Changing your career is such a huge decision in one’s life, so many people never dare to make that jump as it seems too scary and uncertain. However, if you break up your goals into sub-tasks you can eliminate the scariness and end up with smaller, digestible steps that you can start with parallel to your current job and make that big change later, when you are actually prepared to do so.
The ever-growing competition in every field is pushing companies to perform better. More and more realize that presentation of their goods or services is more important than ever, so there is an increasing demand for UI and UX designers, meaning that now is the right time to start a career in design. In this article we will guide you through the steps to follow to build a strong foundation to be able to get started in this creative field. But first, let’s make clear what a UI Designer actually does.
What a UI Designer will have to do depends on the exact project and the size of the design team. His/her tasks may consist of the following:
Researching the field and the users.
Create sketches for the intended UI.
Build wireframes in different fidelities.
Build a design system.
Build prototypes for user flows.
What kind of traits does one need to become a designer?
No drawing: You might think that drawing is a must to become a designer, but you would be wrong. UI design does not require you to be an artist – you’ll be good if you can draw simple shapes like squares and circles. Check out this video for proof.
No coding: To become a UI designer, you don’t need to code either. However, basic programming skills can help you in communicating with developers and to understand the constraints you have to work within.
Soft skills: On the other hand, it is important that you own certain soft skills and are willing to improve them. Empathy and curiosity are probably the most important skills that one can use when researching users and creating interfaces for them. With a high level of empathy, a designer can step in a typical user’s shoes, which helps him or her to make the best design decisions. In this article you can learn more about soft skills.
Problem-solving: This is a very rewarding aspect of UI design, as you may find yourself improving the quality of life of your user base with changes that they might have been dreaming of for years or even decades.
Multidisciplinary: If you are not just starting out your adult life with a fresh diploma, this isn’t a problem. In fact, the more fields and experience you have seen, the more sides you can consider of the big picture.
Lifelong learning: A designer must follow current trends and keep up with technological development, similar to human sciences like cognitive psychology.
English: Most online material and books you can learn from are in the English language. If you are not a native speaker, you might want to improve your English skills so you’ll have access to more knowledge. In addition, you might have a chance to work for international clients, where you would have to understand difficult, industry specific terms and requirements, so it is better to build a strong foundation.
Scientists are relentlessly researching the human brain and how people perceive the world around us, including the products being created. There are plenty of online resources to educate yourself – some are easy to understand for the beginner, and as you go on and are more curious about a topic, you can also find serious scientific material to indulge in. Here are some examples where you could start.
Color theory: Would you ever think that Goethe wrote a book about color theory? He did, and before him Newton is said to have created the first color wheel. Start learning about color theory by reading the Recalling Color Theory Keywords: a way to refresh your memories! article at Interaction Design Foundations’ website.
Typography: Besides making your content readable, building a great typographic hierarchy for a product is a way of leading the users’ eyes and showing them which information is more or less important.
Layout organization: It is a designer’s task to organize information on the screen in a way that helps the users to find information easily. Start learning the basics by reading about the Gestalt principles, which are easy to understand but very important rules of arranging elements.
Design systems: To make a user interface coherent from a to z, a designer develops and applies a design system. The notion at first might be overwhelming for a newbie, but Brad Frost is here to help you out in this speech about Atomic Design, a methodology of building one up.
Design heuristics: Since most people just learning about design will not have access to a user testing lab, it is important to be able to have a set of rules in mind that will help avoid a set of common mistakes. Learn about Jacob Nilsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design.
As the importance of design is growing, so are the number of available tools you can try without having to learn a very complex application that wasn’t originally developed for UI design (such as Photoshop). The two most important tools (after the manual ones) are Sketch and Adobe XD. Which one you will choose depends on your platform and budget. Both are continuously being improved based on their users’ needs. In addition, you can find hundreds, if not thousands, of tutorial videos on YouTube to get you started and the official online manuals are there for you too.
Pen and Paper: Two of the most important design tools for the early ideas, that you can simply cross out or throw away and start all over. Iterations are really important in design, so get ready to fail a lot on the way to success. In this video by Google you can learn about the multiple goals you can use sketching for from capturing user flows to paper prototyping.
Sketch: A dedicated tool to create user interfaces with solid features like nested symbols and shared libraries.
Adobe XD: A dedicated tool to create user interfaces with solid features like smart motion, integration with other Adobe software and built in prototyping and developer handoff.
Marvelapp: Easy to use online prototyping tool, that lets you turn your static images into clickable prototypes for a better presentation of your concept.
They say practice makes a master, and it is true for your design skills as well. As a beginner you might not have a chance to get on the job experience right away, so here are some ideas for how you can still exercise the knowledge you have just acquired.
Sketching/Wireframing: After researching and understanding the problem you have to solve, you may wonder what the best way to approach the creative part of UI design is. In this great article on Smashing Magazine’s website you can read about the role, the importance and the way of sketching and you can also find numerous templates for the same if you like. Can you think of any software you use that you are not satisfied with as it feels that it is hard to find your way using it? Take your pen and paper and think of ways to solve this problem.
Hi-fi design: When you have selected your preferred tool, you can jump into the real thing, however, you might have difficulty finding what to design first. Many people find it helpful to practice high fidelity designing by copying existing screens, which will teach you both about the design tool and the current trends. You can look up designs on Behance, Dribbble or Pinterest. Besides copying an existing design for educational purposes, it is also a good exercise to analyze the particular design and reason for the different decisions the original designer made. When you are done, use a prototyping tool to turn your static screens into a clickable product to see how they add up to a flow.
Testing: In the design process testing and validating ideas are very important steps. When we don’t have the resources for a real user testing session, you can still have the opportunity to practice testing by asking your friends or relatives to participate. In this article we introduced the steps you have to take to conduct a user test. After you have a grasp on user testing, you could also try guerrilla testing, an easy and low budget testing method on a less biased audience.
Challenges: When you are ready to tackle real world design problems, you might want to try your hand in design challenges at crowdsourcing platforms, like Topcoder, where you can work on Fortune 500 companies’ problems, get feedback, and possibly end up earning large cash prizes.
Find a mentor: Getting support and feedback helps us to see if we are on the right track, especially if we have chosen an autodidactic way of learning. Joining a design community, like the one Topcoder has, allows you not only to make friends but also to find people who can help you become a better designer.
Build a portfolio: Showing a portfolio during an interview process is inevitable if you would like to get a job as a designer. However, you might be wondering how to build one when you are a beginner and never actually worked on the field. The good news is that your portfolio does not have to contain real projects, instead you can show a couple of problems you were practicing on, like redesigning an existing product, or coming up with an own idea for a product. In a designer’s portfolio one would not only be interested in the result, but the way you reached that result. Showing your design process will convince the reader that you are not only able to create aesthetically appealing interfaces, but those interfaces are based on user needs and your ideas are validated. Check out some of the best UI portfolios in 2020 according to CareerFoundry.
If you would like to walk a more structured path in your studies you can check out the following examples of organizations offering free and paid UI Design courses:
Coursera: On Coursera one can earn a certificate (payable) or audit a course for free. The courses are offered by major universities or prestigious design schools.
Udemy: Both free and low cost, paid courses on different levels.
Interaction Design Foundation: Reasonably priced, subscription based UX and UI courses from beginner to advanced level.
CareerFoundry: Offers a paid UI Design program with a dedicated Mentor, Tutor, Student Advisor, and Career Specialist.
We hope that this article will help you in stepping out of your comfort zone and jumping right into the exciting world of design, finding your passion and changing your life. We’d like to hear from you, let us know how it goes!