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How to Become a UX Designer

What is a UX Designer?

Ready to start your career in Design? Find out more about BrainStation's User Experience Design Bootcamp

User Experience (UX) Designers seek to make everyday products, services, and technology as user-friendly and accessible as possible along the entire user journey. They do this by focusing on every aspect of a product’s development from ideation to the final product, including design, usability testing, and function. From the very first interaction a user has with a product to their last, their user experience is in some way affected by the work of a UX Designer.

UX Designers work to make products and services usable, enjoyable, and accessible. Usually, the user experience design team works as part of a wider product team, and will often act as the bridge between the user, the development team, and key business stakeholders. UX design is all about advocating for the end-user or customer while also juggling broader business goals and using their user research to identify new opportunities for the product and business.

Whether creating a brand new product, dreaming up a new feature, or improving an existing product or service — the UX Designer is expected to be the professional at the table who is always considering what’s best for the user and the overall user experience. At the same time, UX Designers are also responsible for making sure that the product or service meets the needs of the business. Does it align with the vision of key stakeholders? Will it make a measurable impact on revenue, brand awareness or customer retention?

What Is the History of UX design?

The history of the term User Experience Design dates back to the late 19th century when industrialists like Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford first integrated simple user experience design principles into their production processes. Taylor conducted extensive research into the way his workers interacted with their tools, hoping to make the process more efficient.

Roughly a century later, cognitive scientist Don Norman came onboard at Apple as their User Experience Architect, making history as the first person to have UX in his job title. He created the term “user experience design” because he wanted to “cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.” Don Norman was certainly prescient; now, each part of that sentence is its own niche within user experience design, and larger companies will hire specialists who focus on research, graphic design, usability testing, and interaction design to ensure there are no blind spots in their user experience.

Although UX design principles can be applied to virtually any product or service that is used by people, the term has evolved to have digital connotations, often referring to human-computer interaction and the way people use apps, websites, software, gadgets, technology, or a given device.

Where Do UX Designers Come From?

In the decades since Don Norman was the first to give himself a UX job title, there are now many pathways to becoming a UX Designer.

A Bachelor’s degree in UX design doesn’t exist, so most come to the UX design field from another angle. Anyone with a background in visual design, web development, product development or even graphic design might be a natural candidate to apply for UX design positions, so long as you can prove you have the right mix of skills necessary.

Beginners can find lots of free resources to help you begin to build your UX skills in places like YouTube or Udemy. If you’re looking to change your career, UX Design bootcamp or other certification courses or online courses are a great option for those who have time to enroll in either a full-time or part-time course, with the best programs boasting amazing outcome rates when it comes to placing graduates in jobs in the UX field. A good bootcamp will allow you to help you build a standout portfolio while completely mastering design tools like Sketch and InVision and also teaching you the fundamentals of user research, user interface design, usability testing, information architecture, and responsive design. It’s essential for those working in UX design to possess a varied set of skills because the work that UX Designers can be asked to do can vary wildly from company to company and even from project to project. In other words, you’ll want to be ready for anything.

What Are a UX Designer's Responsibilities?

For the most part, a UX Designer conducts user research and product research, drafts user personas and scenarios, works on designs, defines information architecture, creates wireframes (basically a low fidelity representation of a design) and prototypes (a higher fidelity version), writes UX copy, validates and tests with users and finally presents the design solution in a clear and persuasive manager to key business stakeholders.

From a high level, UX design is about creating a better experience for human users and revenue for businesses by ensuring that products and services are as user-friendly as possible.

What Are the Characteristics of a Successful UX Designer?

To become a UX Designer, there are a number of hard skills you’ll need to acquire including user research and persona development, information architecture, wireframing and prototyping, and user testing, among others, as well as just possessing design skills and sense. But there’s a lot more to being a successful UX Designer than just possessing that skillset.

In fact, successful UX Designers seem to share all the following characteristics:

  • Problem-solving. UX Designers aren’t just good at creatively solving problems – they enjoy it. The nature of the job is finding issues with a product and conjuring solutions or workarounds so that the user experience remains consistently excellent. You must not just be good at solving problems, but also anticipating and unearthing pain points. For that reason, attention to detail is another important quality for a UX Designer, particularly when it comes to usability, interaction design, or even graphic design.

  • Passionate about learning. Good UX Designers know that the tools and methods related to user experience design are constantly evolving, updating, and changing, and to be that great problem-solver with a creative answer to everything, you will need to be on top of all the latest trends in the design field. This is a broad, cross-disciplinary field that incorporates pretty much every design discipline, and to master everything you’ll need to master, you should have a genuine curiosity and love of learning. BrainStation’s 2020 Digital Skills Training Survey showed that 80 percent of UX Designers polled wanted to enroll in more digital skills training courses, so it’s clearly a widespread attitude in the industry.

  • Analytical mind. Data-driven decision-making is a term we are rightfully hearing more and more each year. A UX Designer with an analytic mind will put all that great user research to good use by making design decisions based on best practices and data. This also means being able to spot trends and insights in qualitative user feedback. Quantitative and qualitative data is increasingly becoming a key ingredient in usability and user experience work.

