10 Steps to Help You Become a UX Designer I’ve been there — I found myself looking to break into the UX industry with no idea whatsoever on where to start. I know the abundance of information out there can feel overwhelming and all the concepts and possible pathways are difficult to navigate. But I’m here to help. Since I started the UX Goodies project I’ve gotten this question over and over again: how do I get started in UX Design? So over time I’ve iterated on and refined my answer into something that’s more actionable. Basically, you can think of these as a series of suggested steps to take in your learning journey.
Step 1. Start reading and doing your research on what UX is This will give you an understanding of whether you are actually interested in exploring this industry or perhaps it’s just not for you. Doing your own little research will help you get a high-level, basic understanding of what UX entails, what are its disciplines, what is its mission, the role of a designer and so on. I recommend you start with some of the fundamental books on UX design — Don Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things” and Steve Krug’s — Don’t Make Me Think. These two should clarify what the design industry is all about and what designers strive to accomplish through their work. In a nutshell, the answer is crafting products that people enjoy using (while implicitly understanding how!). Also, there are several trustworthy blogs, I’d say you start with Nielsen Norman. If you’re more the visual type of learner, you can begin gaining a high level understanding of design by exploring some Youtube channels such as UX Mastery.
Step 2. Find and take a course Academic education is always better, but since few people are willing to invest 2 years of their life into something they’re not yet sure they’re interested in, you can start with a shorter and more specific UX Design course.
If you have any physical courses in your area, I’d say start your search there, because nothing is better than a real life experience where you actually get to meet a lot of people with the same interests and goals. Plus, it’s more immersive, applied, conversational and so on. If that’s not available or you’re short on time, then the best thing you can do is create an account with Interaction Design Foundation. They offer a wide variety of courses, ranging from Beginner to Advanced, which you can navigate based on your experience and needs. For those just starting out, go for the Beginner track, it will introduce you to a proposed learning path, guiding your journey into learning UX design.
Step 3. Reach out to other designers Design conversations are important. So is getting advice, guidance, and when the times comes feedback on your process and design work. It’s valuable to cultivate relationships to other designers, because you’ll learn a lot from others and from these exchanges. If you have designers in your workplace, reach out to them and share your intention of transitioning into UX Design, inviting them to share their journey and lessons. Also, everybody wants to help others, provided they have the time for it, so it may be a good idea to invite them to guide you through your first steps of this journey.
If there are no designers at work, don’t worry, there’s a whole world of possibilities, especially in the internet era. You can choose channels you’re most drawn to and look for designers to follow, from Youtube, to Dribbble, Behance or Instagram. You can even look for designers that work for companies in your area and reach out to them on Linkedin. Invite them for a chat or even a short coffee meeting, share your plans and ask as many questions as you can about their work as designers.
Step 4. Understand the basic principles Now with some good reading efforts, ongoing online courses and hopefully some insightful chats with other designers, you should be starting to make something of all this UX thing and understand the basics. Once you get the hang of the basic principles, things will become easier as you’ll feel more equipped for navigating the wide pool of content and concepts. As a reference, you can look up Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini’s Principles of Interaction Design — he’s one of the first to have formulated such “laws” for design; and one of the founders of Nielsen Norman Group. Also, for learning the basic concepts of visual design and how our brains work with perceiving objects and images, I’d suggest you dive into the Gestalt Principles. Step 5. Map out the UX Process At this point you should be able to articulate the stages of a standard UX Process. It’s helpful to deconstruct the phases that the design process entails, and really try understand each one of them in depth. For example, any project should start with an Understanding phase, in which you set out to discover what is the design challenge, how it came about, what is its context. Then normally you’d move into a Research phase — map out the activities that this phase normally implies (interviews, observation, surveys)— use the information you’ve gathered from your courses and from other designers. Gain a personal understanding of what the design process looks like, but keep in mind that this is particularly valuable in your early days as a designers — as you’ll advance in your career you’ll be able to tweak, adjust, improvise on the stages of the design process and to better, more insightful results. Processes are not infallible by themselves and their not a all-in-1 recipe for success, but they do serve as an important North Star in your first design projects.
