How to Become a UX Designer from Scratch – From Amateur to Pro in 11 Steps!

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If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you want to become a UX designer – which it great! Or perhaps you’re just interested in finding out more about UX design. Maybe do a bit of market research and be on your way. That’s also fine. Hey, whatever the reason – I’m glad you’re here and I hope you find exactly what you’re looking for.

In this post you will find out the 11 steps that will help you go from amateur to pro. From beginning to end – this guide has you covered every step of the way.

Here are the 11 steps that I will expand on in this post:

1. What is UX Design?

2. Do Some Quality Studying

3. Learn to Sketch

4. Connect with Other Designers

5. Search for Inspiration

6. Learn to Prototype Your Designs

7. Build Your UX Portfolio

8. Land Your First Job as a UX Designer

9. Accept Rejection

10. Continue Learning

11. Be a Team Player

 

Ready?

Let’s kick things off with the basics – getting some key terminology out of the way. Here’s step number one:

What is UX Design?

First things first, if you’re seriously considering UX design as a career you need to understand what it means to be a UX designer. Just so we’re on the same page, let’s start with a short definition:

 UX (User Experience) design is a process that improves a user’s experience with a product or service by incorporating design to meet user expectations, generate positive emotions and enhance the quality of interaction.

Okay, definitions are great, but WHAT exactly do UX designers do? Simply put, UX designers don’t just design. Surprise, surprise! In fact, the scope of a UX designer’s job description is much broader. You can often find UX designers involved in a variety of roles, including:

  • Research
  • Visual design
  • Testing
  • Business analysis
  • User analysis
  • Project management
  • Wireframing

Therefore, you can say UX design is not a black and white process. There are a lot of gray areas in between. So, unless you’re up for the challenge this job might bring your way, you might as well save yourself the trouble and end your journey here.

Still here?  Good! You’re already one step closer to becoming a UX designer. Persistence and patience pays off in this line of work, so good start!

If UX design is still a mystery for you, take a look at this fun explanatory video which I’m sure will clear things up for you:

Phew! Now that that’s out of the way we can finally get started on the good stuff. So sit back, relax and keep reading.

Do Some Quality Studying

It comes as no surprise that in order to become a UX designer you need to do some reading. There are two paths to learning UX design – formal and informal methodologies.

Formal Study

Formal studying refers to taking classes or courses that result in you receiving a degree or certificate that officially recognizes you as a paper-qualified UX designer. Although this type of study methodology is the path of choice it doesn’t mean that the second path is less effective. It all comes down to motivation. If you’re mind is set on becoming a UX designer you will learn regardless of which path you follow. Besides, when it comes down to employment, employers would rather see a great portfolio of your capabilities than simply your name on a piece of paper.

This brings us to the timeless debate – experience vs. education. But we’ll leave this topic for a future post. Let’s continue with informal learning methods.

Informal Study

Now, when I say informal studying, what I mean is learning UX design as a hobby from various sources.

A great way to begin is to read some articles about UX design. You can always find time for a quick read – whether you’re on the go or at home, you can always find a few minutes to spare. Oh, and don’t forget to read some great tutorials about how to use some of the most commonly used UX designer tools.

If you’re not keen on the whole self-study thing, there are many paid and free UX design courses you can take online to develop and practice your design skills.

The aim of these courses is to introduce you to the basics of UX design and help you work your way up the complexity ladder one step at a time. Once you complete a course with flying colors (or have done enough reading), it’s finally time to roll up your sleeves and enter the real world of design – putting theory into practice.

Learn to Sketch

Don’t worry, no one expects you to be the next Picasso but if you’re THAT good you’re already one step ahead of the rest. What I’m trying to say is that you need to get into the habit of putting your ideas to paper. The ability to turn ideas into visual masterpieces is what sets one UX designer from another.

Even if you’re still a sketch newbie, simply jot down your ideas pen to paper. Remember this is just to get into a creative routine so you can move up to the more advanced tools.

Speaking of tools, Sketch is the go-to tool for UX designers. Although Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop are also among the favorite designer tools, Sketch takes home the gold medal every time.

The best thing about Sketch is that it is easy to use and quick to learn. Also, there are numerous video tutorials, courses and articles that will that will help you learn Sketch fast. Oh, and they have a free trial period. So you can see firsthand just how great this tool is and why every UX designer is using it.

Connect with Other Designers

Okay, so now you know what a UX designer actually does, you’ve spent some time studying, done some reading and began sketching. You might feel a bit overwhelmed.  It’s a normal reaction. However, now is the time to network and connect.

Find other designers to share your experiences, dilemmas and achievements with. Regardless of whether they’re a seasoned UX designer or a beginner like yourself it’s good to have someone to talk to who understands what you’re going through.

Apart from having those heart to heart moments, it’s important to keep in touch with other UX designers. These connections will help you stay up to date with the latest trends as well as open the doors to future employment opportunities.

Search for Inspiration

Every artist needs their muse – or so they say. At this stage, believe or not, you ARE an artist. So it’s time to get inspired.

There are some great sources for inspiration out there. Check out fellow UX designers’ works at Dribbble, Awwwards and Web Crème. These are great communities that bring together UX designers from all over the world to showcase their designs.

Once you have your own design you can share it and inspire others and maybe build a name for yourself in the design community.

Learn to Prototype Your Designs

So what is a prototype? A simple definition would sound something like this – A prototype is an early model or mockup of the final version of a product. It can be interactive and have any degree of fidelity. Essentially, prototypes add life to a design. Their purpose is to test the usability and practicality of a product.