  • Top communicator. Communicating effectively is crucial in nearly every aspect of a UX Designer’s job. In user testing, one needs to be an effective listener and also possess the ability to make participants feel at ease so they are more willing to share their feedback. In a team, one needs the ability to work with people of all different backgrounds, convey your ideas persuasively, and diplomatically deal with internal politics. And UX Designers also have to be able to explain the rationale for their design strategy clearly with clients. And good listening, in general, means fewer hiccups and better product results.

  • Ability to think big picture. UX Designers don’t have the luxury of looking at things in a vacuum. UX Designers must have a holistic understanding of overall business strategy and goals, the needs of the end-user, and project timelines and deadlines. How does your project influence the company’s bottom line? Is the user experience for a single project aligned with the overall user experience?

  • Empathy. Another intangible but crucial quality is empathy. You must be adept at understanding people, putting yourself in another person’s shoes, and trying to consider the world -- and your product or service – from the perspective of other people. A UX design professional with a real understanding of user needs will be well-positioned to excel and create a great, easy-to-use product. Remember: you’re the advocate for your customers or users when the rest of the team forgets them.

What Are Some Jobs in UX Design?

With the growth of the user experience design field, there are now many job titles with drastically different responsibilities all encompassed by UX Design.

Here are some of the top job titles you’re likely to see:

  • User Experience (UX) Designer. UX Designers are jacks of all trades in the UX field. They’re comfortable participating in every stage of the UX process, but don’t deeply specialize in any one niche. If you’re a freelancer in UX or working at a smaller company that doesn’t have a UX department, you might find yourself in a UX Designer role.

  • User Interface (UI) Designer. UX and UI design are often confused and often talked about interchangeably -- and it drives UI Designers crazy. The difference between UX and UI design is that user interface design applies UX principles to a product’s interface (for example a screen layout, sitemap, or a website’s menu). In general, it might be helpful to think of user interface design as having more in common with traditional web design or graphic design jobs. Another way to look at it is that UX design is all about the overall feel of the experience, while UI design is all about how the product’s interfaces look and function. A UX Designer considers the user’s entire journey to solve a particular problem; what path do they travel and what problems do they encounter along the way? With the skeleton of the product mapped out, the UI designer considers all the visual aspects of the user’s journey, including all the individual screens and touchpoints that the user might encounter; think tapping a button, scrolling down a page, or swiping through an image gallery. UI design isn’t just about visual design – it’s also about making sure the product is accessible and inclusive.

  • Interaction Designer. Interaction Designers also work on the user interface, they approach it differently than User Interface Designers. Interaction design can be understood as the design of the interaction between end-users and products or services. Most often when people talk about interaction design, the product tends to be a software product like an app or website. The goal of interaction design is to create a product that enables the user to achieve their objective(s) in the best possible way. Interaction Designers are specifically focused on the user’s interaction with the interface — how do the menus unfold? What is the response time when a user clicks a button? An Interaction Designer would rely on user research to design and test the interaction elements of a product.

  • Visual Designer. Experts in visual design focus on, well, the visual design of the experience. A Visual Designer will create a guide to define the aesthetics of all the buttons, icons, and backgrounds that a user sees with a focus on color, typography, and layout. They’ll also be responsible for resizing assets for different devices and sometimes they’ll be involved in creating email marketing items, presentation materials, and interactive event materials.

  • UX Researcher. There is no UX without user research. Understanding user experience means getting to know your users or customers and making user needs a huge consideration in your design process. Every decision a UX Designer makes to build or improve a product should be based on insights gleaned from user research. UX Researchers specialize and focus on that research phase, interviewing people, finding out what they look for in a product, and using those insights to propose product solutions. UX Researchers are also responsible for conducting competitive analyses and market research.

  • Information Architect. Information architecture is the process of organizing and arranging apps, websites, and even physical spaces in ways that makes them easy to use and intuitive to navigate for your users or customers. Often, good information architecture is invisible – you’ll fly through menus and find what you’re looking for so fast, you likely won’t stop to notice that a web product has been impeccably arranged.

  • UX Engineer. Think of a UX Engineer as straddling the worlds of design and development. Basically, a UX Engineer is a Front-End Engineer or Front-End Developer who facilitates effective collaboration between the design and engineering teams. Unlike some of the other roles on this list, UX Engineers should have strong coding skills.

Who Do UX Designers Work With?

UX Designers is one of those "glue" positions that seem to be so important, collaboration with many other departments and stakeholders within a company is inevitable.

UX Designers will work closely with Web Developers, Software Engineers, Product Managers, sales and marketing teams, quality assurance teams, visual design teams, as well as executive-level decision-makers.

Reasons to Become a UX Designer

Being in a role where you get real input into major decisions about a company or the design of the product is one reason why UX Designer is an appealing career. Another is the booming job market. UX Designers are crucial in pretty much every stage of a product’s lifecycle, and companies are realizing that leveraging the insights gleaned from thorough and smart user research is crucial to putting forth the best possible product and creating strong customer loyalty.

LinkedIn cited UX design as one of the top skills to learn in 2020 and a report from InVision found that 70 percent of hiring managers increased the headcount of their design team over the preceding year. The survey also found that respondents expected their design teams to grow by an average of 21 percent in 2020.

Because of that demand, UX Designers are both well-paid – they make $89,000 on average, according to Indeed – and well-treated. Forbes says it’s the second-best job you can have in terms of work-life balance.

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