5 Tips to Help you Break into UX Design

By Jessica Tiao

UX Designers are at the forefront of designing websites and apps that can solve problems in healthcare, business and even raise funds for a global crisis like Nepal’s earthquake.

If you want to transition into user experience design, here are five tips to kickstart your design career if you come from a non-UX-related field.

It’s going to take hard work and perseverance to get into UX Design if you’ve never had any experience. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen. If you come from a non-design related field, don’t worry, embrace it. There isn’t a straight path to UX Design.

Most job descriptions for a User Experience Designer require a Bachelor’s degree in Human Computer Interaction, when in fact, you don’t need UX Design or an HCI degree to get started. In 2014, the Nielsen Norman Group surveyed 963 people working in the field. Essentially, “majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.”

I worked in digital advertising for two years before getting into UX. At night, I read books, worked on side-projects, and crafted a portfolio to get my foot in the door. After two years in digital advertising, I quit my job to pursue a UX career.

Are you happy with where you are in your career right now?

Do you want to grow and be challenged? Do you want to be creative and solve real problems? If you are considering a career switch, step back and ask yourself key questions:

  • What do you envision doing as your ideal job?

This could be a design position at an agency so you can be exposed to many different types, processes and industries. Or this could be a design position at a young startup where there’s little process and you discover what works best through trial and error.

  • What are your core values?

If you believe in innovation and disruption, you may want to work for a start-up. If you believe in tradition, structure and clearly defined processes, you may like working for a corporation like Accenture or Deloitte.

  • What are your target companies? What are the industries that you are interested in?

If you are passionate about music, you can target Spotify, Rdio, Soundcloud and other companies in the music industry. If you like fashion, you can target NastyGal, Gap or Polyvore.

User Experience Design is a multi-faceted discipline. Here’s a brief summary of 5 disciplines within the UX profession:

User Research: Figure out what users need. What do they expect?

Information Architecture(IA) focuses on how content is organized, structured and labeled in a clear and cogent way. For instance, when you visit Craigslist, were you able to find what you were looking for? When you go to the DMV’s website, were you able to complete the task you were set out to do?

  • Create sitemaps
  • Work on website navigation, naming, and categorization
  • Design wireframes

User Interface (UI) Design, emphasizes how an interface uses elements that are easy to understand and facilitate certain actions. UI Design is not UX Design. Is the page scannable and readable? Are UI patterns and elements like buttons and headings used consistently across a site? Are colors and textures used strategically?

  • Sketch
  • Wireframe
  • Create mock-ups
  • Create prototypes

Interaction Design is how a person and technology communicate with each other. For example, buttons on an iPhone need to be big enough for someone to click on it. Are error messages help explain why an error happened?

Visual Design is How does the product look and feel? Does it evoke fun or professionalism?

  • Design style guides
  • Define color palette
  • Choose typography

This simple framework is designed to get you a foothold in the UX Design world so that you can build a foundation of design vocabulary and the design process.

How do you get started? Do a design deep dive that identifies a problem and solves it. Your overall goal is to make an app more human and to also solve a business goal. The business goal can be to increase engagement, retention or activation.

  • Step 1: Pick a project. Choose an app or website where you can focus all of your creative energy. If you work at a hospital, perhaps you use software that is confusing and frustrating.
  • Step 2: Collect information about the problem. What about this app makes people tick? As a designer, observe how other people use this software, what happens and where it happens. You can gain first-hand understanding of the real context while you design from a distance. Good UX Designers can decompose problems and recommend design tweaks to fix the issues.
  • Step 3: Get ready to design. Start sketching. How can you make this app more human, more friendly? Try using Adaptive Path’s multipage templates to quickly create very generic sketches.
  • Step 4: Design. Create wireframes and prototypes to document the experience you’ve created. Konigi provides a free OmniGraffle UI Kit.
  • Step 5: Document your decisions and your work. Write a blog post or case study on your work. When you document, include images of your wireframes and prototypes. The more detailed it is, the better.

Now that you have side project going, put your work on a personal website. This is where you can share your portfolio to the design community and get feedback. Refine it. Get feedback. Create more projects and keep a running blog. This is the #1 thing that can help you get your foot in the door. It shows employers your design process and how you can solve problems.

User experience sits at the core of design for mobile apps and websites. If you take these 5 steps, bake it into your week, you are on your way to becoming a UX Designer.

Jessica Tiao is a UX Designer at KISSmetrics. She spends her time working with the Product and Engineering teams to solve design problems. When she’s not designing, she’s usually walking around San Francisco looking for a good cup of coffee.

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