First step is to start using the right terminology. A group of designers is called a ‘distraction’. And what it’s not called is a ‘consensus’. Don’t worry you’ll get that joke when you become a designer.
To answer your first question – Yes. It’s 2018 darling, you can be anything.
About not having the right ‘background’— stop worrying, you’re definitely not alone there. Most designers have some strange origin story to their UX career. I know some who were originally trained to be knitwear designers, architects and even engineers! There’s even some HR folks that we convinced to come over to the dark side. The good news is that everyone in this community is always learning and evolving.
So don’t try to fit into a ‘UX designer’ stereotype — just bring in what you have to offer and absorb what others have on offer.
There is a variety of ways to start your design education. Find one that suits your story.
Go to a Design school
If you want a degree, are prepared to take a loan if needed and have about 2 to 4 years to spare.
Search for the best courses in ‘interaction design’ or ‘human computer interaction’ or ‘user experience design’ and create a portfolio of design/creative work you have done so far.
Once in school, you’ll learn that there’s no one right way to solve a problem. (Isn’t that a great thought?). You’ll often collaborate with classmates on assignments and see that each one of them brings in their unique viewpoint, life experience and skill to the table. And the more people you observe, the faster you’ll develop your own strategies to problem solving. As my editor keeps saying, “more brains are better than one!”, every time he comes in to give me unvaluable advice when I’m answering these columns (no, that’s not a typo).
While in D school, keep yourself open to as many internships as possible so that you don’t lose touch with the industry.
Attend a summer course
If you don’t need a degree but want the D school experience and have only 2 to 3 months to spare.
It’s a great, but short experience – a good option if you’re working already, but feel you need a taste of D-school. Check with your company if you get sponsored leave or sabbatical for such courses. Or go for it when you find yourself between jobs. The courses here will be shorter and more specific, but definitely help open your mind and thinking to the design process and new methods that academia has to offer.
Take online courses while you work
If you don’t like the concept of school and have developed a taste for earning money instead of spending it.
Some of the best colleges are now embracing the impact and reach that the online-course medium gives. For a relatively lower fee, you can get course material and feedback without quitting or pausing your job. Courses like these can help teach you the skill sets required, while others like this one introduce you to a design thinking process towards problem solving.
Find work to look up to
If you can spare only a couple of hours per day and don’t have any designers around you.
Finding work to look up to goes a long way in motivating you to better your skills. Go to websites like Behance and Dribbble and follow designers whose work inspires you. This elevates your benchmark, giving you a level of quality to work towards. When you’re learning the design tools, try recreating work that you find interesting or complex. Search for tutorials to help you recreate it.
But remember, never use a fellow designer’s work commercially, or pass it off as your own original. Imitation is a great form of flattery only when you credit and thank the designer for it.
If you post something on the internet that has been heavily inspired by another’s work, simply mention it! You’ll only be thanked for it.
Shadow a UX designer at work
If you like learning by doing and enjoy the added bonus of annoying a designer in the process.
Jokes about designers apart, they are actually very warm people. They will welcome you with open arms if you show an interest to learn from them. Trick a designer pal at work to let you shadow her/him for a while and teach you the tools of the trade. After you devour tutorials, ask them to give you small bits of their projects to try out. When you get better at those, start asking for design briefs that let you solve a design problem from scratch. Show your work to more designers and get feedback. Make sure you’re also listening in on their free-time debates about ‘design trends’ and ‘research’ and their ‘obvious solution to this damn traffic!’ — there’s a lot of interesting design problem solving going on there without anyone realising it.
Do a freelance project
If you feel ready to test out your skills with a real, but low-stakes project. And are feeling charitable.
Look for people or communities that need help designing their website or even menu card, but might not be able to afford a design professional. It could be a family member, a friend with a small business or a non-profit group working for a good cause. Make sure this project is open-ended enough to give you time for trial and error. And sure, maybe you won’t get the kind of fee you eventually hope to earn, but this would be good practice for you and very helpful to someone who needs it.
Good luck and see you on the other side!