Career Building 101: How to Start a Career in UX/UI Design

Career Building 101: How to Start a Career in UX/UI Design from UIGarage
Nikka Estefani

Updated on February 13, 2020

So, you decided to start a career in UX/UI design? You are thinking about it for a long time; you really want it, but just don’t know how and where to start.

Maybe you already have the skills of a UX/UI designer. Maybe, you have read several blog posts about UX and UI design. Or perhaps, you probably took a few UX/UI projects for your friends and relatives.

Now, it’s time to take things to a whole new level. It’s time to level your UX/UI hobby – turn it into a career!

The big question is: “How?”

Really… HOW?

And WHERE (to start)?

In this article, I will provide you a simple blueprint in starting a career in UX/UI design. In fact, it is so simple you will wonder why you haven’t thought of it in the beginning. But this blueprint will give you the complete steps in building a career in UX/UI design. It is up to you to fill in the gaps!

Without further ado, here’s a step-by-step simple blueprint in building your career in UX/UI design. And before I forgot, yes, this applies even if you’re a total beginner and have no experience to show for.

Get an education

Career Building 101: How to Start a Career in UX/UI Design from UIGarage

Your first step in building a career in UX/UI design is to learn how to do UX/UI design. Get all the education you can get about UX/UI design – specifically, learn the basics of UX/UI design and acquire the necessary skills that any UX/UI designer must-have.

And don’t rush this. Some people, though excited at first, get bored as they try to master the necessary skills in design. They just want to work (and make money)! But you know you can’t do the work if you don’t know how to do it, right? Learn first before you earn!

Certifications and a relevant college degree are a plus, but not necessary when applying for a job or taking a project. But, since you’re just learning from scratch, an online course (with or without certification) would be advisable, so that you’ll learn the basics and skills of UX/UI design from the beginning to the top.

Certifications are great, but keep in mind that they may add to the cost (depending on where you took your course from) – though they’re less costly than a college degree, of course. If your college degree is very irrelevant from UX/UI design, don’t worry. Just get the necessary skills and you will be fine. As said earlier, a degree and certifications are not necessary when applying for a job or taking a project. If anything, just get a certification from the online academy you enrolled to.

Build a portfolio

Career Building 101: How to Start a Career in UX/UI Design from UIGarage

Once you’ve acquired the necessary skills, it’s time to put those skills to work! Your next step is to build a portfolio. Now, here’s where many are confused – “How would I build a portfolio? Where will I start?”

You can get started in two ways:

  • Apply for entry-level jobs and projects
  • Work for free (and build your portfolio along the way)

Applying for entry-level jobs and projects

Career Building 101: How to Start a Career in UX/UI Design from UIGarage

Most people take this route, and it makes sense – you get started to work (and get started to earn, as well).

The disadvantage of this is that, you’ll be in tough competition in winning that job or project. Think about this: you’re not the only entry-level guy in the field. Some even have little experience and portfolio to show for.

And because you have little to nothing to show for, you might be forced to work on projects which you don’t like or work with people whom you don’t want to work with.

But this is not bad at getting started. At the end of the day, you still need to work (and you’ll be paid anyway).

Upwork is a great freelance website if you want to get projects. Later, we will discuss more about this.

Working for free

Career Building 101: How to Start a Career in UX/UI Design from UIGarage

This advice is less thrown around, and many people are oblivious to this advice. You yourself may find this advice strange.

“What?! Why should I work for free?” So, by now, you already see the disadvantage of this route – you will not be paid for the work you put in. Now, time for some advantages.

Here are some advantages if you work for free:

Less competition – the best way to break into the competition is to simply tell your potential client that you’ll be working for free in exchange of building up your portfolio. After all, what will the client lose if he/she can have his/her project without ever needing to pay a cent?

Nevertheless, you must still have something to show for. Or, in other words, be promising. Don’t lazily message your client, telling him/her that you can work for free on his/her project because you want to build your portfolio.

Impress your potential client with your pitch, just like what anybody else is doing – only that, unlike most, you are willing to work for free. Let them know that you’re doing this because you’re just starting out and you want to build your portfolio (not because you’re an angel or some form of charity work), but don’t focus there. Focus on showing them what you can do for their needs – and if you impress them, that project may be yours!

Flexible project – since you will be working for free, you might as well work with projects you care about and people you like to work for. There’s not much pressure on your part to win that project – you just need to look promising. More or less, the client will take you as long as you can do the job.

Great learning opportunities – never ever stop your learning journey at your online course. In fact, once you’ve mastered the basics, there’s more to learn in your field.

If your client or his/her team sees that you’re starting out, they might be willing to impart you some of their knowledge. Be sure to take note of the lessons they’ll share with you. And if they like you, who knows, you could become a full-time member of their team. And yes, this time, you’re PAID.

Faster way to build your portfolio – if you will observe, the benefits of working for free boils down to one thing: faster way on building your portfolio. Since the client will not spend money on you, he/she would be happy to take you and have you finish the job. Remember though, you want to build a portfolio (and client relationships), so be sure to do your best for each project!

Note on Upwork: Do NOT use Upwork to do free work (yes, even if you’re willing to work for free). You will be banned for doing so! In general, avoid freelancing websites when doing free work. Better stick to social media or LinkedIn when looking for clients to work for free for.

Look for (good-paying) projects

Once you’ve built your portfolio – either by scraping a few pennies, working for free or both – it’s time you get rewarded with the skills you’ve built, specifically, by getting paid for what your work!

Here are some places where you can find UX/UI design jobs or projects:

Freelancing websites – websites like Upwork and Fiverr are great place to start when looking for design jobs and projects. However, you and your client relationship could be limited to the platform you’re using (for instance, your interaction with your client is governed by the platform you’re using). So, don’t stick to one platform.

Read: Tips on Getting UI Jobs in Upwork

Social media websites – you can also find projects on social media websites, especially Facebook. Facebook groups are gold sources of these jobs and projects!

LinkedIn – since LinkedIn is designed for professional connections, you can find a few jobs and projects there as well.

Individual people/companies – If you want to work with a specific person or company, simply pitch to them by sending them an email.

Build client relationships

This is the last step for this blueprint. Building client relationships will go hand-in-hand with working with them, even when you’re just starting out – or at least, you should make the effort right at the beginning.

As you will later see, in the long run, your client base and the network is what will help you find the next job or project. It is what will keep you aware and exposed to opportunities around.

As they say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”, and I believe this applies to UX/UI design as well.

So, What’s Next?

We have reached the end of this blueprint. It’s simple, but I hope this gave you clarity and even guidance in building your UX/UI career. And as I said earlier, it’s up to you to fill in the gaps.

So, where are going to take the next step?

We at UI Garage wish the best for you!