Since you’re here it’s safe to assume that you’re already familiar with the why.
What’s not always clear is the how: how do you take that first step onto the UX ladder?
If you are curious about being a UX designer but have no idea where to start, you’re not alone. It’s important for me to make clear that there isn’t a single correct way, a “magic formula”, in fact, many people stumble into UX design later on in their careers, having worked in fields such as product management, marketing, design, or software development.
Whether you want to change from your current field to UX, or whether you’re starting from scratch and build a career as a UX designer, you can absolutely make it happen — and I’m going to show you how.
So, who can become a UX designer?
To answer bluntly: Anybody. Anybody can become a UX designer; however, the fact that it’s such a diverse field can be something of a double-edged sword.
Before you take your first step, it’s important to understand the diversity of what you’re getting into and to see if the various skills required complement your current skillset and interests. I’d recommend reading up extensively on UX, chat to somebody in the field (I’m available if interested), listen to a few design podcasts — all the while asking yourself, “Will I enjoy a career in the UX field?”
Probably the biggest misconception out there is that you need to be a born artist or some kind of natural designer, that’s simply not true. There is no specific background necessary, professional, educational, or otherwise.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my entire professional UX career it’s that people from all walks of life can successfully start a career doing UX: from designers and accountants, to rocket scientists and psychologists, and all straight out of high-school youngsters.
The true marker of a good UX designer is what really motivates you. Do you enjoy solving problems, or making things more efficient for others?
If you have a natural gift for understanding people’s needs, in other words, empathy or a user-centric approach, then you already possess one of the very core skills that make up UX design.
Are you good at solving problems? Thinking both critically and creatively to come up with out-of-the-box solutions? Likewise, are you flexible, adaptable, and a good team player? UX design is almost always a team sport, often with you being the mediator between clients, developers, product managers etc.
These soft skills are a great basis for a career in UX and are far more valuable than any formal qualification or specific background.
I’ve listed 10 of the most important skills in my previous article on how to land your dream job in the UX field:
How to actually become a UX designer
When it comes to starting a career in UX, there are many different aspects you need to pull together. Here’s my take on how to approach it, and in what order.
Do plenty of background research
Like any good life-plan, you should start by doing your research. Read up on the industry and really get a feel for what it’s like to work in the field; books, podcasts, blogs, and videos. The more you research beforehand the less likely you are to realize you made the wrong choice later on.
Learn the right skills with a UX Design course
This is where it can get overwhelming. While you don’t necessarily need a certificate or degree, you do need to master a whole host of principles and skills.
A good UX design course will guarantee you cover the basics — and in the right order. Without this structure, it’s easy losing track or miss crucial aspects altogether.
Just as important as what you learn is how you learn it. For hands-on skills, such as creating user personas or drawing wireframes, it’s not enough to just read about it: you’ll need a more practical approach.
In any industry that isn’t very concerned with your qualifications on paper, it’s more important than ever to master your practical skills. Employers want to see that you can turn your ideas into real-life products, that you can create things and work with tools known in the industry. So, learn in a way that also gets you doing; find a UX design course that combines theory with project-based learning in the form of tasks, exercises, and portfolio pieces. Which leads to my next point…
Build a portfolio
Your portfolio is your proof of work in the UX design industry: it demonstrates all the skills you’ve learned and provides valuable insight into what you are capable of as a designer.
Portfolios aren’t just for experienced designers with years behind them. Especially when starting out, you should have your portfolio up and running and be adding to it as you go.
What do you put in your portfolio if you’ve never actually worked as a UX designer? My recommendation would be to get around this by either doing free work for people around you, or working on so-called mock projects. This could be an unsolicited redesign of an existing app, or fleshing out a cool idea in your head — or break down an existing app and explain what’s good & bad, here’s a personal example of how I did it:
If you follow my previous recommendation you’ll work on your portfolio as part of your UX design course. This way, you’re getting hands-on practice whilst working towards something you can show to future clients or employers.
Get yourself a mentor
Finding a mentor is sound advice no matter what industry you want to get into. Especially in UX, where project work is so important, a mentor can really help you to improve your work and learn about industry standards.
The bigger question is where you will find them? If you don’t have any likely candidates in your immediate circle, the thought of approaching a stranger can be intimidating, especially if they’re an expert with many ongoing projects.
I’d start with low hanging fruit: reach out to people on LinkedIn, here on Medium, or with industry meetups. Search meetup.com for local UX events and try to get the details from people at the event.
Tell the right story
If there’s one universal truth, it’s that landing your first job in a new industry can be a huge headache. Even if you’ve been through the best of boot camps and mastered all the right skills, how do you convince employers that you’re ready?
The key is in how you tell your story. Construct a cohesive narrative that shows how your progression into UX was the most natural thing in the world.
Redesign your resumé to highlight the elements of UX you’ve been practicing in life, school, or previous jobs — probably without even realizing you were doing it at the time.
Framing your previous experiences within the context of UX immediately makes you a more interesting UX design candidate, and in doing so, your journey to becoming a UX designer will be much smoother.
So, you’ve decided to be a UX designer, what now?
Once you get started in UX design, there are so many different areas to specialize in. You might find yourself deeply exploring UX research, information architecture, or even voice design.
Those are just a few examples of where a career in UX could take you. In such a fast-moving field, often closely linked to the tech sphere, you’ll never run out of opportunities to learn new things.
Since you’re already here I’m sure you’re capable of finding good sources of reading material to help you master UX so I won’t list those.
As for podcasts, I would highly recommend:
Though Tim Ferris’ podcast is not specifically about design, he does interview many of the world’s top performing people, many of whom have problem-solving skills, or straight up careers in UX design.
I am in no way affiliated with any of these podcasts and do not have any commercial agreement with any of them, I’m merely passing on things I found valuable.