10 things every aspiring UX designer should know

Answering the question that dozens of beginners have asked.


Photo by Windows on Unsplash


4 years ago I quit my job, learned how to code, built a design portfolio, and became a UX Designer at a top company. I tripled my income that year.

I’ve written articles on how to do it without going back to school, and you can even grab a mentoring session with me if you want some more personalized help.

Over the past year, I’ve mentored dozens of people, and the same questions come up pretty frequently.

In no particular order, here’s what you should know if you want to get into UX:


 

For those just getting started

These are the questions that I usually get from people who have just started looking into UX and are curious about what they can expect from the field in general.

1.) What are the best parts of being a UX Designer?

I wrote a much more in-depth article on the best and worst parts of being a UX designer, you can check that out here.

In summary:

  • Getting to be creative & analytical in your day-to-day (which will help keep you from getting bored).

  • A high level of autonomy if you’re good at your job and can deliver thoughtful designs consistently.

  • Watching your work come to life, possibly in the hands of millions.

  • You’re building a valuable skill set that will help you stay in demand.

  • You’ll meet amazing people that are super passionate about so many different things, and they might rub off on you.

  • You’re setting yourself up for a ton of opportunities with what you learn, who you meet, and the skills you’ll pick up.

2.) What are the worst parts of being a UX Designer?

For some examples, check out that in-depth article I mentioned.

In summary:

  • Having to explain what you actually do over and over again, to the point of having to fight to get your job done and losing tons of time doing so.

  • Problematic team members or leaders, in a role that requires a ton of collaboration.

  • Watching your work die as things get canceled, reprioritized, or paused.

  • Getting stuck on a failing project that everyone’s expecting you to fix after UX hasn’t been prioritized until now.

  • Salary envy as your talented peers move on to make astronomical amounts of money.

3. How do you get qualified to do UX?

This one’s tricky because the field is still fairly new. Although there are courses that are available, bootcamps you can attend, and certifications you can go after, it’s still very much a field where you’ll find people from all backgrounds.

From devs turned designer, to Philosophy majors that wound up in Software, it all comes down to being able to prove that you can do the work.

You need a portfolio, and generally, people don’t really care where you got your education as long as your work is good.

4. How do I get experience before I have experience?

I get this one all the time, and people are usually super frustrated, but here’s the truth: Make your own experience. Don’t wait around for it.

You don’t need to enroll in a course or have a job to start doing your own projects. You need to learn, and learning by doing is the best way to help that education stick.

I’d highly suggest that while you’re learning (whether it’s a class, a certification, or through self-study like me), that you use your own ideas to run through the design processes that you’re learning in real-time. If you don’t have any of your own ideas, work through those design exercises with your favorite apps and see what you come up with. Example: A ridesharing app.

Not only will you absorb the material more, but you’ll also have multiple case studies for your portfolio by the time you’re done.


There ya go, experience you can point to and share.

5. Which tools should I learn?

You’re going to need to have tools that allow you to design and prototype. In general, I’ve used and have seen companies use Sketch, Invision, Figma, Axure, and a few others. However, that’s actually not my advice to you here.

Different companies are going to use different tools, and even within the same company, teams will have different tools and they’ll change over time. In the beginning, you should be focusing on honing your process, not focusing on tools. What never goes out of style is having a solid creative process that you can reliably repeat.

Get plenty of practice flowing your ideas out on whiteboards, sketching interactions with paper and pencil, showing imperfect designs to people to get feedback so that you can iterate, and scrapping those early iterations as they don’t pan out.

These are the timeless pieces of design, and the pieces that are often missing from designers that rely too heavily on high-fidelity designs too early on in the process.

Why is that a problem?

If you put a beautifully finished house in front of someone, they’re going to be so caught up in the aesthetics that it’s going to be far more difficult to see underlying issues with the foundation or the layout. Then you’re stuck with a beautiful-looking, subpar functioning home.

It’s exactly the same with design. Get the foundation right, iterate from there, and you’re golden.

6. Do I need to learn how to code?

This might seem like it’s a debate online, based on articles you’ll come across constantly. But It’s not actually a debate you’ll hear from designers in Industry.

No, you don’t need to learn to code…but it can help to know the basics.

