How to Become a UX Designer
User Experience (UX) was once a buzzword in digital speak, but today, the ability to identify user problems and solve usability issues is integral to any successful product or digital experience. As more businesses recognise the value of their User Experience (UX) Design, industries around Australia are looking for ways to improve the development and evolution of user experience.
What does a UX Designer actually do?
UX Designers aim to design experiences that create delightful product experiences for the end user. With a thoughtful blend of analytical skills, creativity, and a willingness to adapt to new learnings, the capabilities of a UX Designer can span anywhere from research and prototyping to designing and pitching. See our top 5 UX Design principles that UX Designers should follow.
Read more about what User Experience Design involves and why it’s important.
Characteristics of a UX Designer:
- Driven by insights
- Relies on human-centred research
- Adept at usability testing
- Willing to wireframe and prototype
- Analytical and empathetic
A day in the life of a UX Designer
After a strong cup of coffee in the morning, the UX Designer gets straight into their user research. Understanding the user is typically the first step in designing user-centric features. When designing for a users’ experience, the research phase of UX Design aims to reduce and remove assumptions from the decision-making process. A UX Designer starts by defining a problem statement, which eventually forms a hypothesis about a user. This hypothesis is continually tested and refined.
Articulate the user’s problem that should be addressed and solved. It usually contains a hindrance or problem that affects a user’s ability to perform the desired action on site. As part of the research phase, a UX Designer conducts interviews, undertakes competitive analysis, and surveys to determine the behaviour, goals, motivations, and needs of their target users.
Based on qualitative data from user research, the UX Designer often spends time creating personas or archetypes that are representative of its users. When a persona has been identified and created, UX Designers adapt and develop scenarios to flesh out the motivations, pain points, desires, and needs of that particular persona. This helps the designer to visually communicate their research to key stakeholders.
User persona refers to an archetype or fictional representation of people researched. Personas will typically represent a group of people with similar traits or behaviours. Read more about personas here.
Becoming an (Information) Architect
Upon swapping offices for a day, a UX Designer becomes an Information Architect (IA) – equipped with an idea of who they’re designing for. It’s at this stage, where the UX Designer begins to shape a product solution. UX Designers are integral in forming the elements of a website’s information architecture and it’s here where UX Designers cross paths with Web Developers and Product Marketers.
IA includes the structure and organisation of a website’s information environment including its page navigation path. The IA is the backbone of a website including elements such as the navigation, hierarchy, and categories that allow users to see where they are, the information they need, and how to get to their desired path.
Wireframing and prototyping
Here comes the fun part. After lunch, a UX Designer may start the build and design process. This begins with a simple wireframe. Wireframing is the creation of a product feature or design using representations that act as a guide. Think of this as architectural blueprints that contain simple User Interaction (UI) elements or placeholders. Wireframes are followed by prototypes, which flesh out more of the elements that the user will interact with including the content and interactive options on the prototype’s interface.
Tip: Popular programs found within the UX Designers toolkit include: Sketch, InVision, Axure, and Adobe XD
Testing and Iterating
UX Designers are always on the move – testing and reiterating a product. Through a combination of in-person or electronic tests, the UX Designer will look for feedback and assess the behaviour of a user as they interact with a new function or feature. Based on verbal or non-verbal feedback, a UX Designer will integrate updates and new features of a design to ensure a seamless user journey. Read more about the dos and don’ts of usability testing.
Sounds like a day job you’d fancy? Let’s explore the career options.
I love the power of UX. It can build strategies for promotions, SEO, branding, and more.” – Lucy Huynh, UX Designer at William Hill.
What UX Career is right for me?
From startups to freelancing, a day in the life of a UX Designer can vary depending on the size of the team and the depth of the project. Globally, there’s an insatiable demand for hybrid, purist, and specialised UX Designers. The options are as vast as they are varied.
A career in UX Design can lead to a range of pathways including:
A UX Designer can be a purist (wireframing/ prototyping/ conceptualising) or they can work as a hybrid of research and design. Typically, larger organisations will have specialised UX roles for researchers and designers, while agencies will offer a hybrid of research and design roles. However, the career paths and choices depend on the individual business and their definition and perception of UX Designer’s value.
Tip: Discover a career in UX Design with a short course at Academy Xi.
User Researchers are solely dedicated to UX research. Their job role includes running research workshops, conducting one-on-one interviews, creating focus group sessions, and producing surveys. Researchers conduct qualitative and quantitative research through a variety of detailed and bespoke methods.
Researchers will typically collate their findings and inform design recommendations to a UX Designer who will prototype and wireframe a new feature.
Hiring Tip: When looking for a User Researcher, businesses want candidates with: innovative minds, systematic approaches to work, agility in their working styles.
I’ve worn many hats over time, but I dare to say UX has always been a major part of what I’ve done during my career. Labels don’t matter so much I believe, you shouldn’t hire nor work for the title, but you should instead for the job that needs to be done.” – Pieter den Heten, UX Lead at Nine Entertainment Co.
