Schedule a call

How To Become A UX Designer With No Experience

In this article

It’s common to come across UX Job Descriptions that go something like this:

“A total of 8+ years experience with 4 years experience in designing and executing qualitative and quantitative research studies including moderation, analysis and final report presentation.”

And these unrealistic Job Descriptions are not only limited to senior or lead roles. Many junior roles tend to demand applicants to have had worked a certain number of years in the industry. Whether these few lines succeed in securing their dream UX Designers or not, what they definitely succeed in doing is scaring away aspiring UX Designers, especially ones who have had no prior background in design.

Such Job Descriptions convince us that we need to have had years and years of experience before even attempting to apply for our first UX job. It puts us in a constant state of feeling under-qualified and can even eventually lead to having Impostor Syndrome. In this article, I’ll talk about how you can be a UX Designer with no experience.

To talk about that, I’m going to share with you the story of someone who indeed, broke into the UX industry without prior design background. Maverlyn was our very first guest in our Leaning Into Change Webinar series conducted every Wednesday for free over the past year or so. She kicked the series off on a high note as she shared with me and over 70 other attendees about her unconventional start in UX, being someone who has had zero experience in the design field. You can watch her full webinar under the ‘Featured Interviews’ section here.

Maverlyn has an extraordinary career story of how she broke into UX Design as a non-design graduate. She was previously an intern at Razer, Shopee and Grab for almost an entire year before she got two job offers. from both Shopee and Grab. She is now working at Grab as a Product Designer. The following article is repurposed from our full webinar interview with her. Here are the questions we covered:

  1. What is your career story?
  2. What attracted you to become a UX Designer?
  3. How did you manage to join the industry as a non-design graduate?
  4. How long did it take for you to complete your first UX project?
  5. What did you learn from your first UX internship at Razer?
  6. What did you pick up from joining Shopee?
  7. How much preparation did you do to get into Shopee?
  8. How did you get into Grab?
  9. Is having a business background useful to you as a UX Designer?
  10. Any recollections on grueling questions asked during UX Job Interviews?
  11. What were the differences between working in Razer, Shopee and Grab?
  12. Why did you accept Grab’s job offer over Shopee?
  13. Does doing multiple UX internships as a strategy to get a full time UX job work for everyone?
  14. Has learning coding helped you as a UX Designer?
  15. Have you seen the companies you’ve worked in hiring someone older or from a non conventional background as a UX Designer?
  16. What’s the size of the Design team at Grab?
  17. Do you think you made a sacrifice by joining the tech industry, in terms of salary?
  18. What’s the magic number of case studies we must prepare in our UX portfolio?

If you have been doubting your capabilities to make a career switch into UX design and are unsure about the local UX landscape but would like to find out more about it, this is for you. Read on for Maverlyn’s answers for all of the above 18 questions!

Q1. What is your career story?

SMU business student

I was a business student in SMU and I actually chanced upon UX in the final years of my university. I remember I chanced upon it online, when I saw the term UX designer and thought that it sounded really interesting and cool, with an acronym in your job title and all. So I did some research about it and looked up what a UX Designer was and what they do. And I think while reading the description, something just resonated with me.

A fan of tech

I am also someone who uses a lot of tech products and I have a lot of apps on my phone. I think most of us are, and I really understood the importance of having a good user experience as a user, because if the experience is really frustrating, if it hangs on you, you don’t want to use that product anymore. So I think that made a lot of sense for me. So after that, I started reading more books on UX. I just started doing more research on UX, and met Daylon at the Intro to UX Workshop held by General Assembly.

Tried out online courses

So apart from that, I also did some online courses as well. And after doing the online courses, I realized how energized I felt, for the lack of a better term, after doing the courses. And that was when I really realized that I want to be a UX designer. So I just kept going after that.

Q2. What attracted you to become a UX Designer?

Solving problems

I think essentially, when you do UX design, or as a product designer, you are really just solving problems from a design perspective. You are just finding out what is wrong about experience, what can be improved on, and then finding solutions for that.

