The rapid development of new technologies and the growing awareness of the importance of well-designed products means that there are more and more offers for UX designers in the IT industry. The names of these jobs are innumerable: UX designer, UX/UI designer, UX researcher, UX writer. That’s because the functionality of created solutions concerns not only the visual layer but, above all, the functional one, including content.
The question is how can you become a UX designer? Many routes will lead you there and none of them is better or worse. You will not find clichés here because it is still a dynamically developing field.
You should customize a learning path that suits your preferences. What is most important is that no matter where you start from or how many years of experience you have, it’s an approach to learning with an open mind. If you remain willing to learn even after a few years, you will undoubtedly be a good designer who will continuously expand your horizons and skills every day.
In this article, I will introduce you to some proven ways to become a good UX designer.
What is user experience?
The user experience consists of many aspects, but in a nutshell, you can define them with all the interactions a user has in while contact with a product or service.
The task of a UX designer is to design solutions that will be useful, simple, and easy to understand, which will translate into a mobile application or website that is comfortable for the user. When designing, you should also think about readable information architecture and well-tailored interactions with the activities in the app or website.
Although the term user experience is often used in the context of digital products, it may also apply to physical products and services.
Why should you take care of good UX in a digital product?
UX designers solve users’ problems and create efficient user flows so that using the application and achieving its end goals is as easy as possible (e.g., quick and straightforward search of relevant information).
Their role is also to help business clients transform their visions and ideas into user interfaces that will not only meet business goals but also help the application’s users. They also conduct business workshops and usability tests.
Working on creating digital products, it’s not only about having the next pretty case study for your UX design portfolio, but rather it’s all about building useful products that solve real user problems.
What qualities and skills should a good UX designer have?
There is a lot of talk about what personality traits a good designer should have. The most important is the ability to communicate clearly and openly.
Being a UX designer is a rather specific role at the interface between users, stakeholders, and developers. For this reason, it is crucial to be able to communicate efficiently, be open to feedback, but also have a lot of patience in order to translate design decisions and process steps. The ability to actively listen will be a considerable advantage, as will being open and empathetic.
It is a misconception that a UX designer is a person who must be more artistically talented. Here, the sense of aesthetics, the ability to think analytically, and communication at a high level are much more useful. It is also valuable to approach each topic with an open mind, ask questions, and have a willingness to learn regardless of their level of advancement.
And the last important aspect, if you are wondering how to become a UX designer, you should remember that mostly it is all about the approach to learning new things.
Develop soft skills and knowledge instead of being focused on design tools only. It’s easy to learn how to use a tool, but much harder how to handle workshops, usability tests, or how to create useful websites.
What are the essential responsibilities of a UX designer?
The scope of UX designer activities is wide, but usually includes:
- Desktop research and analysis
- UX research
- Creation of functional requirements
- Workshops with stakeholders and users
- Analysis of user and business needs
- Creating information architecture
- Creating wireframes and user flows
- Creating prototypes and mockups
How to become a UX designer?
Below are some hints on how you can achieve this in an effective and personalized way. Choose the ones you like more and try them out. Remember what’s more important than how to build a UX design portfolio or become a designer is a general approach to learning new skills, your engagement in the job, and time you spend on gaining new knowledge.
Get the basics
Going to university is a more time-consuming way, but the advantage is that you’re able to acquire very structured knowledge. It is not a mandatory point in the career path of the UX designer, but it can be very helpful. Often people with majors in areas such as Design, Sociology, Psychology, Programming, Architecture, and Cognitive Science go the UX design route.
Whether you want to spend at least three years studying is up to you. University is a good starting point for useful knowledge, meeting people from the design industry, and even building your UX design portfolio.
Courses and workshops
One of the most effective methods of learning is through stationary training, especially when it comes to topics such as conducting workshops, conducting research, or teamwork. It’s a good complement to online courses or books or an alternative to studying.
Online seminars and courses
Coursera and Udemy are one of the most valuable platforms that offer excellent quality design courses. There you will find both paid and free materials and videos. Norman Nielsen Group also offers interesting online seminars. These are usually divided thematically and mainly into usability and user research. Courses from the Interaction Design Foundation are also rated well.
Books are a great way to build theoretical knowledge that you can later use at work or to build a UX design portfolio. Below are some items you should start at the beginning:
- Steve Krug – Don’t make me think
- Don Norman – The design of everyday Things
- Jaime Leivy – UX strategy. How to devise innovative digital products that people want
- Peter Morville, Peter, Louis Rosenfeld – Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
- Kahneman Daniel – Thinking, Fast and Slow
Podcasts are a popular medium, increasingly for design content as well. Listening to podcasts on the way to work or while running is a great way to learn. Below you can find a couple of interesting podcasts about UX design.
If you prefer listening and watching instead of reading, try YouTube channels. Here are some suggestions that focus on the overall approach to design, how to become a designer and UX basics.
