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The ultimate guide to get into UX

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The ultimate guide to get into UX

April 28, 2020

You’ve heard about UX, and currently looking at ways to break the market.

You can’t afford 10k for a course, maybe you can, but don’t know whether to commit to it.

In this article, I break down how to get into UX. I will be covering:

  • So, you want to get into UX?
  • How to design a CV and portfolio with no experience or a boot camp to stand out.
  • How to find your first UX job.
  • How do you know if you are in the right role? A guide to your first 2 years in design.

Before you commit, do some research, and speak to practitioners in the industry before jumping in.


IIfound over 14,000 people a month in London search “How to learn UX”. There have never been more people moving into this weird and wonderful world with more bootcamps than ever popping up left right and centre, weekend courses, part-time courses, one-man bands training you, B2B programmes such as Interaction Design Foundation, Universities creating a dedicated UX course.

It can be confusing what avenue to pick.

It depends on your background, how much in-depth training you need, what course to take and if you’re even ready to be a UX Designer.

UX is a skill, and I believe everyone can be a “UXer” to an extent, but you need certain attributes to be a great practitioner such as empathy, curiosity, communication mixed with technical skills.

It’s vital you come prepped.

I’ve seen multiple people splash out 10k+ on a course when in all honesty they didn’t need to because they have transferable skills, but I’ve also seen people try and research, do a few online courses and get into the industry and they’ve failed or it’s taken them too long. Let’s face it, life is too long to not be in a job you don’t enjoy.


What should you consider before moving into UX?

If you have transferable skills such as visual design, you might get away with doing a part-time course but if you’re a career changer I’d advise a boot camp mixed with online learning, self-education and personal projects.

If you have a year, I’d recommend a masters in HCI, UX, Psychology or Computer Science.


Bootcamps to consider

Flatiron

US-based, taking over the design education space and recently opened in London. Their USP is it’s over 18–24 weeks.

General Assembly

Starting in NYC, General Assembly is a pioneer in education and career transformation, specializing in today’s most in-demand skills.

Academy XI

Based in Australia, they’re covering design courses in Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore.

Online Courses

CareerFoundry

Berlin-based start-up, offering year courses online with a mentor to help you find a role.

Interaction Design Foundation

“A goldmine of information on interaction design” — Don Norman

Need I say more? 😉

 

Getting into UX without a bootcamp?

10 tips to get into UX without a boot camp

School of UX

LinkedIn Learning

Udemy

Just remember UX courses are similar to learning to drive. The course is the test, and then you really learn.

Can I be honest? You will be a basic UX Designer after this course. But it’s a great start.

Be humble and keep on learning, working on self-initiated projects, gaining more knowledge. UX can’t be covered in 3 months, but it’s a perfect place to start.

3-month courses are great introductions to UX and definitely helps to propel one into the industry as a junior. I think it should be a given knowledge to anyone entering boot camps on UX that we definitely would need to secure a place where it encourages mentorship once we finish.

You can be job-ready as a junior after completing a few courses depending on who and what you’ve learnt. Course success can be dependant on your tutor, their background and if you adapt to their learning approach.

The argument for doing a UX course instead of a university degree can be the more real-life projects you do. For example with real-world scenarios, nothing ever pans out the way you learn about it and without that experience, you’ll struggle in interviews to show you can apply any of the theory.

Whilst you’re studying get involved in the community. Go to meetups, hackathons, info nights etc and demonstrate your passion. YOU WILL MEET PEOPLE. Sometimes when you’re looking for a job it’s who you know, not, what you know.


Find a mentor or someone who can guide you.

There a few things you need to find out.

  1. Are you ideal for a UX/Product Design role?
  2. What skills do you need to develop? (you may have some transferable)
  3. How to acquire those skills. You might not need to pay 10k or do a masters, you may be able to transfer at work.
  4. What money you can expect to earn. Think about it, if you do a course which is 10k for 3 months and it takes 2–3 months to find a role you’re losing out on a lot of money so I’d hate for it to be a shock to the system to see how much money you’ll expect to earn.
  5. Where are all the jobs?

People to reach out to

  • Head of UX — General inspiration although they won’t be able to help you find a role as such because they’ve not been a junior for years.
  • People who’ve got into the industry in the last few years — They are perfect to help because they can tell you, recruiters, to reach out to, who hires juniors, how they acquired skills to get into the industry.
  • Recruiters — They can advise with salary, companies to reach out to and ultimately who to reach out to.

