Today we are talking with Anfisa Bogomolova – Senior UX designer, Instagram content creator, UX mentor and one of the hosts of a wonderful “Honest UX talks” podcast.
Read about her crazy story of getting into UX design by accident, dealing with the imposter syndrome and that one time she smoked Ukrainian shisha for the sake of business. Learn how Anfisa manages numerous progects together with a full-time job, her thoughts on formal design education and the journey of becoming a mentor.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself: why did you get into design, what was your background?
This is a funny story. In a nutshell, it was an accident.
10 years ago I was an interior designer planning to take a master’s degree with an industrial design major. I found a program with a ‘Product design’ title in Estonia and for some reason, I was convinced that product design = industrial design. What a surprise it was when I finally moved to Estonia and instead of building furniture from cardboard I started having business classes, research, and design thinking classes. Already 10 years ago Estonia appeared to be a pretty forward-thinking culture with a strong UX mindset (long before it became mainstream).
Looking back, it was the best accident that ever happened to me.
One day I was pulled to the hackathon to build a B2C marketing tool and after that intense 48h, there was no way back. I fell in love with the collaborative design process, with the fact that you can build stuff in 2 days, not months, and with the crazy brainstorming energy that everyone was so passionately contributing.
What was your first UX design project and how did you get it?
I cannot remember just one project because in the first years I’ve been involved in so many projects at the same time.
In the beginning, hackathons were a big part of my story. Just in the first year, on the hackathons, I’ve built probably about 5 startup idea products. As well during master’s degree projects, because the great thing about that program was that we actually had real clients. We were working on a kitchen for a real retirement house for older people, building an augmented reality platform for meeting like-minded people, working on the service design project for a chain of hypermarkets. And on top of that, I was working on a lost&found platform for a client from a freelancing platform.
What do you think are the most common problems of design education and which ones did you personally face?
This one straightforward: Lack of mentorship.
I had a great theoretical and practical education, but I’ve been left completely in the dark when I was working on my projects alone and needed a mentor. And I haven’t seen this area improve much since.
Also, one puzzle that many aspiring designers still don’t recognize is the value of reflection in their journey. It’s personal homework that every designer needs to be aware of. If you don’t reflect on what you learn and how it helps you to move forward, you’re not growing.
As a mentor, what do you notice UX design beginners to struggle with the most?
TBH, It’s hard to answer for everyone. I think it depends on the background of the person and their natural talents.
For logical and rational people who might be transitioning from technical specialties, I see a lot of struggles when it comes to creativity or research. For people with great research skills that are, for example, transitioning from psychology, I see some struggles when it comes to translating research insights into design prototypes. For people coming from non-tech backgrounds, I’ve noticed that it can be overwhelming and very time-consuming to find the best design patterns for their needs because they’ve never scanned and analyzed so many design patterns at the same time.
So, it really depends.
One thing I see most of the students are struggling with is when it comes to converging the research findings into actionable insights and design briefs. And that’s not a surprise: Research always means analyzing a lot of data.
What do you think is the biggest benefit of having a mentor?
Having a mentor is the most rewarding experience at the beginning of any journey.
- It’s your shortcut to learning faster.
- It’s the reflection that helps you to grow.
- It’s a key to better mental health because you learn to gain perspective and not worry too much.
- It’s a key to building your confidence and finding yourself in this industry.
I struggled a lot from not having a mentor in my past and that’s why I wanted to become one to make the transition journey much smoother for aspiring designers.
What would you say is the best part of teaching others and being a mentor?
“When one teaches, two learn”
I love this quote. I’ve actually breakthrough through my imposter syndrome and built that confidence only after I started teaching and mentoring other designers.
In 2016 I moved to Georgia to teach/mentor a group of 15 designers and they were the most welcoming people on earth. Their feedback helped me to realize how much I’ve actually known and was willing to share, but I was just lacking confidence in myself.
Later I started mentoring smaller groups or students 1on1 and it helped me to gain so many soft skills like reflection or moving from direct teaching to asking questions that bring you to some realizations. It also really helps to stay in touch with the community and be a relevant content creator.
You run so many projects at the same time together with a full-time job. How do you manage your time to keep up with everything?
Probably that’s because I don’t have children yet 😀
In fact, everything is possible if you’re motivated and organized.
Some hacks I use are:
- Have time blocks for every activity in your calendar.
