How to Network When You’re Breaking Into UI/UX Design
If you’re here, one of two things is likely true. On one hand, you’re looking into web development and are curious about a career in UI/UX design. On the other hand, you’re deep into learning UI/UX and breaking a cold sweat over how you’ll turn your hours of hard work into a job in the field. While hard work and persistence are important, the ability to network is a skill you’ll need to give yourself an edge over your competition. But how do you network? Some have a natural skill to work a room, but for those of us who don’t, there’s a formula — a special code, if you will — to get the job done.
So let’s get started. Let’s dive into UI/UX design, why networking is important, and how you can use it to land your dream job.
Table of Contents
- What is UI/UX Design?
- The Importance of Networking for UI/UX Designers
- Start Early
- Create a Portfolio
- Follow “Celebrities” in UI/UX
- Join UI/UX Communities
- Connect with Potential Mentors
- Attend Events
What is UI/UX Design?
For those of us who are new to UI/UX design, there’s one thing that lies at its center — the user. Often lumped together, UI and UX are different, but there is overlap.
User interface (UI) is the point where humans interact with a computer, website, or application. Consider how you’re scrolling through this article — the touchpad on your laptop, the scroll wheel on your mouse, or the touch screen on your smartphone. The way the page works and the look and movement of the cursor all factor into the UI. Even your device’s screen and speakers are part of the user interface. To put it plainly, the interactions happen with our senses — sight, sound, and touch. And while you could consider UI specified, UX is broader.
User experience (UX) focuses on optimizing the entire experience that a person has with a product. This goes beyond their interaction with the product and includes what happens before and after using it. Now, I’m not saying UX designers need to be psychic, but it would definitely help. Designers need to understand and anticipate users’ needs and build this into how they interact with a product’s designs and features.
Take Netflix’s autoplay feature. A button appears at the end of each episode with a timed prompt to automatically play the next one. Let’s be honest — in the world of binge-watching, we were likely planning to watch the next episode anyway. This was probably the work of a UX designer. While our interaction with the product — the episode — was over, the continuous design principle of UX handled the interaction afterward and “gently” guided us to continue using the product.
The demand for UI/UX designers is there. Not only was UX designer named the 24th best job in America for 2022 by Glassdoor, but CNN anticipates a 27% and 19% growth for UI and UX designers, respectively, from 2017 to 2027.
The Importance of Networking for UI/UX Designers
We can’t pretend that the importance of networking is exclusive to UI/UX designers. Although it sometimes feels “cringey,” the ROI (return on investment) can be massive for any career field. Networking can help you find job opportunities, grow personally and professionally, and advance your career. In fact, CNBC reported that 70% of all jobs aren’t published publicly on job sites. That means that when you’re surfing the web for UI/UX roles, you’re only seeing a quarter of the ones that are actually available. So if you want to broaden the amount of job opportunities available to you, you’ll need to broaden your UI/UX network.
Most of us don’t think about career development or advancement until we’re looking for a job. That’s too late. Start as early as possible. Every person you come in contact with and every experience you have is a networking opportunity. By the time you’re ready to job search, you’ll have a network of people who can give you tips, share their experiences, and even recommend available positions.
Create a Portfolio
Being a UI/UX designer is… special. It’s not like being a teacher or a doctor where people take your word for it. It’s not enough to show a degree or direct someone to your references. People want to see your work.
A portfolio is a marketing and networking tool. It shows your abilities and skills to potential employers, but it also demonstrates your talents to peers and mentors. While it’s harder for UX designers to show off their work than UI designers, having a ready-to-share portfolio is key to attracting people to your work and you, as a designer. And if you don’t know where to start, consider following UI/UX “celebrities” for an idea.
Niki Haynes (Skillcrush Alum)
Emily Kalweit (Skillcrush Alum)
Allison Green (Skillcrush Alum)
Follow “Celebrities” in UI/UX
When people mention celebrities, we instantly think of actors in a major motion picture or the singer of our favorite song. While it’s definitely more niche, the tech world has its own celebrities and no, we’re not talking about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. I’m talking about web developers who constantly land on roundups as the best UI/UX designers in their field. Not only are they great sources for keeping up with the latest in web developments — pun intended — but they’re also inspirations for creating a portfolio that works. Check out:
Elizabeth Churchill (Director of UX at Google)
Steve Krug (Author of Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability)
Yael Levey (UX designer / Product Design Manager for WhatsApp)
Ioana Teleanu (Co-host of Honest UX Talks podcast)
Andy Budd (Founder and curator of the UX London conference)
Farai Madzima (UX manager at Shopify)
Luke Wroblewski (Industry leader in product management and UX design)
Irene Au (UX design lead for Google and Yahoo)
Join UI/UX Communities
If you think about your personal social media presence, your community may include family and friends as well as childhood classmates, college peers, or coworkers. To break into the UI/UX field, you’ll need to dive into online UI/UX communities. These platforms are filled with budding and experienced designers who can act as associates, mentors, and resources for you along your journey. You can gain instant access to the latest design developments and join the conversation whenever you’re feeling talkative. Some UI/UX communities are even created for you to share your design work and get what we hope is constructive feedback.
You can find communities on Facebook, but it seems UI/UX designers tend to flock to Slack and Discord as well as other online resources. Here are a few communities to look into:
UX/UI Design Projects (Facebook)
User Experience Design (Reddit)
Connect with Potential Mentors
Let’s not sugarcoat it. The sole purpose of networking is to make connections that will somehow benefit you, whether it’s professionally or personally. A mentor gives you access to tons of knowledge and advice that — fortunately — you don’t have to spend years in the field getting yourself. They can share their experiences and give you insight into the UI/UX industry. They can open doors to different job opportunities. Mentors are great resources to have in your corner, but you need to connect with them.
Reach out to UI/UX designers on platforms like LinkedIn. As long as you’re professional, most people won’t mind if you slide into their DMs on Instagram or Twitter. Kindly ask if they’ll share their experiences or tips on breaking into their career. While a message is good, an actual conversation is better. Ask if they’d be willing to set up an informal, informational interview. This could be in person, over the phone, or through a video call. While the initial interaction is important, the follow-up is how you keep the relationship going.
Do not bombard them with messages. Instead, thank them for their time while mentioning a milestone — earning a certification, passing a course, finding a job. Feel free to slip in how your conversation with them somehow factored into your recent win. This should open the door for a mentorship to blossom, but pay attention to cues. Some mentoring relationships don’t work out. So if the designer doesn’t seem too interested or invested, move on.
Every event is a networking event, whether in-person or in this post-COVID digital world. Attend as many events as you can and talk to as many people as you’re comfortable with. People are more likely to help and work with someone they’ve met. But how do you find these events? It’s nothing a quick browser search won’t fix.
Websites like UIUX Trend list events and conferences happening all over the world. So whether you’re in New York City, New Delhi, or tuning in to an online summit, you can still be a part of the latest UI/UX events. And when all else fails and you can’t find an event you’re interested in, turn to your communities.
Tech never ends. Some people have jobs where things rarely change. One plus one will always be two — I hope. Mixing red and blue will always make purple. In web development, things are always changing. Employers look for new skills. Designers create new tools. The only thing that’s left to do is keep up. Keep learning. If you’re at the beginning of your career, the Skillcrush Break Into Tech – UX/UI Track does more than provide a reputable curriculum and a job guarantee. It’s where your network begins. It introduces you to a community of students, mentors, and instructors.
And I’m really big on manifestation. So as you learn, network, and grow, keep envisioning your career in UI/UX.