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From the IxD Studio to the Field: A Conversation with Alum Jason Branch

In the SVA MFA Interaction Design program, students arrive with a variety of goals, motivations and past experiences. To gain insight into the unique journeys of IxD students, I spoke with three alums: Kinza Kasher (Class of 2019), Young Kim (Class of 2023), and Jason Branch (Class of 2019). This series of interviews focused on each alum’s current roles, past experiences in the program, memorable courses and lectures, and how their education at SVA has influenced their career paths.*
 

For this final installment of this series, I spoke with Jason Branch (Class of 2019), who is currently a senior product designer at Square.

Black and white photo of Jason in front of abstract illustrated background.

YK: Can you introduce yourself?

JB: I’m Jason, a 2019 graduate of the program, currently working as a Senior Product Designer at Square. With around five years in FinTech and a decade in design, I bring extensive experience to my role. I live in San Francisco, where I work remotely, and spend part of my time in New York.

YK: Can you tell me a bit about your background and professional experience before joining the program?

JBBefore joining the program, I was engaged in email marketing at WebMD and also freelanced on the side. My routine involved working at WebMD from nine to five, and then from six to midnight, I’d work on web and iOS app projects. 

YK: What inspired you to pursue a Master’s degree in interaction design?

JB: My decision to pursue a Master’s in Interaction Design stemmed from wanting to shift from part-time freelancing to a full-time design career. I needed more foundational knowledge in UI and product design. The program profoundly changed my design thinking and problem-solving skills. Feedback from classmates, coupled with excellent instruction, enhanced my understanding of design’s practical aspects. Previously, my design knowledge was theoretical, but this program offered practical insights and a comprehensive approach, making it an ideal choice for my career transition from email marketing to advanced design.

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YK: Why did you choose SVA’s Interaction Design MFA program?

JB: My decision to pursue a Master’s in Interaction Design stemmed from wanting to shift from part-time freelancing to a full-time design career. I needed more foundational knowledge in UI and product design. The program profoundly changed my design thinking and problem-solving skills. Feedback from classmates, coupled with excellent instruction, enhanced my understanding of design’s practical aspects. Previously, my design knowledge was theoretical, but this program offered practical insights and a comprehensive approach, making it an ideal choice for my career transition from email marketing to advanced design.

YK: How did the program’s curriculum and faculty help you develop your skills and knowledge?

JB: The curriculum of the program was comprehensive, encompassing a variety of subjects. Practical classes like physical computing were included, where we learned to create physical objects. This diversity in our coursework, which ranged from making tangible items to coding and understanding user interfaces, broadened our understanding of different career paths in design.

The program’s strong focus on technology was insightful, especially for those from non-technical backgrounds such as healthcare or education. These students brought distinctive perspectives to the program, often leading to innovative projects. Their fresh approach, free from conventional design patterns and assumptions about technology, was beneficial.

YK: How did the IxD program prepare you for your current role?

JB: In my program, students were drawn to their interests, which often guided their future careers. For example, my first project involved banking, and now I work at Square managing debit and credit cards, demonstrating a direct connection between my academic focus and current role. Many classmates have similarly pursued careers aligned with their SVA projects.

Group work was a significant skill developed in the program. While I had managed a team before, the program’s group projects enhanced my leadership skills. Often, group dynamics naturally lead to someone assuming a leadership role, similar to a managerial position in a professional setting.

Another key aspect of the program was the extensive feedback received from peers and professors. This environment taught us to view feedback objectively, as a tool for improvement rather than personal criticism. For instance, regular critiques sharpened our ability to anticipate and incorporate diverse viewpoints, refining our design process. This continuous exchange and reflection significantly improved my design skills and broadened my perspective.

 

YK: What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities you have faced in your career?

JB: In my current role, working across multiple teams has been a significant shift. As the main and sole designer for credit card, debit card, and trust teams, my responsibilities span across various segments. This contrasts with my previous positions where I was part of just one sprint team. Now, I collaborate with three different product managers, sets of engineers, and engineering managers, compared to working with a single team before. Managing stakeholders for diverse projects, deliverables, and user types presents a unique challenge. I design for different use cases and user groups, each with distinct tech stacks. For instance, the backend systems for credit cards differ from those for debit cards, requiring versatile design approaches for each. Understanding and adapting to the functional differences in these systems is a crucial part of my job, enhancing my adaptability and design skills.

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YK: What advice would you give to the interaction students before joining the workforce?

JB: Prospective students should consider their interests and how the program aligns with their career goals. It’s helpful to have a general direction for your career and to research the paths others have taken to achieve similar objectives. Crafting a flexible career roadmap can offer guidance and focus.

For current students, I recommend engaging actively in design work. Design is a process that improves with practice and the completion of numerous projects. A designer who has worked on multiple projects will typically gain more experience and insight than one with fewer projects. This learning process includes exploring diverse ideas, seeking feedback, and learning from mistakes.

In the design field, especially in corporate settings, experience accumulates over time. Repeated practice and exposure to various design elements, like login screens, help in building proficiency. For experienced designers, tasks that may initially challenge a junior designer become more manageable due to their vast experience and familiarity with different design scenarios. Continuously creating and designing enhances your understanding and makes the design process more instinctive over time.