If I could give advice to my younger self as a new UX designer, what would I say?

Starting a career isn’t simple, we make mistakes (which are necessary), we discover many things, and we learn a lot. But if I could go back a decade, I’d give myself some tips to boost my progress. So, why not share it with you to make things easier?

💼 Have experience before having a job

As beginners in design, it’s common to be caught in a cycle where companies want experienced people, but you, as a new designer, are trying to gain that first experience. It’s like thinking who came first, the egg 🥚 or the chicken 🐔.

I understand that it might seem incredibly unfair. But when we consider this beginner’s cycle, the reality is that you are seeking a place to learn more and become a better designer, while companies are looking for someone to execute jobs with minimal hassle.

The only way I see to break this beginner’s cycle is by investing time in designing personal projects or supporting non-profit organizations with your designs. This is a time when you will have ample freedom, opportunities to learn, and the output might become your next portfolio case.

If you have already designed some and you’re not sure about their quality, use your LinkedIn network, platforms like ADP list and try connecting with senior designers and ask for a portfolio review and feedback.

⚡️ Save energy finding a job

During a job search, it’s super normal to apply for dozens of positions, receive no response from many, get some straight rejections, and not be selected after interviews. And we all know how this process can be very time and energy-consuming. So I would recommend trying to understand where to put your energy, so you might save energy to spend once you get your next job.

If you’re getting rejections even before the interviews, there is a possibility that your CV or portfolio isn’t at the level they were looking for, so you might need to review it. If you’re getting rejections from HR screening, ask them for deeper feedback and prepare yourself better for the next ones. If you’re not getting approved in the technical interviews, it might be a chance to ask hiring managers about which expectations weren’t met so you can invest time learning those missing skills.

It’s like a discovery process for understanding what the problems are that are setting you apart from your next job. And as obvious as it might sound for some of you, I still believe that working smarter is better than harder, at least sometimes.

🗣️ Put yourself out there

I attended a career path Meetup where a recruiter said, “It’s not about who you know, but who knows you.” I believe he is right.

Research suggests that we might be more attracted to what is familiar to us. So imagine that you’re choosing between 2 people to have your next to be your next designer, one you know and one you don’t. It’s likely that you would pick the one you know; Simply because it reduces the risk of hiring incorrectly.

Take this article as an incentive for you to be with the community in more forums, meet-ups, conferences and moments with other designers. When you’re there, put your phone away and start conversations by asking genuine questions on who people are and what do they do. Small talks can lead to big opportunities.

If you can’t meet people in person, share your professional thoughts and experiences on social media. This can help you connect with like-minded individuals and those who can support your career change.

Besides creating a network that might support you finding a job, connecting can also lead to friendships, especially if you’re an expat like me. Are you ready to try it?

🤝 Learn stakeholder management

If we spent as much time learning how to influence and designing the experience of working with us instead of learning all the small figma tricks, our daily work would be easier.

When we think about becoming designers, we usually think about learning tools, design trends, and frameworks. And don’t get me wrong, it’s all important for designing. But learning how to explain and sell your ideas, how to influence people, and how to educate your company about design and UX is what is going to change the game.

I always say that is not hard to find designers complaining that their companies doesn’t have UX maturity, but it is rare to find designers who invest time educating their non-ux colleagues about it. This education involves explaining the processes and reasons behind our work, giving presentations, or even sharing UX content with colleagues via chat. To improve UX maturity in companies, we need to help others learn about it.

It all sounds like extra work, and it is for now. But it’s an investment to simplify your future tasks. It also helps make your value more tangible to the company. Building relationships is key to advancing your career. Try learning that and let me know if it changed your game.

📖 Invest in education

When I first joined university, I thought it wasn’t super beneficial and that I was there more for showing others that I was knowledgeable (forget it, I was an arrogant kid). Despite learning a lot from online tutorials and my initial internships, looking back I see that I only knew the tip of the iceberg of a field that I’m still discovering.

By investing in education, I learned more about the theories behind the design practices, and it gave me a foundation to understand why some things felt so good to look at and interact with, and why some didn’t.

Besides that, have you ever had that feeling that you wanted to Google something and didn’t know how to search for it? Learning from people who mastered my profession helped me to learn what to look for, supporting my repertoire as a designer. So, for example, if I want a visual reference that is strong and heavy, I would search for Brutalist and Baroque ones, and if I wanted something more refined and light, I would probably search for Renaissance or Scandinavian design references.

