With almost everything going digital, businesses are taking user experience design more seriously than ever. That’s why becoming a UX designer is now a lucrative career option. According to Onwardsearch, it was the second most in-demand role in the design domain in 2019.
Because it is a creative role, people assume their job is to make websites and applications look beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. While it is valid to a certain extent, a UX designer is responsible for much more than that. They play a crucial role in everything from user research, user journey mapping, to conversion rate optimisation.
In this blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know to become a UX designer.
Table of Contents
1. Defining UX — what is it?
UX design is the process used to determine what the experience will be like when a user interacts with your product. ~ Laura Klein
Donald Norman, an American researcher, is the one who came up with the term in 1993.
It covers everything you do to ensure that the user experience is delightful, meaningful, and fulfilling. When you put it in a more practical context, UX design encompasses everything from conducting user research to deciding where a banner should be placed on a web page. As a UX designer, you need to be able to identify, analyse, and solve your user’s challenges and needs.
UX design is really a combination of design, user research and testing, cognitive psychology, and branding. And all of these aspects are equally important. For instance, UX design means different things for different brands and their users. An Ubuntu user’s demands and perceptions will be different from that of a Windows user.
2. The role of a UX designer — what do they do?
A UX designer is responsible for making sure the product or service that you are selling is user-friendly and easily accessible.
This involves a wide variety of things, starting with gaining an understanding of the brand. This is followed by researching the target audience, and analysis of the information gathered. Based on the insights gleaned, you create user personas and map the user’s journey. You then find ways to make the experience better for your users. This is where the actual designing takes place, with the creation of wireframes, mockups, and prototypes.
Then, you use various testing methods to find out if they are making a difference and if they are consistent with the vision for the product. And finally, you implement the changes and release it to the wider public. But, the UX design process doesn’t end here. It is an on-going one, keep analysing the user behaviour, find out roadblocks, areas of improvement, and evaluate if the user experience has gotten better.
In some companies, you will have a team of UX designers, each focusing on a certain aspect of the process — user research, product design, visual design, among others. While in other companies, you’ll have a single person taking care of the whole thing.
3. UX and UI are two different thing — what’s the difference between a UX design and a UI designer?
The terms User Interface Designing and User Experience Designing are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.
UX design involves activities like researching, developing, and optimising how a user interacts with a product. The aim is to ensure it is meeting the user’s needs. Whereas, UI Design is more about the visual elements – how the product looks, whether the interface is aesthetically pleasing, and other tangible elements that users interact with.
4. Not sure if it is for you? Well, here’s why you should become a UX designer
On the one hand, it is a very full-filling career path. Even the smallest actions of yours will have a direct impact on the end-user and the way they perceive and interact with your business. So, automatically, you become a vital member of the team.
What’s more, there’s a massive demand for UX designers in the market. It is not a surprise. Take any product or service, and you will see five alternatives for the same. Hence, businesses are more serious than ever when it comes to crafting user experiences.
And hey, it pays well too.
5. Made up your mind? Then, here’s how you should go about becoming a UX designer
UX design is much more than just graphic designing. It borrows heavily from multiple disciplines, from psychology, branding and marketing, data science, web development, among others.
So, the question becomes what’s the right way to learn UX and become a UX designer? That’s what this section aims to answer.
To begin with, you can become a UX designer in two ways, enrol for a design course/certification, or through self-learning.
You won’t find too many undergraduate or postgraduate courses on UX designing. However, there are institutes like NID (National Institute of Design), NIFT (National Institute Fashion Designing) where they offer several courses in the design domain. It will give you a fundamental understanding of what UX design is and what you need to learn to build a career in the domain.
But if you are looking to gain a professional-level understanding, better go for an online course (on platforms such as Udemy or Coursera) or a certification program recognised in the UX circles.
How do you learn something that is so diverse on your own? Well, break it down into smaller units and follow a clear, logical order. For instance, start with user research, then move onto information architecture, interaction design, design systems, and so on. Don’t try to learn everything at once. You’ll only end up overwhelming yourself.
We have broken down and explained all the steps in the path to becoming a UX designer below. Irrespective of the route you are taking, you can follow this framework to make your journey smoother.
