User experience (UX) design is still considered a relatively young discipline. While people transition into the industry from a range of different backgrounds, it’s probably a more obvious switch for visual designers. A common misconception is that UX designers need to have amazing visual design skills – they don’t necessarily. The eternal debate of whether they need to be able to code also rages on. While these skills will benefit a UX designer, the real strings to your bow are actually problem solving, an analytical mindset and empathy.
Here’s the T junction. If you’re a graphic designer looking to enhance your visual design skills into the web space then seek development towards user interface (UI) design. If you’ve got a curious mind and want to learn more about the psychology behind users interacting with digital products then seek out a progression towards UX design. Think of a house – the decorators are the UI and the architects are the UX.
I’m Nathan, a UX/UI Designer here at Passion. If after that breakdown you’re still interested in UX then you’re in the right place.
What is UX?
UX stands for user experience – and that’s exactly what it is. It has to do with how someone feels while they are interacting with the interface of a device of some sort, most commonly a website, desktop software, web application or mobile app.
As web technology became more and more advanced, simply having a functional interface wasn’t enough – it had to be intuitive to use and relevant to the specific target audience as well. And thus, UX was born. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, check out Don Norman’s (the godfather of UX) rant about push/pull doors. You’ll soon realise that the practice is valid everywhere and not just on digital devices.
Some of the key principles include:
- The users’ needs are met while meeting business goals
- There’s consistency to your design
- The design is easy to navigate and use
- It’s simple in both its language and design – you should be aware that less is more
- Understanding your user group(s) thoroughly
UX designers will be pleased to know that the industry is doing well. Their services are in high demand, from businesses that want to improve their websites to digital marketing and design agencies looking to expand their in-house team. As with all technology, this discipline is constantly evolving… so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the trends that 2020 may hold.
UX vs Graphic Design: What’s the Difference?
As previously stated, UX’s purpose is to perfect the architecture of a product by getting to know the user groups, exploring user journeys, interviewing and testing iterations until a framework is ready to hand over to visual designers – it relates mostly to improving the user’s experience. Graphic design, on the other hand, has to do with with the design of an interface, such as the colours, imagery and typography.
If they sound similar, it’s because they are – graphic design is a component of UX. However, there is a major difference between the two disciplines. While the graphic designer simply focuses on creating a visual identity for a project (such as the spacing, colour, typography, layout, etc.), the UX designer takes it one step further by also considering what the user is attempting to accomplish by using this particular interface and the environment they will use it in.
For example, imagine that you’re developing an app for hikers to use out on the trails. A UX designer would want to interview the hikers and gain a deeper understanding of their needs from the app. Perhaps they want to plan and review information before going out on their hike and then, while out on the hike, use the app for a different purpose – like GPS positioning. That level of context and understanding helps develop a fully considered product. Basic prototypes could be created and tested with the hikers with rounds of iterations following until the product is refined and ready to handover to a visual designer.
Hikers will likely be outside during the daytime, meaning their phone screens may be difficult to see in direct sunlight. A UX designer would be aware of that, and make decisions about their designs based on that (for example, using features such as large text, high contrast and dark-on-light colour schemes).
Should You Make the Switch?
If you’re keen to stay in the problem-solving space and learn more about how people interact with digital products, then definitely!
- UX designers have a good salary – often better than graphic designers
- It’s challenging enough to be engaging but rewarding enough to keep you motivated
- You get to use your problem solving skills daily
- The industry is booming – currently there is a huge demand for senior UX designers and not enough skilled people to fill those positions
- Having a digital presence is mandatory for today’s businesses, meaning that there will always be a demand for this skillset
- It’s relevant across all industries, making this a job with a lot of variation – you’ll get to work with many different kinds of clients
- It’s very sociable, so if you enjoy getting away from your desk regularly and talking to people, this job will be a great fit for you
So… How the Heck Do I Go About Landing My First UX Job?
If my blog post has inspired you to make the switch from graphic designer to UX designer, taking the next step may seem daunting, especially if you don’t have any UX-specific work experience. Don’t worry – if you’re nervous about taking this plunge, there are lots of places to begin. Here are a few potential starting points.
Read up on UX and talk to relevant people
The first step to creating great UX work is to learn from experts in the industry. There are lots of design-focused blogs out there that are chock-full of useful knowledge, such as the intuitive and informative UX Movement and UX Planet, a great option for beginners.
If you’re old fashioned and prefer to glean your information from books, I would recommend borrowing or buying The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Leah Buley and The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.
Don’t worry if you’re not one for reading – London has more conferences on user design principles and user interface design than you can shake a stick at. If you’re on a budget, consider UX Roundabout; it offers free weekday sessions hosted by big brands and companies. However, if you can afford to splash the cash, UX Crunch is just £15 and has sessions specifically catered towards UX designers who are just starting out their careers.
Plump up your portfolio
You know you’ve got what it takes to become a UX designer – so show it off to the world! Consider cultivating an online presence. It’s becoming more and more common for designers to create content and then host it on digital platforms. Personally, I like using Behance. Not only can you easily share your work with the world (and potential employers), you can also see what other designers are doing and get creative ideas.
You should also make sure you’re not only sharing high detail visuals. In all honesty, it’s best to put the least amount of emphasis on these projects as that is UI design, not UX design. If that’s your bag, totally fine, but if you truly want to branch out into the work of UX, you want to limit those lovely visuals. Instead try to showcase work that shows how you have identified friction points and ways in which to solve them. This is usually done during initial discovery and design iteration phases and so should typically involve rough notes, sketches, post-it notes and very basic wireframes. Try to tell a story of how you crafted the structure to suit the user group and business goals.
Lastly, take on passion projects. No, I’m not talking about working for Passion (although we are a great agency and are always looking for new talent!) – I’m talking about taking a website or app you love and use frequently and picking it apart. Do user testing on it with others or simply identify problems you’ve encountered yourself. Rip up the script and completely restructure it, and remember to make lots of sketches and keep lots of notes explaining your thought process. Potential employers will love your drive and initiative, and want to see how you got to your finished product.
Ace your interviews
You’ve learned the basics, your portfolio is starting to get filled and now you’re ready to land your first big UX job – all you’ve got to do is ace that job interview. Here are some tips that I always use to help me before and during interviews:
- Do a UX audit of the company’s website – there’s a high chance they’ll ask you what you think about the services they provide, so it’s a good idea to have something prepared
- Think back to past interviews you’ve had and reflect on where you excelled and which areas you could improve – keep these thoughts in mind while prepping for your upcoming interview
- Come up with a few different visual mediums you can use to showcase your work
- Don’t show too many projects – think quality over quantity
- Tell stories to your interviewer – explain problems you’ve encountered in the past and what you did to solve them
- And, of course, it never hurts to picture your interviewer in their underwear – everyone seems a lot less intimidating in pants and a comfy T-shirt
Transitioning from graphic design to UX design is a great step for many visual designers. I hope this blog post has answered all of your questions about the differences between the two and how to get started in the world of UX. Who knows – this career change could be the best decision of your life!
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