The most common source of knowledge about user experience, how to become a UX designer, or how to build a UX design portfolio are articles. You can find many different websites where knowledge is valuable. Here are some of the most popular suggestions. You can also check articles about design on our blog.
- Smashing Magazine
- Nielsen Norman Group
- UX Collective
- UX Booth
- Cognitive UXD
UX communities and messengers are mainly used to solve specific design problems. There you will find many questions about the challenges that other designers encounter on their way. Getting to know the answers and thoughts of others can be very informative. You can also ask other people how to become a UX designer, get inspired by them, or ask for feedback.
Research and analysis: the work of UX designers is based on concluding analytical data: qualitative and quantitative. At the very beginning, you probably don’t have to be a master of analytical tools, but it’s worth learning about their functioning. I recommend tools such as Google Analytics, Hot Jar, Google Surveys.
Design: creating wireframes, clickable prototypes, or even mockups is the fundamental responsibility of UX designers. There are a lot of design tools on the market, and everyone can find something suitable for themselves, e.g., Balsamiq, Axure RP, Sketch, Figma, UXPin, Invision Studio, Zeplin, Adobe XD and others. You will find more inspiration in our other article.
Information architecture: It’s also worth learning how to present information architecture in the right way. Miro, XMind, or draw.io will be useful here.
Check out other tools at uxtools.co.
Build UX design portfolio
When you don’t have any or too much experience, building a UX design portfolio can seem very difficult. Do not worry! There are several ways to present your thinking and design to a potential employer. If you already have some theoretical foundations, then you can start to create it.
A well-designed portfolio should include case studies, which are actual projects that show your way of thinking. You should break down your project into prime factors and explain the design problem from the beginning.
After determining what was a challenge for you, try showing your inspirations, data from desk research, such as competition analysis, personas (presentation of the product’s stereotypical user along with their frustrations, needs, interests), user flows (showing users’ paths in the application), a drawn-up information architecture, as well as wireframes (schematic representation of interface functionality, usually monochrome). Importantly, in addition to the visual part, you also need descriptions in a concise form to make the whole thing understandable. Avoid, however, very long blocks of text that nobody will have time to read.
If you conducted tests while designing the application or website (even those on friends or family), it is also worth including a description of recommendations or improvements in the case study. This part is essential when building a UX design portfolio because the ability to make decisions justified by data is the basis of the work of user experience designers. For this reason, the description with an explanation is a must-have in every portfolio.
If you don’t know where to get ideas for a case study, you can use the Weekly UX Challenge newsletter, where you’ll find tasks to do in the field of UX design. Sharpen Design Challenge, or UX challenge are similar tools, where you receive problems to solve, e.g., how to find matching jeans in the online store and how to help customers.
Get real experience
This is a great way to learn quickly under challenging conditions (teamwork, demanding topic, short time), meet new people, and test your skills in practice. Find the nearest hackathon (e.g. on Facebook or Meetup.com) and try it out.
Practical training is the most valuable experience. Prepare your UX design portfolio, create an accurate profile on Linkedin, and view offers of internships and apprenticeships in your city.
Find a mentor
Learning and developing under the guidance of an experienced mentor is a way to make quick progress. Having a person who will answer questions, help overcome doubts, and point you in the direction of self-development is very valuable at the beginning of the road but also helpful at its later stages.
It’s much easier to become a good specialist if you have clear directions and advice, so contact with teachers, mentors, or other designers are highly recommended. You can search for them in courses, studies, or by writing on Slack or Quora.
Activities in an NGO or startup
Being at the beginning of the road and striving to gain practical experience, you can try to support a startup or non-governmental organization that cannot afford to pay the time of an experienced designer. Getting real experience is invaluable.
Redesign existing solutions
Don’t know how to get projects for your UX design portfolio? Choose one of the services you use – look at its website or mobile application. Think about what can be difficult and redesign the product by describing your thinking step by step. It could be useful for you while creating a portfolio.
Meetups and conferences
Design meetups and conferences are a great way not only to deepen your knowledge of UX but also to meet other designers, network, and talk about design. You can search for interesting events in your area using events on Facebook or Meetup.com. To broaden your horizons, you might want to consider going to an event indirectly related to UX design, e.g. business or analytical.
Find a job
If you’ve already mastered the theoretical foundations, worked with a mentor and built a UX design portfolio, it’s time to find a job. For this purpose, you can use Linkedin or websites strictly intended for designers.
The last point is also the most important. Even once you’ve already become a UX designer, you should never stop learning if you want to be a great designer.
It’s a good idea to find a mentor for the long term, read articles and books regularly, listen to podcasts, and attend events. This industry is rapidly developing and you have to stay on your toes to not get left behind.
What’s still worth learning? Here are some directions you can take to expand your design knowledge: UX research, analytics, service design, business strategy, information architecture, interaction design, and inclusive design.