Reactions UX/UI

How I landed my first UI design job at 16 with no portfolio or experience

And what you can learn from it

The first ever UI design job I landed was in 2016, I was a young 16 year old kid with little to no experience, no portfolio and nothing but a love for coding and web design. Looking back now I got that job through pure luck, but luck is really just preparation meeting opportunity (Seneca). Following that saying I’ll impart to you my wonderful audience, the preparation it took as well as how I earned the opportunities that landed me such luck.

Photo by Danial Igdery on Unsplash

At 14 years old I loved programming and web-design, my nights after-school were filled with creating what I now know as wireframes for various apps and websites. Growing up with an artist for a mother I learned to pay attention to the design of all my works and was particular about the overall look and feel of anything I worked on. I quickly realised that while it was fun, the programming aspect of my hobby wasn’t what I liked the most about the creative process but rather the designing bit. Eventually I switched to designing apps and websites full time rather than coding them.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

At 15 years old I was introduced to the online website making service WIX. I could create and publish websites without having to spend hours coding and could make the design exactly as I envisioned it. I started making websites for anyone that needed it, from family, to friends. My first ever proper project was a website i created to promote my mothers Art. It’s still online to this day at:HOME | louisenkartsEdit

While that website is by no means a design masterpiece it was the first time I properly applied all the things I was learning, such as the importance of consistency in design, hierarchy of text, fonts, and negative space. I did not yet know that all these things I was paying attention to were key principles of UI design but I knew they were important nonetheless and they would later serve as my foundation during my UI/UX journey.

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After a year of making WIX websites for just about anyone I could and improving as I went along, I ended up meeting a colleague of my father who wanted to start a consulting company related to solar energy and needed a website done. It was quite a nerve wracking experience, as a 16 years old I was showing this grown adult the few websites I had already worked on as well as letting him know what requirements I would need in order to make him a simple website. The colleague seemed impressed that I was talking so enthusiastically and asked me how much I would pay.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Fast forward a couple weeks and I received €500 as the first ever payment for web-design. Not sure how I spent that money but I remember being incredibly excited by the prospect of making any money off my hobby, which resulted in me continuing my UI/UX career to this day.

So, why am I telling you this? What utility can you get from reading about my experience landing my first freelance UI design gig? Well this experience served as the beginning of my work in this industry, and 4 years later working at a startup as a UI designer, the things I learned from that job still serve me today.

Always keep learning and applying what you learn

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While this might seem like the most obvious advice only those that truly take this to heart succeed in the industry. In any given day I will watch at least one UI/UX related video, read a couple related articles a week and experiment with what i’ve seen on said videos. I follow several UI/UX related facebook groups, subscribe to several related youtube channels and even have newsletters about said topics sent to me once a week that I read. I try to apply at least one new thing i’ve learned about design in my own works every project, and experiment with various different tools I see other designers use. All of this allows me to increase my knowledge, and by applying what I learn I not only increase my value as a UI/UX designer but also the quality of the work. Without this lowkey obsession with the work that I do, I would have never been able to be where I am today, and while I can’t claim to be the greatest product designer that’s ever lived, you’ll hear similar levels of obsession and work from designers with more skill, experience and greater careers than I have.

Do design challenges and find good prompts

When starting out the hardest thing to find as a designer is inspiration for your own original designs. After going through generic re-designs of existing apps you’ll have enough of a foundation as a designer to take on more challenging projects. Doing design challenges online would not only provide you with said projects but allow you to practice the skills you have learned and even learn to problem solve. Doing design challenges taught me how to get in the mind of target audience of the project rather than just focusing on how aesthetically pleasing my designs could be. In UI design feasibility is also an important aspect.

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Find inspiration from mentors in your industry

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I found inspiration in mentors within the UI/UX industry. Mentors can be anyone, from people that actively give you advice, to simple youtube channel’s that teach you various skills. I joined various groups on facebook dedicated to UI/UX design. Signed up to the website’s dribbble and behance which have some of the largest communities of fellow designers out there. By interacting with fellow designers I learned their own personal trips and tricks as well as found inspiration in the designs they shared. On youtube I watched videos from channel’s such as DesignCourse, AJ&Smart and many others.

Always advertise yourself, keeping pumping out work and never get discouraged

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Lastly, starting out as a designer, I would show anyone and everyone my works whenever I had the chance. Some of my closest friends and family have seen some of my absolute worst designs and critiqued it which served to help me improve. I would constantly be talking about new designs and was always ready to show and talk about my work to anyone willing to listen. My enthusiasm was never curbed and maybe because I treated it more as a hobby that I enjoyed, I had an easier time putting myself out there. At this current point in my life I find myself ranting about my design work a lot less, but as I work to grow my career I still enjoy showing people my designs and getting feedback for them. Feedback helps you grow and by putting yourself out there you’ll find opportunities you didn’t even know you could have. I currently do this my posting on facebook groups and even started a Youtube channel lately named byDesign. You can start small as I did and share it with family and friends or go big by opening your own or Youtube channel or making a portfolio website. Who knows you too might end up landing your first UI design gig that way!

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If you follow those four steps above and truly work as hard as you possibly can to improve and increase the value of your work while putting yourself out there, just as it did for me at 16, opportunity will come knocking for you too!

By Neil Nkoyock

Neil is professional product designer that has been established in the UI/UX industry for two years. Through his years of experience, he has gained many insights and aims to aid new aspiring designers to enter and thrive within the industry.

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