Advice for UX graduates: Be nice. Be curious. Consider what you want.

Students and UX graduates sometimes ask me for advice around getting into the industry. This is all very flattering, but it is a tricky thing for me to answer.

Hello imposter. May I look at your qualifications please?

No, I do not have a qualification in UX. I began my career working as a frontend dev building WordPress and Joomla sites, and I became interested in UX as I wanted to more involved in the decisions on what was being designed.

Frankly, It has been a while…

Time has done its thing. It has passed. With this passage of time, my perspective on the realities of being a graduate are fuzzy at best. So, be aware that I definitely don’t remember what it is like accurately, and it should be stated that I am an unreliable narrator at the beast of times.

Nice if you can get it.

Fundamentally, I consider timing, and luck crucial to any success I have had in my career. Chance and circumstance can be the difference. This is the forgotten reason why some people are successful and some other people are not. Even when both deserve to be.

A healthy work ethic and not being a total dick also helps to ensure you take opportunities that come your way. Additionally, it probably helps that I am sadly what is considered the default in society. A straight, white, male.

Be curious.

People exist that have a natural interest in the world. They like to know how everything works, and don’t need to hear this. For the rest of us, it is worth realising that you can choose to show interest.

Attention is the gift the listener gives when someone is speaking. Active listening is more than being quiet when someone is talking. You can decide to give your attention. Sometimes you don’t want to. That’s where the cost comes in.

Faking it.

Here’s a little trick I play on myself. Feigning interest in something forces me to find something I can relate to. This deliberate effort serves as a hook. For me personal investment is essential. Design is for other people, and finding ways to relate to the work makes it so much easier.

Some good, some bad.

The expectations now are probably much different than they were when I graduated. That said, some things probably haven’t changed. Companies are still looking for graduates who are able to do production work and “hit the ground running.” Good companies understand that experience and skills are not the same thing. Bad companies don’t care.

Your first job can inform the next one so it is a good idea to research and plan your career path. I didn’t do this, and relied on luck and the ability to drunkenly hustle an internship at a defuse event in 2011.

Big companies.

Big companies realises that people starting their first role in UX need to be supported. Not to say that there are no expectations on graduates when they start their first role. There are. However, graduates often tend to generate a level of expectation upon themselves that is unhealthy.


Agencies can take advantage of this expectation. They love a hungry grad coming in and working overtime. Agency work often expects this, but this way of working can lead to burnout, stress, and late nights. That said, It can also be a lot of fun, and a great way to learn how to do lots of different things. So it depends on what you want.

Practical tips:

Trying to be a good ancestor, here are some bits I’ve related to students.

Demonstrate an interest in design.

This may be obvious. However, it is important to show you care about design, and take an interest in what’s happening beyond graduation.

Work on your communication skills.

You need to be able to communicate your ideas clearly to get your point across. As it happens, other people can’t see inside your head.

Know the value of soft skills.

Soft skills are hard to acquire. Core skills like reading and writing can always be improved. Make friends with your local library. Additionally, I recommend you read, watch, or listen to stuff by people like these fine folk:

  • Erika Hall @mulegirl
  • Dan Saffer @odannyboy
  • Sam Ladner @sladner
  • Don Norman @jnd1er 
  • Kim Goodwin @kimgoodwin
  • Abbey Covert @Abby_the_IA
  • Dan Brown @brownorama
  • Christina Wodtke @cwodtke
  • Alan Cooper @MrAlanCooper

This is not extensive by any means, but you could do worse 🙂

Meet your design community.

And, this advice predates COVID but online events can be alright too. Typically includes free food and drinks Usually coffee and pastries for early ones, or beer, wine & pizza for later ones.

Finally, I wrote up some practical tips before on this site. I cannot bear to read what I thought three years ago, but maybe there are some useful nuggets here: