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5 Tips for Starting a Career in UX Design

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Are you curious about how to get into UX design? With so many jargon-filled UX designer job descriptions, chatter about software tools, and contrasting perspectives on the future of UX, it can be challenging knowing where to start your career path in UX design

It may be helpful to understand that UX design is a vast field with many opportunities and ultimately benefits from your contributions. In the following article, we’ll help you navigate some of these uncertainties so that you can find your voice amid an ocean of options.

Identify Your Passion

Due to the scale and complexity of what it takes to create successful products and services, becoming a successful UX designer requires perspectives from all walks of life. From research to development to management, UX design is a multifaceted field. 

Because of this, it’s important to start with you and your passions versus responding to what’s outlined in a job description. It’s critical to self-reflect and ask yourself: What inspires me most? What are my strengths? Where would I like to grow?

Another reason you want to start with your passion is that achieving your goal is going to require sustained energy. For example, not everything you try is going to work as you expect. Nor are you going to get everything “right” the first time. This means you need to stay the course as you learn and that drive comes from within you, not from the outside. 

For example, I started in Industrial Design because I had experience making furniture and was passionate about design. I followed popular designers for the time such as Philipe Stark, Philip Johnson, and Jasper Morrison. I saw them as my mentors and did everything I could to emulate some of their thinking.

However, over time, I came to the realization that while I loved their work, they were able to work in a way that was impossible for me. And as I wrestled with this realization, I came to a deeper understanding about myself. What excited me most as a designer was thinking about how people interacted with the product or service. I wanted to understand what was driving people’s behaviors and expectations more than the object itself. The thought of influencing what’s in the world based on people’s feedback became my new interest and has been for the past 15 years. 

OK, so I’ve identified my passion but how do I know where it might fit with user experience design? We can learn a lot by breaking down some of the roles within a typical UX design engagement: 

  • User Research
    • Spends time understanding a product or service user, their needs, and expectations.
    • Creates a foundation of understanding for other teams (e.g. Interaction Design, Front-End Development) to build upon.
  • Interaction Design 
    • Spends time detailing the functionality of a product or service for every user scenario.
    • Creates site maps, user flows, wireframes, prototypes, and navigation paradigms to illustrate a potential solution.
  • UI Design and Visual Design 
    • Spends time organizing and creating visual elements for interfaces, considering the visual details of a UI design such as color, imagery, typography, brand guidelines, and visual hierarchy, similar to graphic design. 
    • Creates illustrations and UI design mockups to illustrate potential solutions.
  • Development 
    • Spends time understanding what it will take, front-end and back-end, to have a product or service built to function the way it’s intended.
    • Creates proof-of-concepts and functioning prototypes making ideas tangible.
  • Product Management 
    • Spends time understanding a specific product, its market, and ways to improve it.
    • Creates product portfolios, roadmaps, return on investment estimates, and continuous improvement plans.
  • Project Management 
    • Spends time aligning teams based on established goals, tracks time and budget.
    • Creates status reports for stakeholders, project timelines, and project wikis.

Stand on Shoulders 

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

– Sir Isaac Newton 

The phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” originated from Sir Isaac Newton when asked how he had been so prolific in discovering a wealth of governing laws defining how physical objects interact. The same mentality applies to UX designers as well. You’ll want to soak up as much as you can about how others before you have dealt with and defined their challenges. 

In my case, this meant putting away the glossy design magazines and engrossing myself in the social sciences: sociology, psychology, behavioral economics, etc. Doing so has allowed me to build on the brilliance of many before me in an effort to stay relevant. 

“Stand on shoulders” means coming to the realization there have been many great minds that have impacted the way things are today and by understanding their contributions, you can be effective in how you spend your time building off of their work instead of repeating the same mistakes. 

Keep in mind, this does not relegate you to spending hours in a library. There’s a lot that can be learned from a mentor, for example — a UX designer who’s been working in UX design for some time and is willing to offer their insights based on your needs. This too will help you hit the ground running. 

Get to Know Your Toolbox

Now that you’ve identified your passion and a UX designer to be your mentor, it’s a good idea to begin experimenting with some of the tools you may have been hearing about. Remember, your goal is to become acquainted and perhaps proficient, but not a master. That will come later as you learn further, gain experience, and the tools of your discipline mature. 

When we say tools, that doesn’t necessarily mean software only. There will be many aspects of your practice you’ll need to learn in order to be an effective UX designer. For me, that meant learning different interviewing techniques, fundamentals of body language, practicing active listening, studying storytelling, and presenting to others — all of which have proven to be timeless and fundamental in my career. A short UX design course can provide a good introduction to essential tools, methods, and strategies.

Experiment and Reflect

“Everything is an experiment.” 

– Tibor Kalman

When it comes to creating impactful products and services, it’s critical to keep in mind that we learn by trying things out and reflecting on what happened. In fact, the process of experimentation and reflection is a core tenet of UX design. 

Remember: Words and actions are not the same. You need to put in the work. 

As a UX designer, the more you can demonstrate your thinking by creating concepts and putting them in front of others, the more you will capture the interest of a potential employer. Consider taking a UX design course that helps you create projects for a professional UX portfolio. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Seeing the evidence of your thought process not only helps them see your strengths, but also your potential. 

So, be bold! Try things out. Experiment.

Rinse and Repeat

As the saying goes, the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t. The same is true here. UX design is a vast field with many roads. The more you keep at it, the better you’ll get, and becoming an expert UX designer will take time. 

Stay curious, experiment, and have fun!

Remember: 

  • UX design is a vast and multi-faceted field, not to mention ever-changing.
  • Don’t let current titles, tools, and job descriptions intimidate you from taking the first step.
  • Careers require an internal commitment in order to hone your experience and perspective.
  • Embrace the soft skills of your practice because tools are not limited to screens. 
  • Demonstrating your thought process increases your chances of landing your first UX job, and a project-based UX design course can help.
  • Since it is impossible to know what’s going to happen, it’s important to take the first step.
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