We’re continuing on our Day in the Life series by shadowing Helena Bukovac, a freelance Product Designer.
For many people, a career in UX/UI design leads to a position with that title. But one of the beautiful things about this line of work is that, with a solid foundation in UX/UI design, you have the opportunity to pursue any number of paths that align with your unique interests and skill set.
In addition to a UX/UI designer job title, you might also pursue a position as a UX Researcher, UX Writer, Visual Designer, or Product Designer. Each role encapsulates a valuable area within the product design process.
That’s why we’re so excited to connect with Helena Bukovac today, who is giving us a glimpse into what her daily life looks like as a product designer.
Meet Helena Bukovac: A Product Designer
Helena is a Product Designer with a high skill set in leadership. While she has experience with desktop-based products, she primarily works on mobile products.
“My career took me through various industries, but for the past couple of years, I have been working in Fintech and coming to realize I love it there,” she said.
A lifelong learner, Helena’s value on education has not only led her to obtain NNg UX certification, but she’s also hoping to work on an MBA to expand her business knowledge as well.
“Besides hands-on work, I also mentor, teach at a University, volunteer my skills as time allows, and have a podcast with a friend called Design Party!”
The Versatility of Freelance Product Design
Helena works in her own company as a freelancer, which gives her the flexibility to design a workload that suits her personal style.
“I usually have one or two projects active and then manage them with my other endeavors to achieve a good work-life balance. This gives me the flexibility to pick what projects I want to work on,” Helena said. “Currently, I am working on two projects as a Product Designer, collaborating with cross-functional teams.”
“I love my job and most of its aspects! The best part is definitely the versatility. Anyone can be a UX/Product designer and adapt it to their lifestyle. Especially now, after Covid happened and the workplace has been readjusting, it’s relatively easy to find a way that will work best for you.”
Although technically a freelancer, Helena works with cross-functional teams on her projects. These teams usually consist of a couple of developers (Android, iOS, server-side), a product manager, a business analyst, and other designers.
“I work the closest with the Product Manager and other designers, but make sure that I am in touch with everyone and open to communication,” Helena said.
The Typical Morning of a Product Designer
“A typical morning starts with self-care for me,” Helena said. “I get up, play with my cats, do a workout, and take care of my plants.”
Her workday usually begins around 9:30am with reviewing her calendar and sorting out the priorities for that day.
“This includes checking email and getting up to speed with things. I try not to have too many things to do, usually three main tasks (which don't include daily tasks like checking student work, file upkeep, etc.). Sometimes I have team calls and meetings, but I have been trying to inspire a ‘low call atmosphere’ because not everything needs to be a meeting.”
When she doesn’t have calls, Helena uses a block of work time to focus on a specific task that she had set up for that day.
“Having dedicated work time every day at the same time helps me stay consistent with efficiency. Generally, I noticed that having a routine makes work more manageable, and my brain switches to ‘creative mode’ more efficiently.”
Helena’s Afternoon Schedule
“My day is more or less split in two, and I try to make my work fit my life schedule! It is relatively easy to start working more than you should, so I suggest really planning out your day and taking regular breaks.”
The day is split cleanly with an extended lunch break, followed by another block dedicated to working. To maximize her focus, Helena tries not to have any meetings scheduled in the afternoons.
“To be perfectly honest, sometimes I take a nap when I'm not feeling like working!” Helena said. “I will try to wrap this up by 4 pm and take another break. I prepare for my mentoring calls, usually around 5 or 6 pm. I don't overdo it and fit in some house cleaning or any chores that need to get done to make sure I get up often enough.”
Time Management is Key to Product Design Success
Since Helena’s work is primarily self-paced and organized based on her own time, it’s important for her to know the deadlines and remain accountable to clients. Not only does this require constant time management, but a highly organized process, as well.
“I have a paper planner, Notion spreads per client, and my phone/desktop calendar. It might be overkill, but it works for me!” Helena said.
A Meaningful Career Field
The best parts of being a designer are seeing results and feeling the success of making a difference. This might be on a lower scale, seeing good results from your user testing sessions, or on a grander scale, accompanied by successful business numbers for your company.
Despite the positive aspects, Helena noted that it can be challenging to explain the value of your work. “Sometimes you need to defend your need to do a user testing session when the decision-makers do not understand how it will benefit the result. For this exact reason, I have been working on my business knowledge to adapt my conversation style and approach when presenting my needs.”
A Sample of Helena’s Product Design Work
While most of Helena’s projects are under NDAs, she was able to share a volunteer project that she worked on: an NGO that works with children that have atypical development (this includes various disorders like autism, Down syndrome, and several others that affect something we would call a child's typical development.)
The project: creating a design for a sign language learning app.
“It was very challenging because the target users were so specific. I spent a lot of time consulting with the educators and parents, but it boiled down to testing with the children. It was humbling to see how many of our bold assumptions just went out the window, and the kids proved us completely wrong. The end result is a straightforward app that needs to be extremely careful of accessibility and interactions that might take away the users' short attention span.”
The Qualities Needed to be a Product Designer
In addition to the basic UX skills that you need to perform your job well, Helena also advises working on the less mentioned—but equally important—soft skills.
“Active listening, empathy, growth mindset, and one of my favorites - adaptability. If you can adapt to any situation and work out a solution without overthinking it - you will be so much better off in your career, she said.”
“Learning is essential, the industry is constantly changing, and it is necessary to stay updated. You don't have to follow the latest trends, but know what they are - they might become the standard of next year.”
Finally, whether you’re working as an in-house designer or running a freelance business like Helena, “find a good support group of designers with a similar mindset. It’s nice to have someone to talk things through with that isn't from your immediate team.”
Are You Interested in Becoming a Product Designer?
Product design is one of the many job roles that are accessible within a UX/UI career trajectory. If you’re interested in pursuing a path that leads to product design, we have a variety of introductory courses available, from design fundamentals to a full-fledged UX Academy.