Learn UX design, Web and App development

Learn UX, web and app development - header

Looking to establish a career or upskill in the area of UX, web and app development? Read on to discover more about becoming an expert in these fields.

Technology plays a greater role in our lives than ever before – we’re now spending increasing amounts of time online and on our mobile devices. A cell phone is no longer an optional extra, but a necessity to modern life. Love it or loathe it, technology has become a central part of our society, giving rise to the importance of the design and development of apps and websites.

It makes sense, then, that many are drawn into this creative line of work. Not only are careers in this sector available in abundance – each of these exciting positions often offers handsome remuneration in addition to an excellent work-life balance.

So whether you’re looking to get your foot in the door of this industry or simply looking to up your game – this post highlights the main characteristics of each type of role in the web and app design and development world, as well as some tips on how to increase your knowledge in each field.

UX design

For a comprehensive list of some of the best online and in-class courses around the globe, take a look at our Top 10 UI / UX design courses to take now: free and paid post.

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What is UX design and how did it originate?

First known as “Human-Computer Interaction” (HCI) and later as “Interaction Design”, the goal of UX design was to make computers more intuitive to human beings. Experts in this field normally had backgrounds in the areas of computer science and cognitive psychology.

Eventually, as personal computers started evolving, so too did the field of UX, with storytelling, motion graphics and linguistics being added to establish a wider understanding of how the user interacts with technology.

We can now  consider UX design as an umbrella term for aesthetics, psychology, usability, sociology, as well as design.

Often, UXers will aim to design an app or website in a way that the user doesn’t even know they’re having an experience.

Don Norman, one of the founders of UX, argues that the main question we can ask if we want to understand the fundamental concept of UX design is whether or not the product being designed solves an actual problem the user has.

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible”

									Don Norman - The Design of Everyday Things								

After they identify a problem in the “ideation phase”, it’s then the UXer’s job to design a solution that’s as intuitive and pleasant as possible. Good design can be subtle, but really make a difference. Often, UXers will aim to design an app or website in a way that the user doesn’t even know they’re having an experience.

A UXer isn’t just concerned with an app or website’s design, but the complete user experience – even as far as the marketing campaign. They work on details like an app or website’s animation and “user flow”, and are often involved with the troubleshooting experience for an app or website.

A UXer creates and optimizes user flows

When you learn UX, you not only learn to design apps and websites, you also learn to design experiences. But the responsibility doesn’t stop there. You’ll more than likely have to ensure user experience quality long after an app or website’s development. As markets evolve and people change, the UX must adapt to current problems and tastes.

What’s life like for a UX designer?

So, when you learn UX, what will your workflow look like when designing a new product?

UXers usually work alongside designers, developers, product managers, clients and other key stakeholders in seeing a project from start to finish through a design cycle, usually following the Lean or Agile methodologies.

As you learn UX, you’ll notice just how important user research is in the early period of the design cycle.

This research normally consists of asking potential users about their daily lives and what problems they have. However, it’s crucial, when you learn UX, to understand the difference between a problem the user actually has and a problem they think they have.

For this reason, observation is also a key strategy deployed during user research. Observing future users on how they go about their activities, how they use a certain website or how they do their jobs can give UXers even greater insight to the difficulties they face. They may even recognize problems the potential users never even knew they had.

It’s the UXer’s main duty to ensure that every step of the development process revolves around the user - implementing what is known as a “user-centric” approach to design.

The next step when you learn UX, is learning how to channel all that data gathered from the field research together into “user personas. A wireframe or prototype is then designed around these personas’ needs.

Developing a prototype requires a UXer to work closely alongside graphic designers, and to clearly communicate the information gathered about users to entire teams. It’s the UXer’s main duty to ensure that every step of the development process revolves around the user – implementing what is known as a “user-centric” approach to design.

After the prototype is created, it’s then tested. Usability testing checks the intuitiveness of the app or web prototype, as well as the design and functionality. UXers take this vital feedback and re-iterate on their designs. This goes on in a cycle until the perfect product materializes. The UXer then hands off the prototype to developers, who code it into a living, breathing product.

The design cycle looks little like this:

A UXer takes a product through a design cycle

It’s then the UXer’s job to ensure that the app continues to have a high degree of usability even after updates and new features are launched.

