Meet Hazel: From International Educator to UX Researcher

From the Middle East & Northern Africa to Washington D.C., Hazel’s career has taken her all over the world.

Team Designlab
Team Designlab
Apr 9, 2021
Min Read

Hazel’s career journey began years before it seemingly started, back when she became deeply interested in the Middle East after visiting Israel for the first time for a family friend's bat mitzvah trip. After this experience,she then went on to receive her Bachelor’s in Middle Eastern and North African Studies with an Arabic language focus.

“I didn't know it then, but the academic research experience I developed through my studies laid the groundwork for my love of research design as a future UX Researcher and Designer,” Hazel says.

Shortly after graduating from university, she received a Fulbright scholarship for a teaching position at Hassan II University in Casablanca, Morocco. Teaching in the Moroccan higher education system was the ultimate exercise in creative design thinking. She collaborated with university faculty to design a course curriculum that helped to address program gaps and better prepare students to succeed in the program. 

“I loved my students and the area of Casablanca so much that I stayed on for another year to teach English but also lead a student community service group in Morocco. Here I helped students design community projects with a focus on environmental and social change,” says Hazel.

From Casablanca, Hazel relocated to Washington D.C. to work for a Palestinian academic research nonprofit, and then onto a position where she helped to manage student programs in the Middle East. It was here where she became fascinated by how users navigate and learn in digital spaces. 

Hazel Unger Contextual inquiry in the field
The community garden was one of the few places during COVID-19 that was open and Hazel was able to conduct field research.

“I found that one of my biggest strengths was my ability to empathize with users, allowing me to design digital products and curriculum that addressed students' and faculty's specific needs,” she says. 

Through her research, she put a name to the career that would perfectly fit her passions: UX design. Before deciding to make the career transition, Hazel researched the field and conducted many informational interviews with UX designers in the D.C. area. 

“I then delved into the impact of UX on business metrics, and found stats that indicated for every $1 invested in UX results on average saw a return of $100, and that UX design improvements could yield conversion rates up to 400%. In our ever-increasing digital world, I knew that this was a rapidly expanding job field, and companies that valued user experience had a competitive edge.” 

Researching the Best UI/UX Design Bootcamp

Hazel then committed to researching an education provider that could equip her with the skills needed to make the career-switch to an industry where the user's perspective is an integral cornerstone of business and design decisions. This is when she found our UX Academy program.

“When I discovered Designlab, I asked if they could connect me with alumni in the D.C. area that had successfully gotten jobs after the program. They put me in contact with a Designlab alum that works as a UX Designer at National Geographic. Coincidently, this person had a very similar career transition experience to me with a background in International Affairs,” Hazel says. 

Hazel Unger Designlab

“Talking to her, I asked her if she thought that Designlab’s curriculum had prepared her for transitioning careers to her current position, to which she said yes. After this, I reached out to a few other alumni, and they all answered yes to this question. From there, I felt 100% confident in choosing Designlab for my design education.”

Hazel was looking for a condensed learning-intensive experience to learn technical and visual design skills while leveraging her past research and project management experience. The UX Academy course curriculum addressed these gaps in her skillset. 

“My experience with UX Academy was incredible. During the course, I not only mastered new design tools like using Adobe Creative Suite, Sketch, InVision, and Webflow, I also fell in love with the research stage of the UX design process,” she says. 

Another aspect of the course that made a huge difference for Hazel was the mentorship. As a neurodiverse person diagnosed with ADHD, Hazel learns differently compared to someone who is neurotypical. 

“When I was matched with my mentor, Matt, I told him about this and described some of the learning challenges I was having. Matt was incredibly patient and made a significant impact in helping me work through and eventually overcome these challenges. Matt was instrumental in reassuring me along the sometimes scary learning path, helping me reframe project roadblocks as key learning moments.” 

What Job Did Hazel Land After UX Academy?

After graduating from UX Academy, Hazel’s background in international education proved helpful in landing her a job at a multilateral development bank. The bank is one of the world’s largest funding sources for developing countries, and Hazel is now working on enterprise-level projects that impact thousands of people across multiple countries.  

“I was drawn to the organization’s mission to reduce poverty, increase shared prosperity, and promote sustainable international development. As a UX Researcher, I play a small role in helping push the organization’s mission forward,” says Hazel. 

