Don’t know how to get hired, as even “junior web designer” positions require years of experience and/or a portfolio? If you you’re confident in your skills but don’t know how to get started, here’s a one way that I believe works most, if not 100% of the time.
Countless of my friends and comrades, including myself, got into their future jobs through a variation of the steps below, both designers and developers. While the below is written with designers in mind, the steps for a junior developer are roughly the same.
Follow these steps
1. Subscribe to blogs, podcasts and newsletters
Above anything else, realize that the part of design you are mostly familiar with right now (when coming out of school) is the design that, projected to the world of fashion, would be considered as basics or timeless elegance, the thing that makes a site or object ultimately usable (whatever you want to call it, UX design, interaction design…). On top of that though, there are numerous visual design trends that give your proper UX design the edge it requires to succeed. Coming back to fashion, we’re now talking fashion trends. If you’re not aware that rounded corners are out and flat design is the new shit, your site can be super user friendly and will still look old school.
Get familiar with where your industry is going. Subscribe to popular design blogs. Follow a few great designers on Twitter, Dribble and co. Listen to podcasts. Immerse yourself. You need to stay on top of current design trends.
2. Find a popular open source project with a crappy website
If you didn’t skip step 1, you now have a pretty good understanding of the popular open source projects in the web development community, since most web design blogs overlap with web development (i.e. Smashing Magazine). Get familiar with Github, npm, Google Trends and http://trends.builtwith.com/ to get a feel for the total popularity and lifecycle of the projects. Your task is to find a project that is gaining in popularity in the last few months, and that is now used by at least one or two big companies. Find one with a crappy website.
Yes, most of them have crappy websites. That’s because open source projects almost always lack designers and people who want to do the comparably boring job of building an accompanying site, as opposed to a fancy JS class that generates animated Emoji stories. This is your opportunity.
3. Offer your help (start with a few pull requests)
Instead of rethinking the entire site, start to identify a few quick wins. Maybe you can introduce a Table of Contents to the documentation. Maybe you can make the layout responsive. Very likely there’s already a backlog of bugs in the Github issues tracker, allowing you to get started with things you know people need. Start small, and create a few pull requests against the Github repository. Introduce yourself in the mailing list (“Hey, I’m a design and would love to help out!”).
Most likely, you’ll encounter a very warm welcome and infinite opportunities to own a redesign of the docs or site and make it awesome.
4. Add the result to your portfolio
Make sure you are credited for your work on the repository and site (ask for a link back to your own site in return for your contributions) and add the site you’ve redesigned to your site portfolio (if you don’t have a personal website with a portfolio, build it now).
Repeat this process until you have 3-5 big user experience wins or visual showcases in your portfolio.
You will find a lot of advice on the internet that urges you to never take unpaid work as a designer, and this advice is mostly correct, except for the early pre-work stage you’re in right now. You have an agenda. The agenda is to create a solid portfolio and get a job.
What will happen next?
One of, or a combination of three scenarios:
- You get a job offer from somebody who found your name on a projects’ website
- You get a job offer through one of the other open source contributors
- You get a job offer after applying proactively for a job, by using your strong portfolio as reference