Getting started as a UX Designer

I know a lot of people in the UX profession and they almost all have a background in something different. Several of my current and former team members had come from the technical arena as well as the visual design world.

My point is that people join the UX profession from all kinds of backgrounds and educations. Most of these people, if I had to guess, have characteristics that prop them up as a good fit for research/design/testing roles. Some of these characteristics include being curious, having empathy, ability to communicate well with and among teams, are intuitive, and enjoy learning.

UX Design Skills

So, now that you know the type of background needed to be a UX practitioner, let’s look at what a UX professional does day-to-day. There are 3 main areas of User Experience Design. The first is research, the second is interaction design, and the last is user testing.

Each area demands its own unique skill set. You will need to be productive and efficient in several skills for each phase of the design process in order to excel in any of the areas.

I’ve personally been able to work on a wide variety of applications and websites, including desktop and mobile. Depending on the type of work the industry you work in and whether or not the product is customer-facing or internal to the company, you will need to vary your skills in each of the main areas.

The roles will typically span across a variety of digital interfaces. In addition to the types of applications I mentioned above, there are also a lot of new and developing interfaces that are being designed for and will continue to need strong research and design to move the products forward in their respective industries. Some of these new interfaces include smartwatches, smart glasses, like Google glasses, and even refrigerators and other IOT devices.

For any of the listed digital interfaces, a UX practitioner must be versed in the following no matter which area of UX design they are employed. This includes being able to:

  • Present solutions and concepts
  • Perform and document user tasks
  • Build static prototypes/wireframes
  • Be collaborative
  • Conduct Interviews
  • Conduct usability studies
  • Create storyboards
  • Create user journeys and diagrams
  • Perform design reviews and heuristic evaluations

In addition to some of these general skills, some professionals will develop skills in front-end coding (HTML/CSS/JavaScript).

UX Design Education

Just like many people come from a diverse background in their career experiences, they also come from a wide variety with regard to education. The most sought-after degree for a UX professional to be successful, in my opinion, is Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). However, as I mentioned, there are several educational backgrounds you can choose to be successful. Many people come from a background in visual arts, psychology, and communication.

There are also several companies that offer UX certificates or coursework related to UX roles. You can find colleges and universities that offer these in addition to degrees.

Below is a great visual that explains the roles in User Experience Design.

User Experience Design Big Picture

How to Land Your First Role

A great way to break into the field is to find someone already connected. Align yourself to someone that is on the UX team at your company or that you know who works in or close to the field. A mentor is a great way to learn about the practice and will get you talking UX.

You may also be able to find internship opportunities inside or outside of your place of employment. If your company doesn’t offer UX as an internship or have a UX department, then look at your local college. Another great way to learn about UX and to meet people in the field is to go to local meetups. There are plenty of meetups in or around larger cities. Meet as many people and learn from them. Discuss your interests with them and see how they can help you learn more about specific needs in the local industry or in general.

In addition to learning about generalities in the field, you need to start practicing and honing your skills. You’ll need some experience with certain tools in order to be hired by someone. Learn and download Sketch. It’s not too expensive and has a small learning curve. You’ll also want to have a way to show off your designs. One way to do this is to create a website and portfolio. You can also use a tool like InVision to showcase your designs.

In Summary

While I covered a lot in this article, there is a lot more I didn’t get to. This should give you a good place to start, however. You can take aspects of this information and hopefully apply them to your situation.

Make sure you’re preparing yourself for the right area by talking to existing UX practitioners and start to educate yourself within a certain area. Focus on finding a mentor that can help you along the way and prepare to keep learning. The learning never stops. Pace yourself and take your time to build the right skills.