Establishing Your UX Designer Career

Everyone has to start somewhere, but getting your first job can be difficult. With a little extra effort in networking and careful attention to your portfolio, and thought to preparing for your interviews, you’ll be able to land your first junior UX position.

The informational interview

UX design is a broad discipline. UX professionals consider the Why, What, and How of product use. That’s why we have people who not only create an actual design (UX/UI designers), but also people who focus on user research (UX researchers), write user-focused content (UX writers), and conduct usability testing sessions and more. Before you start your job search, you need to understand what your area of interest in UX design (have a clear understanding of your future role), and learn what the expectations of the role are and what soft and hard skillsets are required to be successful. This upfront research will help you be better prepared for the informational interview.

Informational interviews are not arranged in order to interview for specific job openings. The purpose of an informational interview is to learn what it’s like to work in a specific organization and to get information about the type of traditional and nontraditional career paths that may be available. Not only is it a time to start building your professional relationships, but also to discover new industries and career opportunities.

You can use an informational interview to find out how the company does their user research, their design process and methodologies, and the type of prototyping tools they use. Then you can think about integrating those methodologies and experimenting with tools to incorporate them into your portfolio.

Show and talk to your process

A stellar portfolio is pretty much a necessity if you want to land any kind of UX design work. It is a basis that is used by many clients to hire UX professionals. Why? Because the information in the portfolio demonstrates the candidate’s design process and problem-solving skills. If you want to practice your UX skills check out BeHance, Adobe hosts livestreams here that offer Daily Creative Challenges. It not only uses XD as the platform, but it also offers free lessons. When you start curating your portfolio, create a strong narrative and storytelling around your process. For each step in your UX design process, have a narrative to illustrate the rationale behind initial concepts and sketches. The narrative should expand upon the methodologies you use and the reason behind your design decisions.

It’s also a good idea to make your story more powerful by including relevant visuals. Provide raw initial sketches, notes, user research, discovery sessions, wireframes, journey maps, UI designs.  But remember that data tells, stories sell. Be able to answer questions as to why you used specific labels for navigation and placement of content elements within the design.

Give your portfolio a communication goal. What skills are you trying to highlight with your portfolio? Your portfolio should highlight both hard skills (i.e. your level of proficiency in design tools) that show your knowledge and abilities, and soft skills (i.e. how you solve problems and make decisions) that show you have the attributes and traits for the position. Include projects that demonstrate your proficiency and develop a narrative for traits. Convey your career objective and have your portfolio speak to the type of role you wish to have.

Remember data tells, stories sell.

Don’t put everything into your portfolio. Your portfolio should be geared toward the type of job you want to find. Interviewers for UX Researcher, UX Designer, and UX/UI Design will be looking for you to show different outcomes and strengths. Keep a project or two in reserve to have something additional to show and talk about in job interviews.

Two designers planning out a mobile design using post its on a white board
Two designers plan a mobile design

Provide context when presenting your UX portfolio. Your demonstration of each portfolio piece should include the target audience, explanation of how your design solution is beneficial for people who will use it, and a demonstration of how the current design is being used. One method to use that will address all of these questions is to speak to the situation, task, action and result or STAR of the project.

  • Situation. Be specific in describing the context of the problem or challenge of the project.
  • Task. Describe the project objective or requirements. This includes the type of work done, under what kind of timelines, budgets, or other project constraints.
  • Action. Focus on how you achieved your outcomes and your work on completing the tasks for the project. For collaborative work, speak to your contribution and how it was implemented into the project, as well as any alternatives you recommended.
  • Result. What were the outcomes of the projects? What metrics did you use to measure the success of your design solution? Provide measurable KPIs (key performance indicators) and use user feedback to support your findings. Speak to what you learned from the project and how you will apply this learning in the future.
A close up of papers on a designers desk
Designers desk with app planning

Passion project

If UX design is a completely new field for you, you may not have any real-world projects in your portfolio. To round out your portfolio, add a passion project or case study. There is always a community-based group or NGO that needs help with their digital messaging and community engagement. A passion project is good for building a case study that can incorporate user-based evidence, project conversion metrics, and end results. Did your design solution increase donations or the number of people volunteering on community projects? Are more people now aware of the organization and the work they do in the community?

If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.

David Kelley, Ideo

Ideally, have a prototype to show. A prototype should allow you to show how you incorporated your research and develop a narrative that talks to your solution.

Two designers working on a mobile design on paper
Designers planning mobile design

Check your designs

Always be ready to show high-resolution images of decent quality. Remember to check your gray tones. In most interviews, your portfolio or work will most likely be projected. Some projectors can cause some gray tones to become washed out or not visible on screen. Always spell check and make sure your portfolio and prototypes work in all browsers. Make sure to double-check that all your links work and images load properly.

A grayscale

Pro tip: Be Prepared. Don’t assume you will have internet access.

Be patient

Landing your first UX job will be a journey and takes time. Continue learning the craft and tools. Attend local UX Meetups and UX conferences in your area to build your professional network and learn about career opportunities. Constantly tweak and add to your portfolio.

Most importantly, keep learning and refining your skills. The industry is constantly changing. Keep on top of trends and best practices to stay current.