How to Become a UX Designer: Tips from my Experience

How to Become a UX Designer: Tips from my Experience

So, you want to learn how to become a UX designer? Designer Alexis Delafose was wondering just that and hit me up to find out my story.

“Hey Samantha! I moved to Austin about two months ago hoping to find a job as a graphic designer (still looking) because that’s what my professional experience has been leaning towards, but I’ve developed an interest in UX design. So for all the UX designers, could you tell me about your career journey towards becoming a UX designer, some general qualifications or knowledge I would need as UX designer, and maybe list some helpful learning resources (not classes, but books, blogs, podcasts, etc)? I can and will google all of these things, of course, but I’d really value the voices of some fellow Austinites. Thanks!”

Smart thinking, Alexis! Targeting local UX folks to find out their journey is a great networking tactic and you’ll learn about the industry in your area.


My Career Journey

To be honest, my journey into UX is a little too TL;DR for this post, because it started when I was 12. If you’re interested in my story and the path that led me to UX, I’ll be writing a follow-up post covering my history on the web.

My Tips on How to Become a UX Designer

Please remember, I am speaking from my own personal experience and what I felt gave me a competitive edge. I’m not saying this is a secret formula on how to become a UX designer. The job itself, as with most tech jobs, is in a state of constant flux due to the speed of innovation.

General Qualifications

Know how things are coded.

Understanding databases and programming logic make a huge difference in effective UX wireframing. You can confidently pitch your ideas knowing the developers will be able to deliver on it. It helps you set appropriate expectations for your less tech-savvy clients and clearly explain your ideas to the back-end developers. Also, you can build out your ideas yourself, making you more valuable in a staffing shortage.

A love for (or, at least, understanding of) persuasive writing comes in very handy.

A majority of my opportunities have involved convincing people to let me do things. Similarly, much of UX design involves backing up your ideas with solid research, then presenting that data in a way anyone can understand. After all, what is a UX designer without the ability to translate their own ideas (experience) to their own clients (users)?

The biggest takeaway from persuasive writing is the analysis and research involved. You don’t just pose an idea and expect people to take your word on it. You evaluate other options, find supporting evidence, and perform statistical analysis. Sometimes, you even prove yourself wrong. When you can be confident in your ideas, people are much more likely to trust you to execute them.

Freelance your face off.

There are droves of clients on Craigslist looking for help with their website for cheap. Most importantly, freelancing helps you start building your network. Additionally, for the lower cost, clients are usually more accepting of slower speeds, as long as you set appropriate expectations. Double or triple your time estimated to leave room for inexperience. Managed expectations create a better experience for your client, so they will help you build awareness via word-of-mouth.

Working with freelance clients gives you a legitimate project to focus on and actual deadlines to meet. You also benefit from a little more creative flexibility, because you’re usually working to please one person. Pitching ideas, knowing your time constraints, understanding clients’ desires, and performing market analysis are integral in learning how to become a UX designer.

Keep your ego in check.

In most companies, there are always specialists that know more than you. They don’t know you and don’t have reason to trust what you think you know. Over time and demonstrated effort, people will respect you and what knowledge you do have. There is no substitute for experience.

Be your own devil’s advocate and question everything you do. You are going to be frustrated with people questioning you constantly. While it is your job to push the envelope, allowing your ego to take over the pushing does not help people feel comfortable working with you. The more empathetic you are to common fears or concerns of clients or other coworkers, the better you will be at building trust in these interactions. Better empathy makes for a better UX designer.

Always learn.

The network of experience touchpoints is constantly expanding. It is super difficult to keep up, especially if you are not teaching yourself constantly. If you’re just starting out, don’t be afraid to dive in. If it feels overwhelming, don’t be afraid. You’re not alone. How you’re feeling looking at UX design as a whole is how I feel taking my first steps into creating AR/VR experiences. Once I cross that foothill, there will be another mountain to climb. The constant evolution keeps things exciting.