There are numerous prototyping tools out there. Here is a list of the best prototyping tools that are used by most UX designers.  They are user-friendly and easy to use.

Build Your UX Portfolio

Once you’ve made a few designs and developed your first prototype it’s time to begin putting together your UX portfolio.

Do you need a portfolio? You sure do!

Having a portfolio is the best way to showcase what you’re capable of. It’s the right place to strut your stuff and not feel a speck of guilt.

But how do you do this if you don’t have any professional experience? Don’t worry, there’s always a way around this. Did you really think someone was born a UX designer? That’s right, no one. If it wasn’t for their first job, no UX designer would have the third, fourth or even sixtieth project. You have to start from somewhere. Just because you’re a beginner doesn’t mean you can’t have a stellar UX portfolio. As long as you have the right approach, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

One great way to build up experience is to work on some fake projects. This can mean redesigning something that already exists. For example, you can redesign an existing website (or a new website). You can design it using Sketch or Illustrator, with user flows, wireframes, interactions and finally a mock-up. This way you have something that endorses your skills.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that your portfolio shouldn’t just be a representation of your skills. Yes, it’s important to showcase your skills, but even more important is the purpose of the portfolio – documenting your process. Ideally, your portfolio should demonstrate your problem-solving skills. When employers look at portfolios they usually encounter two types of profiles – the “artist” and the “problem-solver”. Aim for the latter.

Take a look at these great tips to help you structure your first UX design portfolio.

Land Your First Job as a UX Designer

But first:

Should I work as a freelancer or full-time on site?

UX designers face a fork in the road when on their first job hunt. They have a difficult decision to make – “Should I work as a freelancer or full-time?” First of all don’t panic. Everyone’s has to make this choice at some point in the career and sometimes more than once! You need to weigh in the pros and cons of each option and see which works best for you. Here’s an infographic of the pros and cons of working as a freelance and a full-time UX designer.

freelance vs full-time UX designer

Now it’s time for some serious talk – how can you land your first job as a UX designer? It’s different for everyone. For some it’s the other way round – their first UX design project finds them. This is why you should keep files on all your designs, regardless how irrelevant they may seem to you. You never know who might see them.

For those who are left to fend for themselves, here are some great job search tricks to have up your sleeve:

Update your LinkedIn profile

Make sure your LinkedIn profile is always up to date. This includes your profile picture, education (make sure to include any UX courses you have completed) and previous experience.

If you’re really serious about connecting to the right people and improving your job prospects it’s a good idea to invest in LinkedIn Premium.

Send a cold email

I know what you’re thinking – SPAM! Let me tell you something, as long as your email and pitch is relevant, you might just get a positive reply.

Offer a great business solution

This is similar to the point above, except instead of introducing yourself you introduce a problem and a solution. Perhaps you’ve come across a bad website that you think is long due for a complete overhaul. Think you can redesign it better? Share your thoughts and tell them why you would be the perfect person to redesign it. Directness can pay off. It’s worth trying.

Attend some meet-ups

Meetups are great for networking. Find upcoming events near you and register. You never know who you might meet get-togethers. So be friendly, introduce yourself to people, ask questions and collect some business cards. Don’t forget to follow-up with some of the people you meet. Stay in touch and they may assist you in landing your first UX design position.

If some of these tips work for you then the next step is preparing for an interview. Usually the questions a UX designer gets asked during a job interview are repetitive. So the good news is you don’t have to go in there unprepared. Have a look at the most frequently asked questions at a UX design interview and double-check your answers.

Note: If you’re up for it, there’s a great read that goes over the whole landing your first job as a UX designer topic in more detail.

Accept Rejection

First, we need to get a few things straight – ‘no’ is NOT the end of the world. No matter how many times you get turned down or how many people you never hear back from – don’t give up. Be persistent and patient.

Actually, you can learn a lot from rejection. Especially if the refusals line up time and time again. It can’t be just a coincidence, can it?

It’s usually not. When those rejections line up they may indicate there is something wrong with your approach to job hunting. There are various questions you can ask yourself in order to find the reason behind the rejections:

  • Is there something wrong with my portfolio?
  • Was I too pushy/timid on the interview?
  • Should I narrow down my search?
  • How can I improve my approach?

Address the issue and continue your journey towards landing your first UX design job. It will happen – stay positive.

Be a Team Player

Okay so you’ve landed your first job. Now what? Well, now you’re not on your own anymore. You need to be a team player. This means being open to collaboration, advice and most importantly welcome criticism. Now is the perfect time to learn and develop your skills.

Ux design course

Continue Learning

Learning doesn’t stop once you find a job. You should strive to continuously improve yourself. This is particularly true in the field of UX design where trends and tools change constantly. One day something may be totally great, the next – no one as much as looks at it.

Here are some ways to always stay on top of things:

  • Attend conferences and meetups
  • Find a UX mentor
  • Look at other UX designers’ work
  • Read articles, newsletters, magazines
  • Sign up for a course

Conclusion

UX designer may have a nice ring to it but the journey to becoming one can be a bumpy ride. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s totally worth it! Get reading, sign up for a course, experiment with different tools, build your portfolio, land your first job and strive to always improve yourself. I hope this 11-step guide will make the whole process of becoming a UX designer a bit easier for you.

Enjoy your journey and I wish you the best of luck!

Want to see some of the best UX designers at work? Valoso Hub is the place to find the perfect UX designer for your next project. Tell us more about your project and we’ll tell you how we can help.

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