October 13, 2020No Comments

7 Ways to Gain Design Experience without a Job

Author: Derek Mei

Over the past few months of 2020, openings for jobs across all industries have been sparse due to companies taking a freeze on hiring during this time of uncertainty.

Within the field of design, some designers have noticed that there are fewer full-time positions available, especially for those starting their careers or looking for their first job in the field.

As someone who's newer to the field, what are some steps you can take right now to gain experience to build a solid portfolio of work or stand out amongst the competition once more companies start hiring again?

Note: The following tips have been curated by a team of junior, mid-level, and senior designers. Not every method will work for you, and we recommend a combination of the following to get the most out of this time. In addition to those following tips, continue to build up your skills and knowledge, as that's the most important part of the learning process.

1. Volunteer for Non-Profit Organizations

Not everyone has the freedom to volunteer because of time or money limitations, but if you do, this is a great way to gain experience. Regardless of whether you're looking for a job or if you're working full-time (or part-time), volunteering and using your design skills to help a non-profit organization is a great way to apply what you've learned to a real-world scenario. In addition, many organizations will let you use the work you do for them as a case study or piece for your portfolio.

Examples of non-profit organizations to look at include: Help with Covid, VolunteerMatch, CatchAFire, and AIGA's Design for Good Resources

Note: If a company asks you to volunteer your time for free to help them with their product/website/app but they're making money off of what they're selling, that's not volunteering. That's called unpaid labor, and you're most likely better off finding another position or role. Furthermore, these companies might promise you a return offer for a full-time position or tell you that you'll get good exposure for the work you're doing, but be cautious, as sometimes these promises can be empty or false.

2. Attend Hackathons and Designathons

Hackathons and Designathons are short events where designers (and others) come together to work on projects together. They're a great way to learn new skills while building projects with others who have similar or complementary skills.

Major League Hacking, one of the largest sponsors for Hackathons and Designathons

Some past Hackathons and Designathons include:

Hackathons and Designathons are a great way to meet and network with others, and also meet hiring recruiters from different companies that might be hiring. To find other Hackathons and Designathons, check out AngelHack, Devpost, and Major League Hacking.

3. Redesign an Existing Product

Redesigning an existing product is a great way to learn and gain experience as a designer. In particular, it'll help you think critically about how to improve an existing website or app that exists, and how to design under constraints that exist.

Daniel Burka's article on "Fake Designs" lists out several reasons why designing or redesigning a solution without being asked can produce real results - among which can include building out case studies for your portfolio and learning the intricacies and nuances of designing products.

4. Join a Local Community and Connect with Others

Gaining experience and learning new skills can also come in the form of learning from others and connecting with others who have been in your shoes. There are a lot of great online design communities online full of designers and mentors who are willing to volunteer their time to help other designers advance in their careers.

Design Buddies (on Discord)

ADPList (to find a design mentor)

5. Participate in Online Challenges

If you don't have ideas for projects, participating in online challenges is a great way to apply your knowledge to a problem someone else has identified or created to be solved.

Some of these challenges are merely for practice, but some other challenges are pain points someone else has that can potentially turn into a profitable side project or a valuable case study.

Daily UI


Product Design Challenges

Weekly Product Design Challenges

Adobe XD Creative Challenges

6. Join a Remote Team and Work on a Project Together

Another great way to get experience is by joining a remote team and working on a project together. Unlike a Hackathon or Designathon, these projects don't need to be completed over the course of a short time frame, so you'll be able to think through problems more methodically and take your time to do the right amount of research and discovery before jumping into a project.

Here are some great places to find teams to work with:



Open Source Design

7. Consult with Real-World Clients or do Freelance Work

If you have experience working with clients or feel confident taking the jump into the world of freelance work, consulting and working with real-world clients is a great way to build experience while also getting paid.

In addition to asking around in your network, other great sources to find work include localized Facebook or LinkedIn groups or sites like Upwork, AngelList, and Toptal.


You don't need to work for a company in order to gain experience. Although 2020 hasn't particularly been kind to everyone, there's still a lot of ways to make a difference in others' lives and connect with those around you while also building up your experience so that you can land that first job.

October 8, 2020No Comments

Leveling up your UX sketching skills

Author: Maggie Iglesias Pena

Sketching is one of the many important skills UX designers should refine. UX Sketching has various meanings, but for the sake of this article, it's meant to show how we can illustrate ideas, concepts, journeys, maps, personas, and flows used in our design process. It's not limited to just only how an interface could look like - it's covering every piece of the user experience.

