A UX designer is concerned with the entire process of acquiring and integrating a product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function. As a UX designer, you’re there to make products and technology usable, enjoyable, and accessible for a wider range of people.
A career in UX design is becoming an increasingly popular choice for quite a few reasons. The average salary for a UX designer is about $90,000 per year and 87% of managers say hiring more UX designers is the top priority for their company. Good news right?
But if you want to break into the field, it can be tough to know where to start. Don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information floating around on the internet about changing careers and the skills you need to succeed. This blog post will teach you how to actually go about breaking into the world of UX.
1. Figure out what skills/strengths you already have
Even if you come from a completely different background, you probably already have some skills that will translate into UX/UI Design. For example, do you love to think about how things around you could be improved? Do you love drawing or taking photos? Are you a data and analysis genius? Already a graphic designer and familiar with some design tools?
All of these skills or specialties can bring something that will help you out in UX design so don’t ignore your past experiences and education just because they’re not directly related. The best UX designers build a portfolio that will show off their unique skills to prospective employers. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, first of all, you’ll need to learn those skills.
2. Get Educated
To get started in the UX world you need to read, watch and listen to everything you can get your hands on in order to understand how UX Designers do what they do. At the end of this blog post, we’ll have a list of resources to start with. If you’re looking for an online course to help you get started, here’s a huge list of UX courses.
Just getting started with some free courses on Youtube or Skillshare is a great way to get familiar with tools and get your feet wet. Then, once you've got some knowledge of basic UX principles, considering an online bootcamp or skills-training course can be a great way to take those skills to the next level.
For complete beginners, this UX Basics course could be a good start. In many of these courses, the subject matter itself isn’t difficult to digest, but there is often a lot to learn. The more you can retain, the better off you’ll be.
3. Find a UX Expert to be Your Mentor
Having a mentor can mean the difference between success and failure. One of the best ways to work out the depths of your love for UX is to talk with a real, live UX designer. It’s a lot easier, a lot faster, and a lot more fun to master a new skill with support from someone who has more experience.
While it might be tempting to substitute a chat with a real person with a Google search or YouTube video, searching the web will give you some basic information but not the full picture like a mentor can. A mentor can bring you solutions, will give you guidance, help you understand which parts of UX are necessary for a workplace, which will, in turn, help you find a better focus.
This should give you a better, more realistic overall picture of what to expect if you do pursue UX as a career. Mentors will help you through understanding difficult processes and concepts.
Finding a mentor can be hard though. You can try friends, friends of friends, Meetup.com, or even Facebook groups like The UX School. You could also try a more formal program such as an AI mentor program.
One way you can persuade a UX designer to become your mentor is offering to work with them for free for a period of time. You can help them with all the smaller tasks they have on their plate in exchange for some UX mentorship. If you're just looking to pick someone's brain for an hour or two, offering to buy them coffee or lunch is another gesture that's greatly appreciated.
4. Join a UX Design Community
Just like having a mentor, networking is a vital tool to use no matter what job you’re looking to get into. If you're someone who's learning design on your own, joining a design community can be a huge part of your learning journey.
You need to have an idea of a goal in mind and focus on the connections that will help you get to where you want to be. A personal message on Linkedin can go a long way, but try your best to make sure it’s not a one-way street. What insight can you bring to the table? Meetups can also be a great place to meet new people. Check out Meetup.com and look for UX design meetup groups near you. If anything, you’ll find a few friends you can bounce design ideas off.
Especially when it comes to finding a job, the best jobs will come through your network, like LinkedIn, Twitter, Behance, Github, local event meetups, and referrals.
There will be a ton of questions and building trust with the interviewer is key. If the position has come from the result of a conversation in a social setting, or a recommendation from somebody you met, then you’ll already have a head start on building that trust. Whether it's help on a design project, lending a helping hand, or landing a job interview, it pays to network and join a strong knit community. Who knows? You may even be in a position to help someone out on their UX design journey in the future. So start networking!
5. Master a UX Design Tool
Once you’ve got your UX basics done, it’s time to dive deeper and master the exact tools used in the industry. According to Adobe, 42% of hiring managers placed “knowledge of UX tools and building prototypes” as the most important prerequisite for a job in UX.
There are so many tools available, and for someone just starting out, the vast array of options can make you feel overwhelmed.
Two of the best picks for a UX tool are Figma and Adobe XD. Both are free to get started with, but it's up to you to decide which one fits best with your learning style.
So what are the differences? Let’s break them down:
Figma allows collaborators to work on the same file at the same time (sort of like Google Docs...but for design!) It's a really powerful tool that can do a lot including doing wireframing, prototyping, and give engineers some of the code they need to get the look the designers wanted. Figma also allows for use of creating multiple screens for multiple platforms. Here’s a great tutorial for getting started, it’s only half an hour long and explains how to design a simple app from start to finish.
