Our member spotlight is on Coumba Win, a web designer based in Burlington, VT, who relocated from New York to attend school at Middlebury College. She appreciates the characteristics that make Vermont—namely, the population and size—because of the supportive community and the lack of distraction from the typical hustle and bustle. In this spotlight, Coumba shares her story, her career, her perspective as a person of color in Vermont, and her thoughts about AI in the UX design field.
Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT.
Sure, so I was born in Senegal, but my family moved to Buffalo, NY when I was an infant, so I wasn’t really raised there. I grew up in Buffalo, and was always a very creative and artistic kid. When it was time to go to high school, I was awarded a full scholarship to a private school, and there is where I fell in love with learning Chinese. I studied it all four years, and I knew I wanted to continue learning.
Before I knew it, I was looking into colleges, and my Chinese teacher suggested I apply to one of the best language schools in the country, Middlebury College. I was accepted and made my big move to Vermont in 2013, and have been here ever since!
What do you enjoy about being a professional in VT?
I really appreciate the community and emphasis on supporting local businesses. It’s such a small state, and we get to benefit from not feeling like we’re in constant competition with each other, even if we’re in the same field. We are also fortunate enough to be surrounded by the natural beauty of the state year-round.
I think the absence of that constant hustle-and-bustle allows me to focus on what I truly love to do and not get overwhelmed by the hallmarks of other more populated states.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced living in VT?
While I love the smaller population of Vermont, I think it’s particularly hard to actually get out and meet folks regularly. I attend networking events when I can, but I would really love to see more opportunities to connect with fellow business owners and professionals in the state.
It can be hard to find clients or make connections locally when we’re not afforded the opportunity too often. That being said, when I do attend a networking event, it often is very rewarding to see so many new faces!
What are you looking forward to within your own career?
I’m looking forward to scaling my business and allowing for new ways to offer my services to clients. I’ve just rolled out a new service for clients, a design subscription service that allows for unlimited design requests and revisions on a month to month basis. I’ve never offered anything like this before, but I’m excited to see how this more-flexible, ready-to-go model will work for new clients. I am excited to add more people to my team as I expand my service offerings!
In what ways could the community or the state of Vermont support BIPOC businesses?
I think creating more spaces to showcase BIPOC businesses would be a great first step. I know it’s hard to find events and organizations in Vermont, but if there were more opportunities for BIPOC businesses to be highlighted in farmers markets, chamber of commerce events, or newspapers, we can make other Vermonters aware that we exist, and we deserve support in the community as well!
What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a person of color (POC) living in Vermont before arriving?
Since I was coming in for college, I had expectations that it would be an experience that wasn’t as isolating as my high school experience was. I felt very out of place in a PWI like Middlebury, and I would have wanted to know that the “otherness” I was feeling had nothing to do with the content of my character or my inability to fit in.
I would have wanted to know that it’s normal to feel isolated up here, especially in the winter, and that it’s really important to find your people when you get here. It can really be hard to adjust to the culture up here, but if you have others who are there to help you along the way, it will make a world of difference!
From your perspective, how do you see artificial intelligence transforming the future of workforces and job roles within the UX design field?
I think it’s moving so unbelievably fast, I almost hesitate to say anything, because it will likely be out-dated in the matter of days! I do think that within the general design space there will be a lot of people who opt to use AI instead of hiring a designer, and while that isn’t great for designers, obviously, I do think it’s inevitable. I do think that there will be space for professionals who are truly passionate about making design that is intuitive and beautiful, and the market of companies and clients that value that will not be interested in using AI over hiring a designer. I do think that it can be a powerful tool for designers to streamline workflows or help out with other non-design related tasks.
With UX specifically, I have a hunch it will take a little longer before it deeply impacts that branch of design. There is a lot of unpredictable behavior when it comes to UX design and research, and I think with the current models available, there is a heavy dependence on predictability for it to work.
Are there any specific skills or areas of expertise you believe will be essential for designers, of any kind, to thrive in an AI-driven environment?
I think learning about how AI works will be a valuable skill for anyone, frankly. If you have a deeper understanding than the average person on how to use it as a tool and streamline your processes, it will definitely give you an edge over others who may flat-out refuse to acknowledge it’s here, and will be for a while. If you are artistic in any way, learning how to incorporate that into your designs could also be really helpful in allowing you to stand out.
While AI generated art is a thing, being able to craft something specially for your clients and incorporating that into your designs can add a personal touch that only you can produce!