A good number of people have approached me in the past asking me to show them the direction I took. Others have even dug a little bit deeper asking about my portfolio, the courses I enrolled for, and where they can get UI/UX designer jobs. Well, I have finally decided to share my journey on how to become a UI/UX designer. I hope that someone out there will put this advice to good use and kick-off their career in design.
Where and How It All Started
This part is very important because it will show you if I got to where I am, then so can you. I started my career as a graphic designer where I worked for companies like Dunhill, Saks Fifth Avenue amongst others. I did this for 7 years until I got to a point where my interest shifted to web design. Allow me to use the term 'web' because back then the divisions of UX and UI were not there.
At that moment I had zero experience with web design. The only thing I could boast about was my basic Photoshop skills. Because I was fresh into the world of mobile design, I didn’t have a portfolio or a reference letter. But that didn’t stop me. I successfully crushed my first gig, then my second, and many other web design jobs till I drew the attention of everyone else and landed the position of senior visual designer.
With that being said, below are the 9 steps I followed to become a UI/UX designer. If you are considering venturing into design, these steps can help unlock your potential.
How to Become a UI/UX Designer?
Specialize in the Sector that Interests You the Most
I have come across individuals that want to get into design. But, the minute I ask them which field they want to specialize in, they give a clueless response. If you are passionate about design then find a specialty. Do you prefer to work on visuals? Then start thinking of yourself as a visual designer. If you feel drawn to posters, magazines, and flyers then being a graphic designer could be what’s right for you. It’s very important that you find a field that interests you the most. This way, you will never get bored with doing what you like.
Familiarize Yourself with the Tools of Work
Its simple math, if you can’t operate commonly used programs then you can’t make it as a designer. If you are just starting out then we can cut you some slack. However, you will need to say goodbye to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, switch to a more advanced program like Figma or Sketch.
A pro tip that will come in handy when familiarizing yourself with the tools of work is knowing what clients are looking for. Visit different job boards and check out the programs that are in high demand. Examples of programs you should learn how to use include; Adobe XD, redpen, Invision App, and Balsamiq.
Think Like a Designer
Before I ventured into web design, I rarely noticed different design components when browsing the internet. Later on, I learned the value of having a keen eye to detail. When you start thinking like a designer, every moment becomes a learning opportunity. When you open a site on your browser, instead of rushing to the content, look at the header, font size, and style, placement of the logo amongst other things. Evaluate the site from top to bottom questioning why some buttons are placed here and not there. This will make you learn more about the art of design.
Eat, Sleep and Live Design
For those with no background in design, the only way for you to become a professional is through learning. When you eat, sleep, and live design, you are expanding your knowledge and experience. You can look at other people’s portfolios in sites such as Awwwards and Behance. Through looking at other people’s portfolio’s you will see what they are doing and gain inspiration. This is also the perfect opportunity for you to know the latest trends.
Copy But Never Use Someone Else’s Work
Copying is an integral part of the learning process, especially if you haven’t done a designer course. What you can do is look for a website and copy it from top to bottom. This will sharpen your web designing skills. Web design is very similar to drawing. Through copying, you will learn from other artists and soon become one yourself. In web design, however, we strongly adhere to ethics. This is why you should never put another person’s work in your portfolio.
From my point of view, it is very rare for you to stumble across an expert that will educate you on all you need to know about design. Not unless you pay them. The reason for this is because most professional designers are busy and do not have the time to train newbies. But, you can find a mentor and follow their guides and tips.
There are lots of designer mentors out there that share tips on their vlogs, blogs, and social media platforms. You can learn a lot from mentors. Some even organize conferences where you can interact with them and ask questions.
Enroll for a Course in Design
Is it a must for me to take a course in design? This is one of the most frequently asked questions. What you all need to know is that people have different learning habits. There are those who are exceptionally gifted at researching on their own. Then there are those who learn better when taught by an expert.
Gauging by your abilities, you should determine whether taking a course is beneficial or not. Nonetheless, having a degree in web design is an added advantage because it will spice up your portfolio. You can take a course online in institutions such as Udemy and Coursera.
The good thing about wanting to be a UI/UX designer is that you can never run out on reading material. Below are some books that really helped me in my journey.
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
One of the best UX design books out there that will introduce you to this new world. Despite being published 2 decades ago, this book will help you see that there is design everywhere.
- The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett
If you are on the hunt for basic elements about UX, this is the perfect book for you.
- A Project Guide to UX Design by Jesse James Garrett
This is a book for every designer whether a newbie or professional. It covers topics such as user-centered design, prototyping, wireframes, and personas.
- Burn Your Portfolio by Michael Janda
In this book, you will learn useful things about design that aren’t taught in school. It will prepare you to conquer the realities of the design business.
You can also get a lot of useful resources from Planet UX, Google Design, Facebook Design, and Prototypr.io. You can also subscribe to Sidebar where you will get daily emails on popular design articles.
Finally, Create an Impressive Portfolio
In the world of design, your portfolio is your identity. And I am not just talking about a simple portfolio. Everyone knows that for you to get a job, you must have a portfolio. Going the extra mile to making your portfolio impressive is what makes the difference in whether you will land that job or not. Sites such as Dribble and Behance are great places where you can submit your portfolios and look for clients.
Q: What do I include in my portfolio if I have never worked for any company?
A: Start by working for friends, family, and acquaintances. Use this as your stepping stone.
Q: What kind of work should I include in my portfolio?
A: This question can be best answered by considering what employers are looking for. Make sure that in your portfolio there are projects similar to what they want.
Q: How many projects should be in my portfolio?
A: Around 5 will be enough. Make sure they are the best.
I understand that coming up with a portfolio is not easy, especially if you are a newbie. But you can’t grasp everything at once. Don’t be ashamed of including those projects you consider silly. An employer can easily be impressed by your creativity.
And as much as you should believe in yourself, know your level. Applying for entry-level jobs is way better than going for those that require extra skills. This however doesn’t mean you stick to entry-level gigs for the rest of your life. Through hard work and ambition, you can achieve your dream of becoming a UI/UX designer sooner than you think. Get out of your comfort zone and start learning and practicing.