Academy Xi Blog

How to kickstart a career in UX Design

By Academy Xi

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In an open letter to UX Design graduates, Academy Xi Designer in Residence Jacalin Ding gives practical tips and tricks on how to gain a foothold in one of Australia’s most exciting industries.

Dear UX Design graduates, 

Firstly, well done! You should be very proud of yourselves for going through such an extensive learning experience. The product world is brand new to you and everything you’ve learnt is about to be put into practice.

The UX Design industry is exciting and forever evolving. It can feel like a black hole of mystery. Where do you go from here? 

As you prepare yourself for a wild ride into the employment market, the future might seem daunting. To help you prepare for what’s to come, I’ve put together a beginner’s guide that includes some simple steps to follow as you look to make a fast start as a UX Designer.

Take some time to self-reflect

Before you rush off to LinkedIn and apply for every job you see, just hold your horses. Sit down, close your eyes, and really think about how you feel about your whole journey.

If you answer these questions, you’ll get a better feel for what type of role and environment suits you:

  • Are you drawn to a particular part of the design process? Maybe you most enjoyed strategy, research, or hands-on practice.
  • Reflect on how and when you do your best work. Is it through collaboration, or facilitation? 
  • What transferable skills do you offer? Never underestimate the power of your past experiences. Even if you haven’t worked in a creative field before, your transferable skills will be the cherry on the top of your newly-acquired design skills. These elements combined make you unique as a designer.
  • What product problems are you passionate about? Are there any companies out there whose work you admire? This can help narrow down the type of companies you’d like to work for.

Write all your answers down on paper and revise them frequently. Self-reflection is an important activity for any designer at any level.

Understand the battlefield

Now you’ve completed some self-reflection, it’s time to add a little extra flavour to your professional profile. You need to make you and your work really stand out.

There are tons of fresh UX bootcamp graduates constantly flowing into the employment market. What makes you special? 

Add extra feathers to your cap by:

  • Perfecting your soft skills: Communication, communication, communication. I can’t stress how important this is. Practise telling your story, both in writing and verbally.
  • Showcasing your UI skills: The portfolios that stand out are the ones that are well crafted with an understanding of UI design. UX Designers need to work with UI Designers, so showcase your understanding of UI and patterns. You need to demonstrate that you are not only a problem solver, but also a content designer.
  • Working with engineers: Go to hackathons, find opportunities to collaborate with engineers and learn the process they follow. Designers and engineers almost always work together in any product team. Learn how to make design compromises for feasibility, and how to package up your work for hand-off.

Don’t stop at case studies

Maybe take a little break after you’ve completed your bootcamp, but then get started with your first self-directed project. Remember, this is your first opportunity to drive on your own! It’s time to sharpen up all the tools you’ve learned. 

This time, you don’t have to go through every single step in the double diamond process. Instead, be strategic and rational about each decision you make. 

Designers who create their own projects are clearly passionate about what they do. Passion is the ingredient that sets you apart from the crowd. 

Here are a few tips for your first self-directed project: 

  • Tackle realistic, bite-sized projects.
  • Start getting to grips with industry-standard research tools. You could try using Maze, Dovetail and SUS score.
  • Hone your practical skills. Practise Figma auto layouts, create shortcuts, organise files and prepare documentation for engineers. There are plenty of YouTube videos that give you step-by-step tutorials for all of these skills.

Jazz up your LinkedIn

For those who have been spending their lives scrolling on TikTok and Instagram, it’s time to shift gears and focus on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the place where most professional opportunities live these days.

  1. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is looking its best. List and explain your digital skill-sets, get recommendations from previous colleagues, and carefully check for spelling and grammatical errors.

  2. Follow businesses you’d like to work with, as well as their employees and recruiters. This will help you get a vibe on the company culture. Try to network slowly and avoid bluntly asking for jobs.

  3. Increase your visibility by posting insights and writing articles. The key is to share your thoughts, promote your work and get your name out there. It can seem intimidating at first, but don’t worry – just hit that publish button!

Build a stand-out portfolio

This is the most important part. It’s time to make sure your portfolio is sleek. Keep it simple and weave your personality into it (don’t neglect the ‘About Me’ page!). If you’re not an engineer, you can use easy-to-build platforms like Squarespace and Wix. Design your portfolio like you would a product: conceptualise, draft, write and edit before building it.

