Erik started off his career in the Marines as a Geospatial Analyst. Then, after getting out of active duty, he began doing Enterprise IT for several different Department of Defense contractors. 

After five years in the Marines and ten years in various IT positions, Erik moved to Colorado to take a job at a startup. It was there that he made the transition from Lead IT Architect to Creative Director. 

“This was the start of my journey to discovering UX/UI design and making the leap to a new career that remained analytical but was able to scratch my creativity,” Erik says.

While serving as a Creative Director, Erik had the opportunity to practice developing his UX/UI design skills, which led him to seek to strengthen those skills through the Designlab UX Academy.

Flash forward to present day, and Erik is currently using empathetic, human-centered design principles to support the strategy and design of next generation tools and applications for Space Situational Awareness and Space Protection for the Air Force's Space Commercial Augmented Mission Platform (SpaceCAMP).

“Going through the UX Academy coursework and landing this job has affirmed the difficult decision to make a career change at this point in my life,” Erik says.

A deconstructed affinity map

Stories from SpaceCAMP 🚀

Erik is currently serving SpaceCAMP as the Design Lead on a product sprint meant to address needs arising from the recent COVID-19 crisis.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be working on designing a solution for users and seeing it developed in real time. Sometimes, I almost can’t believe that this is what I do for a living now!”

Erik's work supports the US Air Force, as well as the newly established Space Force.

"I’m given a great deal of independence on accomplishing my tasks, which enables me to explore different ways to solve problems."

"We do weekly retros where we discuss what’s been going on that’s good, mediocre, or bad. This helps us to identify what’s working and what isn’t, which we then turn into action items to make things better or more helpful for the rest of the team going forward. It’s a very collaborative environment.”

Erik's Advice for Would-Be UX/UI Designers

Now that Erik’s graduated from UX Academy and landed an amazing job with SpaceCAMP, he has some advice for incoming, current, and graduating UX Academy students:

  • You’ll encounter a lot of educated and respected individuals in the industry who, nevertheless, can be at odds with one another in regard to certain methodologies. When examining competing ideas, always consider which idea might best serve your user’s needs, business needs, and technical limitations specific to the project you’re working on. Every project is a little different and requires some tweaks to your go-to tactics.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new! Having structure, best practices, and standard operating procedures in your workflow are wonderful, but challenge those from time to time, especially if you find yourself getting stuck.
  • Persevere! Don’t beat yourself up for your failures or for not landing that first job interview. Incorporate every experience and every “mistake” as an opportunity to learn and improve. Mastery is only achieved by first enduring a series of failures. Never stop learning.
  • Be honest. Some people will say don’t be too honest. Okay, that’s your call, but I have found that in interviews, the hiring manager appreciated when I could admit something didn’t work out as I expected it to, but that I learned something interesting along the way.

Responsive design of mobile

The Power of 1:1 Mentoring

Like many UX Academy students, Erik found a tremendous amount of value in his 1:1 mentoring sessions.

“The value of the guidance and support from mentors in the UX Academy program cannot be understated. From Alan Hurt Jr., I obtained an array of useful design tools and skills. He taught me how to empathize with my users through research, synthesizing data, and deriving insights based on data to inform design decisions and then test these designs. 

Alan helped to remind me that I am not my user. Alan has, without question, one of the most acute attentions to detail that I have ever seen and helped me to strive for excellence.”

“From Charmant Tan, I learned to relax a little and allow myself to make mistakes in order to learn. He taught me the value of alternate perspectives and freed me to experiment with different ways to solve problems. 

Where I might tend in one instance or another to follow some kind of Standard Operating Procedure or formulaic approach, Charmant encouraged taking a different path by trying competing methodologies that might better suit the circumstance of a given project. 

As I am someone who is sometimes overly-adherent to protocol, Charmant helped me to let go of that in order to better adapt to unique challenges I was facing.”

These mentoring sessions greatly helped to prepare Erik for the unique challenges relating to COVID-19 that he’s currently facing in his new role with SpaceCAMP.

“We are working diligently to get our new product out the door and into the hands of users. The need for rapid design and deployment cannot be understated, so I am using a Lean UX approach to this project by stating our assumptions and hypothesis and what metrics we will use in testing with our users to validate or disprove our hypothesis,” Erik says. 

I’m engaging daily with stakeholders and developers to ensure we are working efficiently and towards our goals. I am looking forward to the insights we will gain from usability testing after the product deploys.”

Erik created this UI Kit for a local cafe in Colorado.

Life in The Quarantine 

Although Erik and his team are all working remotely right now, generally their office environment is very casual, and even has a couple of beer kegs fully stocked.

As we are in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis, Erik is finding it increasingly difficult to have a life outside of work. 

“Nevertheless, I try to spend my time with my wife and son whenever possible. My son just turned 4 this past March and is really into Legos, which is a lot of fun for my creative side. When we are able, my wife and I like to watch a movie and enjoy some quarantinis together.” 🍸

A lifelong learner, Erik is already looking forward to his next professional goal. 

“I’d like to use this time to participate in a Design Sprint, such as described in Jake Knapp’s book and expanded upon by the agency, AJ & Smart.”

As Erik looks forward to continuing to grow in his new career as a UX/UI Designer, he’s grateful for the support system that helped him get where he is today—and we’re grateful he’s a UX Academy Alumni.

“By providing a dearth of modern comprehensive coursework, a peer-focused social network, an incredibly responsive support team, and the invaluable guidance from mentors, Designlab was instrumental in my professional growth. 

I would not have gotten where I am today without the UX Academy program at Designlab."

Connect with Erik Gartzke on LinkedIn

Jumpstart your career in UX/UI design with our UX Academy program, which combines 1-on-1 mentoring with a rigorous curriculum and unparalleled career support

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Alexa Harrison

Content Writer

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