UX design is a craft, and like any craft, it needs practice and real-life experience. Without practice, you are just playing at UX design. There is no substitute for hands-on, practical experience.
Nowadays, it’s easy to learn the lingo and the approach of user experience design. Just take a couple of (online) courses and read a few books. This teaches you the basics – so you are told. Unfortunately, this will not turn you into a UX designer.
Mock projects demonstrate your grasp of the UX design process and your ability to apply design methods. They highlight your foundational knowledge and showcase your initial skills. However, mock projects alone can’t replace the invaluable insights gained from real-world, practical experiences.
Product development is a team sport, and user experience design cannot be practiced alone. UX designers are part of a larger team – their work contributes to a larger whole. The negotiations, back and forth, learning from mistakes, and iterations are essential and vital aspects of the job. You just can’t fake, skip, or do these things alone.
You need both theoretical knowledge and practical experience. Only real-world work will provide practical experience. A craft needs practice and grows through experience, and you’ll grow with it too.
This is not a chicken-or-egg situation, and I am not saying that you must be a designer to become one. Getting the theory right is a good starting point, but “learn this process and try it out by yourself” will only get you so far.
To truly become a UX designer, you need real practice. Courses are a great first step, providing a solid theoretical foundation. They can help you get started in user experience design, but you need to keep going and practice UX design in the real world.
Get an internship, land your first job, or shadow some experienced UX designers. Work with developers, preferably as part of a team, on actual products. Learn with and from others, and always seek feedback.
Practice the craft.