How to Become an Expert UI Designer in 2020 (Salary, Skills and Career Path)

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Across the globe, over 4 billion people use the internet. There are over 1.94 billion websites and 4 million mobile apps on Android and iOS combined, in existence. But, who is responsible for shaping what the internet looks like visually? Who designs the visual and interactive elements for all of these websites and apps? That’s right. A UI designer!

If you have an eye or a passion for good design and wish to work in a role that serves as an outlet for your creativity while at the same time making a powerful impact for businesses, UI design may be a fantastic career path for you.

Let’s a take a closer look at what this role entails and how you get started as one.

Table of Contents


What is UI design? 

User Interface (UI) refers to all those touchpoints where a user can interact with a website or an application. UI design, therefore, refers to the design of the user interface for these platforms.  Easing usability and improving a user’s experience is always the primary objective behind good UI design.

Ui designer
Photo by UX Store on Unsplash

What exactly does a UI designer do? 

UI Designer is a technical role. They are responsible for presenting a website, application, or platform in a way that is appealing and easy to navigate for users.  They are responsible for creating interactive programs that enhance a customer’s experience with a brand and facilitate an enjoyable experience on a website.  As a UI designer, it is your job to ask (and answer!):

  • Does this font suit the brand tone? 
  • Are the right colours used?
  • Is the app well-designed?
  • How can I make this website more appealing? 

You’ll also work very closely with UX designers. The UX designer’s responsibilities include interacting with customers to determine their requirements, building user-personas, and creating user stories to show what a user will typically experience on the website or application.


Why should you become a UI designer? 

You now understand what exactly it is that a UI designer does. But is this the right career path for you? Here are a few reasons why you could consider becoming a UI designer.

  • It is a creative career path. You’ll be working with colours, typography, iconography, visual design and more. 
  • It is an opportunity to make an impact. If a website is a piece of art, the UI designer is the artist. You have the responsibility to ensure that the website or application is attractive, easy to navigate and accessible for customers. Good UI can lead to more conversions and drive business success.
  • It’s a flexible role required across industries. There is no dearth of UI job opportunities, and you can work on remote, freelance, or full-time basis for different kinds of companies. The world is going digital, and design is a requirement across sectors, from healthcare, SaaS, e-commerce, to gaming. 
  • The opportunities are endless. The UI design is discussed most often in the context of apps, websites, and software, but that’s just the beginning. Currently, there is the emergence of AR, VR and Voice Technology. Hence a career in UI design can give you numerous opportunities to branch out and get involved with exciting new technologies. You can also learn UX design, once you gain some experience.

average salary ui designers

UI is also thriving in terms of the number of job opportunities available and average salary, even for entry-level. At the time of writing, there are 6,182 UI Designer jobs on Indeed and 23757 jobs on Naukri.


How to learn UI design? 

There are two ways to learn UI design. You could do a formal course at a college or university in Design or teach yourself the skills.


Formal Course 

If you choose to pursue UI design formally, a bachelor’s degree in Design (B.Des), coupled with a specialisation in UI/UX is the ideal way to go. It will give you a thorough understanding of everything from basic design principles and theories, the various design and UI tools and software, and some actual UI design practice which will help you immensely to step into this field. A few colleges in India that provide a Bachelor’s in the graphic, interface and industrial design are:

Apart from these, there are a lot of certifications available online through which you can master UI design. 


Self Learning 

Gain an understanding of basic design principles 

Mastering design basics is the first step. You need to have a good grasp of the fundamentals of UI design to create compelling interfaces. This includes learning concepts such as Colour Theory, Typography, Fonts, Balance, Visual Hierarchy, among others. 

A good start would be to learn Graphic Design principles and then move on to Web Design fundamentals.

Resources:

Learn visual design tools 

visual design tools for UI designers

The first step in the design process is wireframing. A wireframe is a visual guide that represents the skeletal framework of a website. Most often, designers sketch wireframes by hand on paper. Post this, a digitised design of the website or platform is created using a visual design tool.

The most popular tools used for visual designing are Sketch, Figma and Adobe XD (Experience Design).

Resources:

Learn prototyping tools 

prototyping tools for UI designers

Post creating the visual design, you have to build a prototype. It is an almost-realistic draft version of a website or platform that allows you to test it on users before investing more time and money into development. The most popular tools used for prototyping are InVision Studio, Marvel and Principle. 

Resources:

Familiarize yourself with design rules for each platform

Different ecosystems such as iOS, Android, and Windows have their own design rules and preferences. In mobile application development, the resolution of each model, status bar height, navigation bar height, icon size, font, and colour values must abide by strict rules.

Resources: 


How to get started and become a UI designer?

You’ve learnt the theory and the tools, be it with a formal course or self-learning, now what? How to go from having the knowledge to landing an actual gig or a full-time job? Let’s explore.


1. Pickup allied skills

allied skills for ui designers

When you become a UI designer, every freelance project or full-time job you get is going to bring its own set of requirements. Having specific allied skills can increase your employability and the value you can provide to the clients you work with. 

  • Coding Ability
    A designer that can both design well and contribute to the front-end code of a layout is a valuable asset to any company. Learning to code even just the basics of popular internet languages will increase your employability.
  • Responsive Design
    Essentially, responsive design is a way to put together a website so that it automatically scales its content and elements to match the screen size on which it is viewed. This is absolutely essential as today content is viewed and consumed on different kinds of platforms.
  • Motion Design
    Motion graphics are considered the crossroad between animation and graphic design. These usually have a goal of presenting information to the viewer with the use of animated text or graphics. The proper implementation of motion design can ensure better quality user experiences.

2. Pickup Soft Skills 

Technical skills are certainly important, but to thrive in the field of UI design, you need certain soft skills. Some must-have soft skills for UI designers are as follows.

  • Curiosity
    If you are curious, you will have the ability to engage with clients, products, and challenges in a more meaningful way. Curiosity leads to asking insightful questions, active listening, and engaging more deeply with problem statements.
  • Empathy
    The goal of good design is always to ensure a positive customer experience. The best designers, therefore, ensure they take the time to learn more about people and their inclinations. A deeper understanding of the end-users will only help you create designs that delight.
  • Communication
    As a UI designer, you must be capable of conveying your ideas well, explaining the thought or logic behind your designs, and work efficiently with other teams. Having excellent communication skills, therefore, is essential.
  • Collaboration
    Good UI design is when you’re successfully able to incorporate the ideas of developers, clients, and team members. You need to learn to receive and give feedback effectively, work as a part of a team, and learn the art of balancing the needs of all the main parties involved in a project to create the best designs possible.

3. Practice UI Design 

practise ui design
Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Learning different design concepts and how to work with various UI tools is essential, but practising is the only way you’ll ever actually become a UI designer.

Here are some ideas to practise and hone your UI design skills:

  • Create a subscription form for any website of your choice or a hypothetical client. 
  • Design a concept health/fitness app or redesign an existing one with features that might make it better. 
  • Create a wireframe for a website and app for an eCommerce business
  • Design a concept productivity app that tackles a real problem – reminders, to-do list, calendar, and activity tracker. 
  • Design a pricing page for a SaaS platform.
  • Reach out to a senior designer who might be interested in mentoring you and start working with them.
  • Design a four-part email drip campaign for a hypothetical client with a hypothetical product targeting conversions of new subscribers to paying customers.
  • Deconstruct existing websites or apps. This will allow you to understand the elements such as colour, typography and others that, in sum, make up the entire design. Check out Awwwards for some amazing websites you can try and recreate.

4. Build a great UI portfolio

UI designer portfolio
Image from CircularChaos.com

A design portfolio is a document or website that showcases your best UI designs. Whether you want to land a freelance gig or a full-time job, it is vital to have an impressive portfolio. Your portfolio lets your potential client or recruiter understand your capabilities and style as a designer.

You could build a website to you host your portfolio (you’d have to create one for this on platforms such as WordPress or Squarespace), or you could make use of an online portfolio maker. 

One way to make your portfolio more impressive is to create a blog to complement your designs. Explain your logic behind the designs to show that you are meticulous. Why a button is placed at a particular spot or why a certain colour or font was used, if you’re able to solve a problem using a certain design element, if you got more conversions from a specific tweak, and so on. 

Some commonly used online portfolio websites for UI designers:

Here are a few incredible UI design portfolios: 

Here’s more information on the critical elements of a portfolio and how to create one. 


5. Build your network

networking ui designers
Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash

The importance of networking is often underestimated. But if you wish to become a UI designer, the network you build can help you get feedback on your work, get your doubts answered, get to know more about the latest design trends, and collaborate or gain referrals. Here are some ways you can go about this:

  • Join forums, communities or Slack groups for Designers such as Ixda, TapChief, Dribble, DesignerHangout.
  • Reach out to senior UI/UX designers on LinkedIn or Twitter who are working with big companies or up-and-coming startups.
  • Use event curation apps such as Meetup, EventsHigh and EventBrite to find out relevant meetups and workshops happening in your city for designers. Remember to give out your business card if you have one. 
  • Start working out of cafes or coworking spaces and start connecting with people around you.

6. Apply for freelance design gigs or a full-time role

freelance job ui design
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

You’ve learnt the skills, created a UI design portfolio, built a network – now what?  Time to start working as a UI designer.  You could find freelance UI designer jobs and work with multiple clients, or you can join an organisation full-time.  

Here’s how to go about it:

  • Sign up on LinkedIn if you don’t already have an account set up and ensure all details are filled out, with your portfolio link attached. (Here’s how to go about LinkedIn Marketing)
  • Create a resume for yourself. Most recruiters ask for an updated resume along with your design portfolio when you apply for jobs. 
  • Set up a profile on job portals like AngelList, Naukri, Indeed and so on, and freelance websites like TapChief.
  • Reach out to the network you’ve built for opportunities. You could also try reaching out to members of groups and communities that you’ve joined to see if there are any available gigs. 

Wrapping up

Becoming a UI designer could be an incredibly fulfilling career – for your creativity and for having the ability to make an impact. The key is never to stop learning and to keep experimenting.

Designs may work, sometimes they may not. But don’t get disheartened, keep at it, try different things and you could well be on your way to becoming a successful UI designer.

Karthika Anand

Karthika is a Content Creator and Community Manager at TapChief. When not found writing, she's most likely to be found at the gym.