The journey of a fine artist who ventured into the world of UX/UI

I will be taking you on a journey. Unfortunately, it doesn’t involve mythical creatures and epic tales of bravery. Still, hopefully, it can be some guide to those who feel that they are on a similar quest, lost amongst the pages of a tale that may seem never-ending.

I took inspiration from Joseph Campell’s “The Hero's Journey”, in a quest to find a purpose and to make sense of what I learned in my four years as a fine arts student. I found comfort in drawing parallels between my adventure and his theory.

In Campbell’s theory, a hero is an ordinary person that lives in an everyday world. There comes a day when they are summoned to enter an unknown world and go on an adventure. First, they must decide if they dare go on this adventure. If they accept the call, they will face many tasks and trials. The hero’s journey is complete once they return home being transformed by what was learned on the journey.

Joseph Campbell’s “A hero’s journey.”

I am certainly not a storybook hero. I don’t wear a crown, and I do not live in a castle. I wish I had a talking animal friend as my sidekick, but this is just an ordinary tale in the modern world. A story of how a fine art student started her adventure in the world of UX/UI design.

The year is 2015. The year I graduated with a bachelors of arts. I remember thinking to myself: “Oh, fudge! What now?”. During my studies I was often confronted with the dreaded question: ‘So what are your plans after you finished your fines arts degree?”. I hated the question for I never really had an answer. The engineering students always looked so concerned about my future when they heard I was studying art. “Scoff! Peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner wouldn’t be all that bad!”

I was always amazed at how my fellow art students replied with much enthusiasm. They wanted to become artists in the real sense of the word. Imagine New-York loft-style studios with empty coffee mugs everywhere. They were painting frantically to finish the painting that Lord All The Money commissioned. They are quite happy to live on nicotine and little sleep. The other half wanted to become school art teachers. I squirmed at the thought of runny noses mixed with glue and craft paint. No thank you! That’s not the life I imagined for myself. I still wanted to be creative. Everyone else seemed to have it figured out but me.

My brother always had a significant influence on my life. He is a software developer, and from the young age of 8, he started dabbling with the world of 1’s and 0’s. He always showed me how to write little programs that, for example, could count to 10. Impressive, but not quite me. I was still a little artist at heart, and my colouring books did not come alive with 1’s and 0’s. Little did I know then that one day, in my unique way, I will be connected to his world.

I got my first job as a creative editor at a production company. I enjoyed stitching together clips to tell a visual story, but I was still not fulfilled. Yes, working with video footage was a different medium to paint and sculpture; however, I still needed to find that…something.

The Departure

“Onward! Toward adventure.”

As referred to by Campbell, a hero’s departure is when a hero ventures from the ordinary world into that of the unknown to go on an adventure. At first, the hero is reluctant to go but is guided by a mentor. The hero undergoes a growth process, filled with obstacles.

My call to adventure came to me as a bit of a surprise. I was in a bar, celebrating my best friend’s birthday when I started a conversation with a software developer friend. He started talking about UX/UI design, and I remember having an AH-HA moment. That is when it occurred to me. Perhaps I can bring the visual world to the world of technology. That would mean that I had to switch to a different industry.

I was raised in a traditional family. They had a particular outlook on degrees and jobs. They believed that you get your degree and then get a job related to your degree. I couldn’t possibly think of switching to another industry. I didn’t study for it. I wasn’t qualified. I had this idea that you weren’t good enough if you didn’t have any qualification for something. This idea might have been why I was reluctant to go on the adventure in the first place. I had the fear that I would be inadequate. Luckily I was still a fine artist at heart, and pushing my boundaries was in my nature.

So I packed my bags and set off for an adventure. I wish I could queue the music and show an epic shot of me travelling across luscious fields on my white horse, but it wasn’t that glamorous. I woke up, went into the office, quit my job and started a new career at a software company as a UI designer the next month. My journey began as I ventured into the unknown.


My transformation began. I would spend hours on my courses, and designing alone in my office, reading articles upon articles. I continued to feel that I had to catch up. I had to make up for the time lost — the time I didn’t spend studying at a fancy design school. I was lucky enough to receive training on the job. Still, I remember after the first month thinking to myself: “Holy moly, I have no idea what I’m doing”. Countless times I would see-saw between doubt and motivation. I would have a breakthrough and think to myself: “I got this, I can do this!”. Other times I would doubt myself and have a mini panic attack. Just a tiny one though.

Usually, this is the point in the journey where the hero must deal with whatever holds the ultimate power in their life. Every hurdle and challenge so far is a build-up towards this encounter. That power, I came to the realisation was the limitations that I set for myself — the power of the mind. I must overcome the fear that I am not qualified enough to take on this new adventure.

It occurred to me that all the skills that I learned during the four years that I studied fine arts would come to be so valuable. Slowly I realised that I am already armed with the knowledge that I needed for my new adventure. It’s just in a different form. I realised that the components and the buttons and the dropdown menus would come to be my new medium. Instead of painting with a brush or capturing photographs with my camera, I will learn how to create new things with my laptop’s trackpad.

It was the way of thinking that I learned during my studies that would be my saving grace. Finally, it all made sense. The countless times I was questioned by my lecturers: “Why is the thread you used red? What meaning does this bring to the artwork? Why is the line placed where it is? What does the thickness of the thread bring to the artwork’s meaning? Why did you use a thread and not another type of material? Why? Why? Why?

I just wanted to create something pretty most of the times, but these countless questions and critique held power. It was how we had to solve problems in our artworks through the meaning of the mediums we used and how we placed our material on the canvas. I started to translate this to the artboards in Sketch or Figma. Where do you place components on the screen that it would make sense? Why do you use the colours that are used? How do these placements and colours make the user feel? It was all the same, just a new medium that I had to learn how to work with, but I finally enjoyed working with the medium.

The Return

With this wisdom and confidence, I return from my quest. It was not that I ever wanted to move away from fine art — I just haven’t found the medium I enjoyed using. Where others enjoyed painting or photography, I realised that I enjoyed combing fine arts with the world of technology. The skills and lessons that I was taught along the way would still be relevant in UX/UI. I just had to apply these skills using my new paintbrush.

About the author

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Joané Burger

Joané Burger

I am a UX/UI Designer with a background in Fine Arts. I balance my work life by immersing myself in the mental game that is triathlons. On the side, I run a cat daycare at my complex. Read more from Joané Burger...