It’s a lot of fun to unpack the problem, problem statement, pain points and why the experience still exists. That whole solutioning part is very interesting to me.

Producing something tangible

As a business student, being well-versed in exploring a lot of case studies and doing a lot of unpacking was something that I just gravitate naturally towards. What I like about UX Design is that you’re actually producing something tangible. You’re making the experience more seamless for the users and if you see your users using your product, as they get through the steps, you feel that sense of fulfillment, which I really like. You feel like you have helped them in some way with the product. So I think there’s something about that sense of achievement and fulfillment that keeps me going at work as well.

Q3. How did you manage to join the industry as a non-design graduate?

Reading and doing online courses

Reading a lot, doing courses online, as well as familiarizing myself with the theories. I think it’s also important, especially for someone with no design background, to look at your current projects, and to see how you can make a digital product. So this is also a tip for you if you’re looking to break into UX, and you don’t have any UX or design background:

Look at your current projects, be it online courses or books, and apply your skills that you have learned to create a digital product.

Self-directed project

So for me, when I started out, I did a pet project. I came up with an app that helps you to save and reduce food wastage. In school, I had a module on behavioral science. For my final project I created the app while weaving in all the psychology and behavioral science theories that I learned in that module to justify why I was designing it in a certain way. My professor was chill with it.

Eventually, I documented that project in my portfolio, which I then submitted when I was looking for an internship and a job. So I think those were the things that I did to really apply what I’ve learned and use that to apply for UX jobs.

Q4. How long did it take for you to complete your first UX project?

2 – 3 months

I actually did this first project while I was an exchange. So I went to Canada for exchange. And during that exchange, I worked on this project. I documented it down too, I think it’s somewhere on Medium. I didn’t do it like eight hours every day. It was just something that I did whenever I had the time. And it lasted for about two or three months.

Q5. What did you learn from your first UX internship at Razer?

Familiarising myself with jargons

Razer was my very first UX internship. So before that, all my UX knowledge was from the online course and when it applied to my projects, my school project and everything. In that sense, I think the learning curve was really steep. As a result, I was exposed to all the UX jargons, like information architecture, content, inventory, card sorting, like all these like UX techniques. There was really a lot of learning on the job, because I really had no experience.

Conducting user interviews

And working with someone super experienced and strong in research skills like Angela (fellow colleague), I really learned a lot in terms of UX research, like how to facilitate interviews.Actually, during my internship, we facilitated interviews with Razer customers to really understand their consumption and habits like ‘why would they want to buy’ and ‘how would they browse on the recent web store’ and so on.

Competitor analysis

Apart from that, we also did competitor analysis. We would really examine the best practices for e commerce, and see how other websites categorize their categories. We would then reflect on why it is categorized in this way so that we can really understand the thought process of a customer going through this purchasing process. Seeing how we can take that and apply it to the Razer web store was the job of the department I was in.

Q6. What did you pick up from joining Shopee?


When I joined Shopee, what I think what I really picked up from Shopee was UI. UI stands for User Interface. If you have heard of UI UX, UX is about the thought process behind the experience and understanding the use cases, whereas UI is more of the look and feel. The colors and visuals of the product.

When I was in Shopee, there were a lot of great UI designers there and I worked with a lot of them. I really learned to have to have an eye for design. Because I was a business student. it wasn’t very natural for me to be very particular about the padding, the pixels and so on. So I think in Shopee, I really learned how to develop the eye for design and to really be more particular about the visual hierarchy of things. I learned how to make the information that is important be more prominent, and how to make maybe less important information be visually secondary compared to the primary information.

Good balance of learning in Shopee vs Razer

So things like that were some things that I learned in Shopee. I think it was a good balance because in Razer, it was very focused on UX research. And then in Shopee, it was also really honing and training that eye for design.

Q7. How much preparation did you do to get into Shopee?

Take-home Project

So far for Shopee, for the interns, they are expected to complete a take home project. I was given a week to come up with the UI for this project and the UX. The UX is more of documenting why I designed it that way. I was given a week to do it. And I remember I was took a lot of time for it. I think every day, I would put in hours to just come up with the design.

