Your guide to learning design principles and landing your first job in the UX / UI industry.
Becoming a UX designer is a great option for anyone looking to build a creative career that combines problem-solving and human empathy. If you’re an aspiring UX designer and have decided it’s the path you want to take, you’ll probably be asking: how can I make it happen?
If you’re still at the “weighing things up” stage, being sat in a trendy office with your shiny new design job might feel like a very distant dream. But, believe it or not, if you commit to following the right steps, you could get on track in the space of just a few months.
“But how?” you ask! “Doesn’t UX design need heaps of complicated technical skills?” Well, yes, you’ll need a core set of skills—but skills can be learned, and the nature of creativity and UX design problem-solving means that you probably already have more of a head start than you realize.
Read on to discover how you could get up to speed and be applying for that first UX design job within 3-6 months.
Average Salary of a UX Designer
In addition to a fulfilling line of work, a career in UX Design often comes with a higher than average paycheck. The latest estimate from Glassdoor gives an average of $90K/year for new UX designers in the United States.
While each location (and company) is different, aspiring UX designers can take advantage of the high demand and ever-growing field of digital product design to build their career.
Career Trajectory for UX Designers
The career path of a UX designer typically begins with a UX/UI design generalist role, where you can work with a wide spectrum of the product design process.
In addition to a generalist role (which can age with you as you gain years of experience), there are also various routes you might take within your career in UX, from user research to project management to leading a team of designers.
Typically, a new UX designer will begin their work as a generalist that covers not only the user experience side of product design, but also fine-tuning the user interface (UI), user research, etc. UX design is a field with a wide variety of growth opportunities, whether you prefer to remain a generalist, or focus on a specific area, like user research or management.
Step-by-Step: How to Become a UX Designer
Step 1: Immerse Yourself in Visual Design Fundamentals
When the discipline of UX design first emerged nearly 3 decades ago, the world of digital products was a far cry from what it is now. In the early days, user experience design was specifically focused on the usability of interfaces which were designed for programs that ran command line codes.
Fast forward to today, where product designers not only work with functionality, but advanced elements like polished, code-free interfaces and animated interactions.
Consequently, it’s important for aspiring UX designers to understand how humans interact and respond to interface design, so that they can lay the foundations for a more polished and user-friendly product. And, for many jobs in UX, interface design comes as a part of the job description.
Visual design fundamentals, which include elements like typography, spacing, grid layouts, and more, will create a foundation that will stand you in good stead as you polish your skills, hunt for your first job, and begin your career in UX design.
Final project by Cella, one of our Designlab students
Before diving into a UX-design-focused course, we would always recommend spending some time getting up to speed on visual design.
At Designlab, we offer a UX Academy Foundations course for anyone who wants to pursue a career in UX design, but does not have a background in visual or graphic design. If you’re learning independently, or still researching your career options, you could begin by getting a couple of inspiring books on design. Check out our reading list for inspiration!
Step 2: Learn UX Tools
User experience design comes with its own suite of tools. There are apps specifically designed for wireframing, prototyping, user testing, and polishing UIs—as well as all-in-one UX/UI apps that will be your best friend once you start designing.
By familiarizing yourself with UX tools early on in your education, you’ll be able to practice each technique and establish good design habits early on.
While there are many tools available, two of the more versatile tools you might want to learn are Figma and Adobe XD.
Both of these UX tools are standard in the industry, and will be part of your daily tech stack when you become a UX designer.
Ready to get started? Check out our free 5-day email courses:
Rapidly gaining new skills and switching careers can be challenging, and often requires long hours and an extensive amount of self-motivation and self-discipline. All of these obstacles can be overcome so long as you’re inwardly committed to success.
Before taking the next steps, reflect on whether you’re truly ready to commit.
If you are, you might find it helpful to find an accountability partner, UX mentor, or simply writing out an affirmation and sticking it on your office wall:
I, [Your Name], commit to gaining new skills in UX design, building my portfolio, and landing my first design job. It won’t be easy, but I will do it.
You could expand on this affirmation by writing out the reasons why you’re making this change. When you’re feeling stressed, it can be easy to lose sight of your original motivations, and having these recorded somewhere means they can become a helpful “reset” button for your mind.
For example, lots of people train in design because they want to do more creative work each day, or because they enjoy helping people and solving problems. Whatever your motivation is, make a note and keep it somewhere visible as you study.
Step 4: Pursue a UX Design Education
There are a number of paths you can take to get trained in UX design skills.
While many of us might automatically think of formal education degrees from a college or university, a traditional degree often comes with a plethora of course requirements outside of UX design.
Fortunately, as more programs and courses become available online, there are many UX bootcamps that offer intensive programs to help you maximize your time and energy. These bootcamps and UX courses stand out, not only in the effective way they help you learn UX design, but also because they are focused on helping you land a career in the industry.
Here are a few education options currently available for you:
Self-study online courses, where you learn UX design at your own pace.
Online UX bootcamp program, which covers a wider range of topics than the average course. Some can be taken at your own pace, while others include more accountability to ensure that you not only graduate the program within a specified amount of time, but also have the skills and portfolio you need to land your first design job.
Offline bootcamp, which requires you to attend courses in a physical location, similar to a college or university.
Traditional university programs, which provide a degree related to your course of study as an experience designer.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. We created UX Academy, our online UX bootcamp, as a middle ground between the high cost of university courses, and the lack of accountability in self-study and passive online video courses.
As you decide which route you want to take, keep in mind that many companies and businesses in the industry do not require a specific UX design degree. There are many successful designers who have degrees in another field (or no degree at all), and have successfully landed UX design jobs at top companies, thanks to the work they put into attending an intensive bootcamp and building their portfolio.
Step 5: Connect with a UX Mentor for Feedback
Self-study can, indeed, take you far. But as an aspiring UX designer, you haven’t yet developed the skills needed to review designs critically, identify errors—or know how to fix them.
That’s why one of the most valuable connections you can make when you want to become a UX designer is that of an experienced designer who’s willing to mentor your work and help you improve.
This is another great benefit to taking advantage of online bootcamps like UX Academy, since it includes mentorship with an experienced designer, who will share their expertise, provide constructive criticism and critiques on your projects, and meet 1:1 weekly to answer your questions and support you in your new career.
Speaking of portfolios, your UX design portfolio will be one of the primary elements that hiring managers consider as they review your application.
This is an extremely important thing to keep in mind: abstract skills and an understanding of UX design principles won’t be enough to land you a full time or part time job. You’ll also need project work that demonstrates those skills.
Many online courses are built around the concept of a design portfolio, and will offer a variety of projects that you can use to visually demonstrate your understanding of user research, layout, information architecture, design process, and even the visual and graphic design skills required to deliver a polished project.
As you create your portfolio, keep in mind that hiring managers aren’t just looking for a pretty interface.
They are also interested in seeing how you analyze and define a problem, engage in research and idea generation, and develop a viable solution.
At this point, you’re nearly at the end of your journey to become a UX designer. All that’s left is … landing a job.
Unfortunately, this is often dependent on many variable factors, from company and culture fit to the projects you’ve included in your portfolio and the soft skills you advertise and demonstrate in your interviews.
That’s why UX Academy graduates gain access to a Career Services program, which allows you to connect with a UX career coach, receive feedback on your resume, cover letters, and even offer insights into how you might better prepare for interviews and portfolio presentations during your job search.
This stage of your search can be incredibly short (some UX Academy students have landed a job in UX even before they graduated from the course), or take weeks to find a job that aligns with your skills and the career you envisioned.
Are You Ready to Become a UX Designer?
Are you ready to step into a career as a UX designer? Here are a few ways to get started: