.  Do you know if any community college or school that offers professional certificates in HCI?


Xenakis - thanks for sharing your view!  I am just not sure if I want to be practicing in architecture anymore even though it is picking up.  It has proven to be an enriching education and journey, however, I found that my current values no longer align with the masochistic nature of the profession.

Mar 4, 13 11:38 pm

kaiyuen -- no, I don't know of any such certificate programs, although I expect google can steer you to some offerings w/o much effort.

Mar 5, 13 11:37 am

 I found that my current values no longer align with the masochistic nature of the profession.

I don't know - I do remember when I was in the Video game industry, I made 2* as much - I had a co-worker there who graduated from Berkeley in archietcture - he became one of our UX designers and did quite well for himself creating the UX for "RedDead Redemption" He is self taught - it can be done

Mar 5, 13 11:54 am

Hi Kaluyen,

                     I am in also facing a similar situation, I think the biggest hump in the way would be, explaining potential employers(mostly computer geeks) how Architecture education can be applied to UX. Anyway, since I have done a lot of research on this, here are some skills you can acquire to get you moving on the right path. HTML5, CSS3, Adobe CS6(nights spent working on architectural presentations shall not go to!),Omnigraffle, Balsamic Mockups(Wire Framing tools), Javascript, JQuery and try getting the CUA cert (certified Usability Analyst) from HFI. Also, UC Irvine has a nice Web Design/Development graduate certificate program, do check up on that. Good Luck and let me know if you find something better or if you need additional help.



Aug 8, 13 2:57 pm

Truth is most professions aren't as fun as it sounds.  Try doing an internship on it for a few months or so and see if its really for you.  Sure architecture is torture but I'd probably shoot myself if I had to work on codes 24/7 ;D

I think architects are just incapable and complain too much sometimes.. Many of us have this loft vision of becoming a STARCHITECT, doing little work etc etc.  I doubt being an accountant, auditor, computer programmer etc is fun but people stick with it and do it without complaining too much.. But again we certainly don't get paid as well as them..  If we did, we probably wouldn't be bitching so much :)

Aug 9, 13 8:25 pm

I'm a former architect who is currently a UX Designer. You can make the switch! My experience is going to be a bit different, as I made the transition seven years ago, and the tech landscape was different then, but some experiences should apply.

The first thing I'd advise is to sell your architecture degree to employers by focusing on the great design education it gave you. An architecture education teaches the essential lessons of the design process. You have all the tools you need, you're just applying them to a new domain. 

The transition from architecture to web/product designer is a good first step. I'd encourage you to start making websites: make one for your portfolio, find a friend who needs one, if possible find a small business and offer to make their site. As a product designer, if you can make a delightful site, very few employers care about your degree.

If you want to make the bigger jump to being a UX professional, you're going to need additional expertise. Unlike even five years ago, a lot of university's now offer specialized degrees. You can get hired without one but your work will need to demonstrate your knowledge. To gain that knowledge and become fluent in UX techniques I'd recommend attending a conference like UX Week, local tech Meetups, and hackathons. If you can't afford the conferences, read the books of all the presenters to learn on your own. As mentioned above there are also various consultancies that offer short courses.

Another important part is becoming a 'digital native.' For myself, as a private person, this wasn't a natural step but how can you convince an employer that you have insight into making great apps if you don't have a twitter/foursquare/instagram/etc. account? Try out tons of new apps and services, read reviews, and think critically about them. Join online communities like UX.stackexchange and engage in dialog. It's not important to have thousands of followers but you need to be out there using and loving tech.

Best of Luck!

Oct 30, 13 1:58 pm

Great to hear you're thinking of alternate career paths.  You're not the first and the switch can be done.  

Lots of companies look at your education as an primer for any the industry. The internet related industry will look at your education more for your sense of design, communication ability and project coordination skills (you're not just some flaky artist).

Back in the, I began the migration over to the web design.  Unfortunately, I took too long taking learning the programs and then couldn't make the move to the bay area (to dig in to the gold of the bubble).  By the time I was ready and abler to get there; the bubble burst in 2000 and the market was over saturated with web designers, programmers and other dot.comers.

Fortunately, I was able to take those online media skills and develop a niche for architects and developers to produce the high end renderings and interactive media presentations for their sales and marketing efforts.  That worked well for about 7 years, but then everything became easy button pushing and everyone was able to get junk out on the screen or ship the services to china, india or other cheap sweat factories; and then the RE market crashed.

I see a parallel between what happened during the the era, and whats happening now with the net 2.0 and what the architecture industry does; in that they all go through business cycles and when one is up the other is down.  

From the news on the business channels and from how many internet companies are issuing new stock offering, things are getting frothing.  Remember, the era took about 15yrs to get to the top and it burst in 2000.  It started it way back in 2003. so we're in about 10yrs.  I'm thinking the net 2.0 is not going to reach the manics of 1999, as it's proven the internet isn't a passing fade with the genX'rs.

So don't wait long, grab what you can- while you can and get some shares in a start up company (that has a great concept or product) and wait for the big payday.  When you get that big payday, remember us poor schmuck's and hire us to design you ultra cool home by the Bay!

Good luck. have a good time and party like its 1999!

Dec 5, 13 11:38 am

Coding....sounds dreadful!

Dec 5, 13 12:13 pm

"So don't wait long, grab what you can- while you can and get some shares in a start up company (that has a great concept or product) and wait for the big payday.  When you get that big payday, remember us poor schmuck's and hire us to design you ultra cool home by the Bay!"

Better do it with the next two years, SF Chronicle thinks there could be a big downturn in tech -

Dec 5, 13 12:21 pm

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