So You Want to be a Unicorn!

The first question I believe you need to ask yourself is “what is your goal?” Answering this question will help get you on the right track faster. One of the most common mistakes I see from designers is trying to be everything to everyone. UX and UI are very different and while there are surely many job postings that ask for the UX/UI mix, what they really want is a UI designer who has a UX understanding. 

Is it a UX position, Is it a UI position, or is it really the UX/UI unicorn that you’d like to pursue? For the record, in 15 years i’ve never met a designer that is exceptionally strong at both.

Once you can answer that question for yourself, here is my advice:

Present yourself as the designer you want to be
A UX designers portfolio is detailed with thoughts, process, sketches, wireframes, flows, journeys etc. They may or may not show a final product at all. A UI designers portfolio will show micro interactions, specific screens, full working prototypes and complete UI kits.

Make it personal
UX designers have to be really good at story telling. Tell the story of who you are and why someone should hire you. Don’t ignore the skills you’ve acquired as a graphic designer, make associations between the skills you have and the new skills you’ll use. When you walk through the door for an interview I should already have a good understanding of who i’m meeting.

Show me how you think, how you solve problems
As a UX designer you should be showing and explaining how you think. In fact, that’s the single most important part. Explain difficult problems and how you solved them. Talk about learnings and how they affected your decisions. Include what you expected and didn’t expect. Detail your research data from usability testing. At the end, explain what you would have done differently or what the next steps for the product might be. Additionally, it is always helpful to get an understanding of how you interact and work with product managers, developers and stakeholders.

Don’t play up the tools too much
This is where your experience comes in. Most likely you have a great understanding of layer based programs (illustrator, photoshop, sketch etc) from your current and past positions. Once you have an understanding of how they work, all new programs are simply a variation on that. You’ll be able to pick up new tools quickly. That being said, the types of companies you’re looking at, as well as the position, will determine which applications you should be familiar with. On the UX side, startups use sketch almost exclusively, mainly because they want that UX/UI unicorn. Larger companies and agencies use Axure, Omnigraffle and some type of prototyping (InVision, etc). You’ll also need a good understanding of excel. On the UI side Sketch, Illustrator, Photoshop and prototyping tools reign. For either, you’ll need to know Keynote pretty well.

Be yourself and let the company say No
Don’t try to be something or someone you’re not. Sure, you can embellish some of your experience with certain programs or processes but be sure you can back up your claim if need be. Tighten up your work, your resume and your elevator pitch and put your best foot forward. During interviews, be confident but humble, have an opinion instead of simply regurgitating the basic process (but understand the basic process - they will ask). Don’t go in thinking you’re not good enough or your lack of experience will hold you back. You have no idea what the hiring people are really looking for so let them say No. Don’t shoot yourself down.

Take what you can get
Probably the most difficult aspect is taking what you can get. As a Sr level designer, you might have to suck up some pride and take the entry level gig. You need to gain experience so take the freelance opportunity, contract, anything. Of course much of that is going to depend on your financial circumstances too, so you’ll have to make the best decision for you. In the end, you’ll be looking for a mid-level position. You’ll learn a lot in that role and gain great experience, and you’ll move up quickly.

I hope some of that helps. Of course this is only my opinion. In the end you’ll need to make your own decisions and tweak any advice to your own style and needs. Good luck!