An important note that junior designers need to make on the process side is that the journey, the problem-solving efforts, the problem understanding deep-dive, the explorations, the iterations, and most of all, the talking to your users part are the things that UX design is all about. So it’s not that much about visual solutions and pretty screens, as many misunderstand in their early days.
Step 6. Explore tools and find the ones you like Tools are just the means to an end, they’re by no measure the core of the design process, but they do support your journey into solving the problem at hand. So what I suggest is that you explore some design tools and stick to the ones you enjoy using and find most accessible.
You’ll probably need a tool for design, some research tools for talking to users, a prototyping solution, perhaps a planning solution even, depending on the complexity of your first projects.
Step 7. Do a sample project This is where the fun actually begins! Now’s the time to put all the knowledge you’ve gained so far to work and do some actual design practice! I can not emphasize enough how important practice is, there’s no significant, true progress without practicing, so make sure you treat this stage with dedication and seriousness.
Now for the challenge — how does one choose a challenge?! Well, this is a great opportunity for you to get creative. How about inventing a product or app for scratch? Imagine, let’s say, that you want to create a Tinder for pets — how would the design process for this product look like? Plan it and then start executing on it! You can go as wild as you want with the project ideas, or you can be more conservative and explore the redesign of an existing product, by finding flaws in its design and setting out to solve them with a new solution.
Also, there are some online design challenges generators if you’re in a creative rut, but I’d say that if this is your first UX project then make it personal and fun.
Step 8. Network With some relationships hopefully already created, here’s the moment when you should be expanding your network, in preparation for finding job opportunities or potential internships. Also, networking and talking to people can be an opportunity for gathering feedback on your UX project and expanding on your design work. Look up design events in your area and start attending them. You’ll probably discover design meetups, possibly workshops, talks, various types of events. Get your party clothes ready and make an entrance!
If there are no physical opportunities to attend, then you can try joining online communities and virtual design spaces. There are a bunch of Slack channels for designers, Facebook groups, Instagram accounts that have built communities around them. You can do a little research on your own or you can ask your designer friends to recommend some they are enjoying.
Also, in these times the online spaces are evergrowing, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to attend webinars or online workshops where you can expand your skills and meet new people.
Step 9. Create a continuous learning ecosystem To make sure your learning efforts continue seamlessly, almost as if on their own, I’d recommend you build a learning routine, tailored to your own learning style and preferences. This might mean that if, let’s say, you’re a person that learns by audio stimulation, you might plan out listening to 3–4 podcast episodes a week, alongside 1–2 audiobooks per month. Or, if you’re more of a visual learner, you organise your week as to plan consuming 4–6 hours of online educational videos, watching talks from past design conferences and so on. I like to call mine “The Learning Protocol”, and it proved to be a tool that has helped me stay on track with my learning goals and make sure I’m getting a balanced intake of UX content, based on my personality and learning style. Outlining a discipline is valuable as it helps you anticipate, execute on, then measure your efforts. Being organised and planning ahead helps with everything, and education makes no exception.
Step 10. Find an internship And now for your big scene! The one in which you officially become a designer. All the steps before have lead up to this point: learning, reading, doing an actual project, networking. Use the sample project you’ve done to present it in your portfolio, to tell the story of how you’ve solved a problem and to what results.
A place that I enjoy exploring and is amazing when it comes to internship portfolios is Cofolios (it’s so cool, right? Thank me later!). This will serve as great inspiration to you as you’ll get a feel of what to show and how to structure your projects.
Once your portfolio is ready start applying consistently, don’t be afraid to ask people for help and don’t get demotivated if things go slow or appear to never be happening. Keep in mind that beginnings are the hardest, getting into the industry is actually the most difficult part — things will get easier after this point, as long as you don’t give up.
Conclusion My dear designers, we’ve reached the end of this learning journey. I hope this was useful and you managed to extract value out of it. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the first steps to take into UX Design, and things feel a bit clearer and less scary. I know these moments feel confusing and discouraging, but if you do some or all of these baby steps, then you’ll slowly but surely progress towards the job you dream of. Perseverance is key — just keep going.
Reach out to me with questions and good luck on your exciting journey ahead!