If you’re getting into Tech, you’re going to be working with a ton of technical people on products that have technical constraints. Knowing what your developers are talking about and how your product works will help. Being able to tell them exactly what you’re looking for as you annotate designs or are trying to troubleshoot with them will also be useful.

I learned how to code before I discovered UX, and here’s how it helped me. But you don’t need it.


 

Job Hunting Questions

These are questions I get from people that have been delving into UX for a while and are looking for their first job or internship.

7. How do I find jobs?

I moved to a completely new city right as I was looking for a way to get my foot in the door for UX, so I had to try a ton of different things.

The most fruitful things for me were keeping my resume and portfolio updated as I added projects to them, reaching out to designers at top companies to ask for their favorite resources (not for a favor or their time), and local meetup groups where I could genuinely meet people who were already doing the job I wanted.

The thing about meetups is that you’ll be putting yourself in a spot to hear about jobs before they’re listed, people will be open to creating internships that might not have existed unless they knew you were looking for one, and you’ll get access to slack channels that are invaluable. From daily articles that are shared, portfolio reviews, and job announcements, they are the life-blood of any local UX community.

You won’t just be another random person applying for a job, you’ll be the eager new designer that people know personally. The only caveat, be genuine and give back to the community when and where you can. Even if that’s just sharing interesting articles as you get started.

I’d spend my time there as a beginner.

8. Which jobs should I be going after first?

You’re trying to get your foot in the door. Go after entry-level positions. 9 times out of 10 if a company says that they want a Senior UX Designer with 10+ years of experience, they’re really not going to be open to a Junior Designer.

Tons of juniors will be applying for those positions though, and never hearing back. Don’t be one of them. Aim lower and get started sooner. Get that experience so that you can choose where you go next, and get paid to learn from your Senior UX peers. Go where the competition isn’t.

My suggestion: Try applying to the junior roles, and if you aren’t hearing back, start aiming for internships.

Usually people ignore those, but that can be a mistake. In Tech, most internships are paid and the wages aren’t awful. And really, if you’re trying to get your foot in the door, it’s perfect.

During my 6 month internship, I was getting paid $25 an hour ($10 more than my previous job at a prestigious University that required a Bachelor’s Degree).

I learned SO MUCH during that time because I was paired up with a Senior UX Designer who’d been designing for top companies for over 20 years. Every day I did what she did alongside her, and soon I outpaced many of my junior-level peers.

That’s how I secured a full-time offer at a top company that generally doesn’t hire juniors AT ALL. I started as an intern, grew quickly, and made it clear that I’d like to stick around. Then I was making $40 an hour, with full benefits. I stayed for 3 1/2 years and we never hired anyone below the senior level for a full-time role in that time.

Don’t think an internship is below you, use it to your advantage.

9. Do you have any general interview tips?

Assuming that your portfolio is good, you’ve made it past phone interviews, and maybe even completed a design exercise, you’ll be spending some face-to-face time with your possible future coworkers and bosses.

If you’re really interested in the company, look into it ahead of time so that you can talk with them about upcoming products, ideas that you’ve had based on those, and maybe even mention areas where you think the product could improve based on the competition. They might all honestly be awful ideas, but you want to get everyone talking.

This is what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis, and showing that you’re eager to get started is one of the main benefits of bringing on junior-level designers; they have passion and energy.

Be genuine. Have real conversations and ask them what their favorites parts of the job are. You want to make sure this is a good fit for you, and many companies are looking to see not only that you can do your job well, but that you’ll be a good culture fit. You can train many things, but you can’t train a good team fit.

10. Is the market saturated?

I don’t think so. I still get multiple offers every single week that I turn down because I’ve decided to take a mini-retirement. When I do entertain them just to see what they’re offering, the salaries have sometimes been stupid high for what I largely think of as applying some basic common sense to software.

This tells me that places are in need of designers, and they need them now. Companies are now having to compete against each other for talent in ways they’ve never experienced because of remote work; all while demand for user-focused products has been skyrocketing.

I don’t see a demand for good UX designers going down any time soon.

Now, are there a ton of junior UX’ers to compete with? Yah, there are. UX has gotten popular the past few years, and for good reason. But get 3 years of experience under your belt and you’re good to go pretty much anywhere you want if you’re decent.


 

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