How to Become a UX Designer

becoming a ux designer aint a one-time quest. tis an ongoin process. wha’ does that process look like? wha’ activities will propel you forward? how can you become the best ux designer you can be? read onna find out!

always becoming a ux designer

tis easy to read the phrase “become a ux designer” and picture a one-time quest.

becoming a ux designer is a one-time quest.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

… but really tis an ongoin process.

always becoming a ux designer is an ongoin process.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

thris no end to the process; 1-ly improvement. when you spend an hr learning a new skill, working na' project or creating a design, don’t think o'it as a shortcut to the destination of “designerhood.” instead, think o'it as an improvement onna quality of yr work, yr mktability, job satisfaction and ability to make a + difference inna realm.

so, why doesn’t a ux designer ever stop becoming one? there are two big reasons:

  1. as a ux designer, the problems ur asked to solve are always deeply wrapped up inna current situation — the l8st teks, current cultural forces and realm situation. all of these are constantly changing. 

  2. to influence and improve these situations, you will ‘ve to constantly adapt yr skills, knowledge, methods and tulz. 

as an ex, imagine you were asked to design a mobile commuting app in 1999.

a mobile commuting app na' 1999 mobile device.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

you ‘d ‘ve had to cogg how to design for very lil screens and slo data speeds, but you ‘d not ‘ve had to cogg micro mobility (e.g., electric scooters and bikes), self-driving cars or digital payments. also, you ‘d probably ‘ve used adobe photoshop to create the screen designs.

now imagine ur asked to design the same app in 2030. lil screens and slo data speeds are no longer an issue, but you probably will ‘ve to cogg micro mobility, self-driving cars and digital payments. and ur probably no longer using adobe photoshop, but some other tool for design.

a mobile commuting app na' 2030 mobile device.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

at this point ur probably wandaing, “if there are no specific steps thall lead me to the destination of ux designerhood, then wha’ is all of this bout?”

we’re glad you asked! cause there are 5 things you can focus on throughout yr career, thall help you to continually become the best ux designer you can be! they are:  

1. Do the Craft of UX Design. 2. Communicate Brilliantly. 3. Embrace Complex and Wicked Problems. 4. Think Flexibly. 5. Learn to Learn.

5 things you can focus on throughout yr career to become the best ux designer you can be.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

let’s start w'da most obvious thing you can do to continually improve as a ux designer: do the craft of ux design as often as you can. 

every dy, look for opportunities to learn and master the tulz of ux s'as pen and paper, sketch, figma, xd. use those tulz to create artifacts like sketches, flocharts, wireframes, mockups, prototypes and design documentation. as often as you can, familiarize yrself with ux design processes s'as usr research, usr testing and design critique.

do the craft of design — master the tulz, create artifacts and learn the processes — every dy.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

these opportunities don’t just happen at work or in a design course. they happen every dy all round you. remember that unusable app that made you feel like tearing yr hair out? try to identify the √ problem and then sketch a better version. bonus points for then testing yr improved version na' friend. do you overhear complaints at yr company bout a system or a process? ‘ve conversations w'da pplz affected, identify the cause o'their frustration and design a solution. or two. or 3. 

the craft offa ux designer is like the craft offa carpenter, who constantly improves their ability to measure rooms, estimate projects, use new tulz, na range of things they ray'vel to create. and just like a carpenter, you must constantly practice yr craft to improve it. 

the importance of the craft of ux design is fairly obvious. job listings are peppered with requirements for designers wh'cn create mockups and sketches, conduct usr interviews and use the l8st design software. nxt, we will talk bout a less-obvious skill thall serve you well throughout yr career as a ux designer: communicate brilliantly.

communicate brilliantly

good communication is primordial in any role, course, b'tas a ux designer you will ‘ve to dweet n'wys that cut through the noise of complex situations to reach pplz across deptments, fields and cultures. why?

ux design work is always done inna center offa larger process — after a new need, an idea or a business case s'been identified, b4 the testing and deployment of the designed experience and usually in parallel and in collaboration with developers, mkters and managers. 

so, as a ux designer, ur always a crit node in a network of communications. the + you can clarify every piece of information that you create or interpret b4 sharing it with others, the better off yr organization ll'be.