5.1. Learn the fundamentals of user research
We live in the age of user-centred designing. So, you need to continually be in touch with what users want and how they are interacting with your app or website.
So, how do you do this? Through focused research. So, to become a UX designer, you must learn how to undertake user research, start to finish. This includes everything from defining the research problem and purpose, selecting the user group to target, creating a research plan, conducting the actual study, using the information collected to develop personas and user maps, to building wireframes based on that.
On the whole, user research will help you find out the needs and demands of your users, the roadblocks and challenges they are facing, whether their interactions with the app are meaningful, if different user groups are behaving differently, the modifications that need to be made, and more.
Hence, if you want to become a UX designer, learning how to do user research is critical.
Here’s are the critical user research concepts that you need to learn:
- Different types of research — primary and secondary, qualitative and quantitative
- Different research methods — survey, focus groups, observation, literature research, ethnography, card sorting
- How to draft an impressive research plan?
- Coding and tagging the data you collected
- How to analyse the data?
- What are key insights and how to connect them with your business goals?
- How to visualise and present your key insights effectively?
User research tools that you need to master
- Survey tools – Google Forms
- Qualitative Analytics Tools – MixPanel
- Feedback Tools – UserResponse
- Usability Testing – Usertesting.com
- A/B Testing – VWO
5.2. Get a basic understanding of Colour Theory
Open any website or application, the first thing you notice on the screen will be the different colours. In modern-day business, the choice of colours has multiple implications. It can help you stand out, make a great first impression, inspire trust, show that you are user-friendly, build brand recall, among other things.
So, as a designer, you must learn colour theory — the art and science of how to combine, blend, and use colours. Learning Colour Theory will help you understand what colours match, how to combine different colours, what colours to use where and when, and how to build a beautiful colour palette.
Here are the critical aspects of Colour Theory that you need to learn:
- Colour Wheel
- Different Colour Models
- What is Colour Harmony?
- Colour Meanings
- How colours affect user experience?
- The role of colour in branding and marketing
5.3. Learn the role of Information Architecture in UX
Information overload and decision fatigue may sound like far-fetched concepts, but they are now very much part of our daily lives. Our declining attention span is a direct result of this. Thus, businesses are now taking information architecture or the science of arrangement, more seriously.
Information architecture focuses on organising, structuring, and labelling content in an effective and sustainable way. The goal is to help users find information and complete tasks.
As a UX designer, you need to learn IA so that you can help your users locate the desired content quickly and effortlessly.
Here’s are the key aspects of Information Architecture that you should learn:
- Eight principles of Information Architecture
- Elements of Information Architecture
- The fundamentals behind the visual hierarchy
- Navigation examples and best practices
Popular Information Architecture tools you need to learn
- Create mind maps – Miro
- Build complex IA structures – Visio
- Create sitemaps – Dynomapper
- Flowchart modelling – Draw.io
5.4. Build your first wireframe
Before building a house, we typically draw up a blueprint. Similarly, before developing an application or a website, we make a wireframe. It is a diagrammatic representation of how a web page will look.
Typically, you will have to share it with front-end developers, graphic designers, UI designers, and other major stakeholders. It should convey things such as — the area assigned to different elements and their arrangement, how they interact with users, how the web page will fit in the overall site structure, and so on.
A wireframe will not feature pictures or any other form of graphics. Essentially, it is a midway stage between a rough sketch and a mockup which has colours and graphics of what the final design would look like.
Here’s how you should go about learning wireframing:
Popular wireframing tools
5.5. Cover the basics of Visual Design
Designers use visual design elements to communicate to the users, draw their attention, and nudge them to take action. The elements include whitespace, lines, colour palettes, typography, and more.
Although Visual Design falls more on the UI side of things, knowing the basic principles of how to use different elements will help create an output that is accepted by the large section of your audiences.
Here’s how you should go about learning visual design:
Popular Visual Design tools:
5.6. Learn how to do Interaction Design
When you are visiting a website or using a web application, you interact with it in different ways — add a product to the cart, view a video or an animation, hover over a button, and so on. All of this forms part of Interaction Design. It focuses on how a user is interacting with technology.
