How to find your way in the UX design industry
Bootcamps aren’t the shortcut you’re looking for
Everyone takes different paths into the UX industry. Even with the amount of design qualifications available, most designers I’ve spoken to don’t have one. From what I’ve seen, design-focused courses and bootcamps are targeted at people looking to change industries.
Bootcamp programmes are good at teaching you the absolute basics. However, they aren’t a direct pipeline into a job. Once you graduate you’ll need to apply to the same roles as everyone else, and having a certificate doesn’t give you any big advantage.
Great designers need to go beyond their training. It’s not enough to rely on your portfolio to get work, particularly one made during a course or a bootcamp. It’s harsh but true. The market for UX designers is expanding and so are the number of people looking for a job.
Below I’d like to present some things you can do that may make your leap into the world of UX design a little lighter.
Talk to other designers
Yes, networking is difficult and awkward but designers can do it too. Talking to people who are where you want to be is a fantastic way to learn what our industry is like. They can tell you things they don’t teach in schools, or give you some golden advice. It’s there for the taking and you don’t need to pay a price to get it.
It’s a huge benefit to know people in the field and there are plenty of ways to do it. Here are some of the ways I’ve found other designers:
- Design communities. There are some great communities built for both new and experienced designers.
- Mentorships. Platforms like ADPList make it easier to find mentors focused on design. You can also reach out to people on platforms like LinkedIn who are in fields that interest you.
- Workshops and conferences. Meet new people and learn about something new at the same time. Both virtual and in-person events are great for these things.
- Pretty much any social platform. If you find someone online that you’re a fan of, send them a message. Ask them about their work. Learn how they became successful and let their story inspire you.
In practice, networking improves your chance of getting a job. When you take the time to talk to someone, you’ll be on their radar in the future when they’re looking to hire. I can tell you that this works. The majority of job opportunities I’ve had over my career have come from people I know personally.
Practice like hell
One misconception we have is that a qualification is enough to get you places. Like you can just wave a certificate at employers and they’ll open a door for you. But that’s not true. Your competence with being a designer is what counts, and that’s something you can’t pay for.
Just like any skill, you need to practice to get good. Even when you’re working, you’ll need to stay up-to-date with the newest tools and practices. Doing this requires self-discipline but it absolutely pays off.
Here are some of the methods I use to teach myself new skills:
- Reading and writing. I’ll read articles and books to gain knowledge and find inspiration for my work. I also like writing on Medium because the background research I do for my articles is another way of learning.
- YouTube tutorials. I’ve used free video tutorials to teach myself new coding frameworks or see how other designers do things.
- Analysing other people’s design files. Places like the Figma Community have loads of files you can download and play around with. You can play around with the layers and objects to see how they’re built it.
- Building a side project. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just give it a shot. For example, I wanted to see if I could make an escape room in UXPin. I didn’t finish it but I learned a lot.
- Teaching other people. If you learn a new skill, pass it forward and teach it to someone else. Not only will it stick in your brain better, but you’ll practice some vital soft skills.
Through my career, almost all my greatest learning experiences are things I’ve undertaken myself. Self-teaching takes discipline and grind but it can be so powerful if you do it right.
Make yourself seen
In a growing sea of designers, the best way to stand out is to step out of line. Over this year, the junior designers who’ve stood out to me are the ones sharing their work and keeping themselves seen. And don’t worry about vanity metrics, you don’t need a huge social media following to do this.
Here are a couple of ideas for ways you can noticed.
- Show your work. It doesn’t need to be perfect. An unstaged photo of you working at your desk or a quick screenshot of your designs in progress do the job. Austin Kleon has written a wonderful book all about this.
- Help out a friend or family member. Offer to redesign their website or teach them how to do it themselves. Hopefully they’ll recommend you to other people they know who are looking for help.
- Join conversations. If you see someone post something you’re interested, add your voice to their conversation. Share interesting content with others. Let people know what you’re about.
- Give more than you ask for. Doing small favours for people around you is almost always a win-win situation. Get into the habit of helping people out where you can.
Taking the initiative to help out the people around me has opened so many doors for me. And I’m not the only one. What starts out as a favour can turn into a job opportunity further down the line. Even if someone isn’t hiring now, they’ll think of you if there is a job you can help them with in the future.
Focus on the journey
When you’re looking for a job, seeing other people posting about their successes can be crushing. It seems like everyone but you is getting hired.
Here are a few comforting thoughts I can give you to help you focus on what’s important in the long run.
- Everyone’s on their own path. It can be so easy to compare yourself to others, but it’s not healthy. Everyone’s situation is unique. The only person you need to be looking at is yourself.
- You only see the highlights. We only share our positive moments on social media. People may seem to be successful on the surface but the things they share don’t tell the whole story.
- Some things are beyond your control. Things like luck and opportunity play a big role in success. The things you want will come, even when you’re not looking for them.
- Good things take time. Every expert you know started out from the bottom and worked their way up, and you’ll have to do it too. But stick with it! With persistence you’ll get where you want to be.
Unless you’re incredibly lucky, you’ll need to be patient and put in the time to get to where you need to go. Trust me, you’ll get there. Stick with it and appreciate the things you do along the way.