Truthfully, most of the graduate case studies I’ve seen are not even going to make it onto a shortlist. I’ll write another article about how to craft a decent case study in the coming weeks. For now, here’s a high-level guide:

  • Make sure you clearly define the problem and your measure for success (i.e. increase click rate by 5%). A problem well-defined is a problem half solved. Use success metrics as the north star to guide your testing.
  • Feature your finished mock-ups at the top. Give viewers a wow factor and a reason to carry on reading
  • Each case study should be scannable. Most people speed read, so avoid long paragraphs, highlight data points and use bullet points and visuals. Ask yourself, if someone is scrolling through the case study quickly, is the story captivating and easily digestible?
  • Back up your validation with both quantitative and qualitative data (i.e. 80% of users tested completed the task successfully, followed by a quote).
  • You don’t have to show every single step. You also don’t have to follow the double diamond method. Instead, create a story that highlights which insights informed your decision making. Remember to refer back to your goal, share any pitfalls you encountered and how you moved beyond them.

Seek opportunities everywhere

Before you secure a job offer, put yourself out there with internships and volunteer work. LinkedIn is not the only destination to make that happen.

Internships

  • Contact companies you’d like to be a part of and ask for intern opportunities. Do your research, get familiar with what they do and write them a sincere cover letter pitching yourself.
  • https://interns.design is a site where you can find current intern opportunities. However, be aware that many of these are based in the US.
  • Think grassroots and get creative. If a restaurant in your neighbourhood has a terrible website, offer to do a redesign. Perhaps have a mentor work alongside you so you can get advice when needed.

Volunteering

Approach charities you want to get involved with and make contact with their employees on LinkedIn.

You can also offer to help start-ups. The good thing about start-ups is that you get to work with stakeholders directly. You can find start-ups by searching Facebook groups. I recommend you approach start-ups with existing designers or a Product Manager in place, since the projects are more likely to be properly organised.

If you’re going to work for free, make sure it’s worth your time. Know exactly what you want to get out of volunteering from the get-go.

Be around like-minded people

As well as LinkedIn networking, try meeting other UX Designers in person. Nothing beats real face-to-face conversations with likeminded people. Find out if there’s a meet-up opportunity near you.

In Australia, there are heaps of networking opportunities:

Plus, you can get mentored by experienced design leaders via platforms like Adplist.org.

Anyway, that’s a wrap! I hope all these tips and tricks are useful to you as you start your job search. Keep in mind that it’s totally normal to hit roadblocks and face rejection. It’s all part of the journey to success. If you’ve got the passion, trust me, the opportunities will follow!

I wish you all the best, and look forward to seeing you and your work in the industry soon.

Jacalin Ding

——————

Jacalin Ding / Strategic Product Design Lead. Consultant, Mentor, Speaker and Designer in Residence at Academy Xi.

Connect with Jacalin on Linkedin.
Jacalin’s other channel links: https://linktr.ee/jacalin.

Academy Xi Blog

What does a UX designer do, exactly?

By Academy Xi

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Before we dive into what UX Designers do in their day to day job, let’s start by taking a step back to understand what UX is. 

UX stands for User Experience. It encompasses the complete journey, including all of the related interactions that an individual has when they engage with a company and its products or services.

To understand the role of the UX designer, we will cover:

A brief history of UX

The term User Experience was coined by cognitive psychologist and designer Don Norman, the director of the Design Lab at the University of California and author of the bestselling The Design of Everyday Things. Norman joined Apple in the early 1990s as their ‘User Experience Architect’ – the first person to have a UX job title. 

“I invented the term because I thought ‘human interface’ and ‘usability’ were too narrow: I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.” – Don Norman

Norman’s approach to design and the success of the innovations coming out of Apple’s (then) three-pronged approach to product design (user experience, engineering, and marketing), saw the UX process widely adopted in product design. 

The rest is history.

What is UX design and the role of the designer?

UX Design is the process of creating a user friendly experience that is intuitive and empathetic to the users needs. Ultimately, the UX designer works toward improving the customer’s experience of a product or service by making it as satisfying and enjoyable as possible at every step they are engaging with it.

The UX design profession today has a focus on human-centred digital experiences and is often associated with designing for websites and apps. It’s important to note that designers work in emerging tech areas too, for example:

  • Conversational UX (designing for Siri or Alexa)
  • AI driven UX (bot design)
  • Smart homes
  • Wearable technologies

Regardless of the medium, the UX design process is geared toward improving the user experience and therefore their satisfaction through high quality, human centred design.

What is UI and what has it got to do with UX?

You may have heard the term UI used in connection with UX. UI stands for User Interface design and focuses on the aesthetics of the product or service – the visual elements that a customer engages with.

Think: colour palettes, animation, images, fonts and buttons.

A UI designer hones in on the visual aspects that allow the user to interact with the product.

In addition to User Interface, there’s also User Interaction, which is essentially how the user acts when using the system and how the system responds. Combined, interactions and interfaces provide an intuitive UX experience. 

