How to get into a UI/UX niche with no experience
You found a niche you like.
But you haven’t done any projects related to that niche.
What do you do?
Here is how to get into it.
After you learn that, you are never afraid of ending up without a job or your niche dying out.
Sadly, so many of us get stuck as a generalist designer or in a supersaturated niche that is difficult to get high paying gigs.
It’s simply fear of failing — looking stupid in front of your previous clients or your peers.
Or they remember how much effort took them to earn their current spot and you can’t imagine doing that all over again.
But don’t worry. You can start small and gradually get into any new niche that you like.
Here are 4 ideas on how you can get into a new UI/UX niche.
1. Reframe old projects
Start with the lowest hanging fruit — old projects.
Review all your old projects. Is there a project that you can reframe and rewrite the case study so it fits the new niche?
Here is an example.
You have done a design for a fintech app for NGOs to get donations.
This type of project could be framed in two different ways. You can either present it as a fintech project focusing on the problem you are solving — donations payments. Or you can frame it as a purpose-driven project, focusing on the market you are serving and the impact purpose-driven companies can have given the right tools.
You can frame it as a fintech or purpose-driven tech.
Of course, be mindful of not crossing the line and manufacturing things that don’t align with reality. You will know it, just be honest with yourself.
Always start with what you already have.
2. Learning in public
Become the niche source and build credibility by association.
Start doing the research and curate resources and how-to best practices.
Imagine you are already hired by a client from that niche. What’s the first thing you do? Research.
One, you do research for yourself to get familiar with the niche. Two, you do research to help your client make better decisions about their product.
So, do those types of research but in public — on social media or in communities where the niche hangs out. This way you build credibility as an expert in the niche but also learn all about it at the same time.
What top consulting agencies often do is produce industry reports, pulling numbers and trends together to paint the picture of the current situation and where the industry is headed. You can do the same on a smaller scale for your chosen niche.
Be the niche source by learning in public.
3. Permissionless project
Design for your dream niche client without permission.
People also call this spec work or personal projects.
I’m sure you have seen this all over Behance and Dribbble, people doing a visual redesign of existing apps.
Here is the thing.
This doesn’t bring much value to your dream client. They already have established a visual brand that users recognize and there is no rational reason for them to jump into a full redesign. The only time this happens is if the company decides to pivot into a new market, such as what Facebook did with Meta. Or they get acquired by a bigger company and they need to align their brand with their new owner.
So here is what you do instead.
Design a new revenue stream or add trending tech.
Design a new feature that gives the opportunity to your dream client to make more money from existing users. That will get their attention. And you will be seen as a money-making asset instead of an expense.
The other option is to redesign their product by adding a trending tech that can help them expand to new markets. Think crypto, wearables, biotech, robotics, IoT.
You get the idea.
Show your dream client how they can make more money or future-proof their product.
4. Free project
Offer a free project to a company from the niche in exchange for social proof.
Free work!? No way!
I know, I’m against doing free work as well unless you are super strategic about it.
So here is what you are looking for.
First, the client needs to be a clear example that represents the niche you are after. Don’t settle for clients that are somewhat related to the niche.
Second, the only goal of this project for you is to get quality social proof.
This means a client testimonial. Agree in advance with the client that if they are happy with the job, they will write you a testimonial.
Make sure the testimonial contains the challenge you were tasked to solve and the satisfaction or results the client experienced from your work. You are looking for a clear ‘before and after’.
You could even write it yourself and ask for their approval to save them time.
The other piece of social proof you looking for is clear before and after results. This could be visual if you are focusing on UI design. It could also be quantitative, for example, you improved the onboarding flow, resulting in a 2% increase in paid customers per month.
Make sure you don’t forget to record the before state and follow up in a month’s time to get the after state.
How do you pick?
These 4 are great, but how do you pick so you don’t waste your time on the wrong thing?
If you are running out of money and don’t have a month or two to work on any of this, I understand. I’ve been there.
So, in this case, you tap into your existing relationships with friends, family, ex-schoolmates, ex-colleagues, and friends of friends, and get what you can. This is about survival, not getting into a niche.
Do the niche ideas in your spare time.
If you have some time but will need some work soon, start with #1 and #4. These two will require you to be proactive and reach out to potential clients or respond to freelance job ads.
Ideas #2 and #3 take a bit more time to see results but are great long term strategies for getting discovered and getting a steady stream of client requests.
Get into the habit of doing #2 and #3, and you will never be out of work.