DIA Design Guild appreciates everyone in the Apprentice Program. To humbly brag about the awesome people in our community, we’re sharing interviews where we can become better acquainted them.
Today we Get to Know our very own Nasimeh Taghavi, a UX Apprentice here at DIA. Read on to learn more about her!
Cleared for takeoff
Justin: Hello, Nasimeh!
Nasimeh: I’m okay, how are you?
I’m good, thank you. And thank you so much for interviewing with us. Let’s get started with something simple: How did you get into UX?
Out of high school, I was in a work program and got assigned to interview with this company that hired me- It was a helicopter corporation. I just started off as a high school intern and then by the time that I graduated they had me start learning some creative software and I became their creative person, in-house. I learned how to use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop… Back then, I used QuarkXPress… I helped them with PowerPoint presentations… One of the funnest parts about my job was actually designing the color/paint schemes for the helicopters with customers.
Flying into newsrooms
So I was there for about eight years and then I switched over into newspapers. I worked for the Features department at the Fort Worth Star Telegram, so everything arts-related, movies, the culture, scene— That was where I worked. I was assigned to some social and food pages early on.
I ended up getting switched over to the then-Spanish newspaper, La Estrella. And I worked with two guys - the editor, who was bilingual, and the assistant editor, who spoke very little English. That was pretty fun: learning to work together on a Spanish-only newspaper. I was still doing other work but that was my biggest assignment of the week.
By the time I left, La Estrella had transitioned to a bilingual paper, so it was English and Spanish, which was its own set of problems. It’s gone away. The company I worked at was bought by another company who changed everything and systematically laid off people and restructured the organization for the next thirteen years. I was finally part of the last layoff last year (2021).
At that point, I was doing copywriting as well as some page layouts but they had mostly pulled me into copywriting only. By then, the (team) structure had changed. For the past several years, I worked there I was assigned to a publishing center and we produced nearly thirty papers across the U.S. (Thirty papers being the main papers.) For instance, the Bellingham Chronicle, I think, was one of our papers.
Every paper, every newsroom, also had several weekly papers, so it’s a lot more than just thirty newspapers but thirty newsrooms. We provided all the copyediting for the print versions and the page layout, proof-checking, and all that kind of thing.
Landing on UX
It was quite stressful by the time I left and I’m thankful I was laid off. And that is what led me to rethink what kind of work I would be doing since I did not think I would get back into the newspaper world and go through that scenario again. So I came across user experience and finally looked into it because I didn’t understand why I kept seeing job postings for it.
When I learned about it, it felt like it made sense for my personality and my skills. So I started pursuing that. It’s not even been a year since I started learning about UX. I was laid off one year ago this month and probably around August is when I first started looking into it. As I did more research on it and learning, I decided that I was going to try to transition.
So since then I’ve been learning about UX. Myself, I watch a lot of videos, I read posts and articles about it. I’ve joined Meetup groups for UX. I’ve looked into taking courses that have finally been approved through a grant, so I’m now taking courses at UCSC Silicon Valley Extension for User Experience and Website Design. So that finally got approved and I started in April but I had been working on getting that approval since September.
Wow that’s quite a journey from helicopters to newspapers and then finally to UX. Sounds like a lot of fun.
Fun. Maybe it sounds nicer than in real life.
Extreme photography: Helicopter edition
I’d like to ask you more about the helicopter job. What did you like about working there?
I loved the helicopter rides! And by the time I left, I was about to begin air-to-air photography where you actually hook yourself to the helicopter. I would be with them in-flight when they were doing photoshoots, but I wouldn’t be the person taking the pictures. I was going to transition to be the one taking the pictures and- You know, you’re kind of strapped in, you have the door open when you’re in the helicopter taking the pictures and then they have to coordinate with the other helicopter what they want them to do and stuff so you’re getting pictures of them in-flight.
Navigating apprentice programs
How did you end up finding DIA?