Why learn UX design?

There are many reasons to learn UX design. Aside from being challenging and exciting, it’s also a highly rewarding dedication.

...more tech companies are starting to realize the importance of the user experience in guaranteeing the success of their products.

If you have an interest in psychology or cognitive science, great communication skills and a creative streak, these are all winning ingredients in the recipe to success if you want to learn UX.

According to uxplanet.org, the demand for UX designers has steadily increased over the past few years and shows no signs of abating soon. This is owed to the fact that more tech companies are realizing the importance of the user experience in guaranteeing the success of their products. Lately, this is true even for companies supplying enterprise software.

There has never been a better time to be a UX designer and the grass only seems to be getting greener in the field. UX designers’ salaries are increasing every year, already being much higher than the average US salary

How to learn UX design

If you want to learn UX, then you might be surprised at how easy it is to get your foot in the door.

According to the Interaction Design Foundation, the very nature of the field of UX design is multi-disciplinary, meaning that your don’t have to worry about what exactly you studied. You could have majored in Geography and still become a successful UX designer because everyone can bring something relevant to the table.

Certainly, there are fields that serve more easily as a launchpad for a career in UX. Many UI designers switch over to learn UX and, according to Nick Babich, developers are also well equipped to go into the field.

A UXer never really stops learning, even after they become a UXer - learning, iterating and re-iterating is the name of the game.

But whatever your discipline, all it takes is constant motivation to better yourself and learn whenever you can.

When discussing advice for budding UX designers, Eugenia Kim, a senior marketer and product designer, maintains that a deep-seated desire to make changes to how technology impacts people’s lives and the business world, as well as the curiosity to keep learning and discovering new digital trends is what can really help someone break into UX design.

A UXer never really stops learning, even after they become a UXer – learning, iterating and re-iterating is the name of the game. You can improve your skills as a UX designer but you can never stop learning – it’s part of a UXer’s job.

A UXer is constantly learning and acquiring new skills

There’s a wealth of material out there to help you learn UX design and you can take action immediately. The type of classes or learning material you choose will be largely determined on whether you’re a complete beginner in UX, simply looking to up your game or to get a promotion in the field.

For many, online or distance education is a crucial means for balancing daily responsibilities and activities. Traditional in-class courses also work really well to keep you engaged. Taking classes is something we recommend if you want to learn UX properly. See our list above this section for the top online and in-class courses in UX.

Product management

If you’re looking to expand your knowledge in product management, then look no further than this list of the best free and paid product management courses.

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What’s the difference between a product manager and a UXer?

“Product manager” (PM) is a new term that’s come up in the tech industry quite recently and most people find themselves guessing what one actually does.

Those who know about the UX design process know that a PM and a designer’s tasks often overlap as they share very similar responsibilities and have to work together closely on each project and throughout the design cycle.

When you learn product management, you’ll see that parts of the job coincide with that of a UXer’s, such as usability testing, user research, KPI monitoring, prototyping and UI design. A PM and a UXer may also work together on a product’s marketing tactics. A PM will strive towards ensuring a smooth designer-developer handoff after the final prototype has been finished.

While a UXer is principally concerned with a product’s usability and getting everyone on board with the user’s needs, the PM is more concerned with the overall strategy of the design and development process.

Like a UXer, a PM is also concerned with arriving at a minimum viable product (MVP) that can be tested on potential users.

And in the same way that a UXer aims to maintain and improve UX long after a product’s development, so does too does a PM. They carry a product through to its marketing launch stages and ensure that continual support and product improvement is provided. There is, however, a marked difference between the main roles UXers and product managers play.

While a UXer is principally concerned with a product’s usability and getting everyone on board with the user’s needs, the PM is more concerned with the overall strategy of the design and development process, and that they keep the direction the product is headed in aligned with both business goals and the user experience.

For example, a product manager is concerned with making sure the usability and research testing sticks to the company’s budget and time restraints. It’s also their job to maintain communication between the various teams involved in the design and development cycles.

An important part of a PM’s job that you’ll discover when you learn product management is roadmapping. A roadmap charts the various stages a product will go through in both pre- and post- development stages. At each stage they will ensure that everything is on time and on budget – and in line with business strategy.

Product managers create product roadmaps

What’s life like for a product manager?