With this tool, you can create screens for multiple platforms in one project. Adobe’s artboard feature is also super quick - allowing its users to create large projects (100 + screens ) with no problems at all. This is a great UX design tool to familiarise yourself from the beginning - there’s a lot to grow into.
It pays to know the basics of each of these tools and to master one of them. Ultimately, which tool you choose will come down to preference as well as the training you've taken to learn UX.
There are plenty of other alternatives to these tools out there; you can check out a full list: 100+ Awesome Tools For UX Designers.
6. Get Some Experience
Your next step is to find a way to put some of your newfound knowledge into practice.
Maybe you spend some time after hours helping a small business or a local nonprofit, or just simply working on your own personal project. Seek out opportunities to apply some of your theories. It could even be as simple as taking the initiative at work to conduct some user testing sessions and branching out from there.
For an activity such as conducting user testing, a handful of sessions is all you need to get the hang of things. Once you’ve introduced that user feedback loop to your portfolio, you can start focusing on developing other skills.
7. Build a portfolio
You’re now in the best possible place to land an awesome job. What’s missing, however, is a portfolio of your work. If you’re planning on finding a job or doing any sort of work related to design, you’re going to need a design portfolio where you showcase projects you’ve worked on and introduce yourself.
Most employers like to see what you can do before they hire you, and having a portfolio of projects is important, especially if you don’t have much work experience. Your portfolio platform will also help you walk potential employers through the projects you’ve completed, show off your skillset, and help them see what an amazing addition you’d make to their team.
For example, a great place to start building your design portfolio could be Github, Behance, or even making your own personal website on platforms like Squarespace or Wix. Check out some great examples here.
During the interview process, show your employer your thought process through the entire design, not just the end result. Your portfolio could include wireframes you’ve created, example personas and scenarios you’ve developed, photos of walls covered in post-it notes from affinity diagramming exercises, photos of you conducting a workshop. Whatever you need to tell a story about the process you follow. If you want help, try out the online course called How to Create a UX Portfolio by the Interaction Design Foundation.
8. Build an Online Presence
Building an online presence in any job is important. The internet is one of the best ways for prospective employers and teammates to find you. Publishing your work doesn’t mean waiting for the perfect design to be out on a website. Publishing work means pushing your work out whether it be Medium, Tumblr, or WordPress, and focusing on the documentation of your progress rather than only publishing perfect work.
In addition to your portfolio, make sure to update your LinkedIn (or make one if you haven’t already) and be active on sites like Twitter and Facebook Groups. Follow people you look up to, tweet about design, share articles you found interesting, and upload work you’ve done to share it with the design community. These are all great sites for you to get your name out there and become a part of the design community online!
UX Design Resources
Getting started in UX is half the battle. Once you’ve landed that first role, you’ll gain momentum from the learning you’ll do on the job. But you can enhance that by keeping on top of your own learning and staying in touch with industry trends. Here are some great resources to help you do that:
- It’s a great time to be a UX Designer — Part stand-up comic, all awesome designer. A fantastic talk by industry veteran Jared Spool, that really takes in the breadth of UX.
- 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations. The life of a designer and communicating with people.
- Free, 6-day short UX academy of a hands-on introduction to UX.
- Definition of User Experience — Don Norman
- How to Get Started in UX — Pocket designer Diego Mendes
- Shh! Don’t Tell Them There’s No Magic In Design Thinking — Jared Spool
- So You Want to be a Designer — Industry veteran Aza Raskin
- Do you need a degree to become a UX designer?
- UX Bootcamp vs. design degree
- List of UX Bootcamps
- Sprint — Useful UX workshop techniques, laid out in a simple, structured way.
- Design is a job — Everything you might want to know about freelancing and clients
- Lean UX — A little more technical, but a deep instructive read
- The Design of Everyday Things — This book will really hone your designer's eye.
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries — This book is great for teaching terminology that hiring managers will bring up in interviews that they’ll expect you to know.
Courses with Income Share Agreements
Using a bootcamp to pursue a career in UX can be a great way to get started. However, paying for an online bootcamp can be expensive and may feel out of reach for many. That's where Income Share Agreements come in. An Income Share Agreement allows you to go through a program at no upfront cost. In exchange, you agree to pay a portion of your income for a set period of time after you complete your program. Meratas partners with a host of education programs to offer ISAs to students. From coding and UX to pipe welding and software sales, Meratas partners with a wide array of programs so that students can have more options and opportunities when it comes to financing their education.
Want to see more schools that Meratas partners with? Check out our students page!
So there you have it, 8 simple steps to get you started towards your career in UX design. Now it's up to you to go and implement the advice, do some reading, and try a short course to see if you’re interested. The courses, the practicing, the whole process is a lot of work. But it will pay off in the end if you stick with it, and you'll find yourself in a fulfilling new career!