Vet with Experts

And I actually reached out to Daylon before I submitted it to get his opinion, because I feel that sometimes when you are working on something, you need a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. Because you tend to be very blind to your design and your process. So having him come into the picture and give me some feedback to critique on something as well was really good for me to improve further.

Q8. How did you get into Grab?

Standard interview

For Grab, when I applied, I submitted my portfolio as well. During the interview, you just go through your portfolio and design? I think that is quite standard for a UX interview, or for Shopee as well. After I submitted my design test, I was called in for the interview where I had to go through my work with my interviewer.

Q9. Is having a business background useful to you as a UX Designer?

Yeah, for sure

I feel that in the beginning, I always felt that since I’m not from a design background, how can I be a designer. But I think after doing UX design for one to two years now, I feel that, like I mentioned, UX design is not just about the aesthetics, but it’s also about solving the problem and understanding the root problem. It’s about answering questions like ‘Why is this happening?’ and ‘What are the pain points?’

The unpacking of the problem is something that I was very used to, being in business school. In business we often did case studies, where they want you to do evaluations. Being in business school also made me less afraid of the technicalities of everything. So I am rather comfortable with numbers. I think all this also helped in the design process.

Q10. Any recollections on grueling questions asked during UX Job Interviews?

Situational questions

I think a lot of interviewers tend to give you very situational questions, even for the design test. Sometimes they might ask you something like,

“Okay, if you’re in our company, and there’s this problem like maybe the conversion rate is falling, what would you do? Tell us how you will get to the answer.”

I think it’s not really about what will you design but more of the process of what you would do and where you would start first. So it’s really about the process and not the final screen, which is the aesthetics of things. That was one question that a few companies have asked. And I had to really think very hard for the answer.

Q11. What were the differences between working in Razer, Shopee and Grab?

Razer – starting from scratch

When I joined Razer, it was a very lean team. You can also use the analogy for a startup for Razer, since startups are also very lean teams usually. When I first joined Razer, it was really starting from the bottom, from ground zero, where we had to do the content inventory. Meaning we had to scan through the website and see where each button led to. It was about really understanding the website because before that there wasn’t any UX team for the e commerce site.

So Angela and I, the other UX designer that I was working with, made up the first UX team on that website. It wasn’t like the team was already there with all these resources for you. You really have to create those resources. So we created a Google site to capture all the design bugs that we see on the website and documented them down. And then we got people to look at it and give comments like ‘This looks a bit inconsistent, what can we do about it?’ and stuff.

In summary, the difference is the existing infrastructure and foundations that have been in place.

Q12. Why did you accept Grab’s job offer over Shopee?

A better fit for me

I was in Shopee first, on an internship, before going to Grab for my next internship. I feel that I really liked the design culture and the design process in Grab. And I felt that it was a better fit for me.

Job title

In Grab, we call them like Product Designers. So Product Designers actually wear many hats. You have to look at the UI as well and the UX. And you also have to think about the business needs. Because as a product, you’re not just looking at the UI design, you’re up another level. You’re like a Product Designer. So it’s really about understanding the use cases. I think it’s a more general, well rounded position that I felt was a better fit for me.

Q13. Is doing multiple UX internships like what you did a recommended strategy to landing a full-time UX job?

It depends

It was situational. I went via the internship route because when I applied for my internships, I was still a student in SMU. So I didn’t really apply for a lot of full-time jobs, because I knew that I had a remaining semester in school. For Grab, I did my internship during my last semester in school, so I did school and the internship full-time at the same time.

Q14. Has learning coding helped you as a UX Designer?

Understanding constraints

As a designer, you are not expected to code because we have the software engineers and the developers for that. But I still feel that if you know coding, it could be an advantage, because you understand the technical constraints to your design. Designing a fancy looking pop-up sometimes might not be very practical to build, because it might take too long. And sometimes the effort to reward ratio is not balanced.

