6. Creating Proofs

Understand what employers expect in applications and interviews

Overview

As a beginner designer, it's crucial for you to prove your capability as much as possible. This helps hiring managers better understand your potential and allows for them to take a chance on you.

As we mentioned before, the biggest and most impactful proof is previous work experience - the more similar it is to the job you’re applying for, the better. But most of you will be starting with personal projects or design-related education. Let’s talk about how you can bridge this gap of proof.

Defining Proofs

A proof is demonstrated evidence of your ability to design. Proofs can be of varying strengths.

Let’s look at an example of what two applicants submit to the same design job:

  • Applications for: UX Designer for a Dog-Sitting App
  • Candidate A (weak): I love products and really enjoy coming up with ways to make experiences better.
  • Candidate B (strong): I created a group babysitting app amongst my coworkers because I saw that finding highly vetted babysitters for working parents was hard. Although small, my entire team of 10 people now use my babysitting app to screen for babysitters.

Candidate B appears to be a far stronger candidate. Why? Because Candidate B provided a proof - or demonstrated evidence of the ability to do product thinking. Candidate A, on the other hand, simply stated that he enjoyed products.

Showing Proof

The industry standard way of showing proof is by having a design portfolio composed of case studies.

Here are some examples to draw inspiration from.

Create a Portfolio

If you don’t already, you should have a portfolio website that is dedicated to your design work. You should not be applying without a design portfolio.

Design portfolios, especially for beginners, have some basic requirements to meet. Let’s talk through them.

  • It should be easy to identify that the website belongs to you. If your name is John Smith, then pick some obvious URL, like “johnsmithdesign.com”. On your website, your logos, website titles, and other text-based content should indicate who you are on the front page.
  • You should be posting case studies, not just screens. You should not just be posting screenshots of your work without explanation. You should be posting case studies showcasing projects or products you worked on, with explanations of your process, designs, and any outcomes, successes, or positive results.
  • The design should be clean, functional, and usable. You don’t need to be flashy here, especially if you aren’t sure what the UI trends in the industry currently are. But the design of your portfolio is a proof in itself of your design capability; it should be clean, easy to navigate, and easy to read.
  • You should have 3-4 strong case studies at most, 1-2 at least. Don’t try to fill up your portfolio with as much work as you can. Many beginner designers put up bad projects, outdated work, and projects unrelated to design in an attempt to make it look less empty. You don’t need to do this - portfolios are meant to showcase your best work, not all your work. If you don't think a piece actually showcases your current capabilities, don't use it. If it doesn't meet standard, it will count against you in the hiring process.

Get or Make Experience

A case study is the industry standard accepted way of conveying proof in design, but what if you don’t have any experience to make a case study out of?

Like we mentioned before, experience is the strongest proof you can have. Focus on getting experience however you can, such as:

  • Doing a personal or side project website, app, or similar
  • Designing websites or apps for friends, families, or your network
  • Doing freelance design work
  • Taking internships, apprenticeships, or similar
  • Reusing previous experiences

Apply Realistic Design Execution

Side projects, personal projects, and freelance projects are often taken less seriously by hiring managers because they lack realistic constraints.

In the UX and tech industry, designs have to change and adapt to non-ideal scenarios: designs can be disliked by users; your decisions can be challenged by your colleagues; the scope of your design may be viewed as too big and complex for engineers to pull off in a reasonable amount of time; the number of users who signed up, purchased something, or used your product may be lower than the team anticipated.

But, if you are the only person on your team, such constraints rarely show up. It’s up to you to prove that you operated under a realistic scenario.

In your case studies, applications, and interviews, you’ll want to talk through the realistic constraints of your project. Make sure to include elements that we discussed in realistic design execution:

  • Have a problem you are trying to solve
  • Clearly identify your users
  • Show a design process based on user research, iteration, and testing
  • Design for MVP
  • Make sure your UX and UI work is polished
  • Get feedback and critique from peers and mentors


Checklist

  • Make sure you have a design portfolio composed of case studies
  • Get experience through freelancing, side projects, or personal projects
  • Make sure you apply realistic constraints to your projects
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