How to become a UX Designer – the insiders’ perspective

How to become a UX Designer the insiders perspective

Do you like making the lives of others as simple as possible?

If so, a career as a UX Designer may be perfect for you. But what does the position really entail? And is it the right thing for you?

To give you the insider knowledge on exactly what to expect, we’ve spoken to some of the country’s leading UX Designers to find out what it’s really like…

One day I want to be…

Q. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Anna Walters is a UX Team Leader with a background in the publishing industry

Anna: All kinds of things – Psychologist, writer, theatre designer, the most outlandish was probably film director… Technology didn’t really feature in the beginning.

Harry Lymperopoulos is a UX Designer (with an Engineering background) at reed.co.uk

Harry: As a child I wanted to become Phantom Duck. Then I realized I liked gadgets so I thought I should become a game developer. User Experience came after my post-BSc research on usability through my first job.

Joe Lanman is a UX and Interaction Designer for gov.uk and LoveTheSales.com

Joe: I was interested in computers from an early age – we got a Spectrum +2 when I was about 9. I was fascinated by the potential to make things happen on the computer by programming it, so I think at that point I wanted to make computer games. It was an interesting time. I think most of the games around then were actually written by young people.

Qualifications?

Q. Did you go through any higher education or qualifications?

A: Yes, I have a BA in Theatre & Film studies and an MSc in Electronic Publishing (part journalism, part web technology).

H: I have an engineering background and an MSc in Data Communication Systems which have both proven to be very helpful. Engineering is a good place to start when you are going towards UX. Through my work experience, conferences I attended and a lot of reading I gained the UX skills I have today.

J: Yes, after A-levels I studied Computer Animation at Bournemouth University. I really enjoyed it, and while I don’t do animation as part of my job, it was a broad course that taught me a lot of useful skills. For example, you soon learn when trying to convey a story through animation that you need to be very clear, or people won’t really pick up on what you’re saying. The same is true in interaction design.

Post-uni life

Q. When you left University what did you do?

A: For about ten years after my BA I worked in the book publishing industry as a project manager. I enjoyed it, but realised I needed more of a challenge and was becoming increasingly interested in both science & digital technology, so I decided to go back to university to do my MSc.

H: I worked at a helpdesk, which is a very good place to come face to face with the issues a user experiences on a day to day basis.

J: Having seen how intense the animation industry was in London through various internships, I decided to stay in Bournemouth and started a company with a friend of mine, making animations, websites, videos, that sort of thing. Being self-employed is a real challenge but it was a great experience.

Getting into UX

Q. How did you become a designer?

A: I went into my MSc assuming I’d end up doing something content related, having come from an editorial background – and that’s something I’m still interested in – but ended up getting the most out of the interaction design and information architecture courses. After the course finished I was offered a few short UX internships, and then my current job with reed.co.uk.

J: I fell into it kind of by accident. I started making websites for people, and found out through informal user testing that a lot of the time things are quite hard to use. I realised as I made more and more websites that the simpler I made them, and the more effort you put into the interface, the easier they were to use, and that that was design, as well.

If I look back at the first websites I made now, the design of them is generally pretty terrible. And so I guess I became a designer through making these sites and testing them and getting better through trial and error, experience.

UX is great because…

Q. What do you like most about your job?

A: Can I have three things? Getting to meet and talk to lots of different people, being an advocate for the user, and the mix of science & creativity. Every day is different.

H: I love the fact that the hardest part is also the most fun about my job: solving puzzles and finding creative ways to solve them.

J: I like testing my designs with people, improving them and seeing that those improvements make a difference. Seeing people achieve something easily, that maybe they weren’t doing before.

Top tip

Q. What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the industry?

A: There are many different disciplines within UX. Try to identify what kind of practitioner you are. You might be a great interaction designer, or content strategist, or a great researcher. It’s good to understand where your strengths lie so you can play to them, and also which areas you need to develop.

H: I would say to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. My advice would be “Don’t be in UX because you like beautiful designs and shiny touches. Be in UX only if you are continuously feeling a sense of not being satisfied on how things are working around you.”

J: I think the most important thing is to try and get experience, which is a common bit of advice, but I mean any kind of experience. If it’s going to hack days, if it’s designing a fake app and doing user testing with your family, or just getting your work out there and not being afraid of it being a bit rubbish to start off with (everyone has to start somewhere), and you’ll improve so much by doing.

Communication skills are so important. When I was younger I definitely found it hard to communicate my design ideas and was often quite defensive, and I still find that now. But it’s something you’ve really got to learn. When someone comes along and says “Well I don’t think that’s very good”, or “What about doing it this other way”, it can be very easy to take that personally.

But the reality of it is that you will probably be working collaboratively and it’s helpful to work collaboratively – you’ll get better ideas that way.

I Love Mondays because…

A: I get to work with some really great people on some really interesting projects. It often doesn’t feel like work…

H: There is no better feeling in knowing that you are getting paid to do something you enjoy.

J: It’s a fresh start – a new week, new projects to get excited about and I’m always raring to go on a Monday.