Build or plan out some web applications for yourself. Practice sketching or teach yourself new applications or languages in your free time. For example, coding a grocery list that my partner and I could use on the web helped me learn PHP and mySQL. Soon, I will recode it in another language to learn that. Never stop learning and creating.

Practice for speed.

One of the biggest hurdles I had coming up in my career was my speed. I’d always placed quality at the utmost importance, as designers will do. Initially going into the working world, I was not prepared for the speed of conception and execution. The ability to speed-sketch or wireframe on the fly is especially relevant for communicating your ideas.

Producing quality work quickly takes a lot of practice. Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity, but don’t expect an employer to not want both. Practice is an essential part of learning how to become a UX designer. The more you create, the faster you become.


Knowledge

Mandatory:

  • Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop
  • HTML and CSS
  • jQuery and jQuery UI
  • Google Analytics
  • SEO Best Practices and Tools
  • A/B Testing
  • Wireframing
  • Responsive design

Ideal:

  • The full Adobe Creative Suite — InDesign is for print. Dreamweaver is still not better than handwriting your code. Flash is quickly dying. Employers are still looking for these skills, so they are still good to know.
  • Javascript — Employers are definitely looking for UX designers with Javascript experience, especially with Angular, React, or Node.
  • Git or SVN — Many companies use a version control system for effective code collaboration between different departments.
  • LESS or Sass — These CSS preprocessors are all over UX designer job descriptions. They are very similar to CSS but allow for logic structures and variables.
  • Prototyping with InVision or Sketch — These applications make prototyping faster and easier, so many employers are looking for these skills.
  • Drupal, WordPress, or Joomla — Content management systems (CMS) are widely used and very much requested on job descriptions.

What I’m currently learning:

  • Blender — Massive open-source 3D creation software.
  • Angular — A Javascript framework for building dynamic user interfaces.
  • InVision — Web-based prototyping software. I can already see their Moodboards replacing some of the Pinterest boards I’ve been collecting UX stuff on for years.

A Few Resources

I have several other posts in the drafts queue covering topics like teaching yourself to code and toolboxes for different web languages. I’ll throw you a few of those links to get you started.

Blogs

Reference and Tutorial Sites


Finally, I should mention that UX designer is not an entry level position. While you’re still learning how to become a UX designer, take a graphic, web, or interactive designer job. Working with a company that will support your learning and will allow lateral movement would be an ideal scenario. Regardless, if you want it, you still need to work for it in your free time. Hard work pays off, but you have to have patience.

In conclusion, I hope this is enough to get you started on learning how to become a UX designer. Have some additional questions or concerns? Leave them in the comments below, or take a note from Alexis and hit me up on my Facebook page!


Samantha Soper

Creative and interactive force of nature. Innovative, hardworking, and adaptive. Currently manages web presence for Golf Town, serving Canada in English and French. Loves learning, creating, and producing positive results.

2 COMMENTS
  • Michael Minshew
    Reply

    Nice stuff,
    Especially love the first point about knowing how things work, Even with my extremely limited knowledge of full stack I was able to understand and explain things while working with dev’s and such. I also really liked the point about keeping the ego in check. Humility is still a precious virtue and I think that one learns better if they keep themselves humble.

    Haha, and stack overflow should have its own point almost. I live on that site most of my day!!!

    You mentioned Coding by hand, Do you mean literal handwriting or text editor coding ala notepad ++ ? I’ve seen a lot of reference to handwriting sudo code while i’ve been learning but not many posts on actually writing out the actual code. What’s the benefit of that? Is it because of the pen/paper feel preference making it easier for you to think?

    1. Samantha Soper
      Reply

      Thanks as always for your comments!

      I see where the “handwriting” word-choice was a little confusing. Yes, I definitely mean using whatever text editor you have available and not letting a WYSIWYG (like Dreamweaver’s design mode) build it for you. Writing actual code out with a pen and paper would have little value, but using those tools to sketch out initial data flows and wireframes to plan out your build is always a great idea.

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