UI Designers are involved in web development and designing for the journey of a product or functional design. UI Designers can be a hybrid mix of UX and UI Designers. UI Designers primarily focus on design principles such as colour, balance, typography, and consistency.
Hiring Tip: When looking for a UI Designer, businesses want candidates with innovative minds, systematic approaches to work and agility.
What’s the difference between a UX Designer and UI Designer?
Many design professions have hybridised to focus on the ever-changing purpose and need for digital products and services. Developing for the web has become more complex and now needs a whole suite of designers focused on improving customer experience. UX Designers are increasingly choosing to specialise in one UX niche. Typically, UX practitioners choose one of two pathways: designer or researcher.
- While UI Design concerns itself with designs for responsiveness or interactive purposes, UX Design provides the underlying rationale and research that allows a product (including its UI features) to work smoothly. Both UX and UI considerations are crucial for the development of a product but the process behind each role varies – UX applies analytical skills to its research and design and UI lends itself closer to the actual graphics and visual elements of a user’s interactions.
- In practice, UX Design concerns itself with more than the visual elements, acting as a bridge between functionality with the look of a product. A UX Designer approaches designs in four distinct design phases, known as the ‘double diamond’ strategy: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver.
Are you transitioning from User Interface (UI) Design to UX Design?
A career transition from UI Design into UX Design is common.
UI Designers are trained to consider the layout of a product and the interactions of each of its features on screen but UX Designers are concerned with the usability of a feature and will provide user-centric pathways that a UI Designer will visually communicate.
Tip: Gain real-life UX experience in your current role. If you’re a UI Designer, put your hand up for UX projects and if you’re in a Marketing team, start working on some research tasks to help improve a site. If you’re looking to move into a pure UX role, build up your portfolio with examples of UX projects you’ve worked on. Need help getting experience? Engage with a real case study in our UX Design course.
Tips on starting a career in UX Design
What to consider when you’re launching a career in UX:
- Launch your career into UX with an accredited course to learn the basics and fundamentals. Try a dedicated course in User Experience Design
- Make it a priority to build a strong portfolio – be open to mentorship opportunities to get your foot in the door
- Network at design meetups and events to meet people in the industry. Design meetups, industry nights, or event listings are a good starting point
- The way you present your personality is just as important as your design skills. UX Designers are not traditional designers so more effort may be required to get noticed.
- Don’t forget to invest in your skills evenly – UX Design can be as much about research as it can be about the ‘design’, so make sure you’re across the skills required when researching and wireframing!
Our instructor’s most recommended UX Design resources:
Throughout your UX Design career, it’s important to stay updated and well read. Here are the top ten UX Design resources as recommended by our instructors:
- Don’t Make Me Think – Steve Krug
- Usable Usability: Simple Stuff for Making Stuff Better – Eric Reiss
- 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People – Susan Weinschenk
- Mobile Usability – Jakob Nielsen and Raluca Budiu
- Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience – Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
- The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide – Leah Buley
- Service Design: From Insight to Implementation – Andy Polaine, Lavrans Løvlie, Ben Reason
- Quantifying the User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research – James R. Lewis and Jeff Sauro
- Smashing UX Design: Foundations for Designing Online User Experiences – James Chudley and Jesmond Allen
- Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing… – Steve Krug
The UX Design Industry: Average Salaries
As businesses begin to grasp the value of a seamless UX, the demand for specialised skills such as research and prototyping continues to grow. Currently, average salaries in UX Design in Australia will depend on the level of skills and experience:
- Average Salary for a Mid-level UX Designer: $106k (Sydney)
- Average Salary for a UI Designer: $96.5k (2016 Australia, ADMA)
- Average Salary for a Mid-Level Graphic Designer: $95k (Sydney)
How to Future-proof your UX Career:
Despite being a fairly new concept, UX Design is becoming a familiar process in the product development cycle. For businesses large and small, designers are becoming an integral part of improving the delivery of customer experience.
Users now expect an optimised user experience right from their first experience with a product. This translates directly to a company’s bottom line with “every dollar invested in UX returns $10 to $100” says Goran Paunovic, Creative Director of ArtVersion Interactive.
Did you know? According to the World Economic Forum, complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and service orientation will be in-demand skills for jobs in 2020.
UX Designers bridge the gap between a business’ goals and a customers’ experience, and with rising demand for seamless experiences – digital or otherwise – it is necessary now, more than ever, to understand UX Design.
Build a network of people in UX – this will be invaluable and allow you to develop the credentials to build a career in UX Design. – Stefano Portaluri, Senior UX Researcher at SBS.
Stand out from the crowd with complementary Skills of a UX Designer such as:
- User interface or visual design
- Understanding the role of UX in Waterfall, Agile and Lean methodologies
- Refining soft skills to ensure a healthy and collaborative approach
- An intense curiosity to ask the ‘what if’ behind the brief
Designers interested in our User Experience Design courses will get exposed to the theory and practice of understanding users and will develop the ability to create designs that create real-world impact.