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Should I Become a UX Design Intern?

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9 min read
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February 18, 2021

There’s nothing like being on the job. You can spend months or even years tinkering around with UX ideas, but to truly grow as a UX designer, you need hands-on experience. This is why you need to seriously consider becoming a UX design intern.

In this post, we’ll give you an honest look at UX design internships. We’ll explore the value of such internships to help you determine if it’s worth your effort to pursue.

Let’s get started.

1. What is a UX Designer Internship?

An UX design internship is a fixed, short-term work arrangement. Most internships last from three to six months. However, some internships last for 12 months. An internship provides an intensive, hands-on learning experience. UX design internships are generally offered to students or recent graduates who are eager to pursue a career in UX design but have no prior real world experience. With an internship, a designer can explore several facets of UX.

2. Why Get an Internship Instead of a Job?

Have you ever come across those job applications that say the two dreaded words, “experience required”? Your passion projects don’t count. Employers are looking for candidates who have real world experience, and that’s the one of the biggest reasons to seek out an internship.

But when it comes to hiring for an internship, employers relax those requirements. In fact, they hire knowing that you have no experience.

While you could try for a job at the same company, it may be smarter to try for an internship, especially if the company that you want to work for offers it. When you work as an UX design intern, you’ll get an advantage.

First, you’ll have amassed real world experience that you can add to your portfolio. Also, you can add the employer’s name to your resume.

Second, you’ll have the obvious advantage when it comes time for the company to hire a full time junior UX designer. They’ll give preference to their interns before looking for candidates outside of the company. Internship gives you a foot in the door. Now, you just have to push the door wide open. You’ll do that by being the best UX design intern ever. But more on that later.

3. What are the Benefits of Becoming a UX Designer Intern?

Let’s explore the benefits of becoming an intern.

An Up-Close Look at the UX Industry

When you sign up for an UX design internship, you get a chance to see what it’s really like to be a UX designer in-house or at an agency. You may love it. Or you may hate it. But you won’t know unless you’ve experienced it.

Work on Real Projects

Up until getting an internship, your projects have been for school or for passion. But when you get hired on at a company, you’re not in play time. You’re in real time, where you are actually hands-on with a live project. This is so exciting.

The Liberty to Make Mistakes

Because you’ll be hired on as an intern and not a full-fledged employee, your employer has lowered their expectations. In this case, that’s a good thing. You have more liberty to be in learning mode. You’re not expected to know it all or do it all. You can make mistakes (within reason) and not worry about getting fired. Interns are really living the life.

First Dibs at a Permanent Position

Internships aren’t just for you. They’re also for the company. Companies look at internships as a way to source permanent talent. As an intern, you’ll have a chance to impress your employer and land a permanent gig. After all, they know you and they’ve trained you in their way of doing things, so you’re the perfect new hire. Low risk.

4. Are There Any Potential Drawbacks of Becoming a UX Designer Intern?

Internship is not the perfect solution for every UX designer.

Let’s talk about money, honey.

Money (or the lack thereof) can be a potential drawback to internship. A little more than 50% of internships in the US are paid. But that means that almost half of internships are unpaid.

That’s a buzzkill.

Who wants to work without getting paid for it?

Well, it may not be as bad as you think.

You’re not getting paid currently, and yet you’re still working hard at improving your skills as a UX designer. If you happen to land an unpaid internship, you can think of it as an extension of what you’re already doing. Except, you’re getting way more experience. And it’s real world experience. And it’s experience that you can add to your resume and UX portfolio.

So, working unpaid may be worth it.

But that decision belongs to you. There are many internships that do pay.

5. How to Find the Right UX Design Internship

Be prepared. Finding an internship as a UX designer can be a challenge. That’s because there’s a limited amount of internships available and a huge pool of new UX designers who are competing for those positions.

But don’t get discouraged. You can land a design internship if you impress the socks off of a potential employer. Here’s how to do that:

Get Your Portfolio Together

Your portfolio is a game-changer. It’s the most important marketing tool at your disposal. You can get an amazing internship opportunity just off the strength of your portfolio, so it’s crucial that you have a great one.

Even though you may not have real world experience, you do have experience in design. Whether you’ve re-imagined an existing product or developed a new product from scratch, those are all valid works to add to your portfolio.

The goal of your portfolio is to communicate who you are as a designer. Your employer will be looking for a solid compilation of your design ideas, so be sure to include a minimum of two case studies that show what you can do.

Here’s our advice on how to create a UX portfolio.

Examples of Live UX Portfolios

Now, let’s take a look at 4 amazing UX portfolios and what we can learn from each of them. You can start building your portfolio for free by clicking here.

Liam Madigan

Liam Madigan has previously interned at PayPal and Two Bulls. His beautifully designed portfolio features full-length cover images of case studies that pull the visitor in.

Here’s why this UX design portfolio is awesome:

  • It’s organized. Take the reader on a journey by organizing the steps you took to solve a UX problem.
  • It balances storytelling with visuals. Don’t just share screenshots and prototypes on your portfolio. Also include storytelling to show your thought process and take the reader along with you on the journey. Images also add context to your case study.

Stephanie Liu

Stephanie is an interaction designer who’s interned with Amazon. Using a mix of illustration and emojis, she cleanly and colorfully lays out her design projects.

