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Career Guide

How to Become a UI Designer

BrainStation's UI Designer career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in UI design. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the design skills you should learn, the best available UI design training options, career paths in UI design, and more.

How to Become a UI Designer
Ready to start your career in Design? Find out more about BrainStation's User Experience Design Bootcamp

There’s no single path to becoming a UI Designer—people enter the discipline from many different fields, drawing on different strengths to inform their work, from design to coding to psychology. But whatever your route to becoming a UI Designer, these are the steps you’ll need to take at some point.

How to become a UI Designer in five steps:

  1. Learn key design principles
  2. Enroll in a UI design course
  3. Learn key UI design tools
  4. Work on your own projects to develop your UI design skills
  5. Develop a portfolio to showcase your UI design work

1. Learn Key Design Principles

There are a set of fundamental principles that all visual Designers rely on—how to use color and line, shape and texture, images and type, and even layout to create an organized hierarchy of information, engage users visually and intellectually, direct their eye or evoke a feeling. Immerse yourself in design. Study what others are doing and deconstruct what works and what doesn’t. Design is an art, not a science, so there are no “right” answers—which means improving your knowledge of design is a lifelong undertaking.

2. Enroll in a UI Design Course

In addition to fundamental design skills, UI also draws on more specialized skills—gestalt principles, and how balance, alignment, juxtaposition, repetition, and contrast are used not only to create a pleasing visual, but also to impart information to the user. You’ll need to know how to use personas to develop a design concept, and the ins and outs of wireframing and prototyping, and user testing.

A good UI design course will cover the fundamental principles of UI design and teach the basic skills all UI Designers should possess. UI design courses are also a great way to get familiar with the digital tools UI Designers commonly rely on to execute their projects.

3. Learn Key UI Design Tools

It’s at this stage that you’ll want to begin thinking about taking a course in UI design, with a program tailored to include the tools you’ll be working with as a UI Designer: imaging programs like Photoshop; wireframing applications like Sketch, Illustrator, InVision Studio, Adobe XD, Axure, Figma, or Marvel; and prototyping programs like Proto.io, Principle, Flinto, Framer, and ProtoPie. You won’t necessarily need to learn all these programs, as many of the processes are transferable from one platform to another, but you should be familiar with the most popular applications from each category.

4. Work on Your Own Projects to Develop Your UI Design Skills

Working on your own UI design projects is a great way to practice the digital skills you’ve acquired, try your hand at all the different stages of UI design, and create pieces for your portfolio. Once you’re familiar with a few imaging, wireframing, and prototyping programs, you’re ready to begin building projects that put your skills to use.

Rather than simply reproducing design elements, devise an original project that lets you practice your UI skills at every stage of the process – beginning with research and testing models, and developing the user personas that will guide your design as you proceed with the design phases, conceiving and creating out interactive design elements like menus, search fields, buttons, and page navigation – even entire layouts, color palettes, and interactive media. Make holistic use of your foundational design knowledge – branding, typography, color theory – to show off your skills in these areas.

When you reach the wireframing and prototyping stages, challenge yourself to incorporate various principles of interaction design, innovating novel ways for users to navigate and interact with the content on your site or app.

As you progress, look for ways to strengthen your soft skills as well. Partnering with others will give you real experience communicating and working with a team – a great asset to any UI Designer. And as you present your projects to others for feedback, be conscious of how intuitive they are to interact with; this will help you develop user empathy, another must-have quality in any good UI Designer.

5. Develop a Portfolio to Showcase Your UI Design Work

Your portfolio is your most powerful marketing tool. Make it great! Come up with an idea for a project you’re interested in, then chart your progress from start to finish, making note of your process and the creative solutions you’ve come up with at each step. Then, share it on a public platform like GitHub to gain attention and begin growing your network.

When applying to jobs, carefully tailor the pieces you include in your portfolio to show that you’re a fit for the company you’re applying to and the types of projects you’ll be working on. Your choice of projects should highlight the strengths you’ll be drawing on in your new role.

How Do I Start a Career in UI Design?

To start a career in UI design, you’ll want to begin by familiarizing yourself with all the different subfields of design, until you’re confident that UI design really is the path for you. Then, dig deeper into what UI Designers do – talk to working UI Designers to learn about the kind work you’ll be doing, get a handle on the basic ideas that drive UI design, and start collecting good advice.

Once you’re confident a career in UI Design is right for you, it’s time to start building your skillset. Arguably the most effective and efficient way to do that is to enroll in a bootcamp or other course dedicated specifically to UI design – that way, you can be sure your training will cover all the necessary topics, and you’ll avoid time spent pursuing less useful areas. A structured learning environment also means you’ll receive constant feedback on your performance during your training, and even career guidance when you’re ready to begin searching for jobs.

The next step is to put your new skills to use. Developing your own practice projects gives you a chance to explore, expand, and hone your UI design skills while simultaneously creating the work that will form the basis for your professional portfolio. Together with your resume, your portfolio is your most valuable tool for showing off your skills and connecting with potential employers. Sharing your work on a platform like GitHub lets you present your abilities in an easy-to-read way, illustrating the steps you’ve taken to set clear objectives, identify and define obstacles along the way, and imagine innovative solutions to them.

Like all creative arts, design can take a lifetime to truly master – there are always new discoveries to make, new innovations to be made. Technology, meanwhile, is always evolving; the tools at a UI Designer’s disposal are virtually endless, and always evolving. What this means is that, as a UI Designer, you can continue to learn throughout your career and will never know it all. For a UI Designer, the excitement of taking on new challenges never ends.

What is the Salary of a UI Designer?

According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a UI Designer is $85,277 in the United States and this rises to $106,706 for Senior UI Designers.

Is UI Design a Growing Field?

Yes, UI design is one of the fastest-growing fields in technology, with more than 4,500 UI Designer jobs currently available on job site Indeed.

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