With smartphones, tablets, apps, wearables, virtual reality, and other modes of technology growing like crazy, it’s no wonder UX designer demand is at an all-time high. According to Glassdoor, there are more than 25,000 current UX job openings in the U.S. alone. Glassdoor also included UX designer in its roundup of the 50 Best Jobs in America for 2019. And in the next five years, the design industry as a whole is expected to grow by at least 10 percent. If you want to break into a new creative field, there has never been a better time to learn how to become a UX designer.
What Is a UX Designer?
“How do I explain what I do at a party? The short version is that I say I humanize technology.” — Fred Beecher, Director of UX, The Nerdery
UX design is what makes websites, apps, and other products (both digital and physical) easy to use through consumer-friendly designs; a UX designer’s job is to look at the target market, understand its behavior and needs, and create a design that meets those needs.
UX designers aim to find the balance between logic and emotion by creating a logical structure for the experience while establishing an emotional connection between the product and its users.
Take a look at Google’s home page, an excellent example of a consumer-friendly design and thus good UX:
You really can’t get more user-friendly than a page with one search area.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a UX Designer?
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” ― Albert Einstein
If you’re interested in learning how to become a UX designer, here’s some excellent news: it doesn’t require a specific degree. One of the best parts about UX design is how open the field is to career switchers. Many UX designers didn’t go to college specifically to study user experience; rather, they are self-taught (to a certain degree).
“I don’t think that you need to have a university degree in design,” said Leon Barnard, education team lead at Balsamiq and a UX design mentor at Springboard. “UX as a profession is very welcoming of people from all kinds of educational backgrounds.”
That said, there are certain professional and educational backgrounds that lend themselves to an easier transition to UX design. After talking to hiring managers, Springboard designed the UX Career Track with four related fields in mind:
- Visual design
There are graphic designers who want to learn UX to make a bigger impact on their company’s projects. And coders looking to weigh in on a product’s visual appeal. Think digital marketers who’ve always wanted to make the app they pitch more desirable. Or academic researchers picking up UX skills to apply their research knowledge in the digital world.
Whatever your initial education and experience are, aspiring UX designers should have an understanding of these common user experience skills:
- User research
- Personas and empathy maps
- Storyboards and user stories
- Information architecture and user flows
- Sketches and wireframing
- Mood boards and visual design
- User interaction design
- Prototyping and user testing
Related: 25 Design Terms You Need to Know
How you master these skills depends on many factors. These days, there are plenty of options, from free courses that offer fairly in-depth overviews and thorough tutorials to paid bootcamps providing added layers of student support, mentorship, and other valuable services.
What Does a UX Designer Do?
“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.” ― Donald A. Norman, inventor of the term “user experience”
To better understand how to become a UX designer, it’s important to learn what a UX designer actually does all day.
A UX designer’s job is to use customer insights to craft the way a person will experience a product from start to finish. This job is multi-faceted; if you want to become a UX designer, you’ll do a lot more than work on Photoshop or Illustrator all day. Being a UX designer also involves a great deal of research and testing.
A UX designer’s job can typically be broken down into three main buckets:
1. Research: Consumer behavior is at the heart of UX design and the first step of any new project should be finding out as much as possible about the target market. Who are they? What motivates them? How can your product help them? If you don’t understand who your market is and why they need your product, you can’t design a good product.
UX designers and UX researchers utilize several methods to study consumer behavior. The key ones are: observing how people interact with a product, conducting face-to-face interviews, creating user surveys, and using prototypes to conduct usability tests. Often times, the designer will create personas or empathy maps to summarize and illustrate their target markets.
2. Design: Once a UX designer has a firm grasp on the target market, he or she can begin the design process. The early phase of the design process typically involves sketching; the goal is to transition an initial idea into a more tangible product.
Once the initial idea has been vetted, the designer will create a prototype, a simulation of the final product. The goal of a prototype is to test the flow of design and gather feedback from both internal and external parties before the final product is built. Prototypes are fluid and can be edited based on user feedback.
3. Testing: A prototype is a primitive version of the final product and crucial for soliciting feedback from the target market on what works, what doesn’t, and what could be improved. This feedback can be generated by simply observing how people interact with the product or via a more in-depth conversation.
Want to learn more about how to become a UX designer? Who better to hear from than UX designers themselves?
What Do the Experts Say?
“UX in itself is a broad discipline that includes many different skills and focuses,” said Brad Bitler, principal UX designer for Autodesk’s BIM 360 product line. “If I were someone who was new to UX, I would introspectively examine where on the UX spectrum I am most naturally inclined to be successful with; from research, product design, UX architect, to visual design.”
What else you can do to become a UX designer? Here’s what the experts suggest.