Here’s why this UX design portfolio is awesome:

  • Personalization. Visitors get a good sense of who Stephanie is as a designer, based on her choice of colors and design.
  • Here’s why this UX design portfolio is awesome: Stephanie includes her email address and an invitation to reach out on every page of her portfolio

Emily Frebowitz

Emily is a product designer who’s previously worked at Johnson & Johnson and Facebook. Her portfolio includes touches of humor and human connection, as noticed by her headline: “Em is a product designer who can also make a mean bagel.”

Here’s why this UX design portfolio is awesome:

  • She introduces herself. She shares exactly who she is right away (i.e. an experience and product designer).
  • It’s short and sweet. She provides a quick blurb about each product she’s included in her portfolio.

Adam Syed

Adam is a UX design intern at Tesla. The first thing that stands out about Adam’s portfolio is its stark black background. The color story is simple and minimal, allowing his case studies to pop off the page.

Here’s why this UX design portfolio is awesome:

  • It’s not wordy. It lets imagery do the talking.
  • Animation. He adds subtle animation components to his design, which pull the visitor in.

Remember, you can build your own UX portfolio for free here—check it out now.

Create a UX Resume

Oh yeah, even as a UX design intern, you also need a resume.

You may not have a lot of experience, but you still need a resume. Here’s why: Many recruiters ask for resumes (or CVs) as part of the application process.

If you don’t have a resume, your application may be rejected even before it’s reviewed.

If you don’t have any experience as a UX designer, focus on the following areas:

  • A bio – Keep it relevant to UX and explain why you’re passionate about it
  • Your education – Include any degree programs, along with bootcamps, or online courses.
  • A list of skills – What tools do you know? What soft skills do you excel in? Add these to your resume.
  • Achievements – Highlight any awards, honors, or certifications you may have received.

(If you land the internship, you’ll be able to add that company to your resume.)

Remember that your resume isn’t just about your experience, but also how you share that experience. If you’re an expert in user experience, your resume should reflect that. It should be easy to read and contain no typos or grammatical errors.

Network Your Butt Off

It’s all about who you know and who knows you. Get to know fellow UX designers. Follow them on social media and strike up a conversation. Don’t just lurk like a fan. Engage like a student. Ask questions.

Also get involved in UX design communities. We offer free access to a great community here at the Designership. Get on and get involved. Building a name for yourself starts now, even if you’re new to the game. The more awareness you can build for yourself, the better. And developing friendships with others in the industry will keep you in the know about the UX industry, including new internship opportunities.

Also get active on LinkedIn. This is the perfect place to introduce yourself to recruiters and potential employers.

Get to Know UX Tools

You may not have experience on the job, but you should have experience with the most popular UX tools. Think Figma, Adobe XD, Balsamiq, Invision. These are all top tools in the UX industry, and you need to know about them. Most recruiters will look for applicants with experience in common UX tools.

And here’s the good news: Most of these tools offer free plans. So there’s no excuse not to get familiar with these tools.

Get Familiar With UI Design

Here’s one way to differentiate yourself from other UX design hopefuls: Improve your user interface (UI) design skills. Most companies prefer to work with UX designers who have a good eye for UI design. If you can design functional and enjoyable experiences that are easy to use, you’ll definitely impress.

UI skills includes understanding color and typography combinations, designing buttons, adding appropriate animation, and including images that delightfully engage the user.

Look for Internships Constantly

As the saying goes, you must strike while the iron is hot. Be on the lookout for new internships and apply immediately. Don’t wait until some later date when you have your stuff together. Get your stuff together first and then you can always be ready when opportunity calls.

Here are a few great places to start your search:

Don’t Just Look for Big Names

What UX designer doesn’t want to work for Microsoft, Google, or Apple? But don’t just go after those bigger companies that everyone knows about. You can learn plenty from a smaller firm, even those local to you. Entertain every internship opportunity. Who knows? It may be the right fit.

Choose the Type of UX designer You’d Like to Be

It may be too early to decide for sure, but all UX designers naturally gravitate towards one area of UX design. The five main areas of UX are:

  1. Research
  2. Strategy
  3. Information Architecture
  4. Interaction
  5. Product/ Service Design

Which area appeals to you? Consider applying for an internship that offers concentrated exposure to the area that you want to learn about.

Final Thoughts

If you can land a job as a UX design intern, you’ll be leap years ahead of other new UX designers. Not only will you learn a lot, you’ll also have the advantage when it’s time for the employer to hire a permanent UX designer. While there are some unpaid opportunities out there, every internship will provide you with solid “real world” experience. You can use this experience to catapult your career to the stratosphere.

Michael Wong
Founder of Designership & z0 Studio

Mizko, also known as Michael Wong, brings a 14-year track record as a Founder, Educator, Investor, and Designer. His career evolved from lead designer to freelancer, and ultimately to the owner of a successful agency, generating over $10M in revenue from Product (UX/UI) Design, Web Design, and No-code Development. His leadership at the agency contributed to the strategy and design for over 50 high-growth startups, aiding them in raising a combined total of over $400M+ in venture capital.

Notable projects include: Autotrader (Acquired. by eBay), PhoneWagon (Acquired by CallRails), Spaceship ($1B in managed funds), Archistar ($15M+ raised) and many more.

You can learn more about me on:
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