How to kickstart a career in UX Design
In an open letter to UX Design graduates, Academy Xi Designer in Residence Jacalin Ding gives practical tips and tricks on how to gain a foothold in one of Australia’s most exciting industries.
Dear UX Design graduates,
Firstly, well done! You should be very proud of yourselves for going through such an extensive learning experience. The product world is brand new to you and everything you’ve learnt is about to be put into practice.
The UX Design industry is exciting and forever evolving. It can feel like a black hole of mystery. Where do you go from here?
As you prepare yourself for a wild ride into the employment market, the future might seem daunting. To help you prepare for what’s to come, I’ve put together a beginner’s guide that includes some simple steps to follow as you look to make a fast start as a UX Designer.
Take some time to self-reflect
Before you rush off to LinkedIn and apply for every job you see, just hold your horses. Sit down, close your eyes, and really think about how you feel about your whole journey.
If you answer these questions, you’ll get a better feel for what type of role and environment suits you:
- Are you drawn to a particular part of the design process? Maybe you most enjoyed strategy, research, or hands-on practice.
- Reflect on how and when you do your best work. Is it through collaboration, or facilitation?
- What transferable skills do you offer? Never underestimate the power of your past experiences. Even if you haven’t worked in a creative field before, your transferable skills will be the cherry on the top of your newly-acquired design skills. These elements combined make you unique as a designer.
- What product problems are you passionate about? Are there any companies out there whose work you admire? This can help narrow down the type of companies you’d like to work for.
Write all your answers down on paper and revise them frequently. Self-reflection is an important activity for any designer at any level.
Understand the battlefield
Now you’ve completed some self-reflection, it’s time to add a little extra flavour to your professional profile. You need to make you and your work really stand out.
There are tons of fresh UX bootcamp graduates constantly flowing into the employment market. What makes you special?
Add extra feathers to your cap by:
- Perfecting your soft skills: Communication, communication, communication. I can’t stress how important this is. Practise telling your story, both in writing and verbally.
- Showcasing your UI skills: The portfolios that stand out are the ones that are well crafted with an understanding of UI design. UX Designers need to work with UI Designers, so showcase your understanding of UI and patterns. You need to demonstrate that you are not only a problem solver, but also a content designer.
- Working with engineers: Go to hackathons, find opportunities to collaborate with engineers and learn the process they follow. Designers and engineers almost always work together in any product team. Learn how to make design compromises for feasibility, and how to package up your work for hand-off.
Don’t stop at case studies
Maybe take a little break after you’ve completed your bootcamp, but then get started with your first self-directed project. Remember, this is your first opportunity to drive on your own! It’s time to sharpen up all the tools you’ve learned.
This time, you don’t have to go through every single step in the double diamond process. Instead, be strategic and rational about each decision you make.
Designers who create their own projects are clearly passionate about what they do. Passion is the ingredient that sets you apart from the crowd.
Here are a few tips for your first self-directed project:
- Tackle realistic, bite-sized projects.
- Start getting to grips with industry-standard research tools. You could try using Maze, Dovetail and SUS score.
- Hone your practical skills. Practise Figma auto layouts, create shortcuts, organise files and prepare documentation for engineers. There are plenty of YouTube videos that give you step-by-step tutorials for all of these skills.
Jazz up your LinkedIn
For those who have been spending their lives scrolling on TikTok and Instagram, it’s time to shift gears and focus on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the place where most professional opportunities live these days.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is looking its best. List and explain your digital skill-sets, get recommendations from previous colleagues, and carefully check for spelling and grammatical errors.
Follow businesses you’d like to work with, as well as their employees and recruiters. This will help you get a vibe on the company culture. Try to network slowly and avoid bluntly asking for jobs.
Increase your visibility by posting insights and writing articles. The key is to share your thoughts, promote your work and get your name out there. It can seem intimidating at first, but don’t worry – just hit that publish button!
Build a stand-out portfolio
This is the most important part. It’s time to make sure your portfolio is sleek. Keep it simple and weave your personality into it (don’t neglect the ‘About Me’ page!). If you’re not an engineer, you can use easy-to-build platforms like Squarespace and Wix. Design your portfolio like you would a product: conceptualise, draft, write and edit before building it.
Truthfully, most of the graduate case studies I’ve seen are not even going to make it onto a shortlist. I’ll write another article about how to craft a decent case study in the coming weeks. For now, here’s a high-level guide:
- Make sure you clearly define the problem and your measure for success (i.e. increase click rate by 5%). A problem well-defined is a problem half solved. Use success metrics as the north star to guide your testing.
- Feature your finished mock-ups at the top. Give viewers a wow factor and a reason to carry on reading.
- Each case study should be scannable. Most people speed read, so avoid long paragraphs, highlight data points and use bullet points and visuals. Ask yourself, if someone is scrolling through the case study quickly, is the story captivating and easily digestible?
- Back up your validation with both quantitative and qualitative data (i.e. 80% of users tested completed the task successfully, followed by a quote).
- You don’t have to show every single step. You also don’t have to follow the double diamond method. Instead, create a story that highlights which insights informed your decision making. Remember to refer back to your goal, share any pitfalls you encountered and how you moved beyond them.
Seek opportunities everywhere
Before you secure a job offer, put yourself out there with internships and volunteer work. LinkedIn is not the only destination to make that happen.
- Contact companies you’d like to be a part of and ask for intern opportunities. Do your research, get familiar with what they do and write them a sincere cover letter pitching yourself.
- https://interns.design is a site where you can find current intern opportunities. However, be aware that many of these are based in the US.
- Think grassroots and get creative. If a restaurant in your neighbourhood has a terrible website, offer to do a redesign. Perhaps have a mentor work alongside you so you can get advice when needed.
Approach charities you want to get involved with and make contact with their employees on LinkedIn.
You can also offer to help start-ups. The good thing about start-ups is that you get to work with stakeholders directly. You can find start-ups by searching Facebook groups. I recommend you approach start-ups with existing designers or a Product Manager in place, since the projects are more likely to be properly organised.
If you’re going to work for free, make sure it’s worth your time. Know exactly what you want to get out of volunteering from the get-go.
Be around like-minded people
As well as LinkedIn networking, try meeting other UX Designers in person. Nothing beats real face-to-face conversations with likeminded people. Find out if there’s a meet-up opportunity near you.
In Australia, there are heaps of networking opportunities:
Plus, you can get mentored by experienced design leaders via platforms like Adplist.org.
Anyway, that’s a wrap! I hope all these tips and tricks are useful to you as you start your job search. Keep in mind that it’s totally normal to hit roadblocks and face rejection. It’s all part of the journey to success. If you’ve got the passion, trust me, the opportunities will follow!
I wish you all the best, and look forward to seeing you and your work in the industry soon.
Jacalin Ding / Strategic Product Design Lead. Consultant, Mentor, Speaker and Designer in Residence at Academy Xi.