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I don't have a formal degree in fields related to UX, although I've picked up good number of books and keep myself updated with UX blogs. They have proven to be the bulk of my UX knowledge so far along with this community. I would imagine the next step would be to start practicing and I've done so by contributing to non profit website redesigns. I'm constantly looking for projects that will help me build out my portfolio and acquire my first UX gig.

However, I feel that most gigs require over 2 years of experience even for the most entry level UX positions.

I'm definitely passionate and driven to make UX my full time profession, but what else do I need to do to get there?

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I'm in a similar boat except in QA trying to branch into user testing and heuristic evals as a sort of production testing. –  Andrew Shipe Apr 26 '12 at 20:16
    
Your transition is more likely to be considered as a natural progression. It would help to share your trials and tribulations - continue the conversation on twitter? –  Jagger Apr 26 '12 at 21:30
    
That's what I'm hoping. Sure! Sent a follow request. –  Andrew Shipe Apr 27 '12 at 13:05

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

UX involves a number of technical and soft skills. Here are some methods to improve both to get you started with your portfolio:

Technical Skills

In terms of what you should focus on, I would recommend HTML/CSS/JS in order to quickly iterate wireframes and prototypes.

  • W3school tutorials (intro to HTML/CSS/PHP/JS) and a good reference
  • Lynda.com tuts (different levels of HTML/CSS/JS/jQuery/WordPress stuff to get you up and running)
  • Codeacademy (gamified JS education) (a cool application that gamifies JavaScript tutorials with a lot of real-world projects.

Soft Skills

  • Micro-research. Conducting research is really big in UX but it can be hard to get started (I'm assuming you've read enough to understand the methods of design research). Micro-research is something that I started doing to give me more practice at conducting and analyzing research. It's kinda like guerrilla research. All you do is conduct a small piece of research (quick usability test, survey, interviews, A/B test) on something you're interested in or working on. You can do it around the office, with friends/family, etc, put the results in a report, and write a list of recommendations from that report. Here's an example.

  • Talk to people. This is pretty basic but really fundamental to UX. Talking to people is the cornerstone of understanding and empathizing with them. If you can talk with someone about a problem they are having, understand the problem, and put yourself in their shoes, you're on your way to becoming a great UX professional.

  • Sketching. This is something that I'm still attempting to do better. Sketching ideas on paper is a great way to show people you're "design thinking" or how you solve problems. After you've listened to the user's problems and needs, sketching things down on paper allows you to communicate a solution visually rather than with words. Using words can get clunky and misunderstandings can result.

How to start practicing UX Design

This is a tough nut to crack. Most UX people I know were able to transition into it from another disciple within their company (most were web developers at one point). If you can't do UX work in the organization you're currently at, you might have to start doing freelance work. Once your skills are at a point where you think you can actually get paid to do UX work, I would try these places:

  • eLance. This is a place to get freelance UX work. They have a UX category but eLance usually just considers the work to be web design. You might want to take a web design gig and sell a full UX package to the client. If you communicate the value in UX, they'll go for it.
  • Craigslist. Despite what many would say, I've had some good luck getting short-term gigs from Craigslist. Search the "Web/Info Design" category under jobs and try to find contract work. Depending on your area, you'll be surprised with the amount of gigs available.
  • Network. Again, talk to people. This is 2012 so chances are someone you know needs a website. Maybe a friend who is getting married, starting a business, or working for a charity. You might not get paid but it would be something for your portfolio.

Hope this helps.

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I started freelance work through bidding websites in order to have a good portfolio. Along with my studies, it has taken me around 2 years to have a decent portfolio and after 200 contracts, I feel a bit happy with my portfolio.

Contrary to what many would tell you, bidding websites are a nice opportunity to start working if you don't have any work at hand and are just starting out. You can easily land yourself a simple project and move your way up gathering feedback which in the course of time help you in getting the coveted "Larger" projects that you can use in your portfolio.

Although, I will admit, it took me a while to land my first gig (3 months) because I had ZERO feedback when I was starting out in 2010 but I found the ride easy and comfortably challenging after I had acquired some 3 - 5 nice feedbacks.

You can after sometime, use the profile on the bidding website as a portfolio and have a separate one for different purposes if you want to branch out later on.

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Thanks! The biggest hurdle will be getting the first project,but I'll definitely put your suggestion to work. –  Jagger May 7 '12 at 14:53
    
Yes. It takes a bit of time to get your first project. Tip In my application, I used to mention that I am looking forward to build my ratings and profile as I am starting out. Most people were accommodating. –  Vaibhav Kanwal May 7 '12 at 20:18

Technical writing, done well, involves some UX work; your users are your readers. If you have applied UX principles to your documentation work already, you can leverage that. If not, why not?

I entered my current company as a senior technical writer (speaker to programmers -- SDKs et al). I gradually transitioned into doing more software development; I believe I was able to transition into positions that I wouldn't have gotten hired for by being there and showing them what I could do. So my advice to you is to try to grow into your new career in your current company, or by starting as a tech writer at the place where you want to do UX. Build the experience in front of them and then ask to change focus as part of your natural career growth there. In my experience mature companies see the value of growing their own people.

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Regarding exploring options at my current workplace, I've gotten as far as I can. I've always written off starting as a Tech writer at a different corporation as a setback from moving forward in the field of UX but it might be time to reconsider. –  Jagger Apr 24 '12 at 21:33
    
Perhaps a small, flexible company where everybody is too busy -- you'll get more opportunities to show what you've got in a place like that. (Worked for me, anyway.) –  Monica Cellio Apr 24 '12 at 21:38

Volunteer to do some UX work with any group you are involved in (work/personal).

Do some work for a non-profit, or browse Craigslist and find a pro-bono project to use your skills.

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I find that most pro bono projects are looking to redesign their sites. I've done a few of those by providing mockups to some and IA recommendations to others. Is it normal to see these volunteered tasks reflected in portfolios? –  Jagger Apr 26 '12 at 18:03
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If your artifact ultimately contributed to the finished project, then absolutely. I have "napkin" sketches on my portfolio from several years ago to show that I started from low fidelity beginnings. –  Mike Hill Apr 26 '12 at 18:09
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Success! Thanks Mike! Now the hard part, editing what to show on the portfolio. –  Jagger Apr 26 '12 at 18:36
    
Happy to share mine: www.mikehill33.com (sorry if it is dated, I have not updated in almost a year). –  Mike Hill Apr 26 '12 at 18:43
    
Any tips on finding non-profits that are doing redesigns? Also, check out one happening on meta (meta.ux.stackexchange.com/questions/883/…) –  Andrew Shipe Apr 26 '12 at 20:18

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