User experience (UX) has grown significantly over the past 10 years, as people engross themselves with more and more immersive, experiential technologies.
For businesses across a whole range of sectors, the race is on to seek innovative UX talent, that can add a valuable perspective to their organisation and really understand the behaviour of their customers.
With the help of Suzanne Irving — UX designer at the BBC and founder of Ladies That UX Liverpool — we’ve put together our top tips to show you how to get a job as a UX designer.
1. Understand whether UX is right for you
Before you dive straight into UX, do some research and decide whether it’s right for you.
A lot of UX roles are design-led. If you’re not a fan of coding, this might be music to your ears, but remember: UX Designers need to work well alongside Developers to put their ideas into action.
If you’re still not sure whether UX is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
Are you good at putting people first? — UX requires you to put yourself in the user’s shoes. You need to have empathy in order to create realistic personas and use the data you collect to produce solutions that put the customer first.
Do you obsess over the detail? — If you tend to paint with a broad brush, so to speak, UX might not be for you. Even the smallest of changes — whether it’s a different icon or the colour of a button — can affect the way that users interact with websites and apps, so you’ll need to be able to prioritise the little things.
Can you collaborate? — UX Designers very rarely work alone. It’s a highly collaborative role, so if you enjoy working in teams, you’ll thrive. Be ready to take on feedback without it feeling personal; it should all be for the benefit of the user in the end.
If the answer is ‘Yes’ to all three, it’s time for step two.
2. Take a UX course
If you don’t have any professional experience doing a UX role, you’ll need to do your homework.
The good news is that there are plenty of free online courses you can do to help you get started. If you can, though, investing in a paid course will ensure you have a more rounded experience aided by feedback from a tutor. Whatever you choose, do at least one course to completion.
One of the best parts of these courses is that most of them include projects to help you get started on your portfolio. Better still, the people you meet on your course can become job leads further down the line. You may even meet others who are already working in the field and are simply expanding their knowledge. Get on their radar and learn all you can — keep the door open for future opportunities.
Suzanne undertook an online course with The Career Foundry where she was given a mentor who supported her along the way. On the course, she was tasked with producing a time-management product for an imagined client. This client would change demands, budgets and timeframes, giving students the opportunity to practice consultation and challenging perceptions when necessary.
Courses like this provide you with a great foundation to start your UX career with a real insight into how it works.
3. Compile a UX designer portfolio
A career in UX is so heavily design-led that you shouldn’t hope for an initial interview without some sort of portfolio to show — even for entry-level roles.
What to do if you don’t have a portfolio
If you don’t have a portfolio at the moment, don’t worry: you can create something that can blow interviewers away without having professional experience in the industry.
Start with other websites
Suzanne recommends starting with existing websites. “If you don’t have any case studies to start with,” she says, “go and look at a product or company and analyse their website. Think how can I make it better/why would I make it better and again. Do your research!”
Include your non-design experience
Although design might be a core aspect of a UX role, it’s not all there is to it. UX also includes being able to come up with a good idea, conduct research, and implement a solution as a team.
If you’ve worked in a job previously, you’ll more than likely have some if not all of these elements hidden somewhere in your past experience. If you’ve ever done market research, data analysis or quality assurance, you’ll be happy to know that these skills translate well into the world of UX.
Use interviews to your advantage
“Interviews are one of the best ways of building a portfolio,” says Suzanne. Often, interviewers will ask you to complete a specific task before inviting you back to present. It can give you the drive you need to create some great UX projects.
“Every time I went to an interview I felt I was increasing my UX knowledge a little bit each time by building my portfolio and making myself better for the next one.
“I was putting my all into design tasks so that I could add them into my portfolio and use as case studies to highlight my ability to work on live briefs. I knew to be successful I had to keep chipping away at it.”
How to make a UX research portfolio that’s compelling
1. Highlight your processes
Your portfolio should show more than the final product; it should tell the story of how it was formed. Who were you designing for? What was the brief? What challenges did your designs overcome?
Go through your portfolio and see if it checks these boxes:
Outline the brief, challenges and overall project parameters
Describe your approach to the key challenge
Highlight your process step by step, from research through to final launch and usability testing
Use diagrams to illustrate your processes
By showing your processes and architectural ability, you’ll support the less inspiring visuals of wireframes and sketches that may appear later in your portfolio.
2. Highlight the tools you use
There are many great tools and software that you can use throughout the UX journey.
Many clients will ask what software you use to design each of your projects. Spell this out in your portfolio. This allows prospective employers to identify how easily you’d adapt to their current approach.
In your portfolio, think about the following:
Do you use the same software as the employer? (Can you hit the ground running?)
Why do you use X technology? (this can be a great talking point in interview)
Can you introduce new software and ideas?
Document which software you use at each stage of the process to accompany any visuals so that anyone can understand what they’re looking at.
3. Get social proof
The ‘people’ aspect of a portfolio is key when getting companies to sit up and take notice.
In such a competitive market, you need to support your portfolio with testimonials from other professionals in the UX community, shouting about how good you are.
Include testimonials from clients, colleagues and industry professionals
Highlight similar companies you’ve worked with to them
Show how your designs can be transferable
Highlight your client list (an honourable mention list if you will)
4. Do some networking
It’s not what you know — it’s who you know, especially if you don’t have extensive UX experience to back you up.
Luckily, networking in the right places is an easy way to get some people on your side who can help you land a role.
A lot of people claim to hate networking, but often it's because they’re doing it wrong. Good networking is indistinguishable from socialising; the best people spend very little time talking about themselves and as much time as possible learning about others.
Attend some UX-themed events. Harness that natural hunger you have to learn about UX by asking questions when you meet people already working in the industry. Your interest in them will be more effective in getting their attention than trying to prove your credentials — people remember people who take a genuine interest in them.
Plus, you can channel the advice they give into your career and touch base with them later, even if it’s just to say thanks. You never know — you might catch them at precisely the right time to get on their list of interview candidates.
Whenever you make a new contact in the UX industry, connect with them on LinkedIn. Engage with the things that they share to stay on their radar. If they’re worth their salt, you’ll probably learn a lot about UX in the meantime.
If you can connect with hiring managers, senior designers and heads of departments, your feed will consist of relevant people sharing relevant information for you to use.
It’s worth sending honest messages to those you’ve had some interaction with already. Explain that you are new to UX and asking for help. It’s nice to be nice. More than likely you will be pointed in the right direction or given some advice, but more importantly, you are getting your name out there for future opportunities.
5. Be persistent
If you’ve already done all of the above and feel like you haven’t got anywhere, don’t worry: you’re not alone.
“Getting into the UX industry can be a challenge,” says Suzanne, “but keep chipping away at it and invest time into your own brand.
“Make sure you do enough research so that you know what you are getting yourself into and make sure you pick your path wisely.
“Don’t do it alone, there are people out there who would relish the opportunity to help someone along their journey, so don’t be afraid to ask!”
The more time you invest in creating a compelling portfolio and strengthening your relationships within the UX community, the easier it will be to land that life-changing interview. Just be persistent — it’ll all be worth it in the end.