Taking the mystery out of the UX design trade: 10 helpful insights for user experience newbies
UX designers are crucial to the company’s bottom line. But despite their increasing value, learning the trade can be daunting because there is no prescribed path. Read this post for 10 insights into becoming a UX design self-starter, from the tools and skills you need to thinking outside of the box.
Get UX help – get UX educated
There are several ways that you can get into UX, one of which is academic learning. UX is a broad field. It encompasses many specialties, including usability training, information architecture and interaction design – each with their own set of concepts, terms and activities to get your head around.
User experience degrees can help you learn the theory behind these practices in a structured manner. A good place to start looking is the Interaction Design Foundation, which offers a beginners guide to the field of UX. This course will help newbies gain a thorough understanding of the above various design principles, and only requires between 1 to 7 hours of work per week (depending on your level of ambition). Not convinced? Check out our favorite free and paid UX courses here.
Of course, deciding whether to take up a UX degree is a big decision. And it’s not the only way to go about getting into the field – it all depends on you and your preferred learning method. You could complete an online course, join a workshop, do your own research, or launch straight into an apprenticeship – formal training isn’t absolutely necessary but can make learning the UX process more straightforward.
However you get started, one thing’s for sure. Once you enter the field, you’ll need the right tools.
Use the right UX design tools
There are an overwhelming selection of tools out there, and being new to the field makes it even harder for you to know what the best option is. Our advice? Get ready for your first user experience lesson: test, test and then test again.
You are, after all, a user. If you’re not sure what tool will best suit your workflow, then try out several until you find the perfect fit.
In terms of the types of tools you should start looking at, you’re going to want:
- A design tool that will help you materialize and visualize your ideas. Think Sketch, Photoshop & Illustrator to begin with. We’ve also rounded up the best tools for 2017 here, in case you’re on the lookout for more!
- Screen capture software to help you capture and transfer web moments in your designs. Camtasia is a great tool for Mac users. Nimbus works well for both Mac and Windows.
- A wireframing and prototyping tool that turns your design into an interactive simulation of your final product. Download Justinmind and see what your designs are capable of.
- A usability testing tool to test whether users can understand, interact with and navigate your design. Try Userlytics for quick and easy usability testing on both desktop and mobile devices. And if that’s not for you, check out Justinmind’s favorite usability and user testing tools here.
Apply what you’ve learned from UX design examples
So you’ve done your homework, what’s the next step? Putting those book smarts to the test and creating some experiences! But getting your foot in the door is often easier said than done. The problem is that companies are looking for people who already have experience, right? Total chicken and egg situation.
But don’t despair! There are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for your first UX design position:
- Consider starting a personal project or an open source project – something that you would like to do regardless of compensation. Apply what you’ve learned to an assignment and test your knowledge. Then write up a case study of your final piece – this will be a great addition to your UX portfolio (see below).
- Put your user research experience to the test: create fake personas. Set yourself up with a user-centered process, perform some usability tests with your newly-acquired testing tool and fold in feedback from users along the way.
- Get a mentor. Mentorship is a great accompaniment to your learning program and can even fast-track your journey to landing your first UX design job. Check out your local UX design association and crack on!
Know what type of you company you want to work for
Remember that you will always be learning – amateur or pro, there’s always room to grow. With that in mind, consider the size and type of company you’d like to apply to. Depending on whether you’re looking at an agency, startup, or medium-large company, your early design experiences and growth rate will vary somewhat.
The most obvious route for an amateur UX designer is the agency route, where you’ll learn lots and fast. Agencies deal with clients directly, and although the work can be high-stress, it is also high-benefit as you’ll learn how to produce quality work up against a deadline.
Startups will require you to switch between assignments frequently to keep up with changes to product strategy, such as market trajectories and resource availability. Get ready for lots of hat-wearing.
Medium to large-sized companies – the big leagues. Working in one of these organizations will teach you how to take small UX triumphs and apply them to monstrous projects. Big lessons, advanced skills.
Know how to create an awesome UX portfolio
A strong UX portfolio can really set you apart from the rest. This doesn’t mean yours necessarily has the most or the most elaborate design examples or case studies. Rather that you can easily walk through your work and demonstrate your experience in different UX specialties.
As Source LF’s UX Recruiter, Tom Cotterill, suggests, turn your examples into a story that flows so that the hiring manager can tap into your thought process.
Additionally, if you’re including an example of collaborative work, be transparent about what you brought to the project. The hiring manager will appreciate the honesty and it will give your portfolio more credibility.
Empathize with the user
User experience is all about the user. It’s easy enough to design thinking about what you want and need as a user. But it is much more difficult to identify with the emotions and goals of others, i.e. empathy.
In day to day life, empathy involves putting ourselves into someone else’s shoes to understand things from their point of view. In UX design, it’s understanding that we need this and knowing how to achieve it. Performing user research is the UX designer’s best friend when it comes to empathy. Ask users what they want and then implement that into your design. If you follow this workflow, you’re golden.
Acknowledge that UX has its place outside the office too
As Lis Hubert from Treehouse has it: “Thinking like a UXer in every situation is what separates great UXers from others.”
User experience in digital design usually follows a 3-step process: Discovery (what’s the problem you’re trying to solve), iteration (try out ideas that might solve the problem), and delivery and verification (test whether the solution fixes the problem). This process can be applied beyond screens and interfaces. For example, throwing a dinner party – what to prepare? Think back to what people have liked in previous parties (discovery), try out some plates and see what works and what is best kept in the packet (iteration), and then party time! Test your meal out (delivery) and then evaluate whether it was a success after (verification).
Thinking about UX outside of the office will make the UX process come more naturally when you are at work.
Know that user experience is just as analytical as it is visceral
Intuition seems to be the mantra of UX. Integrating seamless, intuitive experiences into digital solutions is now expected of UX designers. The problem is that there is no one size fits all approach to creating such experiences.
As it turns out, intuition is learned – user experience is just as analytical as it is visceral. Without researching what you’re going to build, you’re going to fail. The traditional use of web analytics was to inform marketing professionals, but we are now seeing the practice creep into the world of UX. Why is this? Because knowing how to interpret data and analytics will help you to identify UX design opportunities and keep you on top of user tendencies.
Get started with Google Analytics here.
Be OK with failing
UX Designers often have to defend their designs against teams, bosses and clients. Not everyone will like your work (certainly not your early work!) and every UX designer should learn how to back up their design decisions.
But you’ll also have to learn how to pick your battles. A known pain point for UXers is when business goals are prioritized over the user experience. And when designing with empathy, it is of course difficult to take emotion out of the equation. Sometimes it’s worth fighting your corner, but other times your energy is best spent elsewhere. Remember, it’s all in the name of the user!
Tip: when faced with criticism, try to get as much good out of it as possible. Take it as a test of your empathy: put yourself in the critic’s shoes and try to understand where there point of view is coming from. You might well find you have some fresh, new ideas.
Finally, be self-aware and know your strengths
When learning about UX, it can be hard to get a feel for your strong points. But remember that there are still no clear-cut standards for UX Designers. Being aware of your strengths will make you push for project tasks that you’ll excel in and help you stand out amongst a sea of UX experts and.
Communicating your strengths is also an important skill to have. A great way to do this is through the examples in your UX portfolio. The hiring manager will pay attention to how you talk about them, so make sure you focus on the objectives and how you achieved them.