How do I change careers into the UX field without further education?
August 26, 2012 4:49 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to move into a career in UX/interaction design without professional experience or the degree to match? I'm moving to Chicago and looking to start a career change, and I don't know where to start.

I am someone in his mid-20s who has a BFA in Photography from a highly-respected program. While my photography continues in the form of freelance and personal work, my employment since college has been mostly technology training/arts education, curriculum advising, and behavioral/disciplinary mentoring (in boarding school-type environments). I've always been an incredibly motivated learner, having taught myself a number of web languages, in addition to most of the Adobe Creative Suite  and it is becoming clear to me that the thing driving my career the most is an real fascination with how the brain works. I did some psychology coursework in college, and I was at times more excited about it than the artwork than I was producing.

UX seems like the perfect combination of those two fields -- I am completely fascinated with how human brings interact with each other and technology, and I love the philosophy, process, and criticism of design. The only problem, of course, is that it seems near impossible to find your way into UX these days without a degree or many years of professional Graphic Design or coding experience. What I would love, more than anything, would be the opportunity to be mentored by someone in the field, and to get real-world experience. I have a strong concept of good design and thousands of hours clocked watching and training people in software, and I know that with the right mentorship I could be a hard-working asset to a team. The only trouble is getting my foot in the door. While I'd certainly be willing to go back to school, I honestly feel that I'd be better off learning on my feet, and would rather not have to pay for another degree.

In any case, I would love to hear about any experiences that any of you have had with developing your career, in UX or otherwise, and would love to know that further education isn't the only option. If there are books I should read, web resources to consult, or other field necessities that I should know about, then I would love to hear about those as well. Thanks so much!
posted by summerteeth to Work & Money (7 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd start at UIE; I've been to some of their virtual seminars.

I get emails from Pro Edit that include placements for Instructional Designers, permanent and contract to perm positions.

I've never applied for a UX or UI job, but I assume that like most doc-heavy output style positions, a portfolio is helpful, reccs on Linked In, and belonging to professional organizations where you'll network and pick up tidbits about internships or other openings. You might need to start with UI and branch out into the whole UX field.

A smaller place might not know they need you, but would be a place to start your self-paced training while on the job. From there you could grow into a larger position on a larger team. Part of my career trajectory for documentation included some solo work that a larger company took for entry level with degree equivalent.
posted by tilde at 5:23 PM on August 26, 2012

The journeyman's path for this would be to get a job as a front-end developer, moving to designer, moving to UX.
posted by rhizome at 5:49 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I took a certificate in Human Centred Design last year and there were a number of people in the course using this a stepping stone to get into a UX job. At least one woman I worked with finished the certificate with a job offer from Amazon, and another guy moved from a developer position to a UX position while taking the certificate. It didn't cost nearly as much time or effort as a full degree, although you could apply to continue in the Masters if you wanted, and as many of the lecturers were consultants or had strong connections to professional groups, it seemed like a great networking opportunity for those looking to break into the field (I was just taking it out of interest so didn't focus on those aspects so much). While most people in my classes had a technical background, there were a significant minority coming from marketing, documentation, or product management.
posted by jacalata at 7:33 PM on August 26, 2012

Can you afford to take a low paying internship? A lot of more established design shops treat internships as a combo school/temp-to-perm situation for people who are motivated and contribute to their team.

A lot of people doing UX are not necessarily just "interested" in the theories behind user experience. They want to make something. If you have an idea--any idea--on how to solve a human-centered problem, solve it, document it, blog it, make it. If you know some code or can mock up beautiful images that can bring your ideas to life, even better.

Personally, I don't recommend assuming a front-end developer job will fast track you to UX, or necessarily give you the education it sounds that you're looking for.
posted by thirdletter at 8:09 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Neither degree in design nor the ability to code is required for UX positions where I work — I interviewed a guy the other day with a degree in music.

It sounds like you are looking for an apprenticeship — this makes a lot of sense for design, but it will never happen. Most companies want someone who can start contributing immediately, and they have zero interest in sinking 6 months to a year of on-the-job training.

The main thing you need to focus on is your portfolio. Come up with an idea for a mobile app, or wireframe a redesign of part of Facebook or something. Show that you have familiarity and experience with UX research and evaluation methods. Show that you can communicate a design vision. If you can get involved in an open source project, or otherwise work with developers on implementing your ideas, you'll have the advantage over 90% of people coming out of degree programs.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:03 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Speaking of open source projects: OpenHatch can help you look for design-related problems to work on, to build your portfolio and get critique from others in the community. Example.
posted by brainwane at 7:32 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Never hurts to keep up with what the IXDA is doing; it's the closest thing to a professional organization as we've got, and there are lots of resources on their site for starting out. Also the AIGA and the UXPA might be useful.
posted by rmm at 3:27 PM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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