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Career Guide

How to Become a UX Designer

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

How to Become a UX Designer

How Do I Become a UX Designer?

To become a UX Designer, you must learn the fundamentals of design, user and market research, strategy, and product development, among others. And while many Designers start out in design or development, there is no single path to becoming a UX Designer; virtually everyone working as a UX Designer began in a related field, then acquired the additional skills they needed.

In short, anyone with a passion for UX can find a way to leverage the skills they have and pick up the ones they don’t.

How to become a UX Designer in five steps:

  1. Learn UX design fundamentals
  2. Learn key design tools
  3. Work on your own projects to develop your UX design skills
  4. Develop a portfolio to showcase your UX design work
  5. Apply to relevant UX design jobs

1. Learn UX Design Fundamentals

To become a UX Designer, you will need to learn and develop a number of technical skills crucial to the role, including user research and strategy (which involves data collection), wireframing and prototyping, user interface design, and responsive web design, among others. You will also need to have a solid foundation of soft skills, including project management, collaboration, and communication skills.

UX design courses and bootcamps are an increasingly popular way to build these skills and fast-track a career in UX design. Many organizations today value demonstrable skills and experience over mere credentialism, and unsurprisingly, enrollment in UX design bootcamps – which emphasize hands-on, immersive learning – has surged.

Typically, UX design boot camps cover design research and strategy, prototyping and usability testing, user interface design, and responsive design. You can expect to spend around 40 hours in the classroom, as well as 20 to 25 hours per week to complete projects. At the end of the program, you’ll have not only a new set of UX design skills but an industry-ready portfolio as well.

2. Learn How to Use Key Design Tools

UX Designers rely on a range of different digital tools to design user experiences. These include a wide variety of wireframing tools – Sketch is the most widely used, but Illustrator, InVision Studio, Adobe XD, Axure, Figma, and Marvel are also common. For interface design, Photoshop is a popular option, and one any designer should be familiar with.

For prototyping, InVision is the most commonly used platform, although Sketch is another popular option. For advanced prototyping, including testable models that include micro-interactions, there is a range of options available, including Principle, Flinto, Framer, and ProtoPie.

3. Work on Your Own Projects to Develop UX Design Skills

It’s one thing to understand how to execute UX design projects in theory. It’s another to actually do it. Working on your own UX projects will help you practice and refine the skills you have and gain experience as you encounter new challenges, all while generating work that can go into your UX design portfolio.

Leading your own UX projects also gives you the opportunity to apply your new skills to every step of the UX design process – from early market and user research and persona development to crafting a user journey’s overall information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, and user testing, ultimately using the knowledge gained at each step to inform how you execute other steps with subsequent projects.

You’ll also want to practice developing a variety of project types, to strengthen your UX design skills in as many different areas as possible. Look for projects that put to use your knowledge of UX design fundamentals and the design thinking process, user research strategies, design research strategies, and give you the opportunity to practice creating UI design elements and responsive designs.

As you proceed, you’ll strengthen the soft skills you’ll need as a UX Designer as well – skills like project management, collaborating with other team members and project stakeholders, communication, and even empathy – your ability to put yourself into the mind of your product’s users, to better develop designs that respond to the ways they think.

4. Develop a Portfolio to Showcase Your UX Design Work

Once you’ve developed your UX skillset; the only thing left is to start building out your portfolio so you can apply to UX design jobs. There’s more strategy involved here than you might think—more variety, and even more pieces, aren’t necessarily better. In fact, you’re better off doing background research on the company you’re applying to, honing your portfolio’s objectives, and selecting roughly five pieces that speak directly to the company’s achievements and the role you’ll be playing in them.

At the same time, your portfolio should be a genuine reflection of who you are. Be personal and authentic. This comes through in your bio and portrait, but also in how you present the work you do. Every piece in your portfolio should tell a story—about the life cycle of the project, but also about your unique skills, your process, and the creativity you bring to the table.