As a UX designer, you will have to ensure that the user can achieve their information goal in each interaction. For instance, you can simplify something like ‘selecting the country of residence’ by providing a slider that lists down all the countries by their first letter.
Here’s how you should go about learning Interaction Design:
- Basics of Human-Computer Interaction
- 5 dimensions of Interaction Design
- Principles of Interaction Design
- How to direct the attention of the users?
Popular Interaction Design Tools:
5.7. Create a mockup on your own
A mockup is a wireframe with more visuals. A wireframe is essentially a barebone structure which tells the viewer where each element will go, how much space it will take, and more.
But, on the other hand, mockups give the viewer how the final webpage or application screen will look like or a version close to it. The mockup will have vibrant colours, images, graphics, typography, buttons, navigation menus, and the actual content.
One thing to note is that a mockup will be a static page. So, the primary aim of creating one is to give stakeholders an idea of what the final product will look like. When you add interactions to a mockup, it becomes a prototype, which we will cover next.
Here’s how you should go about learning it:
As a UX designer, you need to learn how to create mockups that can be presented and reviewed by the stakeholders. You can use design tools such as Photoshop to create the visual elements and then, use a mockup tool to assemble everything.
Popular mockup tools
5.8. Turn a wireframe into a prototype
Prototyping is the process of creating a sample version of a product before launching it to test its usability. It is a critical step as you will be able to test it on real users. This should help you find out usability issues and ways to refine the user experience. The best part is that it will supply you with enough data to make informed decisions.
Prototypes vary, they are not all the same. If you are in the early stages of production, a paper sketch might suffice. But, if you want to test how a feature works, then you’ll need one that is close to the real product.
As a UX designer, you need to learn the applicability of different types of prototyping and how to use prototyping tools.
Here’s how you should go about learning prototyping:
- Different types of prototyping
- 10 Tips for Prototyping Your Designs
- How to create an interactive prototype with InVision
Popular prototyping tools
5.9. Acquire the relevant supplementary skills
Like in every other profession, there are some handy skills every UX designer can pick up to boost their employability. It is not mandatory that you know them, but having a basic grasp of them will make a more rounded UX professional and much easier to work with as well.
Here are some of the most critical allied skills that you should pick up along your way to becoming a UX designer
- Design Handoff: Design handoff is the phase of product development where the design team has completed the designs, and they are handed over to the developers to implement it. As a UX designer, knowing how to manage a design handoff will come in handy. You’ll be able to ensure the process is smooth, quick, and effective. Nowadays, most of this happens over tools such as Zeplin. So, having a basic grasp of how it works will certainly help.
- Responsive design: We live in the age of mobile-first, whether it is development, design, or even SEO. So, you need to have an understanding of how to build responsive user experience, how user behaviour varies on different devices, what the industry best practices are, among other things.
5.10. Develop relevant soft skills
What separates an ordinary UX designer and a great UX designer? Technical knowledge can only take you so far. It is the personality traits and qualities that will help you stand out from the rest.
We’ve listed down a few that you should develop:
- Nurture design thinking: Design mindset is essentially when your focus is on coming up with solutions and how you can build a better future. Cultivating a design mindset will help you understand where the product fits in the larger scheme of things, how to iterate and scale your product, and deliver a fulfilling user experience.
- Be meticulous: From user research to interaction design, every step of UX requires you to be meticulous. For instance, in the case of Vevo, placing a ‘skip button’ in their onboarding flow increased the number of increased logins by nearly 10 percent and the number of successful sign-ups by 6 percent.
- Develop empathy: For starters, you are in the business shaping the experience of human beings. You have to be empathetic to their preferences and motivations. Moreover, it will help you look at things with less bias and in a more open-minded way — making your user research efforts more effective.
- Learn to work collaboratively: From research participants to front-end teams, you’ll have to interact and work with a large number of people regularly. So you have to be collaborative, receptive, and transparent.
