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Jasper Gass

SFU Student Undergraduate
Communication, Art + Technology › Interactive Arts + Technology › Design

Organization
Position Title
I can imagine that every co-op placement will be a vastly different experience, but no matter what you end up doing it is good to keep an open mind and be flexible.
Experience Details
Semester
Fall
Year
2023
Introduction + Preparation
Preparation Tips for Future Students

The biggest thing I can suggest when looking for your first co-op placement is to start searching early. It is a good idea to have a portfolio and resume finished well before your desired searching term so that you’re ready to search early. Do not underestimate the time it takes to manage your applications and stay on top of new job postings. It takes a little time each day, and having all your documentation ready means you’ll have one less thing to worry about. There are a lot of job postings up early, so it will give you the best chances to apply to jobs that interest you most. Also, I suggest applying to everything you can! Even if it doesn’t interest you, if you have the skills you should apply. There is so much value in practicing cover letters and interviews even if you do not get the job. Moreover, there is a lot of value in taking jobs that might not be your dream placement and you will likely learn a lot from the experience regardless. I also recommend doing your research; knowing the company and their values will give the prospective employer a good impression of you and show that you are aligned with their values.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

I am working under Fraser Health’s Center for Advanced Analytics Data Science and Innovation (CAADSI) in a new UX/UI team that consists of just myself and one senior designer. Because it’s a new team, a lot of my work has been internal to establish the foundations of the team. I have been helping create a new design system, team wikis, onboarding documentation, and templates for things like project proposals. Because the existing documentation was lacking or outdated, I found the onboarding process was confusing and it took a long time. It was 3 or 4 weeks into the job before I had a grasp on the organisation's structure, what kinds of products we design, and who we design them for. This is definitely part of the learning curve of any new job, but the lack of a clear orientation contributed to my confusion. At the same time, because I was helping create the documentation I got to know the content a lot more personally. The team wiki, for example, is a collection of definitions and explanations on our processes for both new members of the design team and for other teams to understand how we operate. For me to write and organise this content meant that I had to understand it really well. While documentation takes a lot of time and effort, it will be really important for setting up a good structure for the future of the UX/UI team.

Day to Day

Because the UX/UI team is new, we are slowly working to educate the rest of CAADSI about the benefits of design and we are always picking up new projects as they realize how much we can help. This means that every day I am switching between different projects and tasks in order to keep up with all of the ongoing work. My day-to-day varies greatly. Some of the tasks that I have been responsible for include logo design, colour palette selection, brand identity and personality, user interviews and research, user journey mapping, layout design, and information architecture. The only consistent thing I do each day is a design scrum meeting first thing in the morning for the design team to discuss what needs to be done and solve any problems before beginning the day’s work.

Learning and Adaptation

The biggest thing I have learned so far in my work with Fraser Health has been how incredibly important it is to be good at doing research and self-conducted learning. Due to the variety of work that falls under UX/UI and the rapidly growing and changing technological landscape we work in, it is critical that designers know how to do good research and teach themselves. I have done research on a wide variety of topics so far, including software programs so that we can document limitations and design with those in mind, colour blindness and accessibility when creating colour palettes for data visualizations, and how to create and structure design systems effectively. Being adaptable has also been very important to be able to pivot quickly between many different projects and tasks.

Accomplishments and Challenges

The largest challenge I have faced so far is working individually. The UX/UI team right now consists of only me and one other experienced designer, and we have a long list of projects. Because of this, we have to split up the work to get everything done and I am trying to be as self-sufficient as possible. My experience at SFU has been mostly collaborative, with many team projects and only a few small individual projects. I think that this was to my benefit, as it is an industry standard to work in teams and a really important skill to be able to communicate and collaborate effectively. I have incorporated teamwork into my creative workflow now because of how important it is. Finding myself on such a small team has required me to be more independent and self-sufficient. It’s not ideal to work alone, but it is just as valuable of a skill for when you do find yourself in those situations.

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

In all, this co-op position has taught me many things about myself, the industry, and the tools and process of design. The most noticeable difference is in my Figma workflow. Spending a lot of time working in Figma has given me the opportunity to learn the program better and become more efficient. This is, of course, beneficial for the UI design work I am doing at Fraser Health because I am able to complete tasks in a more timely manner and to higher standards, but I am seeing the impact in my personal work as well. Prior to this experience I had little knowledge of auto-layouts and styles. Now, I am able to rapidly prototype mid fidelity ideas with consistent styling. It has saved me a lot of time and energy in my own projects and I am really grateful to have learned so much and be seeing the impacts already. I am also hopeful that with the remaining time I have working for Fraser Health I will get to refine and develop these skills even further.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

One benefit of working individually is that I am able to see clearly my strengths and limitations. I can see my strengths easily by looking at what tasks I am able to complete with minimal help, and likewise I can isolate what areas I need to develop by seeing what I struggle with. This has allowed me to focus more energy into developing my weaker skills to hopefully become a more well-rounded designer. On a personal level, I have never considered myself the strongest designer and was really scared accepting this position as a UI designer despite having design experience. It has been very rewarding to develop my skills further and receive some real external validation of my skills. I value my skills more and have improved my self image after getting some experience and improving my skills. The real world context of working as a designer also helps make plans for life after school more concrete and achievable, which has been hugely beneficial for me. Planning ahead for post-student life has been a struggle for me, but with newfound confidence and experience I feel much more prepared.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

One of the things I am most grateful for from this experience is better insight into the things I like and dislike. While I do not directly dislike working as a UI designer, I have realised that it is not as satisfying as my experience working in school. This has made me question what the difference is between my school experience and work experience to figure out what parts of this career I find appealing. I know now that I definitely care a lot about teamwork and collaboration in my day-to-day, and I want to prioritise work that is team or community oriented. Moving forward, I am hoping to look into academics and teaching as I really enjoy the process of working with others to help them learn and thrive in academic spaces. Working as a UI designer has taught me a lot about myself and has helped me realise my own personal goals, which I could not have done without this experience.

Advice for Future Students

I can imagine that every co-op placement will be a vastly different experience, but no matter what you end up doing it is good to keep an open mind and be flexible. For me, even the structured schedule of a job was a new thing and very different from my regular school routine. There was a lot to learn and adapt to quickly, which in the moment was stressful but ultimately has helped me become more resilient. I think with the right mindset and attitude, you can learn a lot from any co-op experience.

Author

Jasper Gass

SFU Student Undergraduate
Communication, Art + Technology › Interactive Arts + Technology › Design
visibility  363
Jan 31, 2024