What is a UX Designer and How do I Become One?

Whenever someone asks me any questions about my future plans, my mind goes completely blank. I know I’ve put some thought into this and have some rough plans plotted out, but being asked to communicate them puts my brain into panic mode. It becomes difficult for me to explain why I want to enter the field of user experience (UX) design. As a deliberative person, I need to fully research and understand a subject before I feel comfortable conveying it to someone else. Following this logic, if I broaden my understanding of UX design, I will be able to explain my professional interest in it to others with more ease. This article serves to prepare me for conversations about UX design and my career goals by communicating my knowledge first in written form.

In my experience, the general perception of design linked with aesthetic. Something is designed well if it is pleasing to look at. User experience design is concerned with how something is designed to function. Lindsay Norman, a product designer, distinguishes the goals of two fields within design, “UX designer: this is how this thing should behave. Visual designer: this is how this thing looks.” In UX, it is most important that the user is having a positive experience or completing functions in the best possible way. According to Vault, UX designers will “research, design, and evaluate the user experience of products and services” in order to accomplish this.

Currently, many UX designers work to optimize digital systems. Their work is increasingly being recognized as an asset to companies because its abilities to increase productivity, increase customer satisfaction, and reduce development time and costs. One UX designer I talked with shared that she uses analytics to make improvements to her company’s internal and external interfaces. Because of this, the company has been able to improve the functionality of these systems with while decreasing the time wasted during development. UX is a relevant position in today’s digital marketplaces and systems.

Because this field is growing, and fairly new, there is not yet one standardized approach to it as a career. According to the User Experience Professional Association,

The training and professional background of UX professionals is equally broad. Many have qualifications in closely related fields like human-computer interaction (HCI), information design or psychology. Others have used their backgrounds in computer science, project management, journalism, fine arts, library science, or business as part of their journey towards being a UX professional.

Those without a specialized degree are skill able to pursue a career in UX. Caroline White on Career Foundry states that it is more important to be able to perform the necessary skills than to have certification .

When creating solutions, UX designers need to be able to create visual representations of their work, as well as implement them functionally. Lindsay Norman recommends that designers should be familiar with the Adobe Sketch application because it will enable UX professionals to quickly draft visuals. Other designers I spoke with value a well-rounded skill set in the Adobe suite, with an emphasis on XD. With this program in particular, designers can create mockups that convey functionality with its interactive tools. Outside of mockups, experience in HTML, JavaScript, and CSS coding will be necessary in order to implement software solutions. By cultivating skills in visual and computer programing, a designer will have the technical capabilities to fulfill the demands of the UX field.

The technical skills a designer possesses have no value if they do not know how to apply them. The life of a UX designer is one filled with constant learning. Regardless of formal education, designers must be self-motivated continually improve their knowledge of the field. Again, the UX is growing, new techniques and resources are constantly being added to the UX canon. Online courses such as Career Foundry, Neilson Norman Group, and Udacity give designers the opportunity to learn in a more structured program. For those who prefer to read, the Nielson Norman Group provides a number of online reading materials. There are also enough books on UX to create a library (with Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things at its heart). Auditory learners have the option to listen to podcasts like 99% Invisible and Mixed Messages to further their learning. It also benefits any UX designer to use social media to follow others’ work and make connections with other professionals. There is much that can be learned about the nature of UX through this continual discussion. It may seem daunting to have to teach yourself skills and principles in the field, but to those with a passion for UX, it is a pleasure.

Now, because I have no experience with attaining a job in UX, I cannot claim to have any practical or legitimate knowledge of the matter, but that is what research is for! When talking with a UX designer, she revealed that in many circumstances, entry level UX positions are looking for individuals with prior UX experience. The cycle of “need job for experience” and ” need experience for job” is perpetuated. I was able to talk through a number of strategies with her on how to triumph despite the cycle. She recommended going to graduate school for a degree in human-computer interaction. By taking this path, I would create a foundation in UX while creating a network with other UX professionals. For those not able or willing to receive extra formal education, seeking an internship in related to UX is the first step. Internships present designers with the opportunity to build up their resume’s and gain experience. A third suggestion is to gain employment in a different position, and then work toward a position in UX within the company. There is no one, set way to join the UX design career field, so each individual must approach their journey according to their wants and needs.

User experience UX design is a field of design concerned with how products and tools, such as software interfaces, behave to ensure users can complete functions better with a more positive experience. Through my research, I’ve found that it is more important to exhibit mastery of relevant skills than having a certificate or specialized degree, however, it was suggested to me to pursue a degree in human computer interaction in order to gain a more solid foundation in the field and form a network of other UX professionals. I do not plan to go back to school just yet, so I will initially try to enter the field through internships related to UX. Alternatively I can acquire a position related to communications or design in a company I am passionate about and then work my way over to a UX position within the company. In the meantime, I will have to work at developing UX related skills. I am already familiar with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and XD, which can be used to prototype ideas, but I will need to use online resources to teach myself how to code in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript which will enable me to implement solutions. Overall, I’m going to have to learn continually by taking online courses, reading up on UX articles, and listening to UX podcasts. It’s going to take a lot of work on my part, but now that I’ve found a direction for my career, I feel motivated to challenge myself and take these first steps.

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