I should emphasize that sketching is not drawing, illustrating, nor creating high-fidelity or fully-polished renderings. Sketches are meant to be quick and concise - essentially, as long as your sketch can convey an idea, it's probably a good sketch.

Why should you sketch more?

Sketching is meant to allow the sketcher to quickly come up with different ideas without having to worry about too many constraints. This is followed by many iterations and experimentations, which can be done by practicing diverging and converging ideas, or crazy 8s exercises.

With time, you should be able to develop your sketching muscles and even develop your own visual and sketching language to communicate with others. Focus on developing less abstract sketches that can be easily understood by others.

Other awesome benefits of developing your sketching skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Practicing for future whiteboard interviews
  • Generating a lot of ideas and get them out of your head
  • Collaborating better with other stakeholders
  • Iterating on ideas quicker

Before you get started, make sure you have a goal in mind. If you're looking to explore or ideate, consider what is the end goal, purpose, constraints, and maybe audience. This can help set the stage for how, what, and even where you should sketch. It also shows that there is a clear goal or focus, so that you don't end up going too off rails, or in a totally different direction than what you originally intended. As designers, we should know how to work with constraints, as often this also makes us more creative.

In this exercise, our goal will be to sketch out some general concepts of task flows which can be turned into wireframes. With that said, let's break down some task flow sketching approaches. If we break down how we sketch, to the atomic level, we end up with some basic shapes (as shown below).

The good news is if you know how to sketch these basic shapes, then you pretty much can sketch anything. When you think about user flows, or flows in general, we often see a combination of these shapes.

The breakdown:

When you put all of those shapes together, you end up with the skeleton of a user flow, which you then ideally fill out and cater to your specific project needs. You then use all of the shapes above to indicate different concepts such as decision points, connections, flows, direction, and self-contained processes.

A simple user flow example:

A longer user flow example:

User flows are usually a great way to start sketching some of these basic shapes, they don't require any fancy shapes nor advanced skills and can be one venue to practice your sketching skills while still moving forward with your project.

Now that you have those basic shapes down, and you're ready to move from a user flow into a wireframe, we can start looking into more detailed sketching practices. An important thing to note is that sketching is not about having all the details, you just need enough to convey an idea. So before you keep adding on to your sketches, take a moment and ask "is this enough to convey my message or what other details should I add to make this clear for everyone?"

When I asked a bunch of my non-design co-workers if they could sketch an email interface, this is what the came up with:

Notice how they used lines, squares, circles, and other simple shapes to convey the idea of an email interface. This was just enough to get their message across.

When sketching wireframes, start simple and simplify how many lines or shapes you put into a sketch. Think through why you need that detail and if it's truly necessary. That doesn't mean you can't keep adding more details as you continue to iterate or change the design, but by keeping it simple, you're also welcoming more ideas and iterations, not to mention that you can quickly move from one sketch to another. Just make sure that you're including the shapes you need based on your goal and previously stated constraints.

Here's an example using some of our previous shapes:

When it comes to wireframing, our shapes do take on a different meaning to better suit their purpose.

Now if we put it all together, we can apply that same knowledge and guidelines to larger diagrams and flows like the one below.

Don't be afraid to use this as an opportunity to add more annotations and connections as long as it helps clarify your thoughts and your sketches. Remember, it's about just enough details, but also your audience. I'm guilty of going in tangents and making annotations, could be around future explorations, or even questions I need to get answers to. Annotations and connections can also come in the form of arrows, directional lines, notes, numbers, and even gestures.

When ideating, keep sketching until you feel like you've achieved your goal, or even time-box your sketching time to really challenge your speed. But never delete nor erase your sketches, just keep going. Focus on refining and generating more sketches rather than fixing the one you're currently working on; this will only slow you down. By not deleting or erasing your sketches, you can easily follow your train of thought, as well as show off process. You never know when a sketch might come in handy!

So remember to keep sketching, keep practicing, and find your style; if you want to get better, start making it part of your process. Now go and grab whatever tool's the most accessible to you, whether that's a whiteboard, a tablet, an online program, or good old pen and paper, and start sketching now!

Learn More:

June 9, 2020No Comments


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