Inspiration

A guide to becoming a UX designer at age 40

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My journey into UX design

The past
Growing up on a farm in Scotland, I never knew what I wanted to be. I completed a degree, lived abroad for several years, ran my own business for 7 years. In 2010 my wife, 2 kids, and I moved to Australia. I was looking for a career change.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” –Nelson Mandela

I took the Sydney UX design immersive at General Assembly in 2014. This gave me the foundation to start a completely new career at 40 years old.

Me now
I’ve now been a UX designer for 3 years. Looking back, it was a tough journey—I had no experience in the world of technology or design.

If you want to become a UX designer and you don’t have a background in digital, don’t panic. The learning curve is steep, but it’s doable. Getting into UX design completely changed my life.

Here’s a roadmap to follow if you want to get into UX design at any stage of your life.

UX design: What, why, where?

What is UX design?
User experience design is the process of enhancing a person’s experience with a product or service. It involves an understanding of their behavior to create a successful design.

Why get into UX?

Right now, there’s a great demand for UX designers and that isn’t going to change any time soon. Technology is moving quickly. Currently there’s lots of opportunity and you can earn an above-average wage.

Where could I be working?

You could be in the corporate world, at an agency, a small to medium business, a startup, or you could go freelance. I ended up in a corporate gaming company.

“Design can be art. Design can be simple. That’s why it’s so complicated.” –Paul Rand

In what order should I do things?

I didn’t do everything in the best order when I got started. If I could do it all over again, this is the route I’d take:

  1. Background reading: To confirm you actually do want to get into UX
  2. UX process: Get your head around this early on
  3. Study: Figure out whether an in-person class or online class is best
  4. Design tools: What to learn
  5. Prototype tools: What to learn
  6. Portfolio: How and what to include
  7. LinkedIn/resume: What to get in order
  8. Interviews: How to get ready and what to expect
  9. Ongoing learning: Never stop learning
  10. Giving back: Once you start growing

1. Background reading

UX design is very popular in the world of digital right now, and it’s crucial that you take the time to find out if it suits you. Start by reading some UX books. Get a feel of what it is and what you’ll be doing. If it’s not for you, you don’t want to spend money on a UX design course.

Related: A comprehensive reading list for and by designers

Become a UX designer

Here are some great books to get started in UX design:

  1. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
  2. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk
  3. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug
  4. Simple and Usable: Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design by Giles Colborne
  5. The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garret
  6. A Project Guide To User Experience Design by Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler
  7. Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen
  8. Measuring the User Experience by Tom Tullis and Bill Albert

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” –Dr. Seuss

2. UX process

The UX process is the structure that UX designers follow to get a desired outcome.

Research > Insights > Design Concepts > Test Prototypes > Develop

There are many variations to the UX process. There’s usually a common sense, A-to-Z journey to get the outcome. My advice is to look at the options and create your own process. Not all projects will use the full journey, but it’s great to have a structure to follow.

Many businesses don’t follow a UX process. They don’t see it as important. Working for companies with no process will make life tough. I did this for a UX contract when I started, and it was no fun.

Work for a business with a UX process—you’ll learn so much more. A mature UX business will give you a great start to your UX career.

3. UX study

In-person classes You can study online or in class. For in-class study, General Assembly is a great option. They’re in several cities around the world. You can either do a full-time program over 12 week of part time over a similar period. If you have little experience in digital, do the full-time immersive course.

If you can’t afford the time, take the part-time class after work.

If you can’t do an in-person UX class, don’t panic. There are lots of great online courses that’ll give you a good foundation. My advice is to do a course with a mentor. Here are a few online courses that’ll give you a taste of the UX world:

Bloc: Intensive UX training with a mentor (Study: 1. 5 years at 15 hours per week)

Career Foundry: Become a certified UX designer with a mentor (Study: 10 months at 15 hours per week)

Coursera: Introduction to UX Design (Study: 5 weeks at 2 hour per week)

Design Lab: Join their UX Academy and learn with a mentor (Study: 26 weeks at 20 hours per week)

General Assembly: UX Design Circuit with a mentor (Study: 6 weeks at 10 hours per week online)

Hack Design: Learn UX and UI design with a lesson emailed to you each week (Study: 50 weeks at 1–2 hours per week)

Interaction Design Foundation: A range of great online courses for UX design. (Study: Between 5–10 weeks at 3–7 hour per week).

Lynda: Advance your UX design skills (Study: 10 hours in your own time)

Open to Study: User experience for the web (Study: 4 weeks at 2–4 hours per week)

Skillshare: Intro to UX: Fundamentals of usability (Study 1.5 hours)

Springboard: Learn UX design with a mentor (Study: roughly 3 months at 12 hours per week)

The Leftbank: Information architecture and UX (Study: 10 weeks access with a total of 80 hours study)

Treehouse: UX basics (Study: 2 hours)

Udacity: Product design course by Google (Study: the average time taken is 2 months)

Udacity: Intro to the design of everyday things with Dion Norman (Study: the average time taken is 2 weeks while)

Udemy: UX design fundamentals (Study: 12 hours at your own pace)

Udemy: UX & web design master course: strategy, design, development (Study 24 hours at your own pace)

uxtraining.com: Foundation in UX (Study: 12 hours at your own pace)

Become a UX designer

Study thoughts

The point of studying UX design is to get your head around it. You’ll also want to do some UX case studies. No case studies means no portfolio. And without a portfolio, you’ll have a hard time getting a foot in the door.

Tip: When doing case studies, make sure to take lots of photos of each stage. You’re telling a story, so take photos as you go, store them, and add notes of what you did at each stage. This will make your life much easier when you build your portfolio.