- Knowing your productivity hours. For example, for me it works best to get organized and answer emails in the morning, noon for focused work, from 3 pm-6m I hop on multiple meetings, then walk the dog and have dinner and from 8 pm-10 pm I work on content. On Tuesday I have an evening reserved for mentoring hours. On Thursday I have an evening reserved for Czech language classes. This predictability and organization helps me to stay focused on my goals, rather than worrying that I forgot something.
- Also, for content, I’ve built a design system with reusable components for everything and I work with a girl which is a huge help with the visual part.
What inspired you and Ioana to create an “Honest UX talks” podcast?
So, I’ve been an Instagram content creator since 2016. However, I must admit that I was triggered to change that when Instagram introduced a dark pattern in their footer, replacing likes with shopping tabs and reels in September 2020. That was a sign for me that I want to start creating content where the conversation could go much deeper.
During the first wave of Covid, I was walking outside every day and podcasts were my biggest source of inspiration. So it came out as a natural next step to start giving back with my experience and knowledge through honest UX talks. I knew 100% that it would need to be a conversational format with someone I’d have a lot in common with and have some kind of chemistry. I couldn’t think of anyone better than Ioana for that role.
To this day I’m super grateful that she agreed to jump into such a venture with me just 1 month before giving birth!
How would you describe the freelance stage of your career and why did you decide to go back to full-time?
I’d describe it as a very messy, but very rapid growth stage in my career.
I was freelancing from 2012-2019 and I had to learn to be a business owner, a salesperson, an HR person, a great communicator for clients in the US, Latin America, Arab Gulf, Russia, and many European clients.
Every demography has a different mentality and working habits.
The client from Kuwait wouldn’t do business with me until he’d come to Ukraine to visit me and smoke shisha together.
A client from Russia would buy me a ticket to Moscow for a week so we could run a design sprint and visit local exhibitions.
A client from Mexico would spend 50% of the design calls talking about life updates and catch-ups.
Clients from the US would always say ‘This is awesome, we’re almost there…’ and then we’d keep working on it for another 4 weeks (which would teach me to adjust the feedback perception).
It was always super interesting, but challenging. One book I always recommend reading to all freelancers is “The culture Map’ by Erin Meyer. It helps to understand how different cultures build business relationships, communicate feedback, build authority, and lead. I have no clue what I would do without this book.
Anyways, I was 29 when I realized that I’m tired from freelancing. Besides all the great stuff and fun, adjustment is still messy, the lack of stability and constant switching brains from one project to another is tiring. And, more importantly, I started having a need to belong somewhere and find my long-term team.
That’s when I was offered to join the design team at NCR and later Citrix and I must say It was the right next step.
What are your thoughts on formal design education? Do you think it’s worth the time and money and how did it help you on your UX journey?
I think it’s nice to have, but not a must.
I had a great master’s degree education, but I can definitely see myself figuring out the same lessons if I were to choose to transition to UX myself. Today we have all the programs in the world to do it. For example, you can check my course IntoUX.design where I’ve concluded everything I’ve learnt in 9 years in just 35h content.
Also, most of the brilliant designers I know never had a design education. Either because 15 years ago there were no HCI curriculums or because their local university has a very outdated and theoretical program, so they quit it. And honestly, I respect more people who think critically and recognize that their program was not sufficient, so they decided to quit it.
If that helps, I can also add that in my 9 years of practice I’ve never been asked for a diploma (which is a bummer). Though I agree with these companies. Strong hard & soft skills in hand with a proven portfolio totally trump any diploma.
Is there an advice you wish you could tell yourself at the beginning?
Relax and enjoy the ride!
Don’t strive to become successful right away!
- You don’t have to become a senior designer in 1 year.
- You don’t have to become the founder of a successful startup in your first startup
- You don’t have to become team lead in 3 years of your career.
In the beginning, we stress and strive to grow so much that we forget to enjoy the ride. But the truth is, in the beginning, no one expects you to be the smartest person in the room.
So, use this time to make mistakes and learn from them, embrace the unknown, be open, and don’t expect too much from yourself!
*And get yourself a mentor!
What are your career plans for the future? Are there any upcoming projects you’re working on?
I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t come up with a new venture. At the moment I’m working on the UX guide-book that will most likely be a bundle of smaller books on the topics:
1️⃣ Understanding the problem
2️⃣ Gaining the data that informs the design
3️⃣ Designing with data in mind and measuring the design
Stay tuned on my email list.
What is your message for other people in the UX industry?
Don’t be afraid to fail.
The more you hold back, afraid to ask for feedback or for clarification, the longer you’re not growing and risking failure with a much higher cost for a business. It’s much better to fail fast and with lower risks.
Your team will thank you later.
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