RSA.Digital goes to UX Brighton Career Clinic

How do I get into UX? Peter Winchester explains…..

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As part of Brighton’s Digital Festival, UX Brighton organised a UX Career Clinic.  It’s designed to give people who are new to UX, or looking to get into it, the opportunity to speak to a range of experienced UX Professionals and ask questions. 

Along with other local companies and agencies, Rob (one of our senior UI designers) and I went along to help, and met some really great people looking for advice.

As well as explaining how we got to our current positions, we were asked some really interesting questions.  Here are a few of them, with the responses I shared:

Where can I learn more? Where did you learn? 

There are A LOT of resources out there, many of which are free. Here’s a list of good starting points, depending on your preference of medium / budget.  

Books

Websites / Articles

Podcasts

Videos

Twitter

Events

Online courses

What should I learn? How do you make your own curriculum

While some education systems offer you partial flexibility, any student is used to having a set curriculum – and taking in all you need to learn can be a massive problem in itself. 

I’d suggest trying to break UX down into more of its composite parts and see which areas interest you. 

As a starter, these could include:

-Information Architecture

-Strategy

-Research

-Interaction Design

-Content Strategy

-Visual Design

These are commonly used terms, although some people will argue over better labels for them (e.g.  ‘visual design’) but it’s one way to describe the use of colour, typography, layout & grids etc. The term ‘research’ is also pretty broad and could include anything from ethnographic studies to workshops, through to user testing and analytics. You might find that breaking these terms down even further helps you discover and learn more. The key is that all of them can be used to solve problems and put the user at the centre of your work.

If all that fails, follow John Cage’s advice and ‘Start anywhere’.

Would a masters / degree / online course / official education help?

Both sides of this argument have been made well so I think the official advice should be down to the individual. 

A career in UX doesn’t demand formal UX qualifications so it depends on whether the individual has the time, resources and motivation required to study.  Some people might find a short intensive course (offered by companies like General Assembly) better than a MSc by a local university.

Do the places you want to work for prefer qualifications? (An agency like Foolproof comes to mind with this one). Remember UX is a relatively young profession so many people working in the industry have come from a wide variety of backgrounds without any formal qualifications. 

How can I get more experience?

Aside from the educational experience above, look out for events like Bar Camps and other small conferences where you can build or take part in workshops. Side projects are brilliant – you’ll notice there’s a lot of people coming up with nice designs for popular iOS apps on Dribbblebut why not tackle something unique / personal to you? You don’t have to build it; showing your thinking and process helps you develop, and it’s often these skills and abilities that employers will look for.

What salary should I ask for when applying?

That depends on where you are in your career, what other skills you have to offer, and what you can afford to live on. As a starting point, you could have a look at this salary guide from FutureHeads.

Any other advice?

Go to events and meet people. If you’re going to events already then talk, write or tweet about it. It will help you summarise your thoughts and to remember what you’ve learnt. 

Be proud of your portfolio of work, even if you know it’s limited at the moment. Your enthusiasm at this stage of your career will help make up for your lack of experience, so think about how you can communicate your passion to potential employers.  

Start applying for roles and see what happens. The more you know your portfolio and what you want to do, the better you’ll come across in interviews. Interviews can be scary, so the more practice you have, the better. There are also good recruitment agencies who have been established in the UX market for a long time and can offer great advice as well as help set expectations for roles.

Job titles also help. This advice feels a bit like a hack but finding a role with the title you want could prove to be a very useful step in your career. Your first job may not be perfect, but even experience of doing things ‘not-quite-right’, in a potentially less glamorous industry (hello finance!) will still prove valuable in the long term.

If you find places you’d like to work at, contact them and introduce yourself. Even if they’re not currently recruiting, it’s likely they’ll keep a bank of  potential candidates to consider in future – recruiting good people is hard work! Don’t be afraid to stalk their lead designers on Twitter or Linkedin and make contact with them directly – HR can sometimes be a bottleneck at larger organisations. 

If you have any questions about what I’ve talked about above, get in touch on Twitter.  If you have a question that hasn’t been answered here, there are loads of other articles out there to help people get into UX, so if you’re still curious start here

If you’re interested in UX roles here at RSA, please drop us a line!