LEARN UX  |  FEB 3, 2018

How to become a UX Designer

A common question that I’ll get from students is “How do I become a UX Designer?”. It’s a great question because unlike other professions, UX hasn’t really established itself in our education system yet.

There are many ways to make it happen. The question is: where do you start? To answer this question I’ll usually tell my own story of how I became a UX Designer. It’s not the only way to go about it, but I hope that if you’re reading this, you’ll be able to walk away—or browse I suppose—with a few valuable insights.


My story

What did I study? Communication Sciences and Technology. This provided me with crucial skills including design, programming and surprise, surprise, how to communicate effectively. 

As you can imagine, these skills really came in handy when I made the move to UX. The design knowledge helped me solve problems visually; The programming skills helped me understand what was possible from a development standpoint; And the communication skills came in handy when dealing with people involved in the projects.

The same day I finished school, I started an internship at an advertising agency. Funny enough I ended up in Social Media, which at first glance seems completely unrelated to UX. However, I came to realize that there are a lot of parallels between the two disciplines. 

Social Media—when done right—is about listening to users and tailoring your communication strategy to their needs, behaviours and preferences. Then when you do communicate with your users, you can measure performance and adjust.

It’s the same principle when it comes to UX. You start off by understanding your target users and then you design products based on these insights. Then when your product is launched, you can measure success and continuously optimize. 

After a couple of years in Social Media, a mentor suggested I explore something called User Experience. I really wanted to be designing anyway so I figured it was a good move for me.

Did I do any UX training? Absolutely. I got started with an online UX course that was incredibly helpful for learning the fundamentals. I learned about the process behind UX and the different deliverables like personas, wireframes, prototypes, etc.

The course was great, but it was very theoretical and I needed a way to put what I learned into practice. Sure enough, my mentor started throwing UX projects on my desk and I was able get experience. I made A LOT of mistakes along the way, but I learned so much too.

When I first started out, I never really felt like a “UX Designer”. It just felt like everyday our clients would reach out to us with a problem and we’d have to solve it through design, strategy, technology, etc.

Overtime though, the projects got bigger and more challenging. More people were involved and when I was in a room with Product Managers, Marketing Experts, Designers, Programmers, I knew exactly what my role was and what need to be done to reach the finish line.

By working for an advertising agency, I had access to projects and the opportunity to gain UX experience. If you’re just starting out or if you’ve completed an online UX course, I would strongly recommend finding an internship. It’s a great way to get real work experience and access to mentors who will really help you reduce your learning curve. 


Don’t forget to hit the books

I should also mention that did a shit ton of reading along the way. Here are some of the books that I got the most out of when I was starting out, in order of relevance:

Don’t Make Me Think - Steve Krug

Landing Page Optimization - Tim Ash

Smashing UX Design - Jesmond Allen and James Chudley

Design Of Everyday Things - Don Norman

Writing That Works - Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson 

Rework - David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People - Susan Weinschenk

Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This - Luke Sullivan 


But Dan, do I need to be a designer to get into UX?

This article wouldn't be complete if I didn't touch on another question that I get alot:  Do I need to know design to be a UX Designer. The short is answer is: Yes. Design knowledge is an important part of a UX Designer’s tool belt, especially when you get into wireframes and prototypes.

That’s why I recommend complimenting UX courses with design courses that cover the basics including layout, typography, colour, etc. It just makes things easier when you need to get ideas on paper. 

That being said, UX is evolving and I’m seeing more specialized roles surface such as UX Researcher. In this role you’re more focused on the research aspect and less on the design side of things.

If you’re having hesitation about getting into UX because you’re not a designer, my advice is find a course that covers the fundamentals. Find out what a UX project looks like and identify what your strengths and weaknesses are. From there you can choose to branch out and pick up additional skills, or focus on a specific part of the process. 

Regardless, being knowledgeable about UX will usually add value to your career. Especially if you’re in a related field like marketing.

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