How to Become a UX & UI Designer (A Comprehensive Guide)
Interested in User Experience and User Interface Design? Here’s everything you need to know to get started: the skills required, tools & resources, tips on setting up professionally and becoming better at your craft.
Is UX or UI Designing Right for You?
You’ll love User Experience Design if…
- You love analyzing & solving problems
As a UX designer, your job is to deliver the most effective way to solve users’ problems and achieve business goals through design.
To accomplish this, you must understand:
- The business: The nature of your client’s business and what they want to achieve.
- The users: Who are they? What do they need to solve their problems?
- The overlap: How can you provide a user experience that aligns users’ needs with the business goals?
When you have insights into these key factors, you can translate them into an optimized, implementable design solution. It can be anything from an improved user flow or information architecture, more focused messaging, or new features.
2. You love psychology (cognition & behaviors) — To design for usability, you need to understand how different types of users behave, think and process information.
3. You love researching — It’s a huge advantage to know what the competitors (of your clients) are doing and what works for them. Stay on top of trends among your target users and what’s new in the design & tech world. These insights will help you make design decisions.
4. You value functionality and efficiency as much as aesthetics — Sometimes you must sacrifice beauty, but if it boosts sales by 20%, so be it. A good designer can balance the best of both worlds.
5. You are attentive to details — There are more components to a website or app than its primary features. You must make sure to cover all scenarios that users may need, even rare ones, like error messages, forgot password popups, on-boarding, etc. You don’t want users to get stuck in limbo somewhere, become frustrated, and quit forever. This comes with experience and from studying other people’s products.
You’ll love User Interface Design if…
- You love to communicate visually
As a UI designer, your job is to design the best way to visually communicate a clear message at first glance. You’re not just a “pretty-maker.”
Your design’s purpose is to communicate:
- The brand: What is the brand image? Fun & young, sophisticated & classy, or formal & reliable? How is it different from the competitors?
- The goal: What can users accomplish on this website or app? What is the most important call to action? Is it to sign up, subscribe to a newsletter, or buy something?
2. You love psychology (perception) — You have a huge advantage as a designer when you understand how visual elements affect people’s perception. How does certain colors, typography, or layout make people think and feel? You can guide users to take the actions you want, or even increase their perception of the product’s value.
3. You love consistency—A website or app is much more memorable and easy to use when the design is consistent. Pick a visual style that fits and stick with it. The same elements should be linked the same function (e.g. everything related to signing up is orange).
4. You are adaptable — Aesthetic is subjective. And your clients know more about their business than you do. What is beautiful to you may get a huge backlash from their users. You should make recommendations based on your expertise as a designer, but it is ultimately your clients’ business, and they have the final say.
Always a bonus
Communication skills — You must be able to effectively communicate to your clients why you make certain design decisions, and how they can improve their business.
Basic coding skills — Knowing how your design is translated into codes allows you to effectively communicate with developers and avoid impossible or difficult-to-code designs.
Networking skills — This is especially important if you’re self-employed. One of the best ways to find work is networking at tech and startup events, as well as getting referrals through connections.
UX & UI Design Resources
- Sketch (design software) — The best UX/UI design software, hands down. It’s lightweight, affordable, intuitive, does everything you need, updates frequently, and has tons of plugins that make your workflow much more efficient. Download some essential plugins and templates to save your time.
- Invision (prototyping tool) — A comprehensive tool for uploading your designs and creating an interactive prototype to share with clients. It has a Sketch integration that automatically transforms your designs into redlines & CSS for developers.
- Noun Project (icons) — Vector icons for everything you can think of.
- Simple Icons (logos) — SVG icons for popular brands.
- Unsplash (stock photos) — Free beautiful high resolution stock photos. Great for placeholders.
- My Hours (time tracker) — Essential to any self-employed designer’s livelihood. This is the best one I’ve tried that’s free and let you manage multiple projects and clients.
- Wave (invoicing tool) — Create, manage invoices, and track payments. You can link it to your bank account (certain countries) and PayPal.
- Critically study apps & websites you use — By objectively analyzing your own behaviors as a user, you will tremendously improve as a designer. Make a habit of noticing things that catch your attention, things that works well, or things that frustrate you.
- Invision Blog — Extremely useful and informative articles, including tutorials, resources & tools, how to get clients, how to present your work, how to collaborate, etc. They also have a youtube channel of interviews with experts from the industry.
- The Futur — A youtube channel of experienced designers sharing their knowledge on how to get started, building your own identity, design techniques, etc.
- User Onboard — Detailed analysis of popular websites’ onboarding features. You’ll learn the whole design decision-making and user behaviors (not just for on-boarding) by just going through them.
- Tubik Studio Blog — Insights & resources from a successful design studio.
- Other blogs I regularly visit: UXDesign | Envato Blog | Canva Design School | #design on Medium | Creative Bloq
- UX/UI work on Behance — Learn & get inspirations from other designers’ work. A lot of them are good, but a lot of them are just pretty without the functionality. You can learn from them either way. Case studies are especially useful to learn from.
- Awwwards — Real websites ranked by design, usability, etc. Most are absolutely amazing. The designs tend to have a very specific purpose and unique branding.
- Themeforest — A library of functional website templates you can learn from. The designs of websites here are more generic and multipurpose.
- Dribbble — Pretty graphic and UI designs, color scheme inspirations (try their search by colors function), and interesting animations.
