Career Stories

Shane Brennan

Senior UX Designer Friday

UI Designer UX / Product Designer

What initially drew you to your current creative field? Did you always envision a career in this discipline?

Though I’m currently in a broader UX role, I started out specifically in UI, and it’s still a large part of my day-to-day activities. It’s the part of the job I enjoy the most.

When I left school, I wanted to find a career that would provide a balance between satisfying my creative itch and providing reasonable long-term job stability.

I reckoned an arts degree might be too risky in the stability department, so a design discipline seemed like a safe enough bet, though I was initially clueless as to which design avenue I might be best suited to.

What type of formal education or training did you pursue and how has it influenced your career?

A degree in Product Design from TUD set me up with the skills I needed to eventually transition into a more digitally focused role. Although my education was in the design of physical products, the foundational knowledge of design thinking and processes was easily transferable to the digital realm with some upskilling over a year or so after graduation.

I think I lacked the hardcore engineering brain to truly feel comfortable in industrial design, and discovered over time that my natural ability and interest lay more in general design theory, the psychology involved in human-computer interaction, and also a deep care for aesthetics.

How does the reality of your career differ from your expectations?

I didn’t expect there to be such a technical side to UI work; it really isn’t just about creating pretty pictures. You should have a decent understanding of front-end development to empower your work efficiently, though you can gather this knowledge as you go. Your proficiency in whatever design tool you might be using is important to employers. Figma might be the tool of the moment, but you need to be comfortable adapting throughout your career. Having an artistic eye is just a starting point; there’s a lot to master in this discipline that I think sometimes people don’t realise.

I also had no idea what a design system was before I started. The complexity of managing and using a large system requires a lot of technical skill and the ability to figure things out for yourself, but it is very satisfying work.

How has your career evolved over the years—did you start in another discipline before transitioning to your current field?

My evolution from UI designer to UX designer felt like a gradual process. I think it’s probably likely that most UI designers end up working in a broader UX role at some point; they go hand in hand.

Personally, I think I would find it difficult to be a UI designer in isolation. I was never interested in completing someone else’s work. I want to be involved in the end-to-end process to a certain extent but also get hands-on with the final result too.

Were there any pivotal moments, insights, or decisions that significantly impacted your career path?

Moving from a Product Team to an Agency has been a huge boost to general work satisfaction. I came from small and chaotic start-up teams where design was somewhat undervalued, to a scenario now where I have a wide variety of clients and projects on the go at once. For me, getting to flex the UI muscle in so many different contexts is ideal. Working on one product continuously can be really rewarding too, but I much prefer the ever-changing nature of being part of a small agency like Friday.

Did you have any mentors or significant support systems that helped you in your journey?

To my detriment, I’ve never had a proper mentor outside of bosses I’ve had at different jobs. I have certainly been too adamant along the way that I could do everything myself.

I would strongly encourage others to seek mentorship if they’re starting out. I can see the benefits in those I work with now and regret not making more effort to find a mentor in my early career.

Having said that, a few particular colleagues at previous jobs have also been largely encouraging and valuable contributors to my professional growth. The benefit of a good team/management can’t be understated, if you’re lucky enough to get it.

What three skills do you believe are crucial to succeeding in this career?

  • An eye for the finest detail. Whomever you are passing your designs off to for development will be very appreciative of a well-organised and consistent design file.
  • A love, or at least an appreciation, for technology. Not necessarily a skill, but you should be interested in the world of tech, how it evolves continuously, and most importantly, how human beings interact with it.
  • Good communication skills are also a must. It’s something you can develop along the way; I certainly lacked in that department early on, but articulating your understanding of a problem, as well as how your solutions address those problems, will help your team and clients see the big picture.

How have you continued to develop your skills throughout your career?

Reading, asking questions, generally being curious. Not being afraid to invest monetarily in learning has proven invaluable too. Whether it’s a piece of software, a part-time course, attending an event or conference; you might not see an immediate or tangible return, but if you can, investing in learning resources has been hugely beneficial. That’s coming from a hugely privileged place of course. Heading down to the library and picking up some classic design books is just as valid.

I think skill development comes naturally when you enjoy what you do, at least for me anyway.

How has your industry changed since you started, and how have you adapted?

AI is really shaking things up at the moment. I would say that, although not in the near future, a specialised UI design role might start to become more and more scarce. Time will tell of course; I could be wrong, but dipping your toe into the realm of UX work if you haven’t already, could be a nice safety net to have.

The other approach is to really start to interrogate AI in its usefulness to a UI designer. This is an ongoing process for me, and it’s both daunting and exciting. I can envision a place in the future where a UI designer is simply the one with the technical know-how to get AI to produce the best results. It’s the first time in my career that I wonder about the long-term security of this kind of work. It’s keeping me on my toes anyway!

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in your field?

I would say that the love for creating beautiful, aesthetically delightful interfaces is the best part of the job. If you’re coming into the UI profession expecting that to be the only thing you’ll be focused on, you might be disappointed. There are constraints that exist in UI design that don’t in artistic endeavours like painting, or even graphic design.

I would also say that venturing into the broader UX discipline will leave you with much more career opportunities. I have found working closer to the user to be just as, if not more rewarding than purely designing interfaces all day.