In this article, I reflect on my experience of entering the UX/UI design world, how not having the "job description" qualification didn't stop me — a story of how determination, motivation and networking helped me achieve my career goal.
You studied psychology; why a career in UX/UI design?
Becoming a UX/UI designer was not part of my plan when I chose my degree. At the time I never even heard of this industry. After landing a full-time position at a pediatric dental practice, the goal I set for myself was to get a degree, so I decided to study psychology through UNISA. The subjects were really interesting and I enjoyed most of them, but during my final year, I found myself wondering if I really wanted to pursue a career in this field. So, what was it that I wanted to do with my life? In a world with almost limitless possibilities, I'd succumbed to choice overload — a cognitive process I'd actively studied during my degree. This was mostly due to the anxiety and realisation that I had to make use of this degree. The whole point of this goal was to open doors to the possibility of something better out there. So I decided to take a step back and reassess my aspirations. I knew I wanted to pursue a creative career, a job that challenged me and wasn't stagnant, something that was exciting.
Knowing this, I did what most humans usually do when they don't know what to do. I opened Google. Eager to explore my options, I typed in: "alternative careers for a psychology degree". To my surprise, there were a lot of different options. The results were just as diverse as they were boring, from a social worker, actor, lawyer, some form of an assistant, to becoming a detective (not saying if you are in one of these professions that your job is boring, but for me, I didn't see myself in one of them). So, after numerous articles, I didn't discover something that got me excited. Maybe my question was a bit too vague for Google, so I tried again, a little bit more specific this time: "psychology degree careers that are creative".
UX researcher? I had no idea what it was, but the short description provided by the Muse sounded very exciting. I was intrigued.
The job search website says I need a design degree and minimum 1-2 years experience, now what?
Okay, so now I had a bit of direction. After a ton of research, I discovered it's not as straightforward as the article painted it to be. Firstly, in South Africa, as a junior you need to be the whole package. This sounds more stressful than it actually is; it simply means, you can't just pop into the job market as a "UX researcher" — the role description you are looking for is UX/UI designer. Funny thinking back now, the UI bit worried me the most not coming from a design background, and yet as a junior, you know nothing about proper UX practice and how to apply it, and it is a lot more complex. You can't take shortcuts — I learned this within the first few months working as a graduate UX/UI designer.
Realising that I lacked the technical skills required for this role, and not knowing where to start, I researched UX/UI design courses, as I wasn't planning to start another degree from scratch. The search results came back, and there was a whole lot to choose from. All of them looked really good, but yet again I felt unsure of which ones were most relevant and what would just be wasting my time and money. My solution to this information overload: ask a complete stranger for advice.
Networking is more helpful than you think
It might sound odd, but reaching out to people for advice was where the real progress for me took place. I decided to go on to LinkedIn and search for people in South Africa that are already in the UX/UI field. (Just to give you some context and hopefully a bit of courage, I am a very socially awkward person and rarely approach strangers in real life.) Approaching people with curiosity and genuine interest in learning about the field has yielded the most success for me. It will surprise you how many people are willing to take the time to help you gain insight and learn when you don't just reach out to them for some kind of job referral. Long story short, I met two amazing people who are passionate about what they do, who also didn't come from a design background. After a few weeks of advice and feedback, I completed the courses they recommended and I could use Figma on a very basic level to create a UX portfolio.
Creating UX case studies for your portfolio is easier than you think. Don't overthink it. Choose something that isn't purely UI based, but something that reflects your thought process and how you think about problems and find solutions to them. A recruiter doesn't expect you to be an expert in UX when you apply for a graduate or junior role; they just want to see if you can provide a well thought-of solution to a design problem.
Don't give up, and never stop learning
Very nervous but excited to give it a go, with no design background, no real-world experience at all, I reached out. I would be lying if I said I felt ready and didn't doubt a little bit that I would get in. Without going into too much detail, the journey of me trying to land a position in UX/UI design wasn't without flaws or rejection. There were multiple times where I applied and didn't hear anything back, or received the generic email of an unsuccessful application. I just made sure not to let this get to me, that I can't give up and that I will continue learning, practising and learning from the mistakes.
Today, I am a Junior UX/UI designer at Retro Rabbit. I joined their graduate program in 2021. I did reach this goal that felt at times impossible, and I am glad I pushed myself past all the self-believed obstacles and mental barriers.