So you wanna learn how to design? Here are 7 things you can do right now to get started

All you’ll need is 20 minutes

In the last couple of weeks, a few of my friends have asked me how they can get started learning design—specifically, user experience design. I thought I would share a more extensive version of what I shared with them here: a series of free (or relatively inexpensive) things that a beginner can do right now to start to get a basic grasp on the UX discipline.

I hope this is helpful. The ability to practice user experience design is a valuable, versatile, and gratifying skill to have, in much the same manner as coding is. And just like with coding, anyone can learn it. You don’t need an artistic eye (more on this later). So, ready to get started? All you’ll need is 20 minutes* to get through this list.

*untested claim ☺

Step 1: Watch this video to understand “what the #$%@ UX design is”

If you are new to the world of UX, this video will introduce you to “what the #$%@ it is” ☺. Matt of UX Mastery does a phenomenal job explaining what “user experience” refers to, why it matters, and why you should learn it—regardless of your chosen profession or industry—all in under 6 minutes.

You already know that being able to code is valuable. There is immense power, utility, and joy in being able to build things. But how will you figure out what to build? How will whatever you build, be it a website or app or product, work? Do you want to make something that people will use, love, integrate into their routines and their lives, share, recommend, and buy? You (most likely) won’t make something that will make people do all of those things by accident.

That’s where UX design comes in.

Watch Matt’s video >>

Step 2: Read this explanation of what UX is not

So you have a sense of what UX design is. You should also know what UX design is not. It is not (just) making things look beautiful (visual design), although that is a part of it. It is not (just) determining how a user interacts with a product (user interface design), although that is a part of it.

UX covers all of those things, and more—for the goal of shaping how a user feels when interacting with a system, product, or service.

Get clear on what UX is not >>

Step 3: Read about what UX designers do

Okay. So now that you know what UX design is, and what it is not, you probably want to know what it is that UX designers do. This article touches on some of the same topics Matt’s video covers, but it also deep dives on the responsibilities of UX designers, delineates the tools and methods of the trade, identifies situations in which UX is particularly valuable, and even discusses some of the criticisms of UX as a profession. This is your crash course, intro 101 to all things UX design. Give it a good read.

Step 4: Order The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

So now you know what UX is (and is not) and have a sense of the breadth of things that UX designers do. These first three steps were meant to orient you to the basics of the discipline of UX design. These next three steps will help you get started learning how to practice it.

The first of these next steps will be to learn how to think like a designer. This book is the bible of UX. In fact, Don Norman coined the term. Order The Design of Everyday Things off of Amazon. It will teach you how to start seeing and evaluating the world—the systems, services, products around you, both tangible and intangible—the way a designer does. You’ll never look at a doorknob the same way again (tell me after you’ve read this whether I’m right ☺).

Step 5: Sign up to take the free Human Computer Interaction class on Coursera

Then, you will need to start learning how to use the methods and tools of the trade. This class will teach you how to conduct user research, design tests, prototype, and more. If you’re interested in a career in UX, this is the place to start learning the specific methodologies and skills that UX designers employ. Sign up for the next session of the class.

(You can also just watch the lectures without taking the official course if you’d like.)

Step 6: Sign up to receive weekly design lessons from Hack Design

Then, set yourself up to continue your design education steadily and over time. Hack Design sends a weekly newsletter that will have 5-6 resources on a different design topic every week. You’ll learn about everything from typography to animation to interaction design and front-end development. The awesome people over at Hack Design have enlisted an army of designers to put together 50 weeks of this curriculum. It’s awesome. You’ll learn a ton.

Step 7: Sign up for Little Big Details’ email newsletter

And finally! This is a really fun one. Little Big Details is a Tumblr that collects the delightful, surprising, thoughtful design details that make people fall in love with products.

For example, did you know Yelp’s app lets you search for businesses using emojis?

Or that when you type “/ponystream” into a Google Hangouts chat window, a stream of My Little Ponies will run across your window!? (FYI: To get rid of them you’ll need to close your chat window.)

These are two of the sillier ones, but getting a consortium of these in your mailbox every week will remind you regularly to pay closer attention to the details in the apps that you use—and to start thinking about creating these moments of delight and discovery in your own designs.

It’ll also remind you regularly as you climb up the learning curve—and grapple with the frustration of learning something new or the frustration of a particularly challenging design problem—why you wanted to do this in the first place. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to work on making things people love.

I hope this was helpful! Let me know what you thought. I’m sure I’ve left off a ton of things that could go on this list, so if you know of any other awesome design resources for beginners, drop me a note!

Let me know as well if you are planning to start or are already learning UX. What are you finding most challenging? Most surprising?

As a part of my endeavor to rediscover my first love — writing — I’m writing one thing every week, for a year. If you enjoyed this, please click “Recommend” below, say hi on Twitter, or come find me on Instagram! I’d love to hear from you. ☺
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