By Meg Langhoff
UX Design is a unique and flexible career field that combines marketing and tech development while remaining centered around interaction and design. I highly recommend pursuing UX Design to my fellow designers because of the complex environment and diverse projects that stem from that field. Having said that, UX Design won’t be for everyone. I wanted to share my story of how I decided I wanted to become a UX Designer over a graphic designer and some tips on how I was able to find my footing after graduation to pursue UX.
Graduating college was one of the most jarring life experiences of my life. As someone who went directly into college after high school, education, as a lifestyle, made so much sense to me. To this day, I love educating myself and my peers; it leads to personal growth and creative inspiration. The idea of being trapped in a career for 20+ years, becoming the master of one skill but nothing else, does not stimulate that personal growth I had admired for so long. As my senior year of college approached, I was absolutely terrified.
I had initially been going to school to become a graphic designer. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many components of graphic design that I not only use on a daily basis but absolutely adore. However, one of my biggest problems with the graphic design career field (that I had previously encountered as a college marketing and design intern) was getting trapped within the same design elements day in and day out. Looking at the same brand guidelines with the same fonts and color palettes for over three years was enough for me to feel so creatively fatigued. Every project, no matter how diverse in content, felt the same, and I despised it. Even projects outside the general scope of my assigned work lacked in-depth meaning.
As graduation grew closer, I was so frustrated with graphic design. I knew I wanted to pursue a career rich with challenges, meaning, and diversity within an ever-changing field. Most importantly, I never wanted to stop learning. I still loved graphic design as the intersection of technology and art. Still, I needed a career that pushed what graphic design could be.
That’s why I decided to focus entirely on UX Design. I fuel my creativity by constantly approaching new situations that require unique solutions. UX consistently challenges the designer, whether it be with functionality problems or working on a breakthrough business idea. There are so many components that go into working on a large-scale project that the UX Designer needs to develop a variety of skills in order to “master the art of UX.” Each UX Designer has slightly different goals and can completely alter the course of a project. There is always more to learn, and things are constantly changing. I’ve always loved the complexity that UX/UI design upholds as a career field. Having the ability to create meaningful projects while interacting with new and developing technologies is honestly the modern designer’s dream come true.
After graduating and getting my diploma, I gave myself a one-month break to celebrate. Then I got straight to work. My portfolio had been graphic design-centered, and I needed to pivot to a more UX-centric portfolio. So, in between applying for UX/UI jobs, I fell into a system of researching, designing, and critiquing.
First, I gave myself 30 minutes to an hour where I would just look at other UX Designer’s social media, articles, tips and tricks, and (most importantly) portfolios. UX fits into a unique section of portfolio design where it’s essential to stand out but needs to be professional and clean. There can be expressive and fun artistic elements, but the main focus needs to be case studies. It’s best to showcase three to four case studies that are high quality and diverse. I felt better off publishing a case study that is less developed than two that are very similar.
Next, as a general rule of thumb, a UX Designer’s (or any tech/design position) portfolio needs to be accessible in an online and interactive format. Since the field mainly consists of designing content centered for online spaces, using an online platform showcases a general understanding of the area. At this point, because of how easy it is to create a brand around oneself, everyone should be making their portfolios online. So, I would spend most of my day updating and editing my existing portfolio site. I wanted to make sure that my site was eye-catching and fun to match my personality but also direct and concise.
After my site, I always give myself just a few minutes to either view the site from different browsers, on a mobile phone, or by having a friend interact with the site. Though often forgotten, this step is one of the most critical aspects of creating an online portfolio. Web design is tricky, and getting everything looking right across every platform and device is complicated. Having said that, taking a little time to experiment and working with others can make a difference in the tiny little elements scattered across a portfolio site.
This portfolio creation took a long time for me. I wanted to ensure everything was branded under the same guidelines and that all my projects were written to sound highly professional. After around a month or so of solely working on the portfolio, I felt prepared to start applying. Creating a UX portfolio is a good indicator for people curious about pursuing it. By researching, designing, and critiquing personal work, you build those basic skills so that you can begin researching, designing, and critiquing other pieces of work (which is really the basics of what UX is). This process really pushed me into the career field I am in today, and I highly recommend it to people curious about starting UX.