Elizabeth Alli - Full circle: from teaching piano to teaching product design


Elizabeth Alli shares her advice on approaching a career switch to product design and how to become a successful product designer and person. Read the blog below and listen to the full episode to hear about Elizabeth’s fascinating career path!

🔥 Formal credentials are not everything.

Do not allow the lack of formal education to stand between you and your dream of becoming a product designer. You can learn technical skills online and develop soft skills along the way!

🎯 Say yes to everything!

You can figure out how to do things after you take ownership. By saying yes to new projects and opportunities, you allow yourself to grow in new directions that can help you truly learn what you are interested in doing long term.

💡 Acknowledge the imposter.

When starting something new, it is easy to fall into the trap of imposter syndrome. Look at imposter syndrome as an indicator that you are challenging yourself to learn and grow in new ways, and it is ok to make mistakes. Just keep going!

Full circle: from teaching piano to teaching product design

In episode 20 of The Product Design Podcast, Seth Coelen interviews Elizabeth Alli, a Product Designer, Mentor, and Founder of DesignerUp, where you can learn UX/UI and Product Design online!

Elizabeth shifted from her education in classical music to product design early in her career. This transition led her to become an entrepreneur that headed into Silicon Valley, where she continued to learn and grow in her craft and experienced many of the highs and lows of her career path. During our interview, Elizabeth shares what she has learned and offers advice on navigating a career switch and getting into product design!


How Elizabeth made the switch from classical music teacher to a designer

When Elizabeth was a child, she wanted to be a classical concert pianist. Her love for making music and performing was inspired by her family's love of classical music, opera, and good films. She went to performing arts high school where she studied classical piano and then moved on to university where she studied classical piano, pedagogy, sound engineering, and business.

Elizabeth eventually became a music teacher, started her private piano practice, and decided she needed a website to attract new students. Her brother Eric was in web design and development at the time, so she reached out to him to get started. She learned the ins and outs of WordPress from Eric and got excited about what she was learning.

Eric noticed her work and asked her to work on some client projects with him. She agreed to help him because web design allowed her to be creative and do many things she loved to do. Elizabeth also really liked the idea that she could go back and fix things that needed to be changed and that web design did not require the level of perfection expected when you step out on a stage to perform. A year after starting to work with Eric, they started their first agency together.

Journey into product design and Silicon Valley to Founder of DesignerUp

When Elizabeth and Eric first started their agency, they were getting a lot of requests for website redesigns where the existing templates were not working well for the less technical team members expected to manage the sites. Eric began working on white label solutions to help more clients with functional solutions for their less tech-savvy team members. Elizabeth and Eric decided to open a theme shop with their solutions, and it went well.

Over time, Elizabeth and Eric bootstrapped many different products and companies. Eric was offered a role at a startup in Silicon Valley. He took the position, and Elizabeth kept running the agency, the theme shop, and the other projects they were bootstrapping on her own. She learned a lot quickly about running a business and taking care of clients. Eventually, Eric asked Elizabeth for help on some work he was doing out in California. Soon after that, she moved out west to do more work in Silicon Valley, where she started to work on B2B and B2C companies and expanded her knowledge and skills further. Listen to the full podcast episode to hear about her exciting experience in Silicon Valley!

Currently, Elizabeth is the Founder of DesignerUp where she has created an online community that offers courses, resources, and support for mindful UX/UI designers. As an online mentor for many new product designers, Elizabeth has a bunch of valuable advice to share on deciding if you want to make a career switch and, if you do go into product design, how to approach your career path!

Considering a career switch: ways to help you decide if product design is right for you

Over the last couple of years, more and more people have gotten to a place of burnout in their current career, or maybe they have realized that you are on a dead-end career path. It is never too late to discover a new approach that will lead you to a far brighter future. Elizabeth shares some tips that she believes will help determine if product design is right for you.

📢 If you are interested in product design, research it further!

Explore product design further on YouTube and see if it is a viable option for you. There are so many avenues to go in product design, and just because one area may not interest you does not mean you can't find another path to create your very own journey in product design.

“I do a body check. If there is something that energizes me, I keep wanting to know more, and I keep coming back to it. That's a pretty good sign to go in that direction. If it's something that's draining me and taking my life force away, and not bringing me joy. I am moving too far away from my value spectrum.

🎯 Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a formal education in product design.

There are loads of options for learning how to be a product designer. From Bootcamps to self-taught on YouTube to communities such as DesignerUp, you can find the right fit for your learning style and personality to give you what you need to succeed in this industry.

🤔 Understand the different work environments that would work best for you.

From startups to agencies to in-house at a large enterprise, there are so many factors at play in deciding where to work when you become a product designer. Research requirements for each type of work environment and decide if you would do the best moving at the high speed of a startup or agency or prefer working with cross-functional teams across the various departments of a large enterprise.

Advice to help you along your product design career path and in life

Elizabeth has had such an exciting career in product design, and the time she has spent in Silicon Valley has provided her with really great advice to share to help product designers in their careers and life. Here is some of the advice she shared during the podcast episode.

💡 It isn't all about credentials; there are soft skills that will help you immensely along your career path.

Communication is the primary soft skill that will help you become a valued team member. Practice being mindful and present in your daily communication with your team. Develop awareness and focus on the ability to be discerning rather than judging. Create space between you and the reactivity you may feel when communicating. If you can express your needs while helping people, it will help you become a better product designer.

🤔 Learn how to reason your design choices.

Understand the business goals and objectives so that your designs align with what is most important. The selected design is not always JUST about the look of it. If you can apply the logic behind the design decisions and tie the designs to how they support the business goals, you will set yourself apart from your peers.

🔥 Befriend the imposter!

Everyone struggles with imposter syndrome from time to time. Elizabeth recommends facing the imposter and saying things to yourself like we are learning, everything is learnable, and everything is negotiable to help reduce the negative feelings of imposter syndrome.

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck is saving you from. Even when bad things happen, be open and be grateful, no matter what's coming your way.”

✔️ Say yes and figure it out as you go.

Do not be overwhelmed by trying to niche down right away. Becoming a generalist allows you to try new things while generating an income and deciding what you enjoy most. As you try and learn new things, you will be able to see what you are best at and what the market responds to most to decide where to niche down later.

☀️ The future is bright, be open to what could be!

Technology is changing rapidly, and it is hard to know what new opportunities will be available down the road. Remain open-minded and understand that even if things change in your career path, there will be an area that you will find that fits you along your career path.

Thank you so much, Elizabeth!

We had such a great time chatting with Elizabeth about her exciting career path in product design. It is incredibly interesting to hear how current product designers have made career switches from a completely different area of study. We are so thankful that she shared her advice and how being open to new and different opportunities has helped her along her career path. We hope that she inspired you to dig deeper if you are considering a career switch into product design.

Listen to the complete episode on The Product Design Podcast, which includes the highs and lows of a career in Silicon Valley, an extended conversation on Elizabeth's online community DesignerUp focused on helping product designers learn more about UX/UI and product design.

Don't forget to follow Elizabeth and watch as she continues to grow her DesignerUp community and positively impact the product design community as a whole! You can find DesignerUp on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Facebook! For Elizabeth's accounts, check the links below!

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