A Reflection, One Year After Joining the UX and UI Industry
Six lessons learned and what other newbies should prepare for.
(Photo by NeONBRAND)
It has been roughly one year since I’ve dipped my toes into the UX and UI industry, and needless to say it has been one of the craziest years of my life. If you’re just starting off as a UX and/or UI designer, you should expect your first year(s) in this career to be crazy and unpredictable as well.
Listed below are six of the top lessons/realizations I discovered during my first year as a designer:
1. Your story is as a designer is highly valuable
There is no one set journey you must follow to become a successful UX or UI designer. No matter where you start your career, when you start it, why you started it, or what previous work experience you bring, you have a distinct set of tools and perspectives that, if marketed well, can make you a successful designer.
That’s the beauty of the UX and UI professions: You, as a person, with all of your unique experiences and traits, are what above all makes you valuable as a designer.
Design trends will come and fade, new software and design tools will advance and evolve, and you may carry multiple job titles throughout a design career, but you, as a designer and individual, should always seek to market and maintain your uniqueness no matter how much the industry changes.
A common question hiring managers ask you during an interview is “How (or why) did you get started as a UX (or UI) designer?”
While you don’t need to have a cookie-cutter answer you give every time you’re asked, it’s important to accurately verbalize why you wanted to become a designer and how your unique experiences can bring value to a team. I’d recommend practicing what responses you can give to this question during mock-interviews.
2. UX/UI Bootcamp project timelines aren’t realistic
One word to describe all the design projects I’ve worked on post-bootcamp?
This is expected, since a multitude of real-world variables can either expedite and/or slow down the production process. If you are currently within a bootcamp or a recent graduate, keep in mind that the five-stage design process is the idealized project structure most commonly sought after within the industry.
There are upsides and downsides to this type of structure (which this article does well at addressing), but I have yet to work on a project that remotely follows the five-stage design process I used during my bootcamp.
3. Be sure your internship program respects interns
I discuss in detail what you should know before interning at a startup more in this article, but in short, be sure your internship program passes the Primary Beneficiary Test (if the internship is hosted in the USA).
Along with that, keep in constant communication with your manager or mentor about what you can and can’t show in your portfolio, regarding what you worked on during the internship.
You do not need an internship in order to start your career as a designer. Internships, especially unpaid ones, are not realistic options for individuals who are not able to work without compensation.
Whether you land an internship or entry-level position, you must learn how to speak respectively and professionally to your coworkers and clients. Practice explaining design decisions you make to an audience that does not know UX or UI vernacular.
There may come a time where you have to explain your design decisions to a client, project manager, or a stakeholder, and it is vital that you succinctly explain your reasoning without using jargon your audience may not fully understand.
4. Businesses are moving towards no-code solutions
Even though no-code tools such as Webflow, Budibase, and Gumroad offer low-budget teams the ability to take quickly launch a functional app or website, front-end and back-end development skills are still very valuable as a UX and/or UI designer.
Just because these no-code tools exist doesn’t negate the importance or value of learning development vernacular. In tandem with learning the basics of front-end development, it’s worth your time to get used to using some of the no-code solutions tools on the market.
In fact, my knowledge of front-end development made me a valued member of a design team because of my ability to ‘speak dev.’ I use no-code solution tools most often for my own personal projects, but I plan on designing products using these tools with the company I am currently contracted with.
If you market yourself as a designer who is familiar with front-end development jargon and knows how to use no-code solutions, you are much more valuable than other candidates who have no experience with development or no-code tools.
5. Become a t-shaped designer
There are a million different ways you can specialize as a designer. That said, it is not wise (or practically possible) to specialize in all design fields.
If you market yourself as a UX and UI designer but also as an apprentice motion designer who paints portraits of Calico cats in their free time, you may confuse anyone who comes across your portfolio and sees a mumble-jumble of different media.
When marketing yourself, make sure you show predominantly one specialization of design within your portfolio and show your other design work as distinctly separate from your main area of interest.
If you want more information about t-shaped people, this article discusses how t-shaped developers can be helpful on agile projects.
6. Proper networking is hard
About a month before I completed my bootcamp, I reached out to a wide variety of UX designers and hiring managers across the USA, all of whom I gave no interest or motivation to actually connect with me.
The LinkedIn messages I sent were bland, selfish, and didn’t show any potential for a strong intent to sustain a strong relationship. Good networking is hard and it is something rarely taught, but it is necessary for you to grow as a designer.
Learn how to write strong cold letters/emails/messages. Not everyone you reach out to wants to connect with you and that should be expected. Some people may only network with you for their benefit, whether it be to sell you one of their online courses, books, or recruit you under their MLM campaign.
It’s your job to put your best foot forward and sift out the sleazy people who are only networking for their personal benefit, just as how hiring managers and UX designers sift out the flaky networking invitations.
Most young designers (including myself) have a greedy desire to network as much as they can, as fast as they can. When attending online events, everyone drops their LinkedIn page in the chat with a tag line saying “Let’s connect!” or “I’d love to work with you!”
These ‘networking’ connections rarely last long or are ineffective from the beginning. As a good rule of thumb, always attempt to be sincere and genuine when networking.
You shouldn’t view networking as simply adding another name to your network repertoire. You’re connecting with a human being who will value your sincerity and may help you along with your career in ways you’d never imagine.
Kathryn is a user experience designer in Denver, CO. They uncover practical, inclusive, and accessible digital solutions with great attention to detail and precision. Since graduating from a UX/UI boot camp in 2020, Kathryn has worked as a UX designer for two tech startups and a B2G software company. They're currently enrolled in the undergrad Emergent Digital Practices program at the University of Denver.