Design

How to start your UX career as a student

4 min read
Liz Pratusevich  •  Oct 1, 2018
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Congrats! You’re a college student who already knows what they want to do. Even if that’s not totally true, at least you’ve heard about UX design: a career that lets you find and solve problems in a way that’s never boring. And you’re interested. Mixing design, tech, and business for a high-paying and fast-paced career sounds up your alley.

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Luckily for us, UX design is a career that’s in high demand—making it an intimidating field to break into. So, how do you get your foot in the door as a college student? Read on for a few steps that could make the path to UX designer a bit smoother.

Networking

This may be the most important piece of advice in this article. “Designers don’t create in a silo. You shouldn’t learn in a silo, either.”Twitter Logo Reach out to designers whose portfolios you admire. More often than not, they’re willing to give you some advice or encouraging words. What’s the worst that can happen if they don’t respond to their email?

I’ve emailed designers whose portfolios I admire to get their advice. Even though I work across the country from them, and might never meet them in person, getting their perspective opens my eyes about the design world. I’ve even emailed fellow students who were further along their career path than me to talk about their experience. I don’t think I could count how many cups of coffee I’ve grabbed with designers—and people in other careers.

Having just a casual conversation with a professional can open your eyes to so much. By talking with project managers, I’ve learned more about how the work is set up and executed; marketers, how design work is actually shown into the world; and designers, how the work I want to do actually gets done.

Going to events in the industry could be a great way to meet other designers. Vanessa Gregorchik, a design apprentice at Upstatement and Northeastern student, stresses that each conference she goes to opens her eyes just a bit more.

“Even if your only takeaway is ‘Damn, that’s a nice office space to work in’, you still get chance encounters of people in really big positions. You have so many opportunities – even if you can’t see them yet, they’re all out there.”

Vanessa especially has had a lot of luck by mentioning that she’s a student.

“When you tell people you’re a student, people always want to help you.”
Vanessa Gregorchik
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So don’t fret, college kids – as terrifying as networking seems to be, people genuinely want to get to know you and your passions.

Reading. A lot.

Design is a constantly changing field. To keep up when you’re in the industry requires reading design blogs and studies and inspiration on a daily basis. When you’re just starting out, you must look at what people are doing to start to learn what’s good and what’s bad. Read case studies. Read inspiration posts. Read advice articles. Anything to get you in the right headspace.

Especially as college kids, we may be crunched for time to look for top-notch design websites. Being able to get other peoples’ perspectives and methods without having to actively ask carries a lot of importance. “How can you know what questions to ask if you don’t know what to ask about?”Twitter Logo Here are a few blogs to get you started:

  1. Every designer needs an online portfolio. Niceportfol.io is the place to go to for inspiration.
  2. UI inspiration galore can be found at Dribbble
  3. Typography is constantly evolving with new trends. Typewolf is the go-to place to stay on top of them.
  4. If you’re more on the coding side of design (or just want to learn), Codepen.io has hundreds of amazing examples and tutorials.
  5. Airbnb is known for their design culture, so it makes sense that their blog would be a good place to go.
  6. Keep up to date with the newest design news at Co.Design
  7. Lyft recently released ColorBox, the best new way to construct color palettes.
  8. A stunning website, every day. Awwwards has the best inspiration to learn what good websites are supposed to look like.
  9. Rebrands galore (specifically logos) can be found at Underconsideration.
  10. Feeling like you want more articles? Sidebar.io has 5 new links every day, ranging from product design to CSS hover tricks.

Doing

It may seem intimidating to actually create when you feel like you don’t know anything – but it’s the best way to learn. Participate in hackathons, do redesigns, freelance, or pursue passion projects.

Noah Appleby, a computer science and design student at Northeastern University, says the great thing about 36-hour hackathons is that you have to do whatever it takes to get the project up and working. “You write the worst code you can to get it to work. Usually, code has to be strong enough for a legacy, but at hackathons it’s just to get something out the door.” This gave him the freedom to throw away perfection and just learn about something he’s never had the chance to explore before.

“You write the worst code you can to get it to work.”
Noah Appleby
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Samantha Soper, a freelance UX designer, recommends redesigns as a way to hone your UI skills. “Vectorize your favorite photo or artwork, design a fake logo for your cat, layout a basic user flow diagram, or wireframe your favorite website or app. Again, it doesn’t really matter what you do, it just takes practice and you’ll know more each time you go to use the application.” Learning the required tools is a matter of going into the programs and fiddling around.

Freelancing is harder to accomplish without having any experience whatsoever, but it’s still possible. Rocky Roark ended up having his first freelance client be everyone’s favorite party game, Cards Against Humanity. He offers words of wisdom: “When you’re just starting out as a freelancer, nurture your relationships with people and never, ever burn bridges.” It’s fine to do work for free, especially when you’re just trying to get projects to put into your portfolio website.

Now’s your time to experiment! Figure out what you’re passionate about, and let it drive you to a full-time career.