Businesses across the world are continuing to see the importance of quality UX designers, as demand for those in the UX field continues to grow. Now seen as a necessity rather than a luxury, companies are increasing their spending in the UX field in sectors all across the economy.
Read More: UX Design is Empathic by Justine Marie Beniot
Dealing with prototypes, wireframes, and the production of designed screens and workflows, a UX Designers' portfolio should be centered on the visual processes and outcomes of that work. Deliverables such as website pages and digital applications are examples of the key stats hiring leaders are looking for in a portfolio.
No matter where you are in your UX career, finding a way to grow and improve your skillset is vital to excel as a UX Designer and find the roles that truly excite you.
With that in mind, Tech in Motion brought together leaders in the UX industry to their new Discord channel to discuss how job seekers in the UX industry can set themselves apart from other UX designers in the field. Panelists included our moderator, Mike Rapp Senior UX Designer @ Verily; Lilibeth Bustos Linares Lead Product Designer@ Nuvocargo; Harrison Wheeler Senior Design Manager@ Linkedin; Deepali Kakar Senior User Experience Consultant; Frankie Kastenbaum; UX/UI Design Consultant.
Read some of their key insights below and then listen to the entire conversation to hear the panel's in-depth comments.
Different Paths Leading to Becoming UX Designers
Though all panelists share some common traits such as a love for what they are doing, their experiences entering the field vary widely:
Wheeler: “I got into UX because I got tired of doing graphic design and then handing it off to other people to finish. At first, it was intimidating. It was a big challenge for me, having some understanding of how things work and how people interact with them. For example, I had never heard the term “product manager” before. Yet, I had been doing that role myself. It is important to realize that when you are coming in, you are not starting from scratch. You just have to learn how to translate the skills you have.”
Rapp: “I fell in love with product design by being around it all the time. I hung out at design studios and pestered people for information. I asked lots and lots of questions.”
Kakar: “I went to school for graphic design. I started designing credit card statements, using information design to make them easier for users to read and understand. When the internet boom started in the late nineties, companies needed designers who could create information architecture and organize information on a website. So, I transitioned into the digital world using the same skills.”
Kastenbaum: “I learned some front-end and back-end languages in high school. When I went to college, I realized I do not have a mathematical brain. It wasn’t code I love; it was solving problems. So, I got a degree in web design. I loved that piece of the puzzle. I had the ability to solve a problem but did not really feel good about just handing off my work. Finally, I went to a bootcamp where I learned a little bit of everything — engineering, graphic design, then into UX design. They all work hand in hand.”
Bustos Linares: “I am from Bogotá, Colombia, with a background in communications and journalism. After moving to the USA, I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a designer. I studied visual design and worked in graphic design before jumping into UX. Now I am a lead product designer and illustrator passionate about creating communities and working with multi-disciplinary teams.”
How to Build the Perfect Portfolio
Rapp: “It is important to have a portfolio that tells your story, not just static work. Whenever your present your work, think about it as a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Have a protagonist and a conflict; then talk about the conflict, how you resolve it and what the results were. Larger companies often ask to present a PowerPoint presentation of your work in a case study format to prove you can understand strategy and user problems.”
Kastenbaum: “Think of your portfolio as a sandwich. Every sandwich needs bread (information about you and your skills, aesthetics, experience, and references), but the fillings might change (case studies and work samples). Sandwiching your deliverables helps to create natural and seamless transitions. Your case studies and work samples will be more word-centric, with special attention to where your work came into the process and how it affected the outcome. This method helps you tell the whole story for your reader.”
Research and Constant Testing: How to Better Present Complex Ideas
Rapp: “You need to understand your process. Start with the business problem and understand why they are spending money to do this. Do you understand the people who are impacted by it? Do you understand their experience? Their pain points? Do you understand how to do a lot of low-fidelity sketches or ideas? Test them out with people. And pick the best one. This is the process you want to articulate and show in your case studies.”
Wheeler: “No matter how much of an expert you are, unless you share your designs with others you are not going to be growing. It can be a low-fidelity sketch, it can be circles and squares, as long as you find a way to communicate your idea. It does not have to be perfect. Observe how people react to it and learn.”
The Answer is the Question: Interviewing Tips from the UX Experts
Kakar: “Culture fit is so important. You must feel comfortable with the team, and they must feel comfortable working with you. Come to the interview with questions you want to ask about team dynamics.”
Rapp: “Sometimes it feels awkward to ask questions. Almost like you will be disqualifying yourself. But that is not true. If you can ask questions that are important to you as an artist and designer, you will stand out from the crowd.”
Wheeler: “Definitely treat the interview as a way to interview managers. A big part of growth is support from your manager, so ask how you will be supported. Additionally, talk about your potential impact on improving the culture of the company. Seeing that intrinsic motivation from you will get hiring managers excited about where things can go.”
Bustos Linares: “How your colleagues treat you and connect with your own values is important. You will be working with a lot of different people and have to understand their process and work skills. These are the “soft skills” that hiring managers look for and appreciate. Make sure to demonstrate these in an interview.”
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome is a pattern of doubting one's own skills, talents, or accomplishments. And it is a common feeling among UX designers, especially when they are starting out in the field.
Rapp: “Feeling you are not good enough is definitely not an indication of your talent. Period. Everybody has to make mistakes and survive tough critiques in order to grow. Reaching out to another designer or developer for their opinions on your work is a great way to reduce anxiety.”
Bustos Linares: “Practice self-awareness to help shift your mindset.”
Kastenbaum: “Instead of thinking there is a lot of large intimidating fish in the sea out to get you, think of them more as a lot of medium-sized fish who are there to help you in your career. They may know more than you do, but if you alter that mindset, they are great resources for you to reach out and ask questions.”
Kakar: “Everybody is going to have a problem here and there. I often go back to my mentor to bring me back and help me realize I am a good designer.”
Final Advice on Passion and Networking
The consensus from the group was that UX is not a field you will succeed unless you love what you are doing. If you love research, then find your way into research roles. If you like graphic design, steer yourself into UI. If you like wireframing and user journeys, UX is the role for you.
Finally, once you decide your path, constantly network. Go to different events, conferences, and meetups where there are people with widely different skillsets and experiences. One thing about UXers is they are empathetic and sensitive. Ask them for advice, or to critique your work. “In all my years, I never met one who wouldn’t help,” said Rapp.