What the heck is UX and how do I get into it?

Sagar Arora
Apr 18, 2018 · 4 min read

Design is more important than you think — take a look around you. That door was designed to accommodate everyone. Everything from the form, look, and feel was carefully considered. User Experience Design has become essential for companies to create an engaging and intuitive product to retain customers.

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My Story and Background

I’m currently a Junior at UMass Amherst studying Human-Computer Interaction, which is a major I designed through the Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC) program. Most schools do not have a formal education in User Experience, so I’ve had to pull from multiple departments to build my major. I took a combination of Design, Psychology, Statistics, and technical Computer Science courses. I applied everything I could to my design thinking process. Some courses were helpful, while some were not. It’s really up to you to put in the work to apply what you learned into your designs. I’ve also self-taught myself design from just practicing by building cool projects. Fortunately, getting into the UX field does not require formal education; its all about who you know and proving that you can design effective solutions.

In this article I’m going to go through my journey of learning UX and getting into the industry. This includes how I landed multiple internships in the field and have gotten interviews with big name companies including, Fidelity Investments, Disney, Change Healthcare, BJ’s, Hologic, Pegasystems and more.

What the heck is UX?

UX stands for user experience, an experience one has when they interact with any product. For example, if you were to walk into a supermarket and pick out some groceries to buy, that would be considered a user experience. Imagine you’re ten, and you’re out shopping with Mom and Dad. You want to buy bread, potato chips, turkey slices, and some cake. You go through each aisle getting everything you need, until the only thing left to pick up is cake. You check each aisle again with no luck, and Mom and Dad are saying you need to leave soon. Eventually you have to give up, and find someone who works at the store to point you in the right direction. As it turns out, you passed by the bakery section multiple times but had no idea because there was no sign. This would be a crappy user experience. As designers we’re focused on making sure that experience is delightful and pleasant. We don’t want angry, pissed off customers, otherwise they won’t use our products.

UX Design in the industry focuses on creating intuitive and engaging software that solves problems. Designers are focused on researching about their users, figure out their main problem and pain points, coming up with different possible solutions, building them out, testing, and reiterating accordingly. Its much more in-depth then this and different companies follow different methodologies but this is usually the general idea. If you would like to learn more in-depth here is a real life case study.

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How do I learn more about UX?

In this article and the next, I’ll go through all the different resources, tips, and tricks you need to get started in UX. I’ll start with practicing and fine tuning your visual and User Interface Design skills. This is mainly to get your feet wet and understand what goes into good design.

  1. To start out, head to any website that you find really appealing and attractive. If you can’t think of any offhand, here is a good source of inspiration.

2. Find a webpage that you especially like the design of, and take a screenshot.

3. Download a design tool and get used to the software. I prefer Sketch, as it’s very intuitive and easy to use. Other popular tools include Adobe Creative Suite, GIMP, and Figma. There are many online tutorials you can find to learn how to use the software. If you’re using Sketch, I recommend starting here.

4. Once you’ve played around with your design software enough, it’s time to begin practicing your design skills. Take your screenshot and paste it into a blank canvas or art board. Then create a new art board next to it.

5. This next step is important for getting you into the mindset of a designer. Try to recreate the exact same design from your screenshot on the blank canvas. Make sure you even pay attention to the tiny details, because every piece of the puzzle counts.

6. As you are designing, spend some time understanding the designer’s thought process. Why did they put those specific colors together? Are they complementary? How do the different icons work together to create a “feeling” of using their webpage? Some of the most important UI components include the navigation, content, hero banner (the big image front and center that grabs your attention), footer, and use of typography. Take the time to understand every design decision and how it contributes to the experience. With practice, this will help you build your design intuition and fine tune your visual eye. Your skills will build slowly at first, but before long you’ll be able to create your own beautiful designs!

Practice this exercise for a few weeks, in the next article I will be talking in detail about the design thinking process, how to effectively communicate your process through a portfolio (this is what employers look for!), and how to network and show off your skills while you’re still in school.

Feel free to shoot me an email with any questions you may have!

sagararora@umass.edu

Thanks for reading :)

Sagar Arora

Written by

Product & User Experience Designer | UMass Human-Computer Interaction ’19

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