- Pttrns — Mobile UI sorted by functions.
Becoming a UX/UI Designer
- Create your own brand
You are a brand, and your skills are your products. Knowing your own brand will help you tremendously with building a portfolio and presenting yourself to clients.
Your potential clients should be able to tell these things very quickly from your website:
- What’s your unique selling point? — Are you a strong visual designer? Are you more of a researcher? Do you have a background in business, psychology, or programming? What makes you stand out?
- What’s your style? —Are you a minimalist? Or are you bold & colorful? A good designer can work with any type of style, but clients generally choose designers based on the style they explicitly see on portfolios because 1) it’s a guarantee that you can do it, and 2) they can envision their product similarly.
2. Build a portfolio website
Select 3–5 of your best work and present them as case studies. You must explain your work flow, thought process, and decision making. Help potential clients understand the how & why behind each design, instead of simply showing pretty screens.
If you don’t have any client work yet, redesign existing website and app that you regularly use. Think of the problems you have while using them, and design something that solve these problems.
3. Business cards
Keep a few with you at all times, especially if when you’re at a social event. If you spot a potential client or someone who can introduce you to one, get to know them and what they do, mention that you’re a UX/UI designer, and then hand them a card.
This is my portfolio, as an example. I matched the look of my business cards to my website for consistent branding.
There are a few channels where you can attract clients:
- Online self-promotion: Promote yourself on portfolio websites where potential clients go to find designers, e.g. Behance, Dribbble.
- Content marketing: Share knowledge on a blog or social media. Write about relevant topics as a teaser for your capabilities.
- Networking: Get to know people at places with lots of potential clients. I recommend tech and startup events, which are full of entrepreneurs looking for a designer for their latest projects.
- Word of mouth: Let your friends and acquaintances know that you’re a designer looking for clients. They will likely think of you and recommend you when they come across someone who’s looking for a designer. If you don’t tell them, they cannot help you.
- Full time design jobs: Of course, there’s also the more traditional full time position at a company or design agency. Search career websites like LinkedIn and look for opportunities.
- Freelancing websites: If you’re a freelancer just starting out, you can bid for projects on sites like Upwork or Toptal. But don’t get stuck there, and filter your clients! Many clients on these sites are primarily looking for the cheapest option they can get, while not caring about the value of design. That’s neither good for you or your career.
Writing a proposal or contract
It’s wise to have a proof of agreement between you and your client to protect both of you. The contents may vary depending on the services you offer. Generally, it should cover:
- The scope of the project — the services you’re offering, the deliverables
- The estimated timeline
- Fees — including due dates and what happens if the payment is late
- Rights of intellectual properties — e.g. your designs belong to the clients but they aren’t allowed to re-sell your designs as templates
- Revision allowance—how many times can the client ask for a revision
- Cancellation of the project — what happens if either party wants to cancel
- Portfolio & credits —whether you may show this project in your portfolio, and that your design should be credited to you
Be clear, concise, and use a simple language you can easily understand. There’s no need to make it look like a complicated legal document.
My tips to become a better designer
- 50/50 rule for the design process
Spend at least 50% of the time planning & communicating with the client, and the rest designing. Take your time to understand the client, their business, their goals, their users, their competitors, and do a lot of research. It will save you a lot of time and headache from running into unexpected problems later on and having to redesign everything.
2. Work smart
Find an efficient workflow. Use tools and shortcuts to save your time. For example:
- Don’t start with a polished design — Sounds obvious, but surprisingly not to some. There will be changes throughout the process, so it’s better to start with a rough design that takes less time to edit at first.
- Use templates — There are tons of free wireframe templates you can easily drag & drop. Don’t create everything from scratch.
- Use symbols — Sketch (and many UI design software) has a function called “symbol” where all objects under the same symbol are linked. If you change the color of 1 button, all other linked buttons are also changed automatically. Why change them one by one manually? Surprisingly, many designers still do.
3. Adapt to your clients
Learn about your clients and their expectations as soon as possible. Adjust your design process and deliverables accordingly. For example:
- Clients are not visual thinkers — Many clients have a difficult time envisioning how wireframes or rough designs can become the final product. You may want to create more polished wireframes or present your design on product mockups (e.g. your app design on an image of a phone).
- Clients are very business-focused —Show them a user flow of how interactions will help accomplish which business goals first. Back up your design decision with how it will help users achieve their goals.
- Clients work in sprints —Plan for the end results, but divide your design into sections and deliver them in increments.
- Clients are a a startup that needs to push an MVP (minimal viable product) fast — Design a bare basic MVP with optimal user experience for them right off the bat, beautify the design later.
4. Build long term relationships with clients
By offering sound advice and analysis, clients will come to trust you as their mentors in the area of design. Your work won’t end with just one project. They will keep coming back to you for advice and more work when they want to improve or even start an entirely new project. To be in this position, you must truly understand the clients business, their vision and goals, as well as your craft.
5. Don’t too attached
Of course, you should care about your work to be able to do it well. But don’t get too attached to your creations. As I already mentioned, your clients will have the final say on the design they will use for their business. You may have to make a lot of adjustments along the way. Sometimes, clients may end up not using your design. Sometimes, it will look nothing like what you delivered (usually similar but uglier). Know when it is time to say “oh, well” and move on to the next project. Either way, everything you do is experience.