So DIA… I believe that I was in a group, a Slack channel I had gotten on, which was part of Delta CX, which was one company of the lady I like to learn from, Debbie Levitt. I believe she had posted on her Slack that DIA had opened up apprenticeships for the following year. I wanna say that’s where I first read about it- So you know, I had been learning from this community so that’s where DIA popped up. I kinda looked into that.
I had already been applying to any kind of UX apprenticeship I could find, whether it was paid or not because I was trying to… You know, I’m an older person transitioning, I feel like I need a little bit of help to make this transition.
I felt like I would do best with an apprenticeship type of situation where I can get personal guidance and suggestions where I can confirm whatever I’m learning is accurate because there’s a lot of different ideas out there.
Especially when you’re learning online different groups of thoughts are being advocated and a lot of times they are viewed as leaders in the field? So, for them to have opposing views, it makes it hard to learn and be certain of what you’re learning. Definitely some type of apprenticeship situation was my goal.
When I heard back from Grace, and of course everything went from there, but also during the same time I applied to a paid apprenticeship with Accenture and they’re the ones I’ll be starting with July. So I probably actually applied for both at the same time in December.
They’re global, so they are all over the world, but they have a very long history and it’s a company itself that’s kind of changed as time has gone by but they’ve gone into projects with big companies like Microsoft, Amazon… I forgot the term for that, they partnered with companies is the term?
Oh, congratulations! It must have felt like a long time trying to find the right apprenticeship.
Yeah! I was searching high and low. I mean there’s not a ton of apprenticeships out there or internships where there’s still some kind of guidance given for UX. I guess that makes it a pro and a con; there’s not that many of them so it’s easier to follow up on any that you can because there’s not that many to begin with.
I probably applied to under ten and this is up until even a few months ago. So maybe averaging out to one and a half applications a month, and that’s looking and following up. Some apprenticeships that are online are not accepting anybody at all. It’s a lot of just following up, like, “Hey, I’m interested” and maybe hearing “No, our program isn’t working anymore” or “We’re not accepting anybody for now”. Even what is out there isn’t actually always available. A lot of following up, yeah.
On your point about there not being many UX apprenticeships or internships… This is actually one of the reasons why DIA created its own apprenticeship program.
Love it. As I told Grace- Which I like to think was the inspiration behind some of these interviews- It is pretty fascinating what having some support can result in. The support that’s given, it may seem like it’s a small amount; it’s not huge, it’s like, “Okay we’ll meet with you, we’ll talk to you about your things”… You know, having a mentor is huge as far as him giving up his time, that part is huge. In the scheme of things, it’s not like y’all are somehow providing eight hours a day of talking and training and education- You know what I mean?
It’s just kind of like, “Hey there’s this support here and you can reach out to us and if somebody’s good at something- Jessi’s really good at LinkedIn; you can reach out to her and she’ll take a look at your LinkedIn and give some suggestions. Stuff like that.
For instance, there’s been things I’ve done that I’m certain I wouldn’t have done if it wasn’t for John being like, “No, you should do that!” or “Why don’t you x, y, and z?” It’s hard to explain but whatever comes from DIA somehow grows in size as far as the output.
Learning how to reflect with DIA
That’s beautiful. Could you give us an example?
I had finished a three-month long project with a UX meetup group in Colorado. Afterward, I was trying to go through what I learned and talking to John about how I wished I could do a retrospective. And he said, “Well, you should.”
Thinking about it, I was just going to do my own but then I realized that I’d really like to ask the team. Even though we finished this project a month ago, I wanted to see what they’d say and they all responded and showed up.
John showed me how to find a template- I mean it’s simple when you think of it:
- open up Figma,
- find a template for retrospective,
- apply the template,
- make these few changes,
- and then say this is how you’re going to do it,
- set the timer;
so I got to do that this week. On my own, I would never have reached out to them in the first place to suggest, “Hey, I want to do a retrospective, do you all want to participate?” So when I look at even that little impact, none of that would have happened and I would not have learned all the stuff I just learned. In fact I’m still looking at the Figma board and pulling together insights from what the teammate said. And everyone else had such a positive reaction that I wasn’t expecting. But again, that’s why I wouldn’t have done it to begin with. Because I didn’t have the mindset of “It could work out well and actually, everyone else could benefit.”
