Everything You Need to Get Started in User Experience Design
If you’ve spent any time searching for a design job, the odds are good you’ve seen a job posting looking for a user experience (UX) designer. This niche of design has grown in popularity as websites have evolved into key, complex engines for business growth.
It is important to note, however, that despite web design’s large influence on the field, UX design isn’t limited to just websites—software and tangible products are also influenced by UX designers.
So what exactly do UX designers do and how do you become one? We enlisted the help of experienced design pros to take a closer look at how to define UX design and what it takes to launch a career in this evolving field.
What is UX design, anyway?
“My company makes big, complex websites. My job is to make those websites the best possible experience for the people who use them,” says Taylor Dewey, user experience director at 10up.com.
UX design is all about making something as easy and enjoyable to use as possible. It’s a bit of a ‘silent’ design, because if a UX designer is doing his or her job well, users won’t even notice the efforts that went into designing a user-friendly product. You often don’t pay any mind to UX design unless it’s failed.
Think of any time you’ve struggled with a printer. Those vague, blinking error lights can be unbelievably frustrating. The job of a UX designer is to avoid headaches like those by helping to create intuitive products that just make sense.
When thinking of UX in web design terms, common examples of issues include overly complicated forms, confusing site navigation and pages overloaded with information. The challenge is to find ways to preserve functionality (and budget) while still creating a product that’s enjoyable and intuitive.
What makes a good UX designer?
Quality UX designers need to have unique blend of abilities, combining both an eye for what is aesthetically pleasing and an eye for functionality. It’s a mixture of an artist, software engineer, scientist and a writer, Dewey suggests.
"It sounds simple, but listening is hard."
Having said that, your head is probably spinning thinking about all of the skills you’d need to work in this field. However, Aaron Irizarry, director of user experience at Nasdaq Product Design, says the first skill an aspiring UX designer should master is deceptively straightforward: listening.
“It sounds simple, but listening is hard,” he says. “So much of UX design is just listening and observing and then using that information to inform design decisions.”
Unfortunately a resume with a “good listener” bullet point probably isn’t going to be enough to land you a job. So what types of technical skills are employers looking for in UX design candidates?
We used job analysis software to examine nearly 50,000 UX designer jobs posted over the past year.* The data helped us identify 10 in-demand skills for user experience designers:
- User interface design
- Visual design
- Adobe Photoshop
- Information architecture
- Usability testing
- Website design
- Conceptual development
You’ll notice the skills listed slant somewhat toward the web development side of UX design. Focusing on building a foundation of these technical skills is a great start, but there are other soft skills and personality traits that lend themselves well to the field. Irizarry says natural curiosity, empathy and a motivation to make things better are all common characteristics found in successful UX designers.
What does a UX design career path look like?
Given its relatively recent emergence as a formal career field, the employment background of current UX designers can be somewhat unconventional. Dewey, for instance, was a 911 dispatcher before changing careers and pursuing web development.
In that role, he volunteered to do work he now recognizes as part of UX design realm. This included leading on-site discoveries, wire framing and devising strategic plans. That volunteer work eventually materialized into a formal role as a UX designer.
The path for Irizarry, on the other hand, was a little closer to what one might expect to find for most UX designers entering the field today. Early in his career, he focused his time on web design and front-end development. His venture into UX design was a natural next step.
Irizarry credits his desire to learn why some of his designs would perform better than others as a natural catalyst. “I started diving into the how and the why of customers’ interactions on the sites I was working on,” he says. “This really brought a whole new life to design for me and I fell in love with user experience design.”
Now that the field has matured, it is possible for would-be designers to find entry-level jobs specifically within the UX field. But it is still common for many designers to build experience in web design or front-end development positions before venturing into user experience design.
What resources do the experts recommend?
For those who are just itching to learn more about the nuances of user experience design, we asked our experts to share some of their favorite resources for rookies.
- How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert
- A Project Guide to UX Design by Russ Unger & Carolyn Chandler,
- Designing the Conversation: Techniques for Successful Facilitation by Russ Unger, Brad Nunnally & Dan Willis
- Microinteractions: Designing with Details by Dan Saffer
- About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, David Cronin & Christopher Noessel
- Complete Beginner’s Guide to Interaction Design by UX Booth
While that might seem like a pretty substantial list, these are just a fraction of the useful UX design related resources out there. If you’d like to keep the reading a little lighter, keep tabs on these 15 UX design blogs.
Take the first step toward a career in UX design
As you can see, there’s a massive amount of information out there for would-be user experience designers to process. But don’t let that intimidate you! Every pro UX designer has to start with the basics. The key is to start small and develop a foundation of skills upon which to build.
Check out our web and interactive design degree page to learn more about the education that could help prime you for success as a UX designer.
*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 48,964 UX designer job postings, Apr. 01, 2015 – Mar. 31, 2016)