Guide to Starting Your UX Design Career

Guide to Starting Your UX Design Career

Get started with all the most frequently asked questions about starting your UX design career. We take you chapter-by-chapter through all the most essential information and resources you need to kickstart a successful design career.

Chapter

6

Ever read a job description looking for a UX/UI Designer with 3+ years of experience? We’ve all been there. Frustratingly, starting out in design can seem like a catch-22: most entry-level design positions require experience, but getting experience only comes with employment. So how do you break this pattern and launch your career?

The truth is the number of years you work in the industry isn't the most groundbreaking benchmark that sets you apart from other designers. Hiring managers and recruiters go through hundreds of applications, and your CV can easily get lost if you don't have some evidence to prove you're a real catch. Ultimately, a design job requires more than a CV — you also need to showcase what work you can do and whether you know how to use the skills described in your CV effectively.

Recruiters are also interested in your approach to solving problems, your design process, and your ability to learn from mistakes. Your portfolio is a key component that answers these questions and makes you stand out from other designers.

What makes a portfolio stand out?

Whatever project you decide to work on, don't stop with the visual representation only — go one step further and tell a story!

  • Your redesigns may not be revolutionary, but they should provide reasoning behind your designs. Imagine potential users, create personas, describe their needs and desires your product can satisfy, and think through user flows.
  • Use real content instead of lorem ipsum and image placeholders. It makes your imaginary designs look more plausible.
  • Showcase your human-centered design approach by supporting your design decisions with heuristics, product guidelines (like iOS guidelines or Material Design), patterns, or research data (even if your target audience is just a group of friends).

How do you create your portfolio if you haven't done any professional projects yet?

Unofficial redesigns

Redesign existing products. Look around and search for websites, landing pages, application features, graphic work, etc., that you'd do differently. It'll help you get the feel of being a designer and add the first works to your portfolio.

Even the best products might have some room for improvement, but we don't recommend looking at products like Google or Facebook. Their design decisions usually rely on in-depth user research findings, and you may waste too much time hunting for designers' missteps. Instead, browse through websites and apps you use or look for products with low ratings or outdated designs that are most likely to have room for improvement.

Another option is to look at the product of a company you're applying for and see if there are any design inaccuracies. The goal is to stay polite when talking about those mistakes and avoid blaming or mocking the interface or functionality.

Volunteering with nonprofits or open-source projects

Volunteering is a fantastic way to gain experience. It doesn't involve any financial issues, and you have more freedom to experiment with ideas. Volunteering also provides an excellent opportunity to network and meet potential clients down the road.

Search on Facebook or Instagram for nonprofit organizations or student initiatives in your town/college and select those you feel enthusiastic about working with. If you care for animals, for example, volunteer at animal shelters where you are genuinely eager to invest your time and energy by redesigning their website or working on visuals for their social media.

Your personal projects

If you fail to find external projects to work on, create your own! Find a topic you're passionate about and make your own deadlines to make sure you’re working efficiently and finish your projects. If you lack ideas, search for inspiration by looking at other designers' portfolios on Dribbble or Behance.

Hackathons

A hackathon, aka a code fest, is a social coding event that brings people with technical backgrounds together to work in teams, solve problems, or develop new ideas. Different types of hackathons come with different objectives and themes. For example, altruistic hackathons aim at solving social problems like public transport systems or educational centers for kids with genetic conditions. Other hackathons are aimed at specific demographic categories like women or students.

Hackathons are usually held by tech companies, startups, universities, nonprofits, or industry leaders interested in fostering industry collaboration, recruiting new talents, finding unique solutions, or growing their businesses.

Keep track of such events in your location and apply for projects you feel eager to contribute to. As a bonus, your work might draw the attention of potential employers or new clients.

Internships

Many tech companies and startups may not offer you a design job but will be willing to take you on for a paid internship (although not all internships are paid) in a design department. As part of an internship, you learn under the supervision of a mentor (e.g., a senior designer) while completing design tasks.

You should think of it as your chance to learn from more experienced teammates, add a few projects to your portfolio, and increase your confidence before seeking a permanent job. You may also meet potential clients, build a professional network, or prove yourself as a reliable team member and receive an offer to stay at this company as a full-time team member.

Course completion projects

Many online design courses require students to complete a final project in order to get a certificate. If you have one, don't hesitate and show off your work! If you've worked on it in a team, give your teammates credit and describe your role and what value you brought to this solution.

You might feel insecure, worrying that your undertakings aren't good enough or that you don't have enough of them to show. The thing is, nobody starts their career with dozens of unique successful projects and years of experience. Start small and try your best to create 1-2 projects you sincerely care about. Improve their presentation so recruiters can see more than just visually appealing screens. Sometimes, one brilliant idea can be enough to bring you your first design job.