Applying UX Principles to Life: Personal Branding

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If UX researchers and designers can shape the experience that someone has with an interface, then why can’t we try to shape the lives we want to live?

by Joey Limmena

Back in September 2013, I entered university with the thought of going into engineering. I had a knack for robotics and coding back in high school, and so naturally, it seemed like a no-brainer. In fact, I’d managed to get into the mechatronics program in the department of mechanical engineering. As things seemed to falling into place, I felt lost. Luckily, I had taken some time off to try my hand at running a startup where I was able to combine my technical knowledge with my upbringing in visual arts; and that’s where design really caught my eye.

Are there LinkedIn endorsements for Fortune-Telling?

Shaping Experiences

Now, we’ve all seen those motivational YouTube videos that compile monologues from popular movies, complete with the Inception soundtrack playing softly in the background. Personally, I’ve always found them not only generic, but out of context (surprise surprise, I’m not an Italian-American boxer or an Austrian bodybuilder). However, the message remains the same overall, and that is we all have control over our lives.

This could be Rocky’s training scene or Vancouver in the winter

As designers, we play a powerful role in determining the outcomes of a product. Research, planning, iterating and testing all take place to make sure that we are meet the goals set out in the beginning; but what if we applied these UX principles to our own lives?

If UX researchers and designers can shape the experience that someone has with an interface, then why can’t we try to shape the lives we want to live?

Two years ago, I set out to do an experiment and effectively become a product designer. The goal was to reframe my entire identity around design by garnering as much hands-on experience, industry knowledge and expertise as I could. As the months progressed, it then occurred to me that applying UX principles to your life is personal branding.

Personal Branding

Every day, we are exposed to marketing and branding from countless international corporations. Some are even smart enough to target you specifically based on your behavior patterns online. But let’s face it: technology has made the world a much more competitive place, and not just for companies fighting for your attention.

Everyone is constantly plastering their resumes with company names, internships and personal projects as if they were decorating a Formula 1 car.

Red Bull sponsorships give you wings

This associative branding technique allows people to quickly determine who you are. On top of company names, the roles we take on also give others indication of what skillsets and abilities we are capable of carrying out. It’s a good starting point, but without understanding who we are as individuals, we simply become a subset of the brands that we associate with. So how do we actually take control?

As a student, your resume is just one part of that. The good news is that we can control our brand and associations; even better is that a lot of it is rooted in UX.

Why Branding is UX

To draw out their similarities, let’s first compare the definitions of branding and user experience.

Business Dictionary defines branding as:

The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.

UX designer Caglar Araz (who I think defines UX the best) defines user experience as:

The singular and accumulated experiences that occur for users as a consequence of them interacting with an object in a given context.

While both definitions involve different types of interactions and exchanges, all in all, interactions with users lead to the creation of experiences. Let me show you how I was able to build up my brand over the past two years.

Users & Interactions

UX Workshops taught by myself and Anushka Agrawal

Understanding your users is a good starting place. While we’re not trying to define a problem or opportunity to tackle, we are defining the types of people we want to be around and interact with.

Hanging out with other designers helped me build up my expertise by getting feedback on my work, exploring interesting topics and ultimately learning from them. This was done through a combination of engaging in UBC’s design community and connecting to designers in the industry. However, it didn’t just stop there.

I started hanging out with student entrepreneurs who I could work with and give advice to regarding design. The more I was able to speak on my work, the more people I was introduced to; and this wasn’t just other students. I found that by simply articulating my design philosophy, I was I was able to build up a network of student organizations, professors, researchers, university staff, entrepreneurs, and industry professionals.


“Oh woops, I forgot you’re in engineering.”

This basically sums up the experience I was able to create as a result. Over the course of two years, I was able to disassociate myself from engineering almost completely.

As designers, it is important for us to reflect on our efforts and make sure that we hit the mark. For me, this was evident with one phrase I’d hear virtually everywhere. Overall, this two-year UX case study helped me more than I expected, and that was in building a brand for myself.

How Branding & UX Shaped My Future

In his 1974 book, the Denial of Death, Dr. Ernest Becker explores the idea of “immortality projects” which says that because humans are so afraid of death, they separate themselves into two entities: the physical self and the conceptual self. In an attempt to outlive our physical existence, people try to immortalize themselves by attaching their names to corporations, buildings, books, and discoveries.

Ultimately, branding ties heavily into what we want to be remembered for, whether it’s before we graduate, within our own industries or even after we’re gone.

Walt Disney left a legacy that very few of us will ever achieve

As a student, sometimes school gets in the way of life, and we end up chasing degrees instead of fulfilment. I’ve learned more about myself and the future that I want to create in the last two years than I did in my life before it. Knowing that, I am more confident in my abilities to pursue a career (and life) in design.

Tips on Personal Branding

One thing that I believe every secondary education should teach you is how to brand yourself. I was fortunate enough to stumble across it halfway through my degree, but moving forward, here are my top tips on building your personal brand

Set a Timeline

Having a clear timeline helps keep you accountable. I found that by setting my timeline to graduation, it gave me a clearer understanding of the steps that I needed to follow and the amount of work that I needed to allocate.

Use the Six Pillar Branding Framework

When I was first learning about branding, it was through a Skillshare course taught by Percolate’s Director of Marketing at the time, Chris Bolman. In the course, Chris explains how branding can be split into six core areas:

  • Mission: your goals are and the philosophy behind them
  • Vision: the future that you are progressing towards
  • Positioning: where you fit in the ecosystem and future of the world
  • Values: the themes that you care about the most
  • Look & Feel: the aesthetic and experiential quality of anything
  • Voice & Tone: the way you communicate your ideas and thoughts

While I won’t go into any more detail (you can check out the Skillshare link for that), it’s important to know that you can apply this framework to yourself. If you’re getting started in personal branding, you can start by thinking of yourself as a company and establishing your personal six pillars.

Validate Your Branding & Reflect Often

On the more UX side of things, it’s important to make sure our efforts are hitting the mark. To do so, we need to reflect periodically on how well our objectives are being met. This could include anything from analyzing what activities we’ve started doing more to looking at how our social circles have changed over time. It’s important to be aware of where you are on your way to achieving your goal.

Experiment & Capitalize

There are a lot of ways that you can interact with your target audience, but unfortunately, it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of solution. Given our different backgrounds and skillsets, we capitalize on certain interactions better than others so it’s important to experiment and see what sticks. Lately, it’s been writing Medium articles, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

But wait, there’s more!

Try holding down that 👏 button and beat my high score (so far, it’s 51).

As you can tell, I love sharing my insights (and jokes) on design in the context of business and engineering. Every week or so, I try to explore something new so be sure to follow me to get the latest scoop.

Like what you see?

There’s more where that came from.

Making Your UI Stand Out (and Justified) | Tutorials & How-To’s: How Great Designs Guide You 

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