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14 Must-Know Tips for Getting Started in UX

The path to landing a job in UX can be mysterious. Few universities offer dedicated UX programs and even though the field is growing, it can be difficult to find the right information and network with active professionals. The good thing is, there isn’t one, single best path that will get you to a career in UX. If you’re starting from scratch and just beginning to dive in, you might find yourself feeling lost or a bit overwhelmed.

Below are 14 tips that may help you find your way into the field.

 

#1. Develop a portfolio

When looking to get your career started or looking for a new job, a good portfolio is essential to quality offers. In a career dominated by the tech. industry, not having an online accessible resume and portfolio can be an immediate red flag for hiring managers. At the bare minimum, a well structured LinkedIn profile (or LinkedIn alternative 😂monopolization much?) is critical to success.

Unless you are looking for a career as an UX Engineer, it doesn’t need all of the bells and whistles. A simple, clean and well designed page showcasing your resume and any work you can highlight is all that’s really needed. Make it a goal to share anything about yourself, your career experiences and projects that demonstrate the complexity of project, your process and output.

 

#2. Internships are your friend

Real world experience is the ultimate learning experience. If you can spare the time and/or the low (sometimes no) pay, an internship experience is one of the best opportunities you can take advantage of to help develop your career. Internships can be a a great opportunity to give the career a test run without fully committing. Popular job searching sites today will deliver plenty of internship options in your area and possibly even remote working opportunities.

NOTE: Applying for a quality internship typically requires a portfolio to showcase throughout your application and interview process.

 

#3. Study and solve everyday problems

The world you live in everyday is riddled with UX mistakes and confusing experiences. Start making mental, or better yet physical, notes on the things you notice. Documenting them in some way will help you to begin to develop a more natural ability to spot issues for users and consider optimal solutions. Starting to take note of your digital experiences will help even more. When you notice confusing interactions or workflows in the apps and websites that you use at home or for work, start thinking about ways that, as a user, you wish it were designed. These are the exact problems the UX professionals consider everyday when designing experiences.

 

#4. Read some books

I knew UX was the right path for me after reading “Set Phasers On Stun” by S.M. Casey, a book of short stories about disturbing technological disasters caused by incompatibilities between the way things are designed and the way people actually perceive, think, and act. I found my brain running with ideas on ways that these disasters could have been prevented.

Some other great books that can lead to an excellent foundational understanding of the principles that UX is founded on include “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman and “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. These are some of my favorites and great introductions to the types of everyday problems that the field of UX looks to solve. Check them out and let me know what you think! (twitter: ibloss@)

 

#5. Go online!

Don’t forget about all of the free online resources! The UX industry is filled with great blogs, magazines and authors publishing free content online. Subscribe to a few podcasts, blogs and newsletters that meet your needs. Whether you’re starting from scratch and just interested in learning what UX is (Read this!) or deciding whether UX design or UX research is right for you (article coming soon), there is an enormous amount of content for you to get into.

 

#6. Freelance, freelance, freelance

Not the right time for an internship? Freelancing may be your option.. As a freelancer, you have the right to accept only the projects you want and work on whatever schedule you like. Ironically, you’ll likely need a portfolio to get good gigs, but you can start with smaller projects for friends and family for free or through online marketplaces like Fiverr.

 

#7. Build some things

You may be wondering how you can build a portfolio without experience and how you can get experience and more opportunities without a portfolio. Seems like a Catch 22… The advice I give is to take advantage of how cheap it is to get started in the field. Some of the highest quality online portfolios I have seen showcase nothing but an idea, an explanation and sketches. The barrier to entry is low and getting started by designing some wireframes and mocks in a sketchpad can make for great storytelling.

Pro Tip: Try taking some of the everyday UX problems you have been making note of and start designing better solutions to fix the issues for users.

 

#8. Learn some code

Similar to having an idea of how to “speak tech”, learning to code or at least the basic foundations of code is always a good idea to make you stand out in the crowd and gets you one step closer to becoming the coveted UX Unicorn. For UX, I personally recommend starting with the basic foundations of the web — HTML and CSS. It may come in handy when working with UX designers and UX engineers or just being able to understand a little bit more about what’s underneath many of the online applications that are most popular.

Want to do more? Dabbling in Javascript and getting familiar with some of the more popular engineering frameworks, particularly for web and mobile design, would be a great next step.

TIP: W3schools.com is where I started and it’s free.

 

#9. Learn about tech and “the industry”

With the technology industry dominating the UX field at the moment, making sure you are able to speak the language of tech will make you a stronger candidate. The transition from academia to industry or the cold entry into the tech industry can be overwhelming, but still learned on the job. As a bonus, to stand out during your conversations with other tech workers, it’s helpful to know things such as the makeup of a basic product team includes a PM, Eng and UX partner and know what a design sprint is. Knowledge about bits like these will make you shine.

 

#10. Develop a portfolio (Seriously)

Seriously… Develop a portfolio.

 

#11. Get a mentor

If you appreciate one on one time with an experience professional, a mentor is likely the place to start. Asking friends and family members if they have connections in the industry or connections at tech. companies can be a useful place to start looking. Professional network sites like Linkedin or in-person meetup opportunities like the TheLighthouse.us can be great resources for connecting with experienced professionals as well.

 

#12. Network

Attend events, meetups, connect online and use social media for more than just memes. There are some great UX Instagram and Twitter accounts out there. The UX design community is extremely strong — with a little digging, you’ll find opportunities to network all of the time.

 

#13. Join an online community

Find a few forums online where you can connect and learn with others in the industry. Subreddit r/UXdesign and UX Stack Exchange are full of great information and an active community. When you’re ready to get feedback on some of your work, Dribbble is one of my favorites for getting inspiration for new work, sharing and connecting.

 

#14. Take a course

If you like more structured and guided learning experiences, online courses from Team Treehouse or in-person classes at organizations like General Assembly and The Flatiron School group can provide you with an end-to-end learning experience covering many of the nuances within the field.

 

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Photo Credit:

Photo by José Alejandro Cuffia

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