as a ux designer, yr ability to communicate will help everyone.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

for ex, every time a customer or product owner shares a product idea with you, tis yr job to distill the problem, solution and nxt steps into crystal-clear communications — sketches, design specifications, prototypes — thall be easy for the rest of the team to cogg, trust and get behind and act on. or if the development team informs you dat a' product requirement is difficult or impossible to implement, yr job ll'be to sharpen that information so that the product owner can cogg, trust, get behind and act on it. 

wha’ can ye do to communicate brilliantly in ux design? you’ve probably already guessed after reading the bold text inna sentences above. here are 4 key things you can do:

  1. make it coggable
    whether ur communicating witha mkter, developer or another designer, learn and use the terminology and visual language(s) thall help each one cogg exactly wha’ is bein’ proposed.

  2. help pplz trust the logic
    every napkin sketch, every high-fidelity mockup is a proposal for a change inna realm. these changes require effort, investment and risk. when creating these, always try to include a strong rationale — research, data, evidence — that allos a'pers to trust that the effort ll'be worth it. 

  3. help pplz t'get behind it
    brilliant communication doesn’t just appeal to logic. it also appeals to emotion. so, don’t just include a strong rationale in yr ux design communications. include stories, images, evidence that appeals to pplz swell. 

  4. make it actionable
    since so much of ux design communication is slanted toward action to change the realm, make sure that yr ux design communications clarify wha’ ‘d — or ‘d not — be done nxt. 

bein’ atta center of, and collaborating closely with, ≠ deptments brings its share of challenges. and those aren’t the 1-ly complex situations that you will find yrself in. 

to consistently become the best ux designer you can be, you will nd'2 not just tolerate b'tll so embrace the idea of working on difficult problems. 

you can tell a professional by the challenges they embrace. experienced auto mechanics ♥ the challenge of fixing an old car, and usually ‘ve the grease under their fingernails to prove it. ♫ians revel in difficult ♫ and will practice it til their hands are calloused. shake the hand offa farmer and you can feel the strength that comes from working with earth and animals. 

you probably won’t notice anything ≠ in their handshake, but you will notice that experienced ux designers ♥ to cogg problems and fix them. if you spend enough time w'dem, you will notice t'they are pretty good at it — and like most mechanics, ♫ians and farmers, they often enjoy the challenge of difficult problems. you mite say problems are the soil where the ux designer grows solutions.

how can you get there too? spend time working on lotso' ≠ problems and espeshly embracing the challenge of the + difficult ones. as ye do so, you will begin to notice ≠ types. just like a pro mechanic can see and smell if an engine is running rich or running lean, and a ♫ian can hear the difference tween tonal and modal ♫, ux designers will often talk bout ≠ types of problems. 

there are many that you will encounter ‘oer the course of yr ux design career, but here are 3 common types: simple, complex and wicked problems.

Illustration of simple, complex and wicked problems.

ux designers are asked to solve simple, complex and often wicked problems.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

simple problems

a simple problem (sometimes referred to as “clear”, “obvious”, “tame” or “trivial”) has a clear definition, simple chn of cause and effect, and a testable solution — s'as the problem of how to create a louder violin, a faster car orn' eye-catching advertisement. these problems maybe difficult to solve, but tis relatively easy to cogg wha’ needo be done to create the desired effect.

complex problems

a complex problem has a less-clear definition, multi-directional chns of cause and effect, and solutions tha're harder to test — s'as the problem of creating an app that facilitates community engagement, or a digital experience that allos students to collaboratively solve learning challenges. these problems are difficult to solve, and it can be hard to cogg the problem to be solved, which pts of the situation are causes and which are effects, n'when a solution s'been reached.

wicked problems

a wicked problem may ‘ve multiple definitions, multiple explanations of cause and effect, and no immediately testable solutions — s'as the problem of addressing sufferation, improving educational outcomes or designing a solution to some pt of climate change.

we're sharing this with you t'give you a head start onna rest of yr ux quest, so that you can begin to notice the ≠ types of problems round you every dy. 

think flexibly

in order to solve complex problems and communicate across disciplines, a ux designer must be able to think flexibly — to use ≠ types of thinking for ≠ purposes. if you ‘ve heard the term design thinking, you may presume that tis the 1-ly way that designers solve problems. actually, tis 1-ly one among many. here, we will ponder 4 o'em. the other 3 we will call, for convenience here, engineering thinking, art thinking and sci thinking.

