If you were to ask people involved in the design of useful interfaces what made them start working in UX and how did they get the knowledge they need in their profession, you would hear a lot of different stories. The variety of these seemingly similar paths is perfectly reflected in the interviews conducted with me and Gosia, with whom I co-create the UX team at Merixstudio - check for yourself how they differ.
From my experience, it appears that it is easiest to become UX Designer by working in the IT industry in a position similar to UX Designer. Very often, Web Designers and Developers broaden their knowledge about User Experience issues, as do product managers and marketers. It is simply a useful know-how that affects many fields of work in a software house.
When working in the web development industry, you have a smaller entry threshold and a lot of practical knowledge about the in and out of IT projects. You also fully understand both the possibilities and limitations of particular technologies, which greatly facilitates cooperation between UX Designers and the development team.
What are the responsibilities of UX Designers?
Before I start describing the duties of User Experience Designers, let's take a moment to talk about who they really are. In the end, it is a relatively young and constantly evolving profession, which is why for some it may seem quite enigmatic. Browsing the job offers can be even more confusing to the future UX since often the scopes of duties and requirements for candidates vary a lot.
User Experience Design is a field dealing with the design of services and products while taking into account the context of use: the environment in which the product will be used, the needs which it responds to, the problems it solves, and the emotions it evokes.
Who in the company is responsible for the emotions of the customer? In principle, every person who participates in the creation of a product/service or deals with its constant management. These are, among others:
- UX Researcher,
- User Experience Designer,
- Customer Service employee,
- Marketing Manager,
- Copywriter and people responsible for content strategy,
- Web Designer,
- Product Manager,
- Project Manager,
- QA Specialist,
Since everyone is in some way responsible for user experience, what are the responsibilities of UX Designers? First and foremost, they solve problems that prevent providing users with a service or product that meets their needs. They also care for the coherence of these experiences and analyze, design, and tests specific solutions. All of those tasks are, of course, based on the cooperation of other people involved in the project or working in the company. The work of UX Designer is, therefore, a continuous process and requires presence in each stage of product development.
How to become a UX Designer
I have already outlined who UX Designer is, so now it's time to answer the titular question - how to become one? It is worth remembering that being a good UX Designer consists of many factors, skills, and diverse experiences. It is also one of the "professions" in which soft skills are as important as substantive knowledge.
The plan of entering the path of "being a good UX" may look like this:
- Define your current shortcomings
It can be a substantive knowledge of User Experience, experience, or soft skills - a real assessment of your strengths and weaknesses is the first step in the right direction.
- Earn the knowledge that will help you master the basics
This is an obvious matter - you can not succeed without obtaining the knowledge on the subject of UX. In the further part of the article, you will find tips on where to look for it.
- Regularly observe the work of more experienced specialists
Follow the changes made on websites where experienced designer teams work and follow those you consider to be professionals. Companies from which you can learn a lot are presented, among others, on The Design Genome Project website, which is constantly updated by InVision.
- Put the knowledge into practice as quickly as possible
The faster you start to face real problems, the more opportunities you will find to expand your knowledge and skills. If you do not yet work in the IT industry, try to participate in workshops and lectures, which are currently flooding on the market. Take advantage of every networking opportunity, what will allow you to get to know the industry and people working in it. It is worth considering to work on polishing your skills during an internship, practice, or when joining a local social initiative. As a beginner UX Designer, redesign your favourite application to overcome the most irritating shortcomings or get involved in a non-profit work/project, such as Openideo. Thanks to this you will get materials that you will be able to show in your portfolio.
How to get the UX Designer qualifications
Fortunately, compared to the situation from a few years ago, there are many more opportunities to learn User Experience. So if you are just entering the market, do not worry about where you can work on increasing your competences - you have many places to choose from.
So what qualifications should you have if you want to improve the usability of products and design solutions that have a real impact on the clients’ or your company’s businesses? Below is a list of requirements and suggestions from where you can get knowledge and experience.
Where to obtain User Experience knowledge
Only a few years ago, knowledge about UX was acquired mainly from books and articles found on the Internet. Currently, there are a lot of courses and entire majors on the market that can perfectly prepare User Experience adepts for their future profession. In my opinion, it is worth using such forms of education also for the benefit of being in touch with professionals. Below is a list of potential sources of knowledge:
- online and offline courses: e.g. Udemy and courses of Interaction Design Foundation;
- workshops conducted during free conferences and meetings, e.g.World Usability Day or Ladies That UX;
- full-time studies in the field of Information Architecture, Psychology (cognitive science), or Graphic Design;
- books on design, information architecture, web traffic analysis or interface design;
- blogs about UX Design - Anita wrote down a list of 11 blogs worth learning from;
- podcasts - a great option for those who are constantly on the run. I recommend, among others, User Defenders, as well as Nie Tylko design and App Loads (the last two are for Polish-speaking listeners).
