One of the best things about the modern age is that you can forge your own career path however you want to. You can start with what you have right now: your budget, available time and skillset.
This premise is especially applicable if you want to work in creative or tech fields, or where they overlap, like user experience (UX) design. If that’s the case, then you came to the right place.
Since you’re here it’s safe to assume that you’re already familiar with the ‘why’ part of starting a career in UX design, so we’ll dive into the ‘how’ side of things.
First and foremost, let’s start with some groundwork—introspection. Dedicate some quiet time to analyse your skills and characteristics. What can you do and which skills do you need to acquire?
Here’s a starter list of some of the inherent traits and competencies that will come in handy when pursuing a career in UX.
It’s no secret that user experience design is a multi-disciplinary field and spans a variety of roles and responsibilities, encompassing client relations, product management, software development, and cognitive psychology. So having this insatiable interest in all-things-new will really pay off on more than one occasion.
Are you able to detach from your design as the creation and see it through the eyes of a user? Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and anticipating your potential customer’s needs is key to creating a user-centred experience.
When you’re creating a product for a particular customer, the issues sort of multiply together with the design process. For example, with limited resources, what’s the quickest way to create the optimal experience that serves both the needs of user and business?
Resilience is defined as having the capacity to deal with constant change while continuing to develop. If you’ve worked in the field even briefly, you must know where I’m heading with this point already.
When working as a UX designer, the continuous feedback loops and testing needed for refinement, require you to be resilient and have some serious stamina. You need to take on all the feedback that is often given in the form of pure criticism.
That ground-breaking idea you’ve had doesn’t count for much if you have no way to express it simply and clearly. Remember: you’re the person who creates the concept, lays the foundation and brings the abstract ideas to reality. Often this means that you have to be able to simplify complex processes to make them intuitive and easy to understand for users and shareholders.
Think of yourself as the person who connects all the points of the user journey that together result in the overall experience. For this, you have to develop a bird’s view of how various processes, factors and steps work altogether in a systematic manner.
Are you flexible, adaptable, and a great team player? If yes, then you’re on the right track because often you’ll find yourself in the middle of the action. Your role requires people skills and ability to find the balance between several parts like, say, the implementation side when working with developers or end-users when conducting research.
Let’s make one thing clear: at the end of the day, user experience design is a field that is more technical and analytical than anything else. You’re bridging the gap between tech solutions and users.
You’ll need to regularly make out of the box suggestions, be up to date with the latest trends, and even be an early adopter yourself, so you can find the right and most innovative solutions.
Learn about the UX industry
A common misconception about working as a UX designer is that your job is all about being creative. Well, it’s not exactly the case. At least not in most part because on a day-to-day basis, you’ll be juggling all sorts of activities that are less visionary and more practical.
To get a feel for what it’s really like to work in the field, start by doing some background research and then reverse engineer your approach.
Research job descriptions — what a similar position entails?
Generally, most jobs as a UX designer encompass disciplines like information architecture, usability testing, pitching ideas, stakeholder relationships, and more. So spend some time analysing most recent job ads, and create a checklist to evaluate your current state of expertise.
Market state — what’s it like now?
Get an impression of what the situation and demand are on a broader scale. Read the reviews on websites like Glassdoor about satisfaction rates and salaries of a UX designer, get your hands on relevant industry reports, leading company blogs, and similar resources. You can hardly be overeducated before making a decision of starting a career anew.
This point might sound like a no-brainer, but having a stable foundation of UX knowledge is crucial to ensure your success down the line so that you don’t have Google information every time you get a new task.
Once you have a solid understanding of basic theories, you’ll be able to build up more elaborate concepts from there. Tools, libraries and frameworks will come and go, but the fundamentals will remain.
With having said that, at this stage, it’s very likely that you don’t know (yet) what you don’t know. In other words, to cope with the information overload, you need a solid plan of action indicating what to prioritise and where to start.
There are various free as well as paid online courses for your own convenience and pace. Go through websites like Coursera, Lynda, Skillshare or Softwarehow to find what’s right for you. However, don’t overcommit and make sure you’re selective — read the review and comment sections, or even better, if you get the chance, ask for some personal feedback.
Read, read, read
Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. From design thinking, user inclusion to branding and marketing, there are heaps of well-selected reading lists generated by the industry experts, so you can simply follow their footsteps by reading until you discover your own route.
Learn how to use the tools of the trade
A dressmaker can’t do her job well without knowing how to sew, right? The same goes here: you have to become a guru of the programs needed for your trade. Start off with learning how to use Figma and Sketch, and having some substantial Adobe Photoshop knowledge won’t hurt either.
Examine sites and applications
Begin by analysing award-winning and leading websites and apps — what is it that made them sticky and successful? What makes the interaction between user and product so fluid? By doing some testing, you can unveil the systems and patterns that made these products respond so well to their customers’ needs.
Find a mentor
To shorten your learning curve and to not make mistakes that can be avoided, speed up the process of becoming a UX designer by finding a mentor. The top experts might not have the time you need, but you can always approach designers who are a few steps ahead of where you want to be.
Spend time networking
It’s easier than ever to find professional networking events with Meetup and Facebook Events as well as seminars and workshops, so a quick industry search will bring up lots of prospective happenings in your town or city.
From fostering partnerships to inviting newly-met people who work in your industry for a coffee, all of this socialising is part of your journey of becoming a UX designer. It’s not necessarily vital, but it will definitely make your journey easier.
Get hands – on practice
Only practice makes it perfect. I’m sorry to say that, but there’s no other way to become a great UX designer than just getting practise and as much of it as you can. With some unpaid internships and volunteer work in your pocket, you will be able to gain competencies you need and start crafting your portfolio with projects of varying scopes.
Start a portfolio
Your portfolio presents all the skills you’ve learned and provides really valuable insights into how you work as a UX designer. When considering what to use as part of your design portfolio, a short answer is—only your best pieces.
But if you’re just starting out and you don’t have much work just yet, start building your portfolio while taking courses as they help you create a structure as well as provide you with some professional advice.
Choose a niche
Now it’s time to think about your personal brand and its positioning and distill specific services you’re going to offer. You can’t be a jack-of-all-trades without being a master of at least one. That’s especially the case in this global and highly competitive industry, so make sure you find your place under the sun.
Do you want to be a digital designer, a product designer or a user researcher? Do you want to work as a freelancer or at an agency? You can choose a design direction by merging what you’re good at and what genuinely interests you. These are just a few things you might want to consider before committing to a direction.
So as you can see, there’s no one set of magical steps that would guarantee you landing your dream job in user experience crafting. But that’s also the beauty of the pursuit as you can tailor your path as you go.
If there’s one key takeaway we want you to leave with is this: being a UX designer is not a static and fixed profession — it’s a role that’s never boring as it’s ever-changing. To succeed, you have to be ready to evolve with it too.