The team Hazel works on functions almost like a UX consultancy within the bank. They work on a variety of digital products across the organization. She’s currently working on several UX research projects for the bank's enterprise-level tools, and is also helping her team build its first research repository to empower cross-functional teams to search and use research insights across projects.

“I love my job and the team I am working with. Working with a group of people whose modus operandi is to be the user's advocate through human-centered design thinking is incredible. I have also found a field that attracts collaborative, empathetic people—this is almost a requirement to work in UX. As someone who recently transitioned to UX Research, I am working alongside colleagues that have been in the field for many years. It has been an invaluable experience to soak up their wealth of industry knowledge and apply that to the projects we’re working on,” Hazel says gratefully.

Hazel recently had the opportunity to attend the User Research (UXR) Conference. There she was able to remotely meet a number of senior UX researchers and ask them questions about researching enterprise-level digital products. 

“One thing that still blows me away about the UX/UXR community is how willing and open people are to talk to you. For example, someone I talked to about building a research repository offered to show my team his company’s repository and speak with us about lessons learned. As a whole, UXers care about the UX community and see resource sharing as an integral part of growing the field and upholding the field’s academic rigor.” 

Tips For Those Working Towards a Career In UX

Now that Hazel has graduated and landed her dream job, she has some advice for incoming, current, and graduating students of UX Academy...

  • I was nervous about doing a virtual design program from home. I didn't know how I would react in an environment that is very self-led. Right before Designlab, though, I joined a virtual co-working app called Focusmate. It was life-changing and one of the best decisions I made in my career transition journey. Focusmate helped provide structure to my day, helped me complete the Designlab program, apply to jobs with other Focusmate job seekers, and land a job all in a pandemic. I would highly advise any prospective student to try it out!
  • Breaking into the UX industry is very difficult. In preparation for the job hunt, plan to do one informational interview call a week, start participating in the UX Design Slack groups, and attend any design conferences if possible. Networking is critical.
  • Do real projects. My Institute of Palestinian Research and Bruce Monroe Community Garden Designlab projects are why I got hired. Leverage past job networks and community contacts to find these projects. Half of UX is about knowing how to communicate and collaborate. Employers want to see how you navigated project challenges and fostered cross-functional collaboration in real-time.
  • Designlab does an amazing job of helping you build your narrative and brand. This is a critical part of the curriculum, especially for any career transitioners. Focus on this and really think about past job skills and what you bring to the table.
  • Read every UX book, listen to every UX podcast, and attend all the free webinars. You are a sponge at this point. Take advantage of it!
  • Use the time, especially if you are a full-time student, to work on yourself. The time I was in Designlab was also transformational in my personal life. Being able to build a very structured routine enabled me to work productively and efficiently from home.
  • Outside of her full-time job at the bank, Hazel continues to work on a couple of freelance UX/UXR projects—some of which she’s getting help on from her Career Services mentor!
  • Since I got a job before formally entering Career Services at Designlab, I used my sessions to get help on freelance projects. My sessions with my mentor Leigh have been incredibly valuable. She’s helping me with a freelance project involving a nonprofit organization website redesign. During one of the mentoring calls, Leigh offered advice on my project timeline and the client and co-creation user workshops I’m running. As part of another mentoring session, Leigh will also be attending one of the client workshops to offer me feedback on how I did as a workshop facilitator, as well as how to improve.”  

What’s Next For Hazel?

One of Hazel’s professional goals this year is to continue to build out a detailed five-year career roadmap. She plans to use this roadmap to help define what area of UX/UXR to specialize in, corresponding key career milestones, and companies that align. 

“With transitioning to a new career, I had this all-around burst of energy, drive, and focus that I want to take advantage of. The goal is that in the future, when I am seeking new job opportunities, I am going about it in a very intentional way,” she says enthusiastically.  

Some of Hazel’s other specific professional goals include:

  • Build out my qualitative/quantitative research skills
  • Work on a freelance service design or mobile app project
  • Take the Adobe Certification tests on Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator
  • Read one UX book a month
  • Listen to 15 minutes of a UX podcast every day
  • Continue to network with UX professionals

Hazel concludes, “I can't emphasize this enough, but I have found a job where my strengths are a part of the core requirements to accomplish the job. I feel incredibly fortunate that a confluence of events in my life led me down this path to the UX field.”

If you’re looking to follow in Hazel’s footsteps and find a program to help you learn UX research and design, we recommend exploring UX Academy.

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Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.