4. UX design tools to learn

Sketching on paper
Pick up a pencil or pen, some paper, and start doodling. Sketching is an important part of UX design. You don’t need to be a born artist to be able to sketch meaningful designs. You need to get in the habit of sketching out ideas, app or web screens, and customer journeys. I’m not a sketcher or an artist, but getting into the habit of sketching has been invaluable. Sketching allows you to ideate at speed. If they don’t work, you can throw them away and get onto the next idea.

The Napkin Academy is a great way to start your journey in sketching your ideas.

Sketch
Sketch is the tool for UX designers. Before, Photoshop and illustrator were the tools to use, but now it’s all about Sketch. Go online and take some lessons. Be patient, practice every day, and you’ll get there.

Switch to Sketch

5. UX prototyping

There are lots of prototyping tools you can learn, but to get started I’d stick with InVision—it’s a great tool for prototyping web and app journeys. Design screens in Sketch, and then export them to InVision to quickly create a clickable prototype—it’s a must learn. InVision is adding lots of great features, so it’s an exciting time to jump in.

6. Your UX portfolio

There are many opinions on how UX designers should show their work. I coded my first portfolio, but it’s not required.

1. Make sure you include the following:

About section
Some copy about you—your brief story
What you do
Where you’re based
A friendly image of yourself to personalize it
Your email address
Your mobile number

Become a UX designer

Case studies

  • To introduce each case study, add the business it was for
  • Say what your role was (be honest) and whether it was an app, website, or other product that you worked on
  • The main part of each case study is to document the problem you had to solve, and the story of how you solved it
  • UX managers/hirers will want to see your process
  • Remember to keep it simple and avoid jargon
  • Use images break up the text

2. Ways to present your portfolio

PDF document
This can be a straight forward way to do your first portfolio. You avoid focusing too much time on the technical side of the portfolio and more on the content and the UX. You can design it in Sketch and it can be done in A4 pages. These can then be sent as a PDF to any potential employer, which they can easily print.

Medium
There are people who have published their case studies as a Medium post. This option is very easy to do—and it means you can concentrate on the content and not too much on the visuals.

Squarespace
Squarespace has great website portfolio templates you can use off the shelf. A bit of thought is required, but the results can be impressive.

Related: Go inside design at Squarespace

Dunked
Like Squarespace, Dunked has portfolio website templates where you can add your content without too much trouble.

The best portfolios show pride, not just proof; tell a story not a catalog; illustrate process not just a passion.

7. LinkedIn

People will most likely check out your LinkedIn profile. Keep it to the point by highlighting the main parts of your resume. Be honest and keep it up to date.

Get your LinkedIn profile up to date with the following:

  • Photo: Sensible, friendly headshot
  • Summary: Intro about yourself—an overview of you and what you do
  • Work experience: Add in the the dates you worked in each position. Job title. Where it was and what you did. Don’t write a book on each area.
  • Education: If you’re fresh out of college, then by all means put your education up top. If you’ve only taken online courses and don’t hold a degree, add in those courses.
“Talent will get you in the door, but character will keep you in the room.”

8. Resume

The only reason to do a resume is for printing by prospective employers. LinkedIn should suffice, but it’ll depend on what they ask for.

EnhancCV is a great, easy-to-use template.

8. Interviews and getting a job

Questions you should be able to answer during an interview for a UX design position:

  1. How do you define UX design?
  2. What is your design process?
  3. What are some apps or websites that you love?
  4. How do you work with engineers/product managers/other designers?
  5. Who in the industry do you follow and read?
  6. What is the most interesting project you have worked on?
  7. Do you prefer to work alone or with a team?
  8. Tell me about an assignment that was too difficult. How did you handle the situation?
  9. Why do you want to work at this company?
  10. Why should I hire you?

This list could go on and on, but it’s a great starting point. If this is your first UX role, be honest about where you lack experience.

Make sure you have a few questions for the interviewer. Some examples:

  1. What is your company’s UX design process?
  2. How do you see the design team growing?
  3. What is the business’s view on UX design?
  4. Do you do user testing? If so what do you do and how often?
  5. Where is the design team strongest and weakest?
“Talent will get you in the door, but character will keep you in the room.”

9. Ongoing learning

Find UX mentors
Experienced designers are great mentors. They’re also very giving. Choose the people you want to be like, and learn from them. Read more about finding a design mentor here.

Have a strategy to stay inspired
I spend 15 mins a day reading through news. UX Weekly and Sidebar are also solid resources.

“It’s easy to be creative but more difficult to stay inspired.” –Julie Zhuo, Facebook

Go to conferences

This is a great way to get out of the office and refresh. Going to conferences or workshops can be inspiring. You meet new faces—and with that comes new ideas.

Carry on learning

This is a must for designers who are just getting started. You’re always learning and always growing. Don’t stick to UX design—read about programming, product management, and other areas you work with to get insights on what’s happening around you. Take short courses that fit with your life. When you’re at your desk, instead of listening to music, try listening to a podcast instead. This is a great way to learn and work. Product Hunt has a nice list of design podcasts that are worth listening to.

10. Give back

Once you get through the first few years of working in UX, start giving back. Mentor a new designer, write articles, or be a teaching assistant for a UX course. Whatever you choose, this is a great way to keep the learning filtering down. There’s nothing more fulfilling than inspiring someone.

“If you get, give. If you learn, teach.” –Maya Angelou

Conclusion

Enjoy your journey into UX. Find a mentor, read lots, go to meetups, make lots of mistakes, ask lots of questions and enjoy it.

And remember: You only really learn when you’re out of you comfort zone.

More posts about UX design

Become a UX designer
Author

Guy Ligertwood
Guy is a cranky dad and nagged husband. Currently does UX design. Future UX writer. Read his ramblings on Medium.

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