When you’re building up your portfolio, you need to decide what kind of design position you’re actually going to apply for. Are you interested in becoming an Interaction Designer? Or rather a UX/UI designer? Or are you maybe interested in applying for jobs in User Research? Nowadays there are not only jobs for UX/UI designers, but you can also find very specific jobs. You can totally land a job as a Junior UX Designer, or a Junior UI Designer. Once you’ve decided what you want to apply for, make sure that your portfolio reflects those specific skills.
For instance, it doesn’t make sense to include projects in your portfolio that involve only user research, if you re actually applying as an Interaction Designer. You get the point.
Tip #1 Do an unpaid internship
I know 😳...you can also do a paid internship if you find one, but chances are that you will get an unpaid internship much faster and it would be much easier to start. Usually when you apply for internships recruiters are searching for people that have some design knowledge, but have no real-life experience. So, if you already know how to design, you are familiar with the process, you know all the basics, you can do wireframes, you should totally go for it!
After all, it could be that an unpaid internship turns into a full-time job -that’s a bonus though. By doing an internship for 1 to 3 months, you’ll already have several items you can put into your portfolio.
Tip #2 Help a friend out
Ask around if there is any design-related work that you can help with. Then offer to do it for free, in exchange for putting the project in your portfolio. You will be learning new skills and building up your portfolio while your friend is getting design work for free. It’s a win-win!
Tip #3 Join a Hackathon
I love Hackathons! I’ve joined hackathons several times and I think it’s amazing! It’s not only amazing because you meet great people, but also because you gain a lot of experience in a short period of time. Usually, hackathons are between 2 to 3 days and they take place over the weekend. Just go to Meetup or Eventbrite and search for hackathons. One of the most famous hackathons is Startup Weekend. If you can, join a Startup Weekend Hackathon.
Bottom line is, that by joining a Hackathon you not only meet great new people, practice your skills, but you also get a chance to add at least one piece to your portfolio.
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Tip #4 Freelance!
I know this doesn’t sound obvious, but think about it! If you already feeling comfortable about your skills and you are eager to get more experience, before you get your first full-time job, then there’s a lot of things that you can do. For instance, freelance for a low rate. You can go to websites like upwork.com or feelancer.com and just browse through the design briefs. If you find something that sounds interesting and matched your skillset, then apply to do the job! Just be upfront with the client, mention you are still gaining experience and you are going to use the project to build up your portfolio, which is why you would charge him or her less money than usual.
Tip #5 Redesign an existing product
This one is kind of the standard. Just redesign an already existing product. There are so many products out there that are pretty popular, and still have so many flaws. So just take one project and write your own brief. After that, solve the problem. Remember- showcase your process, don’t just post pretty pictures.
Tip #6 Enroll in an online course or Design Bootcamp
Most of the courses or bootcamps offer sample projects which you can use for your portfolio. The only downside is that if you’ve joined a popular course it might be that other designers out there have the exact same projects in their portfolio. Of course, everyone solves the problem in their own way, but it could create more competition instead of helping youstand out from the crowd. Here's a list of my top 3 Bootcamp recommendations:
In conclusion, I just want to tell you to pay attention not only to what you put into your portfolio but also to how you structure it. Make sure to first write an intro paragraph describing what the problem is and how you intend to solve it, after that just describe your design process- how you did the research, used some user personas, wireframes and then the last thing you want to do is to include some visuals, if you are applying as a User Interface designer.
Remember, being a designer is not only about the visuals. It’s about your process and about the problems you solve! So make sure, however, you build up your portfolio, to not only have visuals but also solve real-world problems!