Not a must, but an advantage

Hence, understanding the constraints will help because you build more realistic and practical products. And then it will be easier when talking to your engineers because you can understand them. The handoff is a lot smoother as well as you won’t get a lot of pushback. All in all, I think it’s good to have, but you don’t have to learn code to be a designer.

Q15. Have you seen the companies you’ve worked in hiring someone older or from a non conventional background as a UX Designer?


I would say because of the very short duration that I was in each company during my internships, I didn’t really get to experience looking at who has been hired or not. But in terms of non-design backgrounds, in Grab, there are a lot of designers who come from very diverse backgrounds.

I had one designer who was doing architecture, another designer who was a computer science student, and another in marketing and is now a product designer in Grab. So yes, in Grab I really met a lot of designers who came from very diverse backgrounds. And I think their diverse background is a way for them to value-add to the whole design process.

We all exchange ideas and leverage from our background. I think that is quite a beautiful thing.

Q16. What’s the size of the Design team at Grab?

4-5 people per team

It’s around 160. If you look at it as a whole, yes 160 designers is a big number. But it’s a big team because Grab has a lot of products and offerings. In my team, we only have about five people. My team focuses on a specific product in Grab.

So Grab has so many products – we have GrabCar, GrabFood, and GrabExpress. There are like a lot of different verticals. I would say that if you look at the micro level at the vertical level, then the team can be as small as 4 – 5 people.

Q17. Do you think you made a sacrifice by joining the tech industry, in terms of salary?


Short answer is, definitely not. A lot of tech products are booming right now. So inevitably, there’ll be a natural, higher demand for people to service these industries. So for New Age tech jobs, like Data Analysts or engineers, or UX designers, because there’s a higher demand, naturally, I think the compensation and the salary will be higher.

Q18. What’s the magic number of case studies we must prepare in our UX portfolio?

Quality over quantity

For my portfolio I had 3-4 case studies. I feel the quantity doesn’t matter as much compared to the quality of your work. So if you have maybe three that you feel really confident about and you feel like it’s great work with a good design process, I think it’s okay that you have just 3, although it might not seem like many.

Key Takeaways

How did you break into the UX Industry from a non-related background?

  • Learn and familiarise yourself with the theory of UX Design. Maverlyn did this by reading and taking online courses.
  • Take on your own self-initiated design projects. For example, in her own time, Maverlyn did her own pet project and created an app to reduce food wastage.
  • Tweak your own projects into a design project. For example, as part of her Behavioural Science project in university, Maverlyn designed a digital prototype, and used behavioural science principles to justify her design.

Has your background in business helped you as a UX Designer?

  • Every industry has its natural advantages.
  • Business school trained Maverlyn on how to unpack a problem and evaluate case studies, which was useful for UX Design because UX Design is essentially about solving problems.
  • Business school has also helped Maverlyn be comfortable with numbers, which is important for UX Design..

What are the differences working with different-sized companies (Razer vs Grab/Shopee)?

  • In small companies/start-ups, there is a lean team and less existing infrastructure & foundations in place. You tend to start bottom-up as the first UX team on the product/website. You will be responsible for creating resources from ground zero (e.g. identifying bugs, content inventory).
  • Different companies (whether large or small) also have different design cultures. Maverlyn ended up working in a larger company – Grab – because she liked the design role & design process. She was hired as a Product Designers and she liked the role because it was a more well-rounded position that was a better fit. In that role, she could wear many hats, being responsible for UI, UX and business needs.

Does learning coding help you as a UX Designer?

  • Although you are not expected to code as a designer (that is the job of software engineers and developers on the team), it is a good-to have.
  • Coding is an advantage because you can understand the technical constraints of your designs. You can understand how hard it is to build your design and estimate if the reward is worth the effort of building it, so you can design more practical and realistic products.
  • Learning how to code also helps with designer-developer handoff, as you learn how to better communicate with your developers.

Is there a preference toward people of certain ages/backgrounds?

  • In Grab, designers come from many diverse backgrounds (architecture, computer science, marketing).
  • Diverse backgrounds add value to the design process, because everyone is able to leverage from their own background to contribute.