Advice to a student of IxD

Aug 19, 2018


young woman walking towards the Manhattan bridge wearing a backpack
young woman walking towards the Manhattan bridge wearing a backpack
young woman walking towards the Manhattan bridge wearing a backpack

I received an email from a student trying to learn interaction design. She had good questions about the value of higher education, projects that help you learn IxD, finding internships, and building a portfolio, so I thought I’d share my response.

My career has been opportunity-oriented rather than goal-oriented — I’ve thrown myself into as many things as possible, and just taken the next best step based on my available options at that point. So my general advice is, do whatever seems like the best option for now, just do something.

Re: schooling, it’s an investment not a liability, there are some skills that it’s really hard to learn on the job (namely typography and composition). I graduated w/about $20k in debt ($28k in today’s dollars), which I paid off in about 10 years. Art school was one of my most formative experiences, it was worth every penny. I didn’t learn any web skills, it was old-school graphic design, but I still rely on those formal and conceptual and soft skills.

You can also develop your eye through drawing books and tutorials, that’s how I learned when I was young. I have a number of students who are pursuing UX/UI with no visual skills and it’s a much bigger challenge. Hopefully if you got into an art school you have some already.

Then, re: projects that would help IxD skills, I’d read all the Material Design guidelines, and try to make an app following those guidelines (they’re super educational). Designing for the Digital Age is a great book I assign. Or I might try the new UX mini class that’s about to come out at (full disclosure: run by a friend), their coding classes are great. And I have 2 classes on Skillshare that cover UX and visual design (shameless self promotion, but they still get great reviews after 5 years). Make sure you’re MAKING something as you go through any classes or books, that’s the best way to learn, don’t just passively watch. Do a personal project or a volunteer thing or a freelance project.

I learned a lot by freelancing, through a lot of trial and LOTS of error. Tell everyone you know you want to be “a web designer” or “an app designer” or whatever they’ll understand, and you’ll often get referred to a friend of a friend. If you’re trying to build a portfolio, you can try to charge less in exchange for more creative control. Half my portfolio is still work I did for free or cheap so that it was work I loved. A lot of my paid jobs have been “resume jobs” where I was building skills but not necessarily portfolio projects, don’t be embarrassed to take those.

But re: internships, definitely follow companies and designers you like on Twitter, I would use TweetDeck and set up columns for “nyc design intern” etc and check it every day. There’s also a lot of jobs passed around in private Slacks, see what you can find and join. Ask to have coffee or an “informational interview” with anyone whose info you can get a hold of, NYC is so socially-driven. Go to AIGA and CreativeMornings events and talk to everyone who looks interesting. My friend said she built her whole network through AIGA events. Here are some links I sent my students:

Hope that helps! Good luck!

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