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How to Become a UX Designer

What Skills Do You Need to Be a UX Designer?

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

To be a UX Designer, you will need to develop fundamental skills in user research and persona development, information architecture, wireframing and prototyping, and user testing, among others. A UX Designer’s skill set needs to be broad enough to handle all these tasks—and more.

What Must-Have Technical Skills Do You Need to Become a UX Designer?

To become a UX Designer, you will need to have a number of technical skills crucial to the role. These include:

User Research and Strategy

Research is fundamental in determining users’ needs, and how they’ll interact with and respond to the finished product. For this reason, UX Designers need to be well-versed in research methods, including qualitative and quantitative data collection, and understand how to plan and conduct research and interpret and analyze findings. According to the design team at IBM, user research is key to the early identification of biases that could seriously hamper your product’s success.

Wireframing and Prototyping

Obviously, UX Designers need to be very knowledgeable about how users navigate and interact with flows of information. To apply this expertise to the design of products, they also need to be proficient wireframers and prototypers, adept at wielding the industry’s most widely used tools—including Sketch and InVision—to bring their designs to life.

A prototype is not an early version of the final product. It’s a communication tool—the primary communication tool used to convey aspects of the final design’s user-facing elements, both to the Graphic Designers and UI Designers working under the UX Designer, and to the Developers and other team members working alongside them.

User Interface (UI) Design

According to an InVision survey, 66 percent of UX job postings require UI skills. Visual interface elements like layout, typography, graphics, images, and animated motion are key to the user’s overall experience. While UX Designers may not be the ones putting the pieces together (this work is often done by their user interface or interaction design colleagues), they should have a strong sense of what design elements will optimize user interactions.

Responsive Web Design

UX Designers should be familiar with the concept of responsive design, which ensures that designs display differently across different screens. This is becoming more important with time, as well over half of all website traffic worldwide is now generated by mobile phones.

What Soft Skills Need Do You Need to Become a UX Designer?

UX Designers also need to develop skills that serve the business side of product design, to effectively manage relationships and streamline a design process that comprises multiple departments.

Project Management

Knowing how to take a project or design from ideation to delivery is important. As a UX Designer, you aren’t solely responsible for the product’s development, but the ability to lead, coordinate, and stay on schedule and on budget will result in a more efficient product development process for all.

Team and Stakeholder Management

UX Designers collaborate with a diverse group of individuals within an organization, including Graphic Designers, technology and development teams, Product Managers, and senior management, to create products with optimal user function. When creating a product or service for a client, UX Designers need to be able to consider, address, and manage the expectations of stakeholders within and outside of the organization.

Because UX Designers work closely and liaise with so many groups of people, both inside and outside an organization, several soft skills also come into play—all of which factor into better teamwork and more effective integration of user input.

Empathy

One of the biggest challenges to user-centered design is comprehending how users think and act in a given situation; the assumption that users will approach and solve problems in the same way Designers and Developers do is a major pitfall, even leading to the assumption that interaction problems are the fault of users, or the failure of users to follow instructions. UX Design means working for users—not the other way around. Understanding how users think and feel is the first step.

Collaboration

Given that UX Designers interact with many groups on a regular basis, the ability to effectively collaborate is essential. Active listening, taking initiative, including and eliciting views from others, and brainstorming are all effective skills that enable successful teamwork. It’s also crucial that UX Designers collaborate with the right people at the right time.

Communication

Developing communication skills is fundamental for UX Designers, as they will need to rely on these skills in almost every aspect of the job. Whether presenting to clients and project stakeholders, interviewing users, or collaborating with teammates, UX Designers need to be able to articulate ideas and listen to feedback.

This list may seem daunting—and it’s certainly true that UX design can be a complex process—but someone who has spent time working in development or other collaborative environments will likely have picked up many of these business and soft skills already.

Transferring Skills From a Different Field

According to InVision’s Product Design Industry Report, design teams are no longer composed of just traditional Designers, but rather a diverse group of individuals from different experiential backgrounds with the skills to design great products. This means there are plenty of opportunities for professionals to transfer the skills acquired from their previous career and apply them to a future role as a UX Designer.

“The idea of switching careers initially seemed like a huge challenge, however, I discovered that many of the design skills I acquired through architecture school benefited me in this transition,” said Richard Li, an Architect turned UX Designer and a graduate of BrainStation’s Full-time UX Design Bootcamp.

We’ve laid out a range of skills, both soft and technical, that are transferable to the field of UX design.

Visual Design Skills

Whether you’re a Designer, Photographer, Architect, or an Artist – understanding the power of visuals and how they can be used to communicate is crucial. UX design requires creative thinking and strong design sense, skills that many creative professionals already possess. Visual design can greatly assist usability by drawing the user’s attention to the right place on a web page.

So, having an eye for colour, typography, and core visual design elements is a bonus when transitioning into UX design, especially if you don’t have a traditional design background or education.

Technical Skills

Skills like programming, experience with wireframing, prototyping, or industry design tools are excellent additions to a UX skill set.

“Concept sketching and design iteration was another skill that helped in my transition to UX Design. I implement the same concept sketching and design iteration flow when designing for UX,” says Li. “Once I’m satisfied with a concept, I’ll bring my wireframes onto the computer with software such as Sketch to further develop them in higher fidelity. Once the designs reach a certain point, I create a clickable prototype to test and get feedback.”

Familiarity with industry standard design tools like Sketch, InVision, or the Adobe creative cloud can reduce the learning curve when starting out as a UX Designer, and help you master the wireframing and prototyping process.

Research Skills

User research is integral to the design process, so any experience with research, whether it comes from a science, marketing, or data background, is valuable. Many careers involve research in some capacity, and these skills can be put into action in the early stages of the UX design process.

“The design process in architecture begins with research. Identifying the goal of the project, understanding the problem, identifying constraints and limitations, and imagining how the occupant will utilize the space in their daily lives,” explains Li.

“The research phase in UX design is very similar to architecture, with the main difference being the end product; physical building versus a website/app, and how the end user will use the product, occupying versus interacting.”

Moving Forward in UX Design

Recognizing which skills you possess, and which you need to develop further is the first step in making a career transition.

“Start by taking an introspective look at the skills your currently possess, then research different roles within UX that would best utilize them,” says Li. “You just need to learn new skills to supplement the ones you already have and pick the path in UX that makes the most sense for you.”

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