Generally speaking, normal working hours tend to be the national average of 9-5. However, if you’re managing international teams, this may require you to work outside of those times, as meetings and collaboration takes center stage for this role.

It’s not unheard of for a PM to do overtime to finish projects that have tight deadlines, or if the product has a new feature launch. Usually, project managers are compensated with extra time off rather than overtime time pay.

A day in the life

Steven Cognetta, a product manager in Google, outlines his day as being rather action-packed. On a typical day, his responsibilities include roadmapping and usability testing, setting up meetings with designers, developers and clients, as well as coordinating different teams and meeting with teams of engineering leads and management executives. He is also responsible for leading daily standup meetings, as well as legal meetings in relation to new feature releases and product launches.

Writing product requirement docs (PRDs) also falls under Steven’s line of duties. PRDs develop a product’s hypothesis before work starts on the project. They outline the functions a product should have and why, which helps decisions to be made regarding its development strategy.

To sum up, a PM is required to use both technical and social skills on a daily basis, and to facilitate cross -team collaboration against an international business backdrop.

To make it as a product manager in the technical world, you need to be a highly motivated, natural leader. You need to be able to mix sharp analytical skills with creativity and perseverance.

Why learn product management?

If you want to learn product management, you need to have infinite knowledge and passion about your field. If you’re passionate about project management and like the challenge of producing high quality products within a given timeframe, then this may be the job for you.

If you want to oversee an app or website’s design, it helps to have worked in this field before, however, many entrepreneurs inadvertently become PMs by setting up teams to work on a business idea. This shows there is more than one route into or one way to learn product management.

People who want to learn product management are often interested in the many of the different business aspects relating to product development. If you have an eclectic interest in design, software development, marketing and budgeting, then this could be the career for you.

Product managers juggle multiple responsibilities

Did we mention that being a product manager is quite a lucrative exploit? The average base pay for a technical product manager in the US on Glassdoor in 2019 sits at $114,881. The employment opportunities are also quite rosy for product managers, with the employment rate being slightly above the national average.

But it’s not just the remuneration that brings people to learn product management – the fact that it is usually a role that opens up a route into senior management is also a pull factor for many people in the tech industry.

How to learn product management

In theory, anyone from a designer to a developer could potentially learn product management.

And while there’s no set route to becoming one a product manager, there are courses and learning material out there to help you on your way.

Generally speaking though, the most common way of becoming a PM is to be promoted to the position.

As an example of this, let’s take one woman, Janna Bastow who, with zero experience, inadvertently got promoted to the position of PM  in her company, Prodpad. Janna worked in customer service and kept receiving so many angry complaints during the day that she found herself writing out detailed solutions to improve the product that was providing such a bad user experience.

Simply working in a design or development team while taking the initiative to show both good leadership and autonomy can go miles in helping you work on important skills required for the job.

She then handed these solutions to the development team. Little did she know, however, that her list was basically a PRD! The manager noticed that this woman was passionate about the product and, as a result of her innovation, promoted her to a PM position.

There are many different ways into a product management job in the tech industry, but simply working in a design or development team while taking the initiative to show both good leadership and autonomy can go miles in helping you learn product management skills that are important for the job.

Tip: Working on and demonstrating skills such as ideation, user research and being able to prioritize tasks in the design cycle can help you get noticed the next time you see an opening for a PM job.

You could also try to learn product management by developing your own products on the side – the products you build don’t have to solve global warming, but they can help you to demonstrate your real metal in terms of product management and development.

Networking can be another trick for breaking into this field. Going to conferences or attending meetups and hackathons will help you to meet engineers and entrepreneurs who can give you important advice.

App development

Want to become an app developer and start developing your own apps – or just looking to refresh your skills? Check out our list of top free and paid app development courses and find the right one for you!

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What is app development?

App development involves seeing an app through from concept to finished product, but it doesn’t just end there.

In today’s world, with it’s rapidly changing tech background, an app must be regularly updated – not just to accommodate bug fixes and changing platform requirements, but also to cater to the ever changing trends and standards in UX.

Therefore, app development is a broad term that covers everything from the conceptualization stage, right through to its launch and indefinitely after that. These days, an app can never be completely finished.

The development cycle

An app has to go through several processes before it reaches its market. The  application development life cycle refers to these processes.