5. Apply to Relevant UX Design Jobs

There is a huge diversity in UX design job titles, partly because UX Designers work across so many different industries—too many to list here. Here are a few of the most common UX design job titles you may encounter during a job search:

  • UX Designer
  • User Researcher
  • UX Researcher
  • Usability Tester
  • Data Analyst
  • Information Architect
  • Experience Designer
  • Interaction Designer
  • Information Architect
  • UX Strategist
  • UX Architect
  • UX Product Manager
  • UX Analyst
  • UX Engineer
  • UX Developer
  • Product Designer
  • Visual Designer
  • Content Strategist

What is the Salary of a UX Designer?

According to Glassdoor, average UX Designer salaries hover around $85,000 and can range as high as $128,000 for a senior role.

Is UX Design a Growing Field?

Yes, the UX design field is one of the fastest-growing in technology. According to Glassdoor, there are more than 20,000 open positions in UX design currently available in the US alone.

A survey by Adobe also found that 87 percent of hiring managers say that acquiring UX Designers is a top priority. And according to Intechnic, a further 73 percent of companies plan to conduct UX testing in the next 12 months.

As common activities like shopping shift from offline to online, UX becomes ever more important. In fact, the companies that fully embraced UX principles for all customer interactions have fared the best in the COVID-19 era.

More and more, retailers are offering experiences and services that extend far beyond their central product offerings, and UX is at the core of it. Even in the world of eCommerce, brands are increasingly focused on trying to anticipate what you want and when you want it, using advanced personalization methods to cater to their clients’ wants and ultimately boost their sales.

Can You Become a UX Designer With No Experience?

Yes, you can become a UX Designer without any previous work experience. Our Digital Skills Survey found that 65 percent of UX Designers began their careers in the design field, later specializing in UX design to gain a competitive edge in the job market. So while experience or education in a design-related field is a great first step toward becoming a UX Designer, it isn’t an absolute necessity. In fact, it’s also quite common to have a background in psychology or the social sciences, which can be leveraged in the user research phase of UX.

Some UX Designers come from completely different industries, like tech consulting. What’s important in these cases is to take the time to understand the tactics used to conduct user research and implement it through experience design.

There are also many transferable skills that can prepare someone for the role. Empathy, for example, is critical to understanding how the users of your product or service think and act in a given situation. Collaboration, too, is key in many roles, but especially for UX Designers. The job requires interaction with various teams, actively listening, accepting feedback, brainstorming, and more. All require a successful team dynamic. If you have these strengths, you’re ready to take the next step and begin your skills training.

What Do I Need to Learn to Become a UX Designer?

To become a UX Designer, you’ll want to focus on learning user experience fundamentals, user research strategy, user interface design basics, responsive design, and more. Let’s take a closer look at each of these:

User Experience Design Fundamentals

Make sure your training provides experience with design sprint methods, learning to identify problem spaces, and developing solutions. You should leave with an understanding of how to create wireframes and prototypes using design tools like Sketch and InVision.

User Research Strategy

You should learn how to plan and conduct user research in order to understand users’ behavior, needs, and motivation, and how to translate those findings into relevant project requirements and product designs.

Design Research and Strategy

User research is essential to UX design. Ensure your training shows you how to conduct user research, and understand users’ behavior, needs, and motivations. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to communicate complex interactions visually through experience maps and personas.

User Interface Design

Build upon your knowledge of usability to master the nuances of typography, color, illustration, and images. Learn how to use industry tools like Sketch to design professional interfaces, as well as methods for designing and maintaining user interface pattern libraries.

Responsive Design

Apply industry-standard design principles to create both low- and high-fidelity applications and websites. Make sure you learn how to utilize grids and breakpoints in the design process to ensure your projects are responsive across various screen sizes, guaranteeing a seamless experience.

It’s important to remember that for a UX Designer, learning never ends. And that’s a good thing: it places you on more equal footing with even the most knowledgeable experts, since you’re all trying to stay on top of evolving trends, emerging techniques, and new tools together. In fact, according to the 2019 BrainStation Digital Skills Survey, 77 percent of UX Designers have participated in workshops, seminars, or industry conferences as a way to keep up with where the field is heading.

So developing these skills is an ongoing process, and one that applies to seasoned and aspiring UX Designers alike. Both can benefit from a combination of certificate courses, industry events, conferences, blogs, books, and more. The fun is in realizing there is always something new to learn; odds are, others are learning right alongside you.

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