Nick Boniface

By: Nick Boniface

Portfolio Clinic at UX Brighton

Reading time: 3 minutes

Please note this post was written by Ben Scammels

At the recent UX Brighton event, informative talks and case studies were put aside as the UXB team decided to roll out their annual Portfolio clinic.

The Fabrica venue was opened up to up-and-coming designers whether they were recent graduates seeking their first interview or experienced professionals making a career change to the UX and design industry. A number of local agencies and freelancers were on hand to provide advice, including Ribot, Makemedia, No Pork Pies, Brilliant Noise and of course ourselves at the The Unit.

An open desk format was in place allowing the ‘interviewees’ to drop in to any and all of the most appropriate teams who could help shed some light on their career paths, portfolios and generally how they could see themselves being applied to the design industry.

Myself and Paul were lucky enough to have 6 drop-ins over the evening and we were surprised to see such a wide range of individuals and backgrounds including:

  • Recent Psychology PHDs seeking a route to commercially apply their skillset
  • Junior digital designers with the conundrum of whether to learn code or not
  • Career-changers moving on from the design world and transitioning into UX
  • …and multi skilled dev/designers trying to realise where their 'bag of skills' could be best applied

Being from a ‘Jack of all, master of some’ background myself I was keen to listen and talk to the designer/coders to try and shed some light into a conundrum which I’m sure many professionals experience. The heated debate of whether ‘Designers should know code’ is one that has a had a lot of mileage over the years (and is one i’m certainly not attempting to rekindle!) - The term ‘web designer’ being a broad catch-all that could mean anything from producing visuals of digital products (Visual/UI Designer), planning user journeys (UX) or coding entire sites (Front End Development) and anything in between. These skillsets, although so closely connected in the context of a project can often be a million miles apart in terms of the background and skills required to professionally and successfully carry them out yet we continually see candidates with these overlaps. Without doubt; it can never be a bad thing to have more skills, however the realms of Visual Design, UX and Development can take several years to master and it’s debatable whether you can be REALLY good at all of these, certainly in the early stages of a career.

What is potentially more important is to understand and have a basic grasp of the job roles that exist around you in a company or agency - being able to understand the roles, needs and pressures of a Project Manager, UX, Designer, Front and Back End Dev puts one in a position where we can work way more cohesively and collaboratively with those team mates, normally to the benefit of the project. Last night, we left a worried candidate (a talented Visual Designer being grilled about his HTML & CSS skills for a new role) with the overwhelming message that he didn’t need to master Front End code in order to fulfill a job role as a UI designer for a software company. If he just absorbed enough so that he could ‘hold court’ with a development team, and as to not design impossibly-frustrating interfaces then that would be well with in expectations.

On the whole, the night was enjoyable merely from the standpoint of helping individuals out - it’s obvious that those without much commercial experience have a really hard time imagining how they can be positioned and apply themselves within a design agency or company. Providing some simple direction in terms of what roles and companies might suit them best seemed to help provide direction… and once you have direction and a goal it’s far easier to see the path to how you get there.