Foremost is the research stage – finding a gap in the market that’s s a real problem its potential users need solving – something that UX experts specialize in.

Next is the design or the prototyping stage, where they build out a concept to replicate the real product.

After that comes usability testing, where your test users will try out your minimum viable product or prototype and provide you with feedback. Based on this feedback, reiteration may be necessary to perfect the product before it goes to market.

Then you have the coding stage, which is where the developer comes in. It’s the developer’s job to bring the prototype to life. This is the threshold after which any further changes to the product will be complex and costly to implement.

App developers code apps from prototypes

Lastly, there’s the support stage where, usually, the UXers will monitor the user experience and implement any further improvements necessary.

Even though “app development” covers all the creative processes required to get an app ready for its public launch, the term itself actually refers to the teams with a programming background, who actually code the product.

What’s life like for an app developer?

An app developer working at Clay, a cloud-based company specializing in smart lock technology, describes his day as primarily fixing app crashes, developing new product features and working very closely alongside a product manager and a team of UI/UX designers.

Apart from coding prototypes into real-life apps, a large chunk of your day may be dedicated to fixing bugs and testing products.

When working as an app developer, you’ll typically be working in teams with other individuals – developers like yourself, while possibly sharing close quarters with UX/UI designers, information architects, UX writers and visual designers.

You’ll usually have to work closely with clients, taking careful note of their feedback. Apart from coding prototypes into real-life apps, a large chunk of your day may be dedicated to fixing bugs and testing products.

You’ll more than likely be required to work alongside a product manager who oversees, budgets and plans the whole app development cycle.

This type of job also has a social element in that you’ll be required to collaborate closely with people of different professional backgrounds, meaning that communication and teamwork skills must also be well developed.

Why learn app development?

People who learn app development often find it fun, but challenging. If you’re an analytical person, you can channel that logic into creativity and see the fruits of your labor take real shape. If good enough, it can make ripples in the app marketplace.

There’s an estimated 5 billion mobile devices in use throughout the world. Imagine how much chance there is that an app you’ve created has to reach people. This is just one reason to learn app development and reap the rewards.

App development - more than 5 billion mobile devices in use aroun the world

Apart from creative problem solving, it also has the potential to be lucrative. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for app developers in the US bills in way above the US average – just another reason to learn app development!

Not only does the industry offer handsome remuneration, but the future also looks quite promising. US News & World Report listed “app developer” as the best rated job in the IT sector for 2019, making this one of the most watertight industries in which to forge a career.

A lot of app developers usually work on only two apps at a time, while enjoying the great remuneration and working conditions that come with it.

How to learn app development

Before embarking on this path, you should ideally decide which platforms you want to learn app development for. Of the different platforms circulating the market, iOS and Android are the most popular, followed by Windows, Psio, Blackberry and Symbian.

App development - choose a platform to develop for

If you want to learn app development, you’ll have to acquire the corresponding software skills and knowledge. Many developers enter this field off the back of a computer science degree or IT management.

However, that is not the only route into this technologically glamorous career. There are numerous courses to help learn app development and coding bootcamps available that can provide intensive training to get you developing within around 8 -12 weeks.

While you learn app development, we  also advise you to do some research into the areas of software design security, as well as learning at least a couple of common programming languages such as Java, SQL, JavaScript, C++, Ruby on Rails, Python or iOS. Mastering the skills of UI coding, in addition to some of the more common coding languages can be a launchpad for you career.

And while you might be tempted to think of mobile app development as being similar to software development, there are some important distinguishing factors that you should bear in mind.

Certain specs on mobile platforms, such as bandwidth, storage, memory and compute cycles are more limited and hence require development directly within the context of whichever mobile platform you’re working in.

App development - platforms determine bandwidth, storage and memory

This means that, depending on which platform you choose to develop for, your choices might be limited or enhanced in certain cases.

Web development

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What is web development?

Web developers typically possess a high level of coding knowledge. This knowledge enables them to not only build websites or web apps, but also to control both input and output data, as well as information storage and interaction.

Web developers differ from web designers who are more concerned with the look of the website, the layout of various UI elements, the colors, images, iconography and the UX that results from the design as a whole.

If you’re looking to learn web development, you’ll first have to choose between two areas to specialize in: front-end or back-end.

