Meet Nicole: From Marketing to Senior User Experience Designer at Publicis Groupe in Japan

Learn the story of how Nicole made a career shift from marketing into remote User Experience Design in Japan.

Team Designlab
Team Designlab
May 4, 2022
Min Read

When the pandemic hit, Nicole was working a travel-heavy marketing job at an engineering consultancy. While struggling with the realization that she was tired of traveling for her job, Nicole was assigned a long-term project abroad.

Thanks to the pandemic lockdowns, there was little to do on the weekends. So Nicole decided to challenge herself creatively by launching an app.

“I managed to find a couple of engineers who were open to doing an app together, and off we went to launch an MVP,” Nicole shares. “I was kind of thrown into design with the app, but I enjoyed the experience so much that I wanted to study the UX design process more in-depth.”

Why Nicole Applied for UX Academy

At this point, Nicole had her eye on the UX design field, realizing that it would satisfy what she calls her “creativity monster”, as well as allowing her to work remotely.

After some research, UX Academy became a frontrunner in her search for a good UX bootcamp, so Nicole began to reach out to alumni and current students to hear about their experiences.

Despite the fact that each person had a unique set of high and low points, Nicole quickly saw that not a single person regretted taking the program. Fueled by this realization, Nicole decided to take the leap and apply, finding herself particularly drawn to three facets of the program:

1. 100% Remote Online Course

UX Academy is a fully remote online program.

“This was crucial for me, since I was working a full-time job and I didn’t want to be bound by geography,” Nicole says.

2. Mentorship

UX Academy students are paired 1:1 with experienced designers, whom they meet with for weekly mentoring sessions.

“I know I learn the best with a mentor. A mentor brings structure, order, and focus which was exactly what I needed to navigate my UX design journey.”

3. Group Crits

UX Academy students also meet up weekly for virtual Group Crits, where they practice giving and receiving feedback on their work.

“I know trying to communicate designs isn’t natural for newcomers. I thought this was the best space for me to practice articulating my design decisions, and it’s something the other bootcamps didn’t have.”

Practice Makes Perfect: Nicole’s Interview Experience

“I’m a Canadian lady based in Tokyo, so my job hunt process was quite different than most,” Nicole notes.

In addition to the standard challenge of finding—and landing—a new job, Nicole also had to navigate differences in how design is viewed in Japan, as well as cultural and language barriers.

“It was rough, and there were times I thought about moving back to North America because it seemed easier,” she admits.

But by reflecting, creating a strategy, using the UX process on herself, networking with a community, and making time to rest, everything started to come together.

“I was able to hold on long enough to see my efforts pay off.”

Mockup of a mirror app
Mirror Mockup by Nicole Ha

Step 1: Revisiting the UX Process

“To polish my portfolio, resume, and LinkedIn profile, I used the UX process on myself,” Nicole shares, noting that she saw herself as the product.

“My features are my experiences/capabilities, and the companies that I was applying to were the users,” she explains.

During her third capstone project, Nicole started applying to companies that she wasn’t necessarily interested in, just to see the type of feedback she would get.

“Based on those findings I would learn, adjust, and gain missing skills / experience and add the new refinements into my resume / portfolio / LinkedIn accordingly.”

Once she completed 3-4 iterations, she was able to get interviews with large agencies and big tech companies.

Profile photo of Nicole Hasbum

Step 2: Community Networking

“I had no idea what the UX industry was like in Japan,” Nicole admits. Consequently, she had to spend additional time and effort seeking and reaching out to other UX designers in the area.

“By networking with local designers, they slowly helped me paint a picture of what was going on, which helped set certain expectations about the industry.”

It was this networking process, where Nicole connected with local UX designers to understand the landscape in Japan, that ultimately led to her current job.

“I connected with a designer who worked at Publicis Groupe Japan in October, and she reached back out to me in January, letting me know of a vacancy in her department. After several conversations, she gave me a referral, I passed the interviews, and now I’m currently working there!”

What the UX Design Interview Process Looked Like

The interview process at Publicis Groupe followed a similar cadence to her other “practice” interviews: interview screenings with HR, portfolio presentations, and 1:1 interviews with management.

“This was the perfect opportunity for me to learn about them,” Nicole shares. “I learned that they have an international corporate culture, primarily work with B2B clients, use data for their design decisions, and work on products specifically targeted for a Japanese audience.”

All of which was exactly what Nicole was looking for.

mockup of a game match app
Game Match by Nicole Ha

Words of Wisdom for Aspiring UX Designers

Nicole offers a few insights, based on her own experience, to help other aspiring UX designers navigate the challenging waters of pivoting into a new career:

1. Self-Reflect

“It’s important to reflect on different aspects of yourself. What you want and need from a job opportunity. What your strengths and weaknesses are. Is there a certain industry that excites you, or is there an industry you don’t feel comfortable working in? Answering these questions will help narrow down and bring some focus to your job hunting process.”

2. Have A Strategy

“I don’t know if it’s my inner marketer speaking, but definitely have a strategy in place! I was job hunting in Tokyo, where the UX ecosystem is completely different than, say, San Francisco or London. It makes sense to tailor your plan according to your environment, goals, and limitations.”

3. Use The UX Process On Yourself

“I started by applying early to companies I wasn’t interested in during my Capstone 3 to see the type of feedback I would get. Once I completed 3-4 iterations, I was able to get interviews with large agencies and big tech companies.”

4. Network With Your Community

“Connect and reach out to other students/alumni within the Designlab community, as well as other designers in the same city that you’re looking to work at or currently live in. By participating in several groups in the Designlab community (SLC, Ishioka Cohort, UX-Apac), I was able to build a strong social foundation. We were there for each other; from ranting about portfolios to seeking advice for our next designs.”

5. Make Time For Some R&R

“It’s important to know, keep track, and manage your physical & mental limitations. Something I kept in mind is that this isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. I significantly slowed down for Capstone 3 due to burn out. I didn’t work on any designs for half of December, and I’m glad I did it that way, since it allowed me to come back stronger in January, ready and recharged for job hunting.”

Shining a Spotlight on the APAC Region

While North America and Europe have a mature UX industry, Nicole’s next steps as a designer are focused on trying to encourage others to shine more of the spotlight on the APAC region.

“I hope I can spark more interest towards the unique UX ecosystem that Japan has to offer,” Nicole says.

She is currently dedicating her Instagram account ( @haniico ) to share what design—everything from UX, packaging, art, product, and exhibitions—looks like in Japan.

“Throughout my UX journey, I have gained Japan-specific insights. If anyone is thinking about working as a UX/Product Designer in this region, feel free to reach out!”

Photo of Japan by UX designer Nicole Hasbum

You can connect with Nicole on LinkedIn.

Are you ready to pivot your career into the UX/UI design field? The all-new UX Academy experience is launching a new cohort soon.

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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.