(This article was first written and published on August 35, 2020)
When I started my career as a designer in 2008, the term UX was not as popular as it is today. I worked as a web designer in an advertising agency and my method of work was limited to using what I like to call “cake recipe”, which consisted of taking the client’s briefing and setting up a website where the logo was in the left corner, a menu on the right, top banner below, content and that’s all.
After 5 years using the cake recipe I was tired of just executing and not understanding the real reason for the work I did at that agency and that’s when I started to learn about user experience. It was something new for me and it opened my mind in a way I never imagined, knowing that each component you put into a project has a purpose.
In 2013 I spent another year working in an advertising agency and in 2014 I got a remote job using Behance’s Job board. Stay 4 and a half years and I had the opportunity to work for several clients and startups like Gamestop, Walmart, Cience, Helpware among others.
And it was in 2018 that I joined Toptal and decided to focus all my efforts on my freelance career. I have been working in this format for 2 years, serving clients from all over the world doing projects for websites, dashboards, and mobile applications. In addition to the projects I work as a freelancer, I have also been mentoring students in Brazil in the UX Design course at Awari for just over a year and recently started teaching in the same course.
Now that I’ve talked a little about my career, it’s time to talk about the real purpose of this article. Let’s talk about the most important points on how to start your career as a UI / UX Designer.
Let’s say you took some courses from Skillshare, Udacity, EdX, or even started studying alone by searching articles on Google and watching videos on Youtube. Now that you know the minimum of UX and UI, comes the question “How do I get clients or a job if I don’t have experience?”
How to get clients or a job without any previous experience
The first UI/UX project I did was in mid-2013. At that time I was still working at the advertising agency and was starting my studies in UI/UX. It was around the same time that I had just bought a Windows Phone and I loved using an app called Vine, where you could record 6-second videos and share wherever you wanted, however, Vine was only available for iOS and that’s where the idea came from to redo for the Windows Phone.
Designing a mobile app was something new and scary for me, I didn’t know which grid to use, what font size and didn’t understand anything about user experience flows.
To change jobs, I already knew that no one would hire me without any UI/UX experience and my only option was to do my projects to learn and at the same time, to have something to publish in my portfolio.
The Vine app was a serious challenge to me, because in 2013 when you looked for a UX course, the content was almost non-existent and the project was practically a shot in the dark where the method I used was: take screenshots of all screens, try to understand navigation flows and replicate using Windows Phone design guidelines.
It was 2 months of hard work for the project and 2 more weeks to put together a presentation to publish on Behance.
When I create project presentations to use on my website or publish on Behance I do it as if I were telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end. I confess that I should have invested more time in the presentation, but the excitement of posting something new on Behance was so great that I ended up rushing up a bit.
After a few weeks after the project was published — which ended up being published in this book “GUI: Graphical User Interface Design” — a company from Austria contacted me to do some freelance projects. The focus of this company was to make applications for Windows Phone and at a time when most of the designers only did projects for Android and iOS, making projects for Windows Phone gave me an advantage for these freelance projects.
The lesson we learned from this is that you don’t have to wait for a project to fall from the sky to start creating your own. The beauty of working with UI/UX is that you have all the tools at your disposal for free and it is only up to you to create a project and start sharing it in your portfolio to get a job or a freelance gig.
If you are out of ideas to design a concept project I have listed two suggestions below:
• On Reddit there is a section with several app ideas, where you can search for several posts and choose one of the ideas to set up your project;
• Look for a project that can be improved, for example, an app that has confusing navigation. Redo 3 or 4 screens of this project, search for the company owner on LinkedIn to set up a meeting and present your proposal. If you don’t want to or are not confident enough, just post it in your portfolio;
How do I create a portfolio?
Now that you’ve done your first project, it’s time to start building your portfolio. When I mentor UX students and talk about portfolios, I always ask what the goal is: to get a job or a client?
The two goals in terms of portfolio are very similar but we have some differences in the content structure.
A portfolio to get a job is much simpler where you need to focus only on the jobs you post and detail the process for each one of them. Now, a portfolio to get clients you will need to include more content related to you, the projects you did, testimonials from past clients, your work process and, the services you offer.
In addition to the work, be as clear as possible when writing about yourself. Many portfolios start with the phrase “Hello, I am a designer focused on interface design and user experience”. I recommend doing something different and showing your personality, the story of how you became interested in design because companies and clients want to work with real people.
In my case, when I was a teenager I only cared about Skateboards. Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon I skated on the street for hours with my friends, but one day we were riding in the parking lot of a supermarket when I saw some older guys coming towards me. At that time my heart froze and I immediately thought “They are taking my board for sure”, said and done. I just heard “give me your skateboard or I'll cut you” and that’s when the joy of skateboarding went down the drain.
After many years after that happened when I built my portfolio, I decided to share a small detail of this story and after a few months, I received an email from a potential client saying that he also wanted to be a professional skateboarder but life took a different direction.
I also recommend putting the type of work you want to do in your portfolio. If your goal is to work as a UI Designer, it makes no sense to put Illustrations and Photographs just to make volume. Defining a focus is important and even though showing everything you do is useful and valid for getting started in the market, having a focus is advisable.
But Victor, where do I create my portfolio?
• Behance (https://www.behance.net)
• Adobe Portfolio (https://portfolio.adobe.com)
• Webflow (www.webflow.com)
• Carbonmade (https://carbonmade.com)
• Semplice (https://www.semplice.com)
• UX Folio (https://uxfol.io/)
How do I improve my online presence?
Having a professional online presence is essential to start your career as a UI/UX Designer. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, Behance and Dribbble now is the time to create. The same care and attention you have with client projects is something you should also have when it comes to your career.
• Is your LinkedIn profile well structured and up to date?
• Did you write a bio about you and your experience without English errors?
• Do you have a photo showing your face and aren’t you using that photo you took at your cousin’s birthday barbecue?
It is the small details that can influence your search for a job or clients when you are starting your career. Some important topics to remember:
• Have a professional photo showing your face and if possible with a neutral colored background;
• Write a bio without English errors talking about you, your experience and goal;
• The same photo and bio that you use on a network, use for all;
• LinkedIn is not a place to post memes, it is a place where professionalism must be kept;
• Use Behance to post full case studies;
• Use Dribbble to post small projects like one-offs.
Victor, I've done all of that, where can I find job positions?
Here are a few websites to look for jobs:
To wrap up this article, let's do a recap
• No projects? Create your own;
• Make your online presence as professional as it can be;
• Set a goal to get clients or a job;
• Create a portfolio with your personality.
I hope this article helps you on the path to a new career as a UI/UX Designer.