3 Jun 2020
The next time you meet a UX designer, ask them what they did professionally before making the switch to the design world. Confused? More often than not, it has been seen that most designers migrate from diverse backgrounds such as teachers, psychologists, product managers, engineers, or even microbiologists into this field "accidentally".
So, if you're thinking about a career switch or are in the midst of a midlife career change and wish to join the ever-growing UX/UI designer community, you're not late to the party. In this blog, we will look at how you can build a successful and rewarding UX career, right from scratch.
We bet that every aspiring UX designer will, sooner or later, find themselves asking this all-important question: Can anyone learn UX?
Here's the long and short of it: Learning UX is not rocket science as long as you have the right "design mindset." Additionally, getting a few skills under your belt and honing a couple of design tools can speed the learning process. According to research by Nielsen Norman Group, "The backgrounds of UX practitioners are diverse, although one thing was common: the majority had a degree." So whether you're an absolute novice or a design enthusiast, with a certain amount of passion and curiosity, UX can become your calling.
To that end, let's look at what it takes to become a UX designer that's worth their salt, soft skills, and sketch!
“How do I explain what I do at a party? The short version is that I say I humanize technology.” — Fred Beecher, Director of UX, The Nerdery
First things first, you need to understand that there's no linear, "one-size-fits-all" approach to mastering UX designing. That said, if you are going back to the drawing board and bracing yourself for a career transition, the following pointers will help:
Skill Sets: Ability to be self-motivated, think creatively and analytically, and demonstrate strong problem-solving skills through intense research on design techniques and principles. Additionally, having a strong grip on your communication skills and the ability to work collaboratively and patiently are highly-preferred.
Interests: A combination of heightened interest in technology, human behaviour, and understanding what goes into designing a user-first mindset. Plus, taking risks and thinking outside-the-box make up for a great UI UX designer career!
Quest to learn continuously and stay 'hungry': UX designers are continuously learning about the ever-changing design trends through in-depth reading, signing up for newsletters, quora threads, online UX community on Slack, constant probing, and finding ways to apply theoretical concepts to their work. Here's how a UX expert summarizes this career option:
“If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than the specific skills you might learn in school.” - An Anonymous UX Expert
Designers are informally creating their sounding boards: people with whom they feel comfortable sharing feedback, exchanging design references, discussing trends, or asking for advice on topics like salary, work dynamics, and career.
Bonus material: If you're curious about the User Interface group at Apple in the late 80, watch this TEDTalk by Scott Jenson for some insane inspiration! Additionally, you can lookup this fantastic UX reading list and get your share of UX-related knowledge at one go!
"The role of UX designer is a dream job for creative people who love to invent and get products into people’s hands. In the best environments, it’s pure creativity and invention, which is mostly unattainable with any other role.” - Nielsen Norman Survey, 2019
If you're wondering about how to learn UX or whether it is something that can be learned in the first place, keep reading. You'll be surprised to know that not all seasoned designers have a fancy degree from a fancier art school.
While some designers swear that a degree is not required, acquiring one surely helps things along and gets you better accustomed to the demanding work environment. This makes sense as most UX designers have now graduated from making basic sketches to working on AI products and mobile applications. After all, we are living in the digital and smartphone age.
So, logic dictates that to pursue this career option, it helps to get a mix of soft as well as hard skills as summarized below:
In addition to this, keep in mind the following reminders as you carve the path for a successful career in UX designing:
More than having a relevant college degree, continuous learning by way of reading blogs (UXPlanet, UsabilityGeek, etc.), books such as "The Design of Everyday Things," enrolling for online courses and upskilling, or learning-on-the-job is considered a prerequisite.
Take at least one UX course, and get a mentor if possible. You can think of it as doing your homework. Plus, it will sit well on your portfolio.
A rather non-negotiable, designers should be comfortable with sketching and wireframing, in addition to having a passion for user-centric design, and championing key skills, such as empathy as well as time management.
Think of ways to building your UX experience and portfolio by approaching a non-profit and volunteering to do pro-bono UX work. Conversely, you can also approach startups who are looking for interns. That's not all. You can also lookup any hackathons and participate in these UX-focused competitions that may be happening, such as the Startup Weekend, UXplorer, etc.
Bonus material: To get a real-world sense of where UX designers stand, read the full report by the Nielsen Norman Group here. To create stellar designer portfolios, head to websites such as Dribbble, Muzli, and Behance, to name a few.
In this section, we will focus on how to get a UX job without losing sweat, tears, and sleep. Believe it or not, UX has emerged as a coveted job profession these days. Here's a quick roundup of key points about a career change to UX design:
Also Read：How to Become a Successful UX Designer
A. UX Internship: Requires no prior experience and where class projects will do. Here's an example of what an aspiring UX intern can expect:
Most designer newbies have started working in their organization as freelance designers to gather first-hand experience instead of directly jumping into a full-fledged job - a smart move if you ask us. Take the instance of a product designer from Nigeria according to the Nielsen Norman Report who learned UX, while working as a freelance graphic designer for his company. He says:
“I even learned on the job, so I was freelancing before joining [name of employer], and so I had to convince clients, let's do user research! Let's not dive straight into the design! And when I was able to do that, I was able to learn on the job.”
B. Junior UX Designers: Typically work under the supervision of mid- or senior-level UX designers where the primary focus is on getting hands-on experience in a guided way. A basic portfolio with one real-world project experience is preferred. Here's what a job posting for a junior UX designer looks like:
Bonus material: Here's a cool infographic by Onward Search that beautifully summarizes all things UX-related (design included). You're welcome:
Additionally, here are the top-3 online resources to get practical tips on UX jobs:
A recent survey by the Nielsen Norman Group states that a staggering 95% of UX practitioners are satisfied with their careers owing to reasons such as:
That said, if you're nodding your head as you read the points stated above, you should take a leap of faith and seriously consider a UX design career change. And why not? It is perhaps the only career that stands at the intersection of psychology, art, design, and technology. Got questions? Hit us up and ask about our UX courses here at Xccelerate. We're all in for a chatty conversation - oh and the coffee is on us!
Also Read：How to Become a UX Designer in Hong Kong
If you are at a choice point in your career and need someone to help you navigate professional challenges. You can make an appointment to our complimentary 1-on-1 Career Consultation and receive personalised career advice.
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