UX designers need to be capable in both areas – art (UI) and architecture (interactions) – of digital product design in order to take a project from user research through to wireframing and prototyping solutions, and handover to developers.

Download Academy Xi’s UX UI Design: Transform course guide and discover how you can graduate job-ready in 12-weeks.

What is human centred design?

Human centred design is a mindset and toolkit developed by the design and innovation company IDEO that puts humans and their needs at the centre of the design process. They used the term ‘design thinking’ to describe the elements of the human centred design process they felt most learnable and teachable – empathy, optimism, creative confidence, experimentation and embracing ambiguity and failure.

UX UI design is simply research-driven human-centred design, applied to the digital space.

What kind of skills do UX designers need?

As you might be able to imagine by now, it’s a pretty wide scope of skill and responsibility for the UX Designer. Their remit covers all aspects of the product or service development, design, usability and function.

In order to give the UX design process a definite structure, various frameworks have been developed. The Double Diamond is one of the most common UX frameworks and provides clear, comprehensive and visual description of the design process. 

The two diamonds alternate between exploring an issue (a ‘problem space’ or ‘design challenge’) widely and deeply – known as divergent thinking, and then taking focussed action, known as convergent thinking.

Within this framework a wide range of skills are required and fall into two categories known as applied and soft skills. 

Applied skills

When someone has an applied skill, this refers to having knowledge of a specific area of competency, like being able to use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, for example. The following applied skills are just some of those worth any UX Designer mastering:

  • Research

Understanding the target audience needs, wants and pain points is vital for a UX designer to effectively do their job. By using a mix of research methods, designers can plan, conduct and analyse their findings to discover how their market views the world. This analysis forms the foundation of the experience design, improves the understanding of the audience and makes the final outcome stronger.

Research is fundamental to the entire process and the analysis and outcomes from it underpin the overall design approach.

Research methods and techniques can include:

    • Interviews
    • Surveys
    • Observation
    • Review of existing literature, data and analytics
    • User testing
  • Synthesis

After completing your research, you need to bring it all together, generate insights and make sense of the problem space: what is the problem we are trying to solve? What is our real design challenge? UX Designers use a variety of techniques for synthesis, including:

A website wireframe is a mock-up diagram that represents what a user interface (UI) or website could look like. They outline the core functionality of the proposed product and allow the UX designer to define and plan the information hierarchy of the project. The wireframe also enables the designer to give the wider team a visual understanding of the proposed structure of the item that is being developed.

 
  • Prototyping

An experimental process, the prototype is a model or replica of the final product. Prototypes can be created at various stages of the design process to test on users. It is one of the most useful and powerful tools for UX designers. The feedback from the user testing allows the designer to adjust the product to better meet the needs of the user.

  • Visual communication

Being competent with visual design concepts is key and at the core of UX design. Having an understanding of general design theory, along with concepts of layout, colour, typography, icons and image use benefits the overall design process. It will come as no surprise to learn that many UX designers have a graphic design background.

  • Soft skills  

Teamwork, time management, empathy and delegation are just some of the skills termed as ‘soft’ that you will need as a UX designer. Ultimately they are character traits and interpersonal skills that determine how a person will engage, work and interact with others. 

You can have a portfolio of work that truly hits the ball out of the park, but it’s your soft skills that will set you apart from the pack. A quick look at the ‘three C’s’:

  • Curiosity 

As well as killing the cat, curiosity is a creative force that drives innovation and new ideas. It urges the designer to ask great questions and engage with stakeholders and the design process in a meaningful way.

  • Collaboration

Design is never a one-person show. From the get-go you’ve got however many stakeholders, developers, product owners, marketing teams, users, CEOs, investors, the list goes on. By being able to collaborate effectively, you can get the information you need to do the job better and faster.

  • Communication

Now more than ever consistent communication is paramount with the design process. Being able to explain your thinking so those receiving your messages don’t have to do more work to understand it can make all the difference to the wider team you are working with. 

What are the top tools used in UX and UI design?

There are many UX and UI design software applications. As a UX designer, what you end up using might come down to personal preference, what you are familiar with, price point, or what type of project you are working on. Here are our top picks:

Figma: great for those totally new to design software, Figma is browser-based and can take designs up to dynamic prototype or mock-up level, with usability testing and handover to developers capabilities. 

Sketch: a very popular mac based UX and UI design tool. Sketch allows for universal changes through a symbols library, layer styles, or text styles, and is known for its resizing and alignment features. 

InVision Studio: creates functional prototypes with dynamic elements and animations, with easy-to-use UI design, communication and collaboration tools. It also features a digital whiteboard that allows team members to brainstorm ideas.