How are you going to sell yourself?

Product Designer?

UX Designer?

UX Researcher?

Too many people are claiming to be product designers and too many companies are posting product design jobs when actually they are more UI or UX.

The difference between a product and UX designer is they work across the end-to-end process, both UX and visual design for companies who actually ship products, for example, a SaaS product.

UX is part of a centralised team working collaboratively to help other functions achieve KPI’s.

Product Designer sits within a product team and has influence and impact on product team KPI’s.

The biggest difference, in my opinion, is UX is user-focused and product design is business and user-focused.

I warn you, everyone has a different opinion.


Great, so how do I sell myself?

Look at these things:

  • Type of companies you want to work for.
  • Existing skill set, for example, if you have strong visual skills you might make a cracking product designer.
  • What areas do you need upskilling in?
  • What direction do you want to take your career?

Do you want to be more of a generalist or someone who specialises in one area i.e research, UX or UI?

Product Designers need an understanding of UI/Prototyping and how to actually work with developers.

On a side note, I personally think UX Researchers paired with Product Designers is a splendid combination.


Now what?

Before you take a course, commit to having a basic to an intermediate level of knowledge.

I’d advise background reading, taking a few online courses on things such as UX process, tools and teams work together to create a product. Start getting in the mindset of shipping products, and who you need to work with.

A few books I recommend:

  1. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
  2. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk
  3. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug
  4. The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garret
  5. Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen
  6. Hooked by Nir Eyal
  7. Sprint by Jake Knapp

Any more suggestions? Let me know!


By now, you should know you want to be in UX.

Now we need to talk about the importance of building a portfolio as a junior with no experience, thinking outside the box when designing it, what not to do, and what you can do to stand out.


Why do you need a portfolio?

Let’s put it this way; in an industry where education and previous experience is not strictly a prerequisite to landing your dream role, a UX design portfolio is arguably even more important than your CV. It acts as a meet and greet before the hiring manager actually gets to meet you.

Times have changed, and the number of UX vacancies is increasing year on year, but with that, there are more UX designers in the market. So, you need to differentiate yourself somehow, and for that, you can’t just rely on your CV.

Compared to 10 years ago, many companies know intricate characteristics they are looking for in a new hire, so it’s vital you show them you meet their needs. If you don’t I can assure you someone else will. It can mean the difference between instant rejection or getting called to come in for an interview.

As well as core UX roles, there are a number of hybrid roles which require more than just UX skills so this is the perfect opportunity to showcase that you’ve worked on different parts of a project, e.g. UI Design, strategic decision-making, or overseeing the web development.

 

What should be the aim of your portfolio?

I believe it’s an opportunity to showcase 1) your skills 2) who you are as a human being. We spend more time with our colleagues than our family, so don’t be afraid to show personality.

In an age where there is more emphasis on hiring people who match the culture of the business, a portfolio is a perfect opportunity to show that you’re a cultural fit. It’s much harder to get your personality across on a CV given that approximately 99% of CVs follow the same format.

The ultimate aim is to get hired (duh!) but maybe start to think about your career vision.

Can you take the reader on a journey?

Are you allowing yourself a higher opportunity to be headhunted? (There is a difference between headhunted and applying for a job). Top companies scour portfolios, Medium, GitHub to look for the next thought leaders.

Can you build your brand? A portfolio should be to showcase your work, but all the things you do outside of your day job for the community such as talks, conferences, teaching etc.

Have the questions in mind:

As we all know there is a lot of juniors in the market so do something that will help you stand out.

  • What makes you stand out from hundreds of juniors?
  • Why should someone give you a chance? How much grit and determination have you got?
  • What’s your 5–10-year plan? Give companies an idea of how you want to grow your career.
  • Do you look up to anyone in UX and why?

I’d rather see a junior portfolio which isn’t perfect in terms of process but rather someone who demonstrates they are mouldable, teachable, likeable and enjoyable to be around.


Can you build a portfolio with NO experience in UX?


I won’t lie — this can be difficult with a lack of commercial UX experience.

However, it is possible to demonstrate skills and attributes which are important for any UX practitioner. For example research and the methodology used to get to a solution: testing, initial drafts, wireframes, personas, prototypes, evaluations etc. Here are some ways you can start to build a portfolio if you have no background in UX:

1) Take a course — Taking a UX course is a great way to build up your portfolio because you will learn key UX principles and put these into practice.