Where to learn about usability research
It is always worth delving into topics related to usability research. If you want to follow this path, look for sources of knowledge in the field of psychology and research methods.
- full-time studies in the field of psychology and sociology;
- books on research methodology, interface testing, cognitive psychology.
Programs for creating wireframes and prototypes
Various tools are used to prepare mock-ups or prototypes, but remember that you do not have to learn how to use each of them. All you have to do is understand how one of them works and start learning how to design in practice. Here are some of the most popular choices of UX Designers:
Take advantage of the free trial periods of the programs listed above. Sometimes their pricings also include discounts or separate student licenses that are worth using. Online you will also find many courses and YouTube channels that can teach you how to work with each of them - they are a great substitute to books, which can be helpful, but can quickly become outdated.
Communication skills of UX Designer
As I mentioned earlier, attend meetings and networking sessions. In addition to the obvious benefit in the form of acquired knowledge, all offline forms of education are also conducive to establishing valuable contacts and improving interpersonal skills.
Experience in conducting workshops with customers
Attend workshops organized as part of UX conferences and events. It is worth to take part in service jams or workshops organized by various companies that want to develop their products; it’is a great opportunity to observe how the workshops are conducted by experienced people. You can also organize workshops for your friends or take part in such initiatives as Givebox (which thrives, for instance, in Poznań and Älmhult).
Knowledge of UX methodology
Many companies often use specific methodologies, such as Design Thinking, Design Sprint, and Service Design. The best sources of knowledge on this subject are blogs of experienced UX Designers, case studies, and publications of companies that use a given methodology. I can recommend, among others, Google Design Sprint and This is Service Design Doing. You can also read UX-themed books or find workshops where the given methodology is used.
Soft and analytical skills
Sometimes you can stumble upon the opinion that UX Designers should have a sixth sense. In my opinion, the "magic" feature that makes a good designer or researcher is the ability to analyze and draw conclusions from both data and your own observations. Inquisitiveness, curiosity of the world, willingness to learn new things, as well as the ability to ask the right questions and formulate appropriate hypotheses, will be very useful. Remember that being a good listener will often prove more useful than being a good speaker. Learn to listen, observe and draw conclusions from these activities. And don’t be discouraged at the beginning - the accuracy of your conclusion will come with practice.
Where to look for a UX job
The first question you need to answer before looking for a job is what you prefer - interface design or usability research? Or maybe you want to combine both?
You can look for a job or internship with the owners of internet portals and large companies, which don’t lack work on the optimization of internal processes or the development of products and services. You can also get hired at a UX agency that conducts research and designs digital products. When working in a software house, you will work on a variety of markets/industries and create solutions of a very wide range that are dedicated to many devices. In both cases, you will work with an external client. Another option you can consider is cooperation with a startup.
If you value independence, you can also work on your own as a freelancer. Remember, however, that independent work will require a greater organization skill and a strong commitment to searching for offers. It will also not give you an idea of how the software development work looks like; therefore this option is best suited to more experienced designers.
What can you expect when working as a UX Designer?
Before you decide to change your job or start studies related to User Experience, think whether this type of work is for you. Here are the realities of UX Designer work:
- continuous learning, following changes in technology;
- keeping contact with people and customers;
- getting to know different industries and working not only with innovative technologies, but sometimes also on some less engaging projects, such as databases with complicated document flow;
- a lot of your work will get thrown out - for various reasons beyond your control, projects may not be finalized;
- your coworkers won’t always be open to your contribution to the project, so you must be able to present the value of your work;
- your work will be subjected to constant criticism, due to which you must be able to motivate your decisions and be open to criticism;
- you will work in a team, so you must be able to share your experience and knowledge with other team members;
- not every project will be done from the beginning to the end - sometimes someone will take over your pampered project, other times you will have to finish others’ work.
If you feel like you want to try your hand at UX and start browsing job offers, remember how important it is to interpret them properly. Due to budget constraints or a small number of projects, it is not always sensible to create a separate job position for a person who only deals with designing experiences. Therefore, companies often look for UX Designers who are also graphic designers, project managers, or programmers.
When you start your professional adventure, think about what you're best at, what you like to do, and which aspect of UX design brings to you the greatest satisfaction - do it better and more often, and in time you'll be a really good senior that has a passion for his job!