Adobe XD: often the go-to UX tool for designers who are used to Adobe Creative Cloud products and interfaces. It allows for real-time collaboration, plus interactions and other dynamic elements for integration into prototypes or mockups.

Axure: smooth interface, documentation, and workflow tracking elements make Axure a popular prototyping tool, with designs that can be taken up to higher fidelity, both in detail and visuals.

How do I become a UX designer?

Any aspiring UX Designer should be working on building a portfolio. You can do pro-bono or freelance work to get work experience, or study a practical course. 

Academy Xi offers industry tested training in UX UI Design and includes projects with real life clients to help build your professional portfolio before graduation.

If you’re interested in discovering more about the world of UX design, why not:

  • try a Foundations course in UX as a hands-on introduction
  • become a qualified UX UI Designer in 12 weeks, along with Career Support for graduates with 86% landing a role within 180 days of completing their training
  • check out our graduate stories to learn about the experiences they’ve had studying UX UI Design with Academy Xi and where they are now

Contact our course advisor team to discuss your career objectives and establish if UX UI Design is the right path for you. 

Academy Xi Blog

Why UX Design is a Mindset, not just a Process

By Academy Xi

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When it comes to User Experience (UX) Design, people often ask, “What skills do I need to learn?” or “What tools should I familiarise myself with?”

In an exclusive interview with our UX Transform instructor Ben Gilmore, we’ll unravel some of the misconceptions, in-demand skills, and trends that you should be on the lookout for when it comes to UX Design.

Q: So Ben, on a high-level, what makes a good UX Designer?

Ben: A good UX Designer is not defined by your proficiency or aptitude with different software but through the adoption of a UX mindset. As a UX Design teacher, it’s these soft skills which are most challenging to teach.

Why UX is a mindset

Q: If we take a step back to basics, how would you define UX Design?

Ben: At its core, UX Design is about producing things that are useful, usable, and meaningful. To create an experience that meets all of these criteria, it’s important to speak to users and understand their needs at an empathetic level. Once you’ve identified a user’s goals and drivers, it’s essential to iterate on that research to refine your solution.

Q: What misconceptions or false beliefs do people have when it comes to UX?

Ben: A common misconception is that UX requires specific artefacts at different phases of your solution. While there is value in creating artefacts such as customer personas or wireframes, the purpose of these deliverables is to communicate a story — to paint a picture of what you’ve uncovered. No artefact is useful in isolation but they collectively add value when used in the context of the solution.

My UX Design philosophy is this: Design is a verb, not a noun, thus any artefacts produced in the process of UX is an output of design itself.

A second misconception is that UX Design is the sole responsibility of one person: the UX Designer. This is not ideal as UX Design should be a collaborative process that involves end users, business stakeholders, and any other parties involved in the experience.  

Attributes of a successful UX Designer

Q: What advice or tips would you give for a student or potential student looking to pivot into a UX career?

Ben: For students or anyone looking to embark on a career in UX Design, curiosity is key to developing a UX mindset. As the three main drivers for humans are autonomy, mastery, and purpose, having the willingness to explore and understand the problem space will help students develop mastery over their UX craft.

The best UX Designers are able to blend both creative and analytical thinking and switch between modes quite rapidly. This allows the production of a lot of ideas, in the process known as Divergent Thinking. Through Divergent Thinking, UX Designers are then able to refine their multitude of ideas into one refined, tested, solution.

A little tip: To test a junior UX Designer’s curiosity, I always ask what books they’ve read recently. If you want to become more curious, you have to ask more questions. Gaining knowledge about UX and the outside world is invaluable to creating human-centred, customised solutions.  

Trends and methods of UX

Q: What trends should UX Designers or UX students be on the lookout for?

Ben: With close to 20 years experience in UX, one fundamental trend hasn’t changed: understanding people. Whether it’s disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), or Mixed Reality Design, if you don’t understand that the essence of UX Design is centred around people, you won’t be able to create an optimal solution.

If I had to call out one emerging UX Design trend, it would be UX writing. UX writing is a discipline that seems to have risen to recent prominence with more roles popping up. A second trend would be the increase in voice interfaces rather over traditional Graphical User Interfaces (GUI).  

As brands speed to market accelerates, adopting agile methodologies is crucial in helping UX Designers obtain validated learnings as quickly as possible. One method I teach is called ‘Jedi’ or ‘Just Enough Design for Iteration’.

Jedi abandons the need for perfection, effectively decreasing the risk of waste when a designed solution is not fit for purpose. Thus one of the biggest takeouts for a lot of students is how to prevent designing too much upfront.

