How to choose your first design gig: startup, corporate, or freelance?

Artwork by Elina and Roman Novak

Coming from university or a UX career transition, you’ve spent time to perfect your portfolio and resume—what now?

You scroll over job boards, take a look at openings from big tech companies, and gloss over a few design agencies you’ve come across at Behance. On the other hand, some of your friends are building a startup, and they need a designer on board. You’re the designer they want because they see you doing “UI/UX” stuff all the time. There are plenty of startups out there to join too. Jumping ahead to market yourself as a freelance designer doing consultancy work is also possible.

What do you choose?

A. The “glorious” startup life

Artwork by Moncho Masse

Going the startup route is no joke. Whether you have a lot to lose or not, there’s nothing more exciting than a fast-paced dynamic environment where you have to wear multiple hats to get the job done.

Doing design at a startup would mean you will take on a broad role. You don’t just do wireframes or UI design, you might even be doing marketing work, then planning your next UX research move. You could be doing anything at any given point in time. This means there’s an opportunity to go for breadth.

You will be a design evangelist. The majority of your stay is about convincing your stakeholders that design is important. You have to do this yourself because the startup can’t afford any other designer aside from you and maybe two other persons. You might work on pitch decks, journey maps, survey work, and do the usability testing yourself too. You’ve purchased a copy of The User Experience Team of One from Rosenfeld Media, just because.

Your day-to-day is harsh. You work a lot of hours. You’re pushing your boundaries. You eat your cup noodles (of course, the pay isn’t that great! what do you expect?) and you realize doing design at a startup is actually hard. You’ll be quite involved with the business side of things as you and the startup struggle to get more funding so you could survive. The good thing about all this craziness? You learn multiple things spectacularly fast in a short amount of time.

Author: Alexis Collado

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