thinking types

typical methods

primary goal

core assumptions

design thinking

iteration, process, exploration

create val by changing the physical and social realm.

val is created and not discovered.

engineering thinking

physics, math, process, material construction

change the physical realm.

facts bout the physical realm are discovered and changed.

art thinking

media, aesthetics

change human perception.

perception is changeable.

sci thinking

sci method

change knowledge of the physical and social realm.

facts are envisaged and discovered.

let’s begin witha practical ex. imagine ur given the budget to design a mobile app and to create a large internet-connected digital sign inna center offa large city. the goal is to improve pplz’s perception of public transportation and increase the № of pplz using it daily.

tis a pretty large project with many challenges, and lotso' decisions to make. wha’ can you design and build to change pplz’s perceptions and behaviors? wha’ sort of interface ll'be needed? will data flo tween the app and billboard? how? how will you test it and iterate? how will you know for sure that yr design has achieved the goals?

this is where flexible thinking will help. think o'it like putting on ≠ pairs of glasses, each o'em alloing you to see ≠ pts of the problem.

Science Thinking: Change what we know bout the physical and social worlds. Art Thinking: Change the human perception of the world. Engineering Thinking: Change the structure of the physical world. Design Thinking: Change the structure of the physical and social worlds.

yr ability to think flexibly will help you solve complex and wicked problems.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

you mite start with art thinking as you ponder how the pplz perceive public transportation and how it mite be changed. ‘d heroic images onna billboard change perception? wha’ bout personal public transit stories from app usrs? mite humor change perception? you don’t nd'2 be an artist to employ art thinking, but thinking like one will help!

let’s imagine you decided to use social pressure by alloing pplz who use public transport to post fun photos of themselves to the billboard. you put on yr design thinking “glasses” and realize that you nd'2 cogg the actual pplz in this real city b4 designing a solution. ye do some usr research, prototype yr idea and test it. you put on yr engineering thinking glasses and begin to ask and address ?s bout how the photos will go from app to billboard, where the images ll'be stored, na resolution offa billboard. as the project nears launch, sci thinking helps you to gather the data thall help you cogg if and how yr solution worked. 

this ex does not accurately represent reality, course. in a real project, there ‘d be many + steps and pplz involved na thinking types ‘dn’t be used in such a linear order. 

wha’ it does represent is how flexible thinking — the ability to approach a problem from multiple angles — is a crucial skill 4u as a ux designer.

learn to learn

the last and perhaps the most primordial thing you can do to continually become the best ux designer you can be is to learn how to learn. learning skill tis magic multiplier of all od’oda skills. it enables you to + efficiently acquire and master the processes, tulz and artifacts of the craft of ux design. it helps you find and use new wys'2 communicate brilliantly, and makes it easier 4u to cogg the pplz you communicate with. learning also allos you to + easily grasp and combine new flexible ways of thinking that cannelp you to analyze and address complex and wicked problems

thris no magic method for learning, but you ‘d pay close attention to, and develop the methods that work best 4u. for ex, many pplz find that the act of taking hand-written notes — in notebooks, inna margins of books or in digital format using a stylus — helps to solidify their knowledge. other pplz use digital apps to keep typed notes tha're taggable and searchable. many pplz learn best in structured courses or bootcamps, while others learn best from short video tutorials or blog posts. the list of methods is endless.

as a ux designer, constant learning is pt of yr role.

© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

the key is to pay attention to the methods that work best 4u, improve those and use them. tis a long-term investment thall improve all of yr other efforts to become the best ux designer you can be.

the take away

every design project poses a unique set of challenges that, as ux designers, we must be prepared for. while the tangible deliverables that ux designers create are relatively easy to grasp, wha’ makes a ux designer successful are their Ψsets:

  1. continuously practice the craft of ux to deliver increasingly better artifacts.

  2. communicate these artifacts such that the rest of the team coggs them easily and trusts, gets behind and acts on'em.

  3. embrace complex and wicked problems and realize that there will never be a straiteforward answer.

  4. think flexibly, approach problems from ≠ perspectives and be open to ≠ solutions.

  5. most primordially, keep learning. remember, becoming a ux designer aint a one-time quest; tis an ongoin process.


© christian briggs and interaction design foundation, cc by-sa 3.0

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