We love to see that growth and going out of your comfort zone.
Another example is that I was going to right off the bat write off this schooling that I’m doing because I’m getting a job at Accenture. Of course, John’s perspective was, “No, look into it. Maybe you can do it. You don’t automatically have to say no.” So we looked at a few things and all this other stuff happened.
Not only did I go through my first class, but I just signed up for the next two classes that I’ll end up finishing after my first two weeks at Accenture. Anyways, putting more thought into things, just having another perspective who’s looking at some of these things without it just being me looking at everything and making decisions… It’s kind of a lot when it’s just you making constant decisions and you’re relying on your own thinking and everything. Another perspective can just change it up.
And just seeing the way [John] does things, the way he takes notes and stuff, I just learned a ton just from watching him take notes during our meeting. So it’s interesting how many things I noticed just from having some interaction with him and obviously he’s received a lot of good education and training to get to where he is now. So it’s nice that I can glean some of that just by observing the way he does things.
Oh my god, same! I like to say, I subscribe to the John Khuu School of Design™.
Oh, sorry! That was a weird sound. It was kind of a laugh but I tried to hold back but it came out funny!
Feeling normal when you’re weird
All good. Oh, I should probably clarify that John was actually my first mentor before Grace took me on.
He really is a great example of someone to observe and learn from.
Yeah, he has got a good thinking ability and he’s very organized, like an organized thinker and an organized observer, I would say, because he’s also good at articulating things. That’s something I’ve always wanted to get better at; how to say things. I would definitely say that he has a strong ability to articulate and at the same time he’s good at taking information and parsing it… Organized and analytical but at the same time has a good understanding of what you can expect from human beings. I don’t think he’s surprised that I make some of the mistakes I make! I don’t know, I think he’s got a good eye about being helpful and not being openly judgmental, I would say. But if he sees something, he’ll say something, which I’ve really benefited from.
I was showing him something in Figma and I don’t use keyboard shortcuts. I use my touchpad like a mouse. It was driving him crazy because I was taking a long time to do anything since I used it like a mouse. But I never realized that I use it like a mouse instead of a touchpad. So he was like, “Here’s the shortcuts you can go to. Look you can double click, do two-finger scrolling, zoom in and out with a pinch.” Like, what?!”
It’s just funny to me because I just kind of thought, “Oh, this is my mouse and I’m gonna use it like I use a mouse.” Everything was slow because my own mindset hadn’t adapted and I never realized it. I would have never realized it if no one had said anything. Who’s there to say anything? It’s just me!
Anyways, it’s just little things, catching me up a little bit more. Because he’ll notice that I’m doing something like a really old way of doing it. I’m not up to date with certain things so he’ll point that out but I think that’s going to make it even easier for me to transition to a new role because I’m catching up a bit more tech-wise.
He’s very nice when giving feedback… A little too nice, sometimes.
And I think I even told him pretty soon off the bat like, “Hey I need direct feedback. I’m not always good at figuring things out if you’re trying to say something the nice way. You’re gonna have to tell me whatever it is because I don’t think the way other people think, so you’ll have to be direct.
Oh yeah, thankfully he’s also blunt when you need him to be.
Yeah, he’s done a good job at that. Although I’m sure he’s reined it back several times and chosen not to say many things just because there’s so much that he’s like, “Oh my gosh, she has to change so much!” He has to pick just one thing at a time to correct me on.
It’s okay, he’s good at making weird people feel like they’re normal. That’s what I’ve taken away from him. Sorry if that includes you too!
Haha, that sounds like him.
That really is him, isn’t it?
John being your mentor is a good thing. He has the patient of a saint.
Me too! Because if he had even a little temper or little something, I would probably just start crying immediately and be like, “I can’t help it!”
Alright, I think that's a good spot to end at. Thank you so much, Nasimeh!
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