There are so many perks of working in UX: creative and fulfilling work; flexibility; variety—not to mention the high salary.
It’s safe to assume, though, that you’re already familiar with the why.
What’s not as clear is the how: how do you take that first step onto the UX ladder?
If you’re curious about becoming a UX designer but have no idea where to start, you are not alone. It’s important for me to make clear that there isn’t a magic formula; in fact, many people fall into UX design later on in their careers, having worked in fields such as product management, marketing or software development.
The ability to change is in your hands. If you want to build a career as a UX designer, you can absolutely make it happen—and I’m going to show you how.
Who can become a UX Designer?
Technically speaking, anyone can become a UX designer; however, the fact that it’s such a diverse field can be something of a double-edged sword.
Before you take the first step, it’s important to understand the diversity of the field and to see if the various skills you’ll require complement your current skillset and interests. Read up extensively on UX, chat to those in the field, listen to a podcast—all the while asking yourself, am I a good fit for a career in UX?
One of the biggest myths out there is that you need to be a born artist or some kind of design prodigy, but that’s simply not true. There is no specific background necessary, professional, educational, or otherwise.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since founding CareerFoundry, it’s that there is no cut-and-dried profile of a UX designer. We’ve seen people from all walks of life successfully make the switch: from accountants and administrators to landscape architects and dentists!
The true marker of a good UX designer is what intrinsically motivates you. Where do your passions and soft skills lie?
Do you have a natural gift for empathy and understanding people’s needs? This is what’s known as a user-centric approach, and it forms the very core of what UX design is all about.
Are you good at solving problems, thinking both critically and creatively to come up with out-of-the-box solutions? Likewise, are you flexible, adaptable, and a great team player? UX design is a team sport, so collaboration and communication are critical.
These soft skills are a great basis for a career in UX, and are much more important than any formal qualification or specific background.
But still the question remains: how does one become a UX designer? Let’s take a look.
“UX design is a team sport, so collaboration and communication are critical.”
How to become a UX designer
When it comes to building a career in UX, there are many different components you need to pull together. Here’s my advice on how to approach it, and in what order.
Do plenty of background research
Like any good plan in life, you should start with plenty of research. Read up on the industry and really get a feel for what it’s like to work in the field; day-in-the-life accounts can be really insightful, together with books, podcasts, blogs and videos. Consume as much as you can, so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
If you’ve never dabbled in UX design before, it’s a good idea to try a taster course. This free short course provides a practical introduction to UX, complete with hands-on exercises to get you thinking like a designer.
Learn the right skills with a UX Design course
This is where it can get overwhelming. While you don’t need a certificate or degree, you do need to master a whole host of skills, principles, and methods. Background reading is a good start; however, if you’re starting from scratch, you will definitely need a structured learning plan with curated, quality content.
A good UX design course will ensure you cover all the necessary ground — and in the right order. Without this structure, it’s far too easy to get lost down a rabbit hole or miss crucial aspects altogether.
Just as important as what you learn is how you learn it. For hands-on skills, such as conducting user research, creating user personas and drawing wireframes, it’s not enough to just read about it: you’ll need a more practical approach.
In an industry that’s not so concerned with your qualifications on paper, it’s more important than ever to hone these practical skills. Employers want to see that you can turn your ideas into tangible products, that you can create things and work with industry tools. Learn in a way that gets you doing; find a UX design course that combines theory with project-based learning in the form of tasks, exercises and portfolio pieces. Which leads to my next point…
Build your portfolio
Your portfolio is your golden ticket to the UX design industry: it demonstrates all the skills you’ve learned and provides really valuable insight into how you work as a designer.
Portfolios aren’t just for seasoned designers with years of experience. Even when just starting out, you should have your portfolio up and running and be adding to it as you go.
Of course, this can be a major catch-22 for new or as-yet-unqualified UX designers. What do you put in your portfolio if you’ve never actually worked as a UX designer?
Many budding designers get around this by working on so-called mock projects. This could be an unsolicited redesign of an existing app, or simply a made-up project brief for a hypothetical client.
Ideally, you’ll work on your portfolio as part of your chosen UX design course. This way, you’re getting hands-on practice whilst working towards a finished product that you can show to employers.
Get yourself a mentor
Finding yourself a mentor is sound advice no matter what industry you want to break into. Especially in UX, where project work is so important, a mentor can really help you to improve your work and learn about industry standards.
Now, the idea of having a mentor sounds great, but who will this magical mentor be? Where will you find them? If you don’t have any likely candidates in your immediate circle, the thought of approaching a stranger can be intimidating, especially if they’re an expert with lots on their plate!
Industry meetups are a good place to start. Search meetup.com for local UX events and see who you cross paths with. Even the most experienced designers had to start somewhere, so don’t be afraid to strike up that conversation and ask for guidance.
Tell the right story
For job-seekers, there’s one universal truth: landing your first job in a brand new industry can be tough. Even if you’ve been through bootcamp and mastered all the right skills, how do you convince employers that you’re ready?
Here at CareerFoundry, the majority of our students are career-changers: people looking to make a pretty big leap from one field to another. Aside from teaching the practical skills needed to do the job, we also coach our graduates extensively on how to market themselves.
The key is in how you tell your story. It doesn’t matter what you were doing before; as long as you can construct a cohesive narrative that shows how your progression into UX was, in fact, the most natural thing in the world.
Redesign your resumé to highlight all the elements of UX you’ve been practicing in your previous jobs — probably without even realizing! For example Claire, a former nurse turned UX designer, often references how her career as a nurse taught her the value of empathy.
It can be as simple as a change in wording. Framing your previous experiences within the context of UX immediately makes you more marketable. In doing so, your journey to become a UX designer will run much smoother.
Once you get started in UX design, there are so many different avenues to explore. Further down the line, you might choose to specialize in UX research, information architecture, or even voice design.
These are just a few examples of where a career in UX might take you. In such a fast-moving field so closely linked to the tech sphere, you’ll never run out of opportunities to broaden your skill set and learn new things.
So what next?
If you’re ready to tackle the challenge of becoming a UX designer, it’s time to start learning the fundamentals. The CareerFoundry UX Design course has been designed to take you from beginner to professional, complete with a one-on-one mentor and a job guarantee: if we can’t help you land a job within six months of graduating, you’ll get a full refund. If you’re not quite ready to jump straight in, why not get started with that background reading we talked about? First up: The fascinating history of UX!
Interested in learning more?
Raffaela Rein is the CEO and co-founder of CareerFoundry, one of the leading online schools for UX training. She is dedicated to educating the next generation of digital talent; helping people build careers they love. She is passionate about the topic UX design, in particular why UX-led companies build the most successful products. Prior to CareerFoundry, Raffaela built companies for Rocket Internet and Axel Springer and worked as an investment strategist for BlackRock.