When it comes to design jobs, there is this position that every company seems to be looking for — Product Designer. What used to be called UX/UI designer, is now an expanded position, in which the designer is required to be a UX generalist, and go through the whole process of business understanding, user research, ideation and graphic design. Regardless if it makes sense or not, or if you agree with this “generalist” trend — let’s face it, this is de-facto what the industry is looking for.
I got to grasp this situation a year ago, when I found myself thinking of a new job, and being confronted with a barrier — as an experienced UX architect and researcher who didn’t do UI, I was dismissed for cool jobs in the companies that I was most interested in working with.
One year later, and I am now working as a Senior Product Designer at WeWork, which is an inspiring place to do research and design, and importantly for me, aligned to my personal goals and beliefs.
So… how did I make it happen?
First, let’s go back a bit.
I first started working on UX 7 years ago, as a young UX designer in a leading agency. My position included doing wireframes and prototypes for customers, mostly using Axure, basic best practises and well, common sense. Over the years I moved on to great product companies, worked in B2C and B2B projects, learned web and native mobile practises, continued learning and improving myself, getting into qualitative research and other various techniques across the UX domain.
However, no place where I worked in allowed me to participate into the UI part. If anything, to make a quick fix or help out a designer in simple tasks. As a designer who believes in aesthetics as part of the experience and has a certain connection to graphic design, this situation frustrated me. I got to solve this by doing UI in some freelance projects. But it never got to be a big part of my job, and still felt like quick fixes.
This little frustration grew bigger, until the moment that I saw the block, loud and clear— only the companies that keep UX and UI as separate disciplines are those who will employ me. While there are several companies that would employ me, these were not the ones which I was interested in working in (could write a whole post around this too, but basically… I was interested in going back to the B2C world and the UX/UI separation is nowhere to be found there right now). This mismatch wasn’t serving me well.
After 7 years as a pure UXer and researcher, I quit my job and decided to take a break to get deeper into UI design, the ultimate frontier. In order to overcome the barrier and fill the knowledge gap, this is what I did:
1. Do your UI research: I went through dozens of portfolios and websites. I spent hours reviewing stuff, trying to identify the elements that make it or break it, things that work and don’t. I understood that typography is the most misunderstood discipline in graphic design, and I decided to master it. The second misunderstood? Spacing and alignment.
2. Pick a design tool: This is a no-brainer. In order to do proper UI, you must learn some UI tool. I chose Sketch and Zeplin as they seemed easy to learn. There are plenty of tutorials and videos to learn from, most of them free. Don’t worry if you are working quick and dirty at the beginning, just get used to the tool and all will come next.
3. Learn UI principles: I read non-stop, as I have always done. But this time I read about color theory, animation, shapes, layout, Gestalt, typography and spacing. The hours of reading gave me incredible knowledge (God bless Medium and the internet), but I still felt it was all theoretical. So I passed to…
4. Trace interfaces: Find a successful and beautiful interface, if possible created on the Silicon Valley. Extra points if it’s complex and has multiple elements. Make a screenshot of it, and put it side by side to your canvas. Start copying — Find the exact font sizes and weights used, the spacing that was applied and the color palette. This may sound trivial and silly, but it’s not. Your eye will catch the concepts. Simply, learn from the very best designers and companies, for free.
5. Design your own UX wireframes: You can take your own wireframes and create for them alternative UI designs. There is no need to create something from scratch — choose a design system that you feel connected with, or find a good UI kit that can help you kickstart it. Anyway you’ll have to make adjustments, and eventually you will gain confidence to create elements and make changes that suit your product better.
6. Remake existing apps and websites: In the spirit of the previous point, choose services that are flawed UI-wise (or apps that you love) and suggest something different. Make a dark theme, or change the style as if it were focused on a different market. Everything is valid for the practise.
7. Spend money: If a resource is worth it and will give you value — yes, spend money. I purchased one graphic design course, which didn’t bring much new knowledge but organised the one I had already acquired. Also, I followed the fantastic Refactoring UI blog, which has great practical tips, and bought their book when they launched it (you should too, and I’m not getting any credits for this — it’s pure gold).
8. Continuously seek for inspiration: I don’t appreciate Dribbble as a source when it comes to UX challenges — but it’s a great source for UI inspiration. Cute concepts and colourful palettes will take you far. Keep folders and collections of whatever inspires you. Also, find and bookmark relevant UI kits, design systems and resources that will be useful along the way.
9. Get a job that will allow you to practise your new skills: After 3 months, I had to get back to work (and to reality). I got a Product Design position in a cyber-security startup which was happy with my design skills. Not only the opportunity of being a solo designer confronted me with being the one that has to run the whole show — it actually brought me to produce my best work! I had the opportunity to explore, create a robust design system with plenty of UI elements and explore design options, along with the UX tasks that I have performed for years. I even redesigned their public website — which was a pure UI task I never thought I would manage to deliver. After 10 months, I decided to leave the startup for different reasons — but my portfolio and resume gained in richness, and I got invaluable experience which I will be forever grateful and happy for.
10. Run for your dream job: Got your skills, and also got your experience? Get your portfolio ready and get interviewed! You are most definitely ready, so go and show it to the world 😎.