So You Want to Be . . . a UX designer, with Caroline Jennings ’17 and Krupa Patel ’22

News & Spotlights | October 7, 2021
Caroline Jennings ’17, on left, and Krupa Patel ’22.

Written by Sarah Chocron ’25, Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team member. The “So You Want to Be . . .” series shares the career stories of alumni who are leading their respective fields and industries—how they got there and what valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Despite the advent of iPhones and PCs, and the forgotten memories of how a payphone actually works, users of all ages still find themselves frustrated with their devices, desperately trying to communicate with the force behind their screens.

Oftentimes, the issues that everyday web users face could be avoided through effective design choices that consider psychological and accessibility-related needs through what’s called user experience design, or UX design.

Despite its increasing popularity (in 2020, LinkedIn ranked UX design as one of the top five hard skills that companies need most), many college students might be intimidated by the rapidly changing industry.

So, what even is UX?

I called up Caroline Jennings ’17, founder and CEO of Word of Web, a creative agency that specializes in UX design. She describes her work as translation toward the language of the user and explained that an understanding of psychology, marketing, business, and design principles are essential to creating clever and easy-to-use interfaces.

For Krupa Patel ’22, UX is best described as “designing interfaces with users in mind” with respect to how people think and what people like.

Finding the perfect fit

Both Caroline and Krupa started their respective years at Carolina not knowing anything about UX or UI (user interface) design.

As an incoming Morehead-Cain Scholar, Caroline planned to nurture her interest in neuroscience by majoring in psychology with a minor in French and biology. This curiosity led her to pursue funding through the Discovery Fund (as the Lovelace Fund for Discovery was then known) to attend a neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C. To her disappointment, she had a hard time seeing her future in the field.

An exciting Professional Experience summer in marketing at The Motley Fool (a company co-founded and co-chaired by David Gardner ’88) made her further reconsider her first-year aspirations. As a rising senior, she worked at a media startup accelerator in San Francisco, where the words “user experience design” kept coming up, over and over. Something clicked. It felt like the perfecteven obviouschoice for her.

Having only completed one academic course in UX and her internship experiences, Caroline launched Word of Web as a one-person, freelance startup in 2018. Today, Word of Web serves clients around the world as the “architects” of creative projects. With the company’s growth, Caroline said her work has transitioned to project management and creating teams that match companies’ visions, which has only inspired further learning for the alumna as an entrepreneur and executive.

“There’s always a lot to learn from the variety of ‘flavors’ in UX,” and the interdisciplinary nature of tech in general, she said.

Her advice for college students interested in UI/UX work, based on her own less-than-linear path, is to build your professional network, to not be daunted by lack of experience, and to start creating a portfolio of your work as early as possible.

Following curiosity through the Summer Enrichment Program

As for Krupa, she didn’t hear the term “user experience” until her second year during a conversation with a professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Hearing about the interdisciplinary nature of UX confirmed that this was the right fit for her own varied interests as a double major in information science and advertising and public relations with a minor in cognitive science.

The senior started researching the industry and meeting with alumni after connecting via the Morehead-Cain Network. She landed a UI/UX remote internship with Learn to Win, an alumni-founded tech startup, where the scholar conducted user and competitor research and led product testing sessions. Krupa directly applied those skills the following summer when she interned at ReadWorks with Terry Bowman ’85, executive director of the education nonprofit.

And last year, the Foundation’s alumni engagement team connected her to none other than Caroline through the Morehead-Cain Mentoring Program. (The program cultivates connections between scholars and alumni based on shared values and interests.)

With the skills and experiences gained at Carolina and through the Morehead-Cain Program, Krupa says she plans to pursue a career of creating people-oriented interfaces following her graduation next spring.

After seeking out so many different kinds of opportunities as a college student, the constant innovation in the field of UX is a motivator, not an obstacle. Both Caroline and Krupa represent a new wave of tech that is gaining its stride by implementing psychology and user behavior as guiding principles to inform design decisions instead of mass data gathering. This approach is more accurate and also lends a more human and creative touch to the tech industry by keeping people at the forefront of problem-solving.

About the author

Sarah Chocron ’25 of Wichita, Kansas, is a writer, freelance web designer, and musician. On the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team, Sarah covers the selections and alumni beats, with a focus on tech.

The first-year scholar graduated in spring 2021 from Wichita Collegiate School, where she served as editor-in-chief of her school’s literary magazine and led programming and marketing for the robotics team.

Sarah is a co-founder of Griatitude Coffee co., a pop-up coffee shop (led by Ria Patel ’25 and also co-founded by Sasha Surkin, UNC–Chapel Hill ’25) with affordable specialty drinks for students in the Chapel Hill area. She plans to pursue a double major in information science and history with a minor in cognitive science.