Where to Start with UX
As a Design Manager in the field of User Experience, I’m often asked the question:
How do I get into the field of user experience?
There are many paths you could take in the field of User Experience (UX) ranging from Product Designers, Communication Designers, Design Researchers, Strategists, Management, and many more.
Regardless of the position you are interested in there are some things every person in UX should be familiar with.
Over the years, brilliant folks like Jakob Neilson have contributed to the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). He has assembled 10 Usability Heuristics that a good experience includes.
2. Elements of UX
I love frameworks. They provide a map to help anyone understand what realm they are designing in and what other realms are available to them. Jessie James Garrett has assembled his many years of expertise in the field into basic layers of design within in the field of UX. Designers can be aware of where they are and how the other realms of design can bolster and add perspective to the design work they are doing. I recommend that everyone read The Elements of User Experience as their first book in UX. (Followed closely by Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.)
My mentor (Davin Granroth) said it best:
You’re not doing design, if you only create one design.
Design is exploration. It’s not based exclusively on logic, engineering, user needs, rationale, technical constraints or preferences. It’s based on all of that and more. Being familiar with a basic design process will allow you to scope your work, strategize delivery and be a value champion for those around you. I recommend a basic double-diamond approach to design.
Folks like IDEO have done a lot of exploration in the world of design thinking and best practices. Also, there’s a great article by Kayla Heffernam on Design Thinking and the Double Diamond Process
4. User Research
Any good designer want’s to build the right thing for the right people. This means that you not only strive to design the right thing, but you will validate your design work. As designers, we do this through user research. There are many different methods of research. Depending upon your path, you probably won’t need to be an expert in this area. Any person in the field of UX must retain the capacity to do basic research.
Erika Hall has written an excellent book called Just Enough Research on the topic of research that covers the basics and gives you a basic framework to understand and begin. I recommend that every aspiring UX professional read this book and start practicing research now. You’ll be better for it.
Lastly, every UX professional should be familiar with industry software for quickly creating design assets. Sketch is (largely) the industry standard for UX designers. Even if you’re not a designer, it’s good to be proficient in these tools so you can create visual assets to communicate your work. Sketch offers a free trial, so be sure to take advantage of that. If you’re on a tight budget, you can download that Sketch trial and check out YouTube series by LevelUp Tuts on learning Sketch. If you’re ready to commit some cash to your learning, check out LearnUI.design and SketchMaster.
These areas are my go-to responses for anyone looking to get into User Experience. This is by no means a complete list, but it will get anyone started on their journey in UX…and it’s exactly that: a journey. I hope this article has been encouraging to you, and provides a jump-start to your career in UX. As you get the basics down, be sure you are practicing them. Build them into your muscle memory. Design on a regular basis and assemble your portfolio. Find a mentor and learn from them. I’d also recommend getting involved in a design apprenticeship program for some real-world industry experience.
P.S. On Degrees
But what about a degree?
Degrees, certifications, and formal schooling can be a huge benefits to your career. Personally, I don’t hold them as a litmus to be a successful designer. That isn’t shared throughout the industry, so it really depends on your situation. Formal training can provide a wealth of knowledge in a short time that would have taken years to collect. It can also train bad practices into you that potential employers may have to train out of you. If you are going to pursue a degree or certification, find a quality program that has a track record of producing great designers. If you’re wondering, I hold a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. Was it helpful? Yes, but every situation is different.