5.11. Test and improve your UX skills
Now that you have learned the basics, the next step is to get some experience under your belt. You need to prove yourself, let people know that you are ready. Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Redesign an existing product: Select a widely-used website or application, do user research, find out more about the user behaviour, arrive at a problem statement, come up with solutions for the same, create mockups and prototypes, and write a blog post on how your version solves the problem. It could be something as simple as an onboarding flow or a landing page.
Check out the story of how Kim Thuy Tu went about redesigning the Instagram app.
- Build mockups for an app idea that you have: We use so many apps every day, so it is very easy to get inspired and come up with an idea of your own. Don’t worry if you don’t have the money or the development expertise to complete it. Keep at it, build wireframes and mockups. You can later add it to your portfolio. If you know any designers and developers in your circle, you can collaborate with them to get it up and running. Ultimately, there’s nothing better than actually putting your skills to test.
- Work with local businesses: Get in touch with a local business or someone your network who owns a website, let them know how their website’s UX can be improved, and that you can help them with it. Great if you can pitch them with a wireframe or a mockup of how the redesigned website will look.
- Apply for internships: Sign-up to different internship portals such as Internshala and MakeIntern, create a profile, and start applying for relevant internships.
The projects you get initially may not be rewarding financially, but they will be really enriching from an experience point of view. So, don’t reject them, but ensure you get credited for your work. You can even ask for recommendations, give you testimonials or even referrals.
5.12. Set up an online portfolio
You may think you can convince people by telling them about UX capabilities, but that’ll never be as effective as showing it to them. And the best way to do it is through your portfolio. It should encapsulate your work experience, background story, values and beliefs, offerings, contact details, qualifications, and much more.
Few tips to keep in mind while creating your UX portfolio:
- Always add a description for every mockup and wireframe that you are uploading. Explain your reasoning behind it and the way you went about it — why you designed it the way you did, how you did the research, how will it improve the user experience, the tools you used, behind the scenes images, and more.
- Tell readers what makes your designs stand out from the rest, what other skills do you bring to the table, and how you actually implement this in your designs.
- If you have undertaken user research in the past, showcase the user personas and the journey maps that you have created.
- Write posts about your views on development, the challenges you encountered while building or learning something, or critiques of popular applications and the changes you would like to make.
- Popular portfolio builders for UX designers are Behance, Dribble, and Coroflot. TapChief also lets you build your own portfolio.
Here are a few excellent UX portfolios that you can draw inspiration from:
5.13. Do a bit of networking
One way to accelerate your growth as a UX designer is to widen your network. It will help you learn, stay up-to-date, and improve, and at the same time, it opens up a chance to get freelance projects and referrals.
So, how do you get started?
- Create a professional-looking profile on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other popular social networking platforms.
- Join design communities such as Behance, Dribbble, UX Mastery, among others.
- Follow or connect with UX designers that you look up to or whose work you admire.
- Subscribe to their podcasts, webinars, or email newsletters; you can use them as conversation starters.
- Start engaging with them regularly; attempt to have informed conversations and establish a rapport with them.
- Find online pages of design collaboratives and communities in your locality, figure out how to get a membership, and how to be part of the meetings.
- Keep an eye out for design-related seminars, conferences, and workshops happening in your city; use event curation apps such as Meetup, EventsHigh and EventBrite for the same.
- Be an active member of your alumni network, get in touch with relevant people, see if you can work for them temporarily or if they can recommend you to potential clients.
- Work out of different co-working spaces in your area; it is a great place to meet fellow UX designers and also, potential clients.
5.14. Apply for jobs
You learned the necessary skills, built a few things on your own, built a portfolio, and now you have to land a job. You can either opt for a full-time job or look for freelance projects. As we mentioned in the beginning, there’s no dearth for both.
Here’s how you should go about securing your first project/job:
- Build a complete and professional-looking LinkedIn Profile.
- Build a great resume that stands out from the crowd.
- Sign-up to different job portals (Naukri, Indeed, Angellist, InstaHyre, Updazz) and freelance websites (TapChief).
- Search for projects/jobs relevant to your skills, and start applying.
The key to becoming a successful UX designer is to ensure that you don’t stand still. Keep learning; every year, new technologies and frameworks are coming out, so stay up-to-date. Nothing impresses a recruiter like someone who is proactively trying to improve themselves.