I'm a design student, and extremely interested in Interaction and Experience Design, but I don't have a UX portfolio yet. How should I pick projects up, now? (As in, should I make up a hypothetical design brief and try to solve it? If so, how do I make up a design brief?)
In my mind, the goal is to show prospective employers that you have a good understanding of UX principles and methods; it's not all about showing off your colorful buttons and animations. With that in mind, in addition to hypothetical projects (a perfectly viable option) you could try the following:
- Redesign a well-known application or feature, and write a case study about the UX problem you were trying to solve, solutions you considered, and how this one solves it best.
- Write about something you learned from talking to users or running a UX study. Of course, this'll require you to run a small study. Doing that is great experience, no matter how many times you've done it before.
- Post some little vignettes of interactions/UI components to something like Dribbble, Behance, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. (or a section of your own site, preferably...the same one that has your portfolio)
- Design something new and not hypothetical. Do some homework and find a viable experience problem to solve, and try to design something that would solve it. If it never gets developed, it's kind of like a "hypothetical brief," but it might have more impact if you design and present it like it's your own little startup.
- Include school projects. If your design curriculum isn't really UX-based, perhaps experiences could be "bolted onto" your projects with minimal extra effort. (For example, if you're a print design student, create a UI style guide to accompany a branding package.)
Some personal pet peeves that I think you should avoid:
- Don't present student projects for real companies as if you really worked for that company. Don't even make the reader question whether it's real or not. That always feels really scuzzy to me.
- Don't be cocky. You don't have a lot of experience, but you're not going to "break into" the industry by falsely inflating your ideas. It's much, much more impressive to see that someone has considered the strengths and weaknesses of their ideas than to see someone claiming they've invented The Forever Solution to Buttons(tm).
- Don't avoid writing things down. With UX, your thought process and methods are usually a lot more important than the visuals. You can communicate those things visually, sometimes, but verbal communication skills are what you're going to be using "on the job," so you should make sure you show that you have them.