Do the Work
Of course, right? But what do you do if you’re just starting out? One strategy is to try to find an internship. This will not only make you more attractive to potential employers, but will boost your portfolio. If you can’t find a suitable internship, consider volunteering on a part-time basis. Reach out to local non-profit groups to see if there’s anything you can do to help.
Christine from Chunbuns, a product designer and YouTuber, said: “Every experience that you have, every project that you work on, whether it be a personal project or a project in collaboration with a startup founder that you know—anything—is going to really build upon that stone that you’ve set at the very beginning.”
Remember: a solid and diverse portfolio is one of the most important things you’ll need when applying for UX jobs, so the more real-world projects you can show, the better.
Related: How to Get a UX Job
If you don’t yet have access to real-world projects, you can still do UX work. Anders Hoff, Springboard’s head of UX design, suggested this: “Redesign your favorite app, be inspired by different designs of other people. Give yourself five hours to come up with redesigns for an app. Reduce it down to five problems, and come up with good ideas for redesigns.”
Ana Santos, a UX designer and Springboard mentor, is a proponent of doing fictional work to build out a portfolio. “Fake UX projects are so valuable that not only beginners work on them,” she said. “In fact, it’s a great thing to keep doing these to keep up with your skills and critical thinking, even if you’re a senior UX pro.”
You also must be comfortable accepting feedback if you’re going to grow as a UX designer.
“Do whatever it takes to start a conversation with others so that you start thinking more critically about your work,” said Springboard alum Jeremy Nigh. “You’ll find yourself discovering solutions to problems that you had no idea existed, and your designs will be much more intuitive for everyone—not just yourself.”
David Kadavy, the author of “The Heart to Start,” recently shared this lesson: “Early in my career, I found that I avoided feedback. It can be an uncomfortable process, particularly early on,” he said. “Remind yourself that feedback is growth. It can give you the mental resilience to get through the initial sting of feedback that isn’t what you had hoped for.”
Oz Chen of UXBeginner suggests that UX designers—especially those early in their careers—borrow from the lean methodology as they search for jobs. “If we think of a career as our own ‘product,’ then we can employ the build-measure-learn feedback loop to make quick progress,” he writes.
Develop Your Network
Never underestimate the power of networking. Business Insider reports that somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of jobs are found through networking. Not all job openings are posted publicly, so joining groups such as Dribble, Designer Hangout, IDFF, and even UX design Meetup groups can not only help you find a job, but also connect you with mentors and others in the field who can help guide you.
“Read, converse, and get involved!” suggested Kaycee Collins, a product design manager at WW (formerly Weight Watchers) who also mentored UX design students through Springboard. “Engage in different UX, design, and research communities.”
Find a Mentor
While having a mentor is beneficial for any job, it’s particularly helpful for those breaking into a new field. Recent Springboard graduate Aisha Butt relied on her mentors as she looked for her first job in UX research: “I reached out to both of them to get some insight into a project I had to share for a job interview and they had great information to offer, direction to give for what I should do, how I should prep, and I really really appreciated that,” she said. “Those relationships are definitely relationships I felt like I could leverage and really utilize to move forward in my career.”
“One of the things that’s always impressed me about the UX design community is that they’re always out helping one another,” said Anne Pike, UX manager at Avionte and UX design mentor at Springboard. “They’re always saying: here are new processes, here are new things that are happening with different apps. Everybody is sharing information.”
Stay Up to Date With Trends
Technology is constantly evolving and the design world needs to keep up. Thus, it’s imperative for UX designers to stay abreast of trends. Subscribe to a few blogs, bookmark a few sites, and try to read at least one new post every morning when you wake up. Nicole Saidy, UX designer and team lead at Booking.com, counts the following among her favorite UX design resources:
(Springboard’s UX design blog posts are also a handy resource, if we do so say ourselves.)
Understand Your Audience
Hoff stresses the importance of recognizing the interests of both your target market and the company you’re working for. “To become a good UX designer,” he said, “you have to understand the business you are designing for, and you have to learn how users think and behave.”
Pike agrees. “Think of yourself as a bridge between the users and the company,” she said. “You want to definitely accomplish what the company wants to achieve, but you want to be that advocate for the users to make sure that they have a really good experience. So the biggest thing is just making sure to keep that in mind—and don’t be afraid to push back at your company.”
Related: 5 Designers Share UX Lessons Learned
Final Thoughts on How to Become a UX Designer
There’s never been a better time to break into the world of UX design. Demand for skilled professionals is high and salary prospects are attractive—not just now, but for the foreseeable future.
It takes work to move into a new field, of course. Which is why Springboard offers the UX Career Track, a self-paced, mentor-guided bootcamp with a focus on helping you land your dream job in user experience. There’s even a job guarantee! Find out more.