The importance of gaining UX experience

Q: Could you explore one area that students struggle with in UX Design, and how would you recommend working through this?

Ben: I think the major challenge that UX Design students face exists within the education system itself. At school, we’re taught to colour within the lines and that there is a black and white answer to everything. In design, there are no right and wrong answers, instead, you progress towards the ‘right’ direction through research and iterations of work.

Increasing your experience through projects and developing a portfolio enable students to gain more confidence and insight in forming solution hypotheses. As students become more experienced — just like a muscle — they begin to strengthen their UX mindset.

Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets to this process: it comes with exposure and time. There’s no discrete formula for creating a universal experience as every situation and client is different.

Q: Can you tell us about your career journey to date? 

Ben: Unlike students today, my journey into UX Design was less structured and involved a lot of self-learning. After having completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art in London, my foundational programming skills landed me an internship working on sitemaps and Information Architecture.

It was through my Master’s Degree that I became exposed to usability and user experience, ultimately landing my first job as a hybrid UX Developer.

Since then I’ve worked at a number of design agencies and was awarded the esteemed Golden Pencil; the International Design Award with the team at BBC for a London 2012 Olympics project.

Eventually, I jet set across the globe and landed in Australia, where I’ve worked with wonderful companies such as Telstra, The University of Melbourne, Isobar, and of course, Academy Xi.

Q: How has the experience of teaching UX Design been like for you?

Ben: I’ve been fortunate enough to have taught one part-time UX course, and I am now teaching my second full-time UX Transform course (soon to be third) at Academy Xi.

Imagine it.

15 students.

Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.

For 12 weeks.

Three client projects.

One personal project.

Finalising portfolios and a final showcase.

It’s been a thrilling ride, and I have also learned a lot about the process of learning UX as well as teaching it.

____

Learn how you can adopt an empathetic, problem-solving mindset in our UX UI design Transform course.

Academy Xi Blog

How to design a seamless user experience on mobile

By Academy Xi

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UX Design tips for mobile experiences

The mobile-first era is here to stay – on average, users will spend over 90% of their mobile data on mobile apps. The options are endless and often it’s a customer’s experience that will determine the difference between a mediocre or top performing app. At each step of your customer’s mobile journey, these design tips will create a memorable experience and help increase conversions on your mobile interface.

At first glance

Like any first impression, looks play an important role. A UX Designer should aim to leave a striking impression on your customer and ensure your customer has a positive and effortless first experience, similar to a first date, with these pointers:

  • Less is more: On mobile, you only have a few seconds to grab a customer’s attention. Ensure your app’s splash screen loads quickly and avoid overwhelming users with an overload of information. One way of doing this is to use icons to remove unnecessary text.
  • Flaunt your best: Prioritise the most essential features on your home screen. This helps a first-time customer find what they want instantly without complicated steps.
  • Keep your navigation visible: Your app’s primary navigation menu should be visible, intuitive, and coherent across the app. Make sure the menu is consistently placed in the same location.

Score a second date

According to Statistica, 20% of apps are abandoned after one use. For most customers, convenience can encourage repeat usage and conversions. Improve your customer loyalty and retention by guiding your customer through to conversion with user-centered designs. Here are some pointers:

  • Make text entry easy: It’s taxing to type on a smartphone. Where possible, leverage mobile functionality such as the camera and location services to decrease the need for typing. Nick Babich, UX Planet Editor-in-Chief, also suggests text on mobile should be at least 11px to be readable without zooming.
  • Include search options: An easy-to-use search function is helpful on mobile. Provide multiple ways to search such as keyword searches, image searches, and product scanning where relevant.
  • Cater to multiple payment options: Enable efficient payment options such as card scanning and express payment processes like Apple Pay, Android Pay, and PayPal. This will reduce the effort to complete a payment. In case of ongoing subscription fees, include an option for automatic recurring payments.
  • Allow customers to personalise their accounts: Give customers control over their data by granting access to your settings and transaction history. Spice things up by adding options for content. According to Altexsoft, “by offering an experience tailored to each customer’s lifestyle, you foster an emotional connection to an app that will result in increased retention rate.”
  • Make use of widgets and notifications: Notifications should be personal, timely, and highly relevant to the customer. Widgets should have narrow functionality that can be digested as required.

The mobile-first era is here to stay. As mobile sites and apps become an integral part of our everyday life, providing customers with an experience that helps them seamlessly complete a task is a must. Ensure your UX design is mobile-friendly to account for the unique requirements and specificity of an app. Applying UX Design principles to mobile will allow designers to optimise every facet of an app, ensuring maximum and return use from customers.

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