My name is Charisma, and over the past six months I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work as an intern with the digital user experience team at the University of Southampton. It’s been nothing short of enlightening, allowing me to gain hands-on experience in various aspects of user experience (UX) design and research.
Graduation day in front of Winchester Cathedral
I’m excited to share with you what I’ve been up to, the challenges I’ve faced and invaluable lessons I’ve learned during this journey.
Before diving into the details, let me give you a bit of background about myself. I’m a graduate with a degree in Game Design and Art from Winchester School of Art. During my 3-year course, I was introduced to UX design by my first-year lecturer, who also happened to be a User Experience Designer/Researcher.
Later in my academic journey, between my second and third years of study, I had the opportunity to work alongside her and a small team during a summer internship as a Game Designer. This experience enabled me to collaborate and gain first-hand insight into the world of UX design. That’s when I decided to really dig in and get a better handle on this field.
Subsequently, I ramped up my commitment to user-centred design. I tackled my final major project with enthusiasm, leveraging UX tools and methodologies to place user needs at the forefront.
Fast forward a bit, and here I am! Thanks to the incredible network at the University of Southampton, I landed the opportunity to be part of their award-winning Digital User Experience team. It’s been quite a ride, and I’m eager to share more of it with you.
I joined the team during a bustling period, with one project starting while another was wrapping up. This was quite a challenging transition for me, as I was eager to soak up as much knowledge as possible, granted there was a lot going on. To gain a deeper understanding of the University and the team’s dynamics, I had one-to-one meetings with various team members, spanning from Content Design to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and everything in between. Not only did this exercise provide me with invaluable insights, it was also a great way to put names to faces and really get to know the personalities driving the show.
One of my initial assignments involved redesigning a social media component. This project served as a helpful opportunity for me to put my skills into practice and enhance my proficiency with Figma, one of the tools the team use for prototyping. Additionally, it allowed me to sharpen my research abilities and cultivate my iterative design approach, which is great as it benefits the end user and the organisation both in the short and long term. In the short run, we’re delivering products and services that are friendlier and more adaptable to our users. Looking ahead, these skills mean we’re on a path to continually improve, saving resources, and building a reputation for quality and innovation, contributing to the university’s sustained success and growth.
Throughout the project, I consistently collaborated with the UX team, sharing my work and making refinements based on feedback. Being part of a multidisciplinary team is advantageous because it:
- Incorporates diverse perspectives
- Ensures quality
- Keeps a user-centric approach
- Enhances design efficiency
- Promotes teamwork
- Guarantees ongoing improvements
- Minimises post-launch risks
Collectively, these factors lead to improved products that provide better outcomes for their users and, by extension, the organisation.
I also had the opportunity to showcase my work during my first show-and-tell session. Nothing better than showing your work to the team early. This was a chance to share what I’ve done with the wider digital user experience team, which pushed me out of my comfort zone and at the same time enhanced my communication skills.
Collaboration and Teamwork
One standout aspect of my internship is the strong emphasis on collaboration. I work with diverse teams, including designers, researchers, developers, and product/delivery managers. We have regular stand-up meetings to keep one another in sync and updated, which was a new experience for me. This collaborative environment not only enriches my learning but also exposes me to the intricacies of cross-discipline teamwork.
Moreover, we use Miro, a powerful collaborative platform, to enhance our workflow. Prior to this internship, I hadn’t used Miro extensively, but I’ve learnt how invaluable the tool is for ideation, planning, and project coordination. It allows us to create digital whiteboards, share ideas in real time, and visually brainstorm together. My collaboration skills have improved, and I’ve also developed a deeper appreciation for the benefits of such tools in modern teamwork.
In the fast-paced world of digital user experience, I’ve learned that agility is essential. Through my engagement in an agile framework, using tools like Jira, and taking part in sprint planning and retrospectives, I’ve embraced the iterative nature of projects. I’ve seen how this approach cultivates adaptability and responsiveness to shifting priorities, all while keeping a strong commitment to user-centred design.
Dedication to Accessibility
One of the most rewarding experiences so far has been taking part in our team’s Accessibility Workshop in support of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). This event strongly emphasised the significance of crafting digital experiences that are inclusive and accessible to all users. During the workshop, I learned from sessions, such as an introduction to screen readers, and engaged in group discussions, which greatly improved my comprehension of accessible design principles.
Images from our Accessibility Day Workshop
Also, I’ve been working with the team on what we call a ‘website accessibility health check’, where we’ve systematically tested the site for any accessibility-related issues that might hinder user navigation. Any problem we find gets addressed by raising tickets for resolution. By doing so, I’ve become more familiar with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and accessibility testing tools, which have really helped me understand how accessibility works.
During my time at university, I dabbled in Figma to create UI mock-ups, prototypes, and play-test designs, but I never fully explored its time-saving and efficiency features. However, I’ve quickly learned a lot about the tool and its capabilities over the past few months.
For the first time, I had the opportunity to work on a design system, which introduced me to the complexities of keeping consistency across various digital touchpoints. I was amazed at the workflow streamlining that they can bring to the table.
I’ve been actively involved in the redesign of components within our UI toolkit, using the Tailwind CSS framework. This endeavour is geared toward maintaining a cohesive design system and improving our process for delivering designs to developers, promoting better practices for collaboration and efficiency.
Our latest project, ‘News,’ has just kicked off, and I’ve jumped into my first discovery phase. Currently, I’m helping with user interviews and diving deep into a competitor review analysis, after supporting in some stakeholder workshops and conducting competitor research. It’s my first time going through a project lifecycle, from start to finish, and I’m excited about it!
I’ve still got a ton to learn. For instance, I’ve only recently begun getting the hang of As-Is mapping, and I’m on a mission to build up my confidence overall as a beginner User Experience Designer.
I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the entire digital user experience team, with a special shout-out to Steve and Piret for being incredible mentors and guiding me through my first journey into UX. I also extend a big thank-you to my course leader, Adam Procter, and Ayala, my manager, for giving me this incredible opportunity to advance my career.
On that note, don’t hesitate to explore the opportunities our university offers! I was pleasantly surprised by the support I received as both a student and an alumnus. The network and resources are exceptional, and your skills could contribute significantly. For further details, reach out to Ayala Gordon.
If you’d like to know more about my experience or have any questions, I’m also happy to talk!