Often in life, the hardest part of a challenge is simply getting started. They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but that single step is only half of the equation. You also need to know which direction you’re headed before you can begin. Such is the case with UX design professionals who want to build a long and fulfilling career. Unfortunately, developing strong design skills is only a fraction of what’s needed to succeed.
The best designer in the world is virtually worthless if he or she can’t find traction and generate employment leads. But how on Earth does a designer market their skills without a strong track record consisting of hordes of clients and previous employers shouting “Wow!” and offering referral business? Is it even possible? The good news is that yes, it is possible. It just takes a bit of work to build momentum.
Though it is, admittedly, a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, there is a better way to illustrate this journey. Think about a rocket ship, which guzzles and burns the majority of its fuel just to take off. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to propel the rocket ship towards space, but once it escapes the Earth’s gravity, it takes very little effort to continue moving forward.
This is exactly what it feels like for UX designers who don’t have a strong track record and don’t have past clients to generate referrals. If you want to launch your UX design career to new heights, just remember: the hardest leg of the journey is the beginning. After you get a few happy clients under your belt, things will really start to take off. Before we take a closer look at the necessary steps to take to launch your career, let’s take a moment to analyze the current UX design job market.
UX Design Job Market Trends & Statistics
The demand for quality UX designers has never been higher, and it’s no wonder why. We are more dependent on technology and information today than ever before, but a poorly designed interface can leave us stressed and dissatisfied. Within the last ten years, companies like Apple, Facebook, and others have incorporated design-centric strategies into their software to differentiate themselves from the competition.
And believe it or not, DMI was able to show that good design has a strong effect on a company’s ultimate profits.
Apparently, the design factor alone caused companies to rise in the S&P 500 by as much as 228%. Given the importance of user experience, it’s no wonder that UX designers are rising in popularity and demand. In fact, this career repeatedly rises to the top of the “best job” lists.
Brazen Life published an article that claimed UX design is the highest in-demand design job, and it is projected to grow as much as 30%. So what do all of these statistics really boil down to? Well, the good news is that the demand for UX designers isn’t going to decrease anytime soon. Not only are there plenty of vacancies that need to be filled, but the gap between the need for designers and the number of designers that exist seems to be widening.
All of a sudden, launching a career in UX design without referrals or a track record doesn’t sound so bleak, does it? The honest truth is that there are a seemingly countless number of opportunities. So don’t despair if you’re having trouble getting started. And guess what? There has never been a better time to get your feet wet with freelance work.
Last year, there were 53 million people in the US alone that undertook some type of freelance work. That’s roughly a third of the entire workforce. Furthermore, freelancers contribute an aggregate of $715 billion dollars to the economy. And current trends predict that freelancing positions will only rise in the coming years. So, to put two and two together, UX design jobs are on the rise, and the economy provides unprecedented opportunities to engage in freelance work.
While many work arrangements may want you to be located within a city near one of their main offices, there are countless opportunities that disregard geographic location. But which cities in the US provide the highest pay for UX designers? There are many factors that contribute to pay rates such as demand and local cost of living, but to date the best cities for UX design jobs include New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. It should come as no surprise that Seattle (home of Microsoft) and Silicon Valley provide some of the highest paying opportunities.
Building a Portfolio
Before you can launch your career, the first thing that needs to be done is to put together a portfolio. It is a necessity because it allows job seekers to showcase their work, thereby allowing potential clients to gauge the quality of the designer. The best thing for freelancers to do is to create a digital website portfolio that showcases their work, too. If you need some inspiration or just want to stimulate some new ideas, check out these ten amazing design portfolios.
Though showcasing work is a must, designers will likely also want to start a blog for several reasons. Firstly, it is a good way to bring in new work. When visitors see your designs as well as blog content, they are more apt to trust you. Secondly, creating a blog will help cast a UX designer as an authority figure in the industry, thereby bolstering the designer’s credibility. This makes potential customers feel calm and understand that they’re not taking a risk and rolling the dice.
As we’ll discuss shortly, blog content can even be posted on LinkedIn to network with other professionals.
Once a digital portfolio has been created, it’s time to take to social media and begin networking. There are so many ways to distribute information these days, and it is becoming increasingly easy to get your name out there for exposure and lead generation. The first thing users will likely want to do is create their own Facebook page with a link back to their website. It is also imperative to join any industry-related groups to digest the latest news as well as meet contacts.
But don’t spend all of your time on Facebook. It’s imperative to use other forms of social media. While Twitter and other social media channels provide a lot of value, LinkedIn is likely going to be the most valuable. Not only will UX designers have the opportunity to network with other professionals, but they can also find jobs. Yes, you heard me right. Jobs. There are a lot of job opportunities on LinkedIn, but it takes the initiative of hunting them down and networking with employers to bear fruit.
Also, the suggestion to add blog content to your digital portfolio? Well, guess what? Designers can actually publish their blog content on LinkedIn. When other professionals read your content, many of them will be enticed to visit your site and become exposed to your portfolio. There are several other things that designers need to do, though.
First off, be sure to include keywords in your LinkedIn profile. Why? Because plenty of employers turn to LinkedIn to fill vacancies. Often they search by job title, and designers want to make sure their name appears in the search results. In addition, users can track who has viewed their profile. If a user that viewed your profile looks like a hot prospect, take the initiative to reach out, contact them, and send a message. Don’t be too afraid to start a dialogue.
Furthermore, actually take the time to search for jobs on LinkedIn. It’s probably one of the best places to search for jobs since it is a magnet for serious and reputable employers. How do you know they’re serious about hiring? Because the ads cost a significant amount of money. But there are other useful job boards as well, as we will discuss next.
Online Job Boards
If you didn’t know that the Internet is filled with multitudes of job offers, you might be living under a rock. It’s 2016, and there are countless job opportunities found the Internet. More specifically, they are found on job boards. One of the most popular sites is Upwork (formerly known as Elance), and the fact is that it does offer some good job opportunities.
But watch out. There are many employers who try to game the system and find the cheapest solution available – without thinking about quality. Make sure you don’t pursue any potential work that undervalues your time. One of the problems with Elance is supply and demand. There are many people in foreign countries who will happily do the work for a fraction of the cost as their peers. In addition, make sure that the work is offered by a reputable employer.
Users have the ability to look at feedback from other members as well as their profile score. But as long as they have a good rating, there is typically nothing to worry about. This holds true for most freelancing sites. On the other hand, there are a variety of other job boards to consider such as:
There are a staggering number of other job boards as well, but these are the most popular, making it more likely that an employer will post work on one of these sites. If you want, feel free to hunt for others on Google.
Armed with a digital portfolio, blog, LinkedIn account, and the knowledge of best places to hunt for work, UX designers can launch their career without a track record or referrals. It may seem hard, even intimidating, at first, but that’s just part of the process of growing thicker skin as you approach potential employers. Just remember that a single rejection isn’t the end of the world.
There is a tipping point, and once you have pushed through the beginning stage of building a reputation and working with clients, you’ll be able to break into your new career.