2) Volunteer — Volunteering for a charity/non-profit is another awesome way to build experience and help shape a portfolio because not only are you working on a live project, but will get exposure to real users. This shows amazing initiative and can help to show a good team spirit.

3) Hackathons — A hackathon is usually a day or two long competition where software programmers, developers, UXers, UI designers, etc. come together to design something. These can help you build a portfolio in a short space of time, as well as learning from inspirational people and growing your network.


By now, I hope I’ve made it clear you need to always be thinking from the readers perspective when designing your portfolio as a junior. Instead of just WHAT and HOW you’ve solved a problem always ask WHY I did it.

Let’s get into the meat and juice of the case study side.

What to include in your case studies?

  • Who you worked with — Being able to demonstrate collaborative working practices and ability to engage with multiple teams is important
  • Tools used
  • Frame the problem — why were you there?
  • Process — What, How and Why. For example “we conducted guerrilla testing, by interviewing people in a restaurant, because…”.
  • The end result, including timeframes. What was your ROI on that project?
  • Summary — Think about things such as what could you have done better? What would you have done with more research budget?
 

Talk about what YOU did.

The amount of times I’ve seen “we did this” in a portfolio is ludicrous. I’d be a millionaire if I got a pound every time I saw that phrase. Ok, I’m joking, but you get my drift.

The problem with saying “we” too much in the portfolio case study is it’s hard to get an understanding of your impact on the project and the danger hiring someone who hasn’t done what they claim and was carried by their teammates throughout.

Make it clear what you did, and what your teammates did.


How to lay your portfolio out

Don’t over complicate things.

Use templates such as:

I’d personally recommend 3 main components.

  • Case studies — Is ultimately what will get you hired.
  • About page — For me as a junior, this where you can sell who you are as a human being as well as an upcoming designer.
  • Blogs/Articles — Shows you are thinking outside the box.

How many projects should you showcase?


I would advise showing a maximum of three examples in your UX portfolio. If you’re a junior, even one or two projects is enough. Choose projects which you’ve had the most impact on, and show work which is clearly laid out.

If you’re reading this and have a few years’ experience, you’re probably thinking, “but I have so much work to show.” You need to think of a portfolio as a selling tool, it’s to sell your services to a certain company. If you just show everything, rather than curating your hottest work, it could disadvantage you.

You have to think of a portfolio as you dangling the carrot waiting for the hiring manager to take a bite. Once you have an interview, you can mention other projects you’ve worked on.

If you’re passive in the market and only want to specialize in one sector or would like to work in one particular sector, it would be a good idea to show a project that you’ve worked on in that sector.

If by chance the project you worked on in the specific sector wasn’t your best or most-detailed, still include it as it shows you have an interest in this area and some experience. As UX has grown, so has the number of candidates meaning companies have more pick. That’s why you might see on job specs, e.g. “must have experience in financial services.” If you haven’t worked on a sector that you’re targeting, try including some personal projects in that area or write a killer cover letter — a topic for another day!


Top UX portfolios to check out

Anthony Currenti

Cal Rowston

Hera Saqib


A few questions I get asked a lot answered:

What do I look for when scouting junior talent?


I don’t hire for juniors very often, in fact, hardly at all. The reason is that companies should only reach out to recruiters for niche roles i.e they are finding it difficult to fill the role.

Juniors lack commercial experience, so there isn’t much which separates them from the rest so all companies need to do is post on LinkedIn and get a ton of applicants.

But I believe a junior should focus on these areas 👇

  • Portfolio — This is your pitch. Make it special.
  • Online presence — Can people recognize you on LinkedIn, Medium or other channels?
  • Offline meetings — go for coffee with people, attend meet-ups.

I look at early stage folks as a package, not just portfolio because it’s highly likely the work isn’t going to help them stand out. It’s their attitude, grit, communication, soft skills etc.


What common mistakes do I see juniors make?

  • Relying on recruiters. We work for clients, not candidates. That means 95% of the time recruiters won’t help juniors because there is no money in placing juniors. I know it sounds brutal, but don’t forget recruiting is a business. The great recruiters will always make time, even if it’s for 10 minutes.
  • Getting caught up with wanting to work for certain companies. Look at each opportunity with your next role in mind. What do I mean by that? Well, if you go and work for Facebook and work on a like button or a start-up where you’ve worked across the full end-to-end process, what do you think has progressed your portfolio more?
  • Getting too much advice or advice from the wrong people. Don’t just contact design leaders, but look at people who found jobs 1–2 years ago as THEY will have more knowledge than most design leaders. Your only focus at this stage of your career is to find a job.