It doesn’t disqualify those who are self-taught, there are some people who I look up to and never went through formal education; and a huge part of my work I learned by doing or researching myself. But seeking education is still a possibility for you to boost your learning process, even in this digital world. Does it make sense to you?

🎯 Be more objective about work

I want to start this one sharply: Working is essentially exchanging your skills and lifetime for experiences, money, and perks. It doesn’t mean that you should have a bad time working, but we need to stop romanticizing it. Providing pizza and drinks to keep you working late isn’t fair, and having a nice boss doesn’t automatically make them a friend (but sometimes it happens ❤️).

It might seem like I’m being negative. However, I believe that working in a good environment, having the right tools, receiving fair pay, and being respected, heard, and supported should be standard, not extras. While it’s great to have fun, learn, make friends, and enjoy work, these cannot replace those basic needs.

So keep being friendly, cool, supportive and most important, being yourself; but remember to maintain professional boundaries with your company. This balanced perspective allows you to make the most of opportunities and ensures that you and your company get the best from your partnership.

💪 Invest your energy in your strengths

Different design positions ask for a completely different set of skills, and for those starting, it might be confusing and hard to know what is needed to find a job.

It’s completely normal to have different needs for different positions. When hiring people, my teams and I were always trying to fill skill gaps and needs we had at the time, which means that if we had a strong team with delivery, we would search for people who would be more skilled with discovery to cover this other side (oversimplifying).

In the past, I felt I needed to be brilliant in everything, improving myself on each gap I could see. But in one of my experiences, I did a strength finder and I learned that the energy spent trying to become “OKish” with something that I didn’t like, would be the energy that I could invest in mastering something I really liked doing.

So instead of being 100% market-oriented, I suggest selecting skills requested by the market and that you like doing and investing energy into being brilliant at that. Once you master something, you can narrow your search filters and prepare for those selected positions. It’s better to be a good candidate for a few positions, than a regular for many.

🛑 Stop doing everything

In the past, I always wanted to be the go-to guy for my teams, able to play all the positions we might have needed me. But as much as I appreciate versatility at work, I wouldn’t do it again.

Even more present when we are starting, this urge of being everywhere at work and feeling useful at all costs might be a drain for us, and even a nudge to a possible burnout.

I thought that if I would be everywhere it would make me a better designer, and ready for anything. But the thing is that if you are doing everything, you won’t have time to become good at anything.

I know it might be hard to know what to do, and the answers come with experience and pauses to rethink it. Did you receive a list full of priorities? Pause it and rethink before executing. If everything is a priority, nothing is in fact. A good tip is to use the knowledge and strategic vision that your leader must have to rank these tasks with them and understand what is feasible with the time and resources you have. Doing the right thing, one thing per time, you might feel slower, but I assure you that this is the sustainable way to go further.

🏝️ Talk about other things

I heard since always that once you become a designer, everything is design and you can’t stop designedly thinking everything. But we need stop it.

Imagine that annoying person who always kills the vibe of an action movie by saying that such a stunt wouldn’t be possible in real life. This is how boring I imagine going with some of us on a date and listening to a whole analysis of how bad is the design of a restaurant menu.

I remember that for many times my partner would be drawing my attention to the point that once I met another designer, we couldn’t stop talking about work and design related subjects, and that for those who weren’t 100% into that context, it could become an awkward moment to be part of.

To create solid relationships, that go beyond work, we must try finding other subjects in common. So next time you meet people, designers or not, try talking about something different. If it’s too hard for you now, maybe start talking about art, photography, music or whatever. I’m pretty sure that you find connections and common interests.

Design is what we do, but I’ve I’m not sure if designers must essentially be who we are. 🧐

🔭 Stay curious

Hey you, get away from the desk and explore the world! Staying curious and discovering real-life references will make your designs original and relevant.

There’s a Brazilian visual designer named Giulia Fagundes, who tells stories about how going to street markets in Brazil, inspire her designs.

If you think about designing digital products, I’d say that it’s similar. The places you visit, the people you meet, the real-life challenges you discover, are fuel for designs that really matters. When we research for what is out there, is when we stop designing just for other designers and internal stakeholders and we start doing things that are important for people.

So never stop exploring and being curious about the world. In the end, as a designer and human, asking questions is more important than having all the answers.

If you’re a UX designer, let me know if you liked this article in the comments and share your thoughts.

See you soon👋. Ciao.

Career in UX: 10 things I wish I knew 10 years ago was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.