  • Front-end requires you to use different programming frameworks and languages like HTML, JavaScript and CSS to build the interface, features and overall look of a website.
  • Back-end work generally involves programming languages such Ruby and Python. Here you’d be designing applications that integrate with the front-end. The back-end side basically takes care of a website’s operations and functionality

Developers with more experience can also choose to specialize in both. These are called full-stack developers and are proficient in the two areas. Full stack developers have been growing in demand since 2017 and this trend looks set to continue.

What’s life like for a web developer?

Like app developers, web developers typically work very closely alongside clients, figuring out ways to best execute their desires. When you learn web development, you’ll see that they work closely with UI and UX designers who hand them prototypes to code. They also come into close contact with project managers and marketers to ensure they stick to marketing strategies and stay on budget.

Web developers often provide constant web maintenance

Just like with app development, and like UXers and product managers, web developers may also be required to constantly maintain a website to ensure that it continually satisfies its users, that its content stays relevant and that it is up to date with the latest changes in the online world.

Among a web developer’s duties are meeting with clients and product managers to discuss goals and strategies, debugging activities and writing new code with languages like HTML and XML, in addition to monitoring the traffic that a website brings.

However, web developers may occasionally have to do overtime to fix critical errors or to meet tight deadlines.

Why learn web development?

Like app development, if you learn web development it can be very lucrative. Jobs in this area tend to pay exceptionally well. Salaries for entry level developers are often above the average in any other position. According to AbsoluteIT, salaries usually increase by up to 60% within six years of employment.

But the salary is not the only reason you might want to learn web development. The fact that web developers are usually in such high demand is often an indicator of job security and another pull factor to the industry.

Work from home, and fit your work around personal responsibilities, such as looking after family or overseeing house improvements.

Also among the most coveted benefits is the possibility of flexible work schedules on top of remote working opportunities. Many tech companies make this possible by having chat rooms that enable video conferencing, and PMs that are available to coordinate meetings making it possible for different staff members to join in from anywhere around the world.

These flexible hours and remote working options can enable to you to travel more than most other jobs. It can also allow you to work from home, and fit your work around personal responsibilities, such as looking after family or overseeing house improvements.

How to learn web development

The good news is that you don’t have to be a math prodigy or have been coding since the age of nine. There’s plenty of help out there to get help you learn web development quickly.

11.3% of new web developers get a job just a year after they learn web development while 36.9% managed to get employment in the area within one to four years of learning their new craft.

There are more coding boot camps and online courses to help you learn web development than ever before. Getting into the web development with zero previous experience is possible – if you’ve got the motivation and commitment required.

In fact, a developer survey done by Stack Overflow in 2017 shows that, on average, 11.3% of new web developers get a job just a year after they learn web development, while 36.9% got employment in the area within one to four years of learning their new craft.

Code Academy and App Academy offer many courses and coding boot camps that provide intensive training for people looking to move into a new field, or to upskill in their current one if they already work in the tech industry. The courses they offer are practical and designed to increase your chances of employment.

Learn web development with Code Academy

You’ll need to learn HTML, CSS and JavaScript to work in this field, whether you choose front-end or back-end development. This is study that you can do on your own at any time – it just requires carving out a portion of your weekly schedule. It also helps to have some knowledge of frameworks for CSS like Bootstrap, Foundation and Backbone.

If you’re looking to break into back-end development, then you should look to increase your knowledge of languages such as PHPO, Java, Ruby, in addition to certain tools like SQL and Oracle.

Lastly, while doing courses or training yourself up, the value of keeping an online portfolio of your work cannot be overstated. It’s a chance to help showcase your work and technical potential. Creating a portfolio can go a long way to helping you land that first job interview.

The takeaway

Suffice to say that careers in the design and development industry have really taken off and the statistics demonstrate that this trend will only grow in the future as even more technological advancements are made.

If you’re looking to get into UX design, product management, or app or web development, the time has never been better to do it. Each of the professions listed above are only increasing in demand and with so many courses and so much information available online, there have never been so many routes into these careers.

It’s now more likely than ever that you can succeed in landing a position in one of these areas if you’re motivated enough and willing to dedicate a bit of extra time to upskilling.

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Joseph Downs
In-house UX copy-slinger, foodie and classic motoring enthusiast