“How do I learn UX design?” Questions like this come from a lot of people who are UX curious. I asked the same questions when I was studying design and transitioning out of teaching English. Later I continued to ask these questions when I was Web and graphic designer and trying to switch into product. For those who have wondered how they can break into this industry, here is a list of things I have studied. These are in no particular order. You only have to start.
What to study
A lot of UX design articles tend to gloss over the importance of understanding basic design elements. While UX designers are focused on examining the right problem and the best solutions, we still have to visually communicate our work. Ultimately, we have to convince people that our work is valid. To show design artifacts, research read outs, and pitch decks that ignore key design elements only serves to distract our audience.
Philosophy and logic
Fundamentally, studying philosophy can make you a better thinker. In the case of UX design, we are challenged to ask the right questions. We are also asked to examine the answers and examine them against a logical framework. The CEO and cofounder of Slack, Stewart Butterfield, said that studying philosophy taught him how to (communicate) clearly and how to follow arguments “all the way down.”
Investing time in research before designing informs designers of the context in which they will work. This has the biggest impact. Idean was the first company for me that really emphasized giving the designer this opportunity for nearly every project. This was not the case earlier in my career. Without any significant connection to the user or business goals, I spent needless hours and revisions trying to design a solution for a problem I barely understood. My experiences at Idean, and now IBM, have given me the space explore the culture of the users and analyze their behaviors. Ultimately, this upfront work set me up to better provide a more appropriate solution
Anthropology and Psychology
UX is a study of how people interact with technology. As we look into behaviors, then we start to examine culture. Designers, who have an appetite for learning the complexity of culture, context, and communication, will be better prepared to leverage technology to enhance how people interact and communicate.
The tech industry is investing a lot of time and money into researching our natural tendencies and where to insert their products or services for adoption. Design is more than the sum of visual screens tied together with interactions. Design is an answer to a user’s habit loops. What pain point triggers a need and how can the product or service fulfill that need?
I’ve met great designers who have no interest in code. I’ve met an equal number who are curious about coding at least from a front end perspective. The best designers are the ones who follow their curiosity. Will you be the ‘unicorn’? Probably not. Will you gain a better understanding of the technology behind the products we design? Absolutely.
Storytelling and presenting
“Great designers are great storytellers,” proclaimed my creative director. “No one will really get your screens and workflows unless you attach it to a compelling story,” she added. Over the years, I found this to be very true. The more I time I spent crafting the story around how the product helps the customer, the easier it was for me to design and pitch my ideas.
What to do
Search for side projects
Create your own projects. Redesign Facebook or try to solve a common problem people have with an app people often use. Create UI kits and offer them for free download. This shows the designer’s understanding of common UI elements. Create a complete story. (i.e. User > Problem > Exploration of Solution > Direction from your Classwork). You ultimately want to show the interviewers that you understand design concepts and UX principles.
Find established designers to follow
Do you crave more inspiration from the larger User Experience (UX) Design community? Twitter is a great resource to find, follow and sometimes communicate with the most influential leaders in our industry. Here is a list of UX designers I have been building for the past couple of years through blogs, book and conferences.
Learn Sketch, Adobe, InVision, Framer…
You will need to learn a lot of tools and learn to bring them into your workflow. I started out with Photoshop. Now, I am using a combination of Sketch, Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, InVision, and a little Framer. It never ends. Get comfortable with trying out new tools.
Copy UI patterns
As you are studying design patterns, take those UI patterns and start using them. Put them into wireframes and create workflows. Compare them to the ones you see in class, on Dribbble, and with the apps you use the most. If you keep doing this, you will start to notice how designers use icons, buttons, fields, and text. You will learn to adopt these practices too.
Show your work and get used to feedback
Designers need feedback to check with the team, stakeholders, and clients if they are on the right path. Too often we tend to show screens with little direction, and the design feedback is unfocused. As a result, it is not clear what the expectations are for next steps, and designers walk away with a negative experience associated with getting feedback. I have coached my students in portfolio class and the designers on my team to set up design feedback sessions to guide people to give more actionable input.
Closing thoughts on how to learn UX design
I did not go to design school, but I did study design elements at community college. So, my education was a mix of learning the core concepts and studying from the professionals in the field. I cannot recommend forgoing any education to study and practice UX design on your own. Nonetheless, you will need to find ways to learn all of the areas that intersect with UX.