What do I think makes a successful portfolio?

  • Process.
  • Showcasing side projects, not just 3 case studies from a General Assembly course.
  • Showcase some personality.

As a new UX designer, it’s only natural that you won’t have vast quantities of work to show in your portfolio, so instead, you need to find a unique angle to stand out. Personally, when I look through junior portfolios I like to see some personality in there, even if there are only a handful of projects.

Ways to inject personality include adding any personal projects you have attempted and talking the reader through how you went from an idea to a finished solution. Even if it was a complete failure or it was part of your UX design course rather than a paid gig, show it!

For me, failing but being humble around the fact you know that you can improve shows determination, grit, and motivation. From multiple conversations with hiring managers that I’ve had on the topic of junior UX portfolios, I can tell you that they’re not expecting examples of perfect process-driven work, they want to see personality and if you’ll be a good fit culturally. The rest you can learn on the job!


How can a junior impress hiring managers and get noticed?

I asked Scott Smallman as obviously I am not one 👇

“Whenever I see someone who has a rationale for the choices they made. It’s not about being right or wrong in the approach or decision but having an understanding and ability to discuss their choices rather than just ‘doing UX’ activities is important.”


What are things designers often include in their portfolio that scream “junior”? How do they avoid this?

  • Too much obsession with “process”

I believe it’s an opportunity to showcase 1) your skills 2) who you are as a human being. We spend more time with our colleagues than our family, so don’t be afraid to show personality.

In an age where there is more emphasis on hiring people who match the culture of the business, a portfolio is a perfect opportunity to show that you’re a cultural fit. It’s much harder to get your personality across on a CV given that approximately 99% of CVs follow the same format.

The ultimate aim is to get hired (duh!) but maybe start to think about your career vision.

Can you take the reader on a journey?

Are you allowing yourself a higher opportunity to be headhunted? (There is a difference between headhunted and applying for a job). Top companies scour portfolios, Medium, GitHub to look for the next thought leaders.

Can you build your brand? A portfolio should be to showcase your work, but all the things you do outside of your day job for the community such as talks, conferences, teaching etc.

Have the questions in mind:

As we all know there is a lot of juniors in the market so do something that will help you stand out.

  • What makes you stand out from hundreds of juniors?
  • Why should someone give you a chance? How much grit and determination have you got?
  • What’s your 5–10-year plan? Give companies an idea of how you want to grow your career.
  • Do you look up to anyone in UX and why?

I’d rather see a junior portfolio which isn’t perfect in terms of process but rather someone who demonstrates they are moldable, teachable, likeable and enjoyable to be around.


What are my thoughts on people who say “cast a wide net” when applying for jobs?

I really disagree. You need to be targeted.

Think of a few questions such as:

Does your current work have a UX function? Can you move over? This is a perfect way because you already have buy-in from the company.

You’ve done the course, you’ve got basic knowledge. Now what?

Map out your perfect role

Three things I urge you to look at when mapping out your perfect role:

  • Career advancement.
  • Values.
  • Health/Well-being.

Career development is very important for your first role. Things to consider:

  • Is there a team to learn from?
  • A budget for courses, conferences etc.
  • Have they bought in a junior before? Was it a success?
  • Does the UX work get shipped? You want a portfolio full of end-to-end UX work that gets implemented.
  • Focus on the project, not who the company is. I’d rather work for a small product company on an end-to-end complex project than Facebook on a small microsite. Your first role is vital to get exposure across a breadth of projects.
  • UX research. If you want to be in UX, don’t go to a company who doesn’t do research or have plans to. Makes 0 sense, that’s not UX that is a user-centred UI Designer.

Three things I urge you to look at when mapping out your perfect role:

  • Career advancement.
  • Values.
  • Health/Well-being.

Career development is very important for your first role. Things to consider:

  • Is there a team to learn from?
  • A budget for courses, conferences etc.
  • Have they bought in a junior before? Was it a success?
  • Does the UX work get shipped? You want a portfolio full of end-to-end UX work that gets implemented.
  • Focus on the project, not who the company is. I’d rather work for a small product company on an end-to-end complex project than Facebook on a small microsite. Your first role is vital to get exposure across a breadth of projects.
  • UX research. If you want to be in UX, don’t go to a company who doesn’t do research or have plans to. Makes 0 sense, that’s not UX that is a user-centred UI Designer.

Let me know if you have any other tips!



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