In my 30s, after 10 years of being a journalist and communication specialist, I decided to change my career path and become a User Experience Designer. Here are some tips for anyone who would like to enter this profession. The tips are derived from my personal experience.
Think through what you really want to do
If you are reading this piece of writing, there is a high chance that you are considering starting a career in UX design. Maybe you are also considering other career possibilities in the IT industry. Or maybe you just feel you need a change in your professional life but have no bloody idea what you want to do and now you are doing your research.
From my own experience, one of the most crucial and difficult steps in starting or changing your career path is answering the question: “what do I want to do?”. If you know where you want to get, and if you are convinced that you have made a good choice, I believe you will succeed and overcome all the obstacles.
So how can you find out what to do in life? There is a simple rule how to choose your profession, which I think is very useful. It’s ideal when your job meets three criteria:
- You find joy in your work
- You are good at what you are doing
- Your job is profitable.
I won’t give you an answer if UX design will satisfy you and if you have a knack for this profession. Describing what UX designers do is beyond the scope of this post. And assessing if it fits you is totally down to you. I can declare that being a UX designer can be rewarding, and I predict it will continue to be so in the near future.
Weigh up the pros and cons
When I started considering starting a career as a UX designer I was already quite an experienced journalist. So, that raised the question: “Is it a good idea to start a new profession from scratch?” In my case it was a huge change. Maybe you are in a similar position. You do something else, and becoming a designer seems like a serious decision. I suggest conducting a simple SWOT analysis. By changing your profession, you can win something. But you probably also have something to lose. Try to weigh up the pros and cons before you make this step.
Becoming a UX designer takes time. And money
Be prepared to invest time. No matter if you decide to get a formal UX designer degree, enroll in UX designer training, or just learn on your own, it will consume a significant amount of your time. I can imagine a cost-free education path to this profession, as you can get plenty of valuable free resources on the internet, but having some money at your disposal is extremely useful. Even if you don’t want to enroll in any studies or courses, it’s good to have some money to buy books and paid video tutorials. In my view, the latter option gives you a good balance between quality and price.
Prepare for a tough start and don’t give up
I remember that before the transition I thought it would be easier. “User Experience Designers are in demand, right?” “I’ve just graduated from post-graduate studies in User Experience Design, so it won’t be difficult to find an employer who would like to take me on board, even though I don’t have professional experience in UX …right?” In fact, things turned out to be more challenging. It is true that UX designers are in demand. But companies target experienced professionals. It’s much more difficult to find a job when you are just a “wannabe designer,” because demand for workers without proven UX designer skills is much lower. I sent more than 100 resumes to potential employers and participated in 10 recruitment processes before I got my first job in the new profession, and started my UX designer career. The whole process took me more than half a year and was extremely frustrating. Of course, maybe it was possible to do it faster. Maybe I could have used a more efficient strategy to find a job, or maybe I just wasn’t lucky. But I guess some of you who want to get into the industry might get stuck in this vicious circle. You don’t get a job because you don’t have experience. And you don’t have experience because you haven’t had a job. So, your task is to get out of this trap. The lesson I learned is that it’s good to be determined and not to give up.
Become a UX designer instead of learning about UX design
Here is one of the major mistakes I made in this transition process. I put too much effort into gaining knowledge, and too little into gaining experience. I read plenty of books and articles about design, cognitive psychology, UX research, accessibility etc., but I didn’t practice actual designing, because I assumed I’d do that when I got the first job. Of course, broadening your knowledge is important, but you can’t become a designer without designing. If I had known what I know today, I would have started designing from the very beginning, even at the expense of acquiring theoretical knowledge. Sounds trivial, but practice is key. You learn how to solve design problems, you gain experience in using tools and you create something that you can show to the potential employer as proof of your skills (this can help you to escape from the trap of lack of experience). While designing, you are also engaged in observing how others solved similar problems. Learning by doing is the most effective way of learning! Find a real problem and draw up a solution to it.
Prepare for the new beginning
To be honest, when I started my adventure with UX design, I think I didn’t realize what it means to change your profession. I would say changing a career is exactly the same as starting a career from scratch with all the downsides of being a newbie. Don’t expect any shortcuts. Do you remember your first job? Prepare for a similar experience. You start with the lowest possible salary, you are on the lowest position in the hierarchy, and you have this impression of being thrown in at the deep end. There are a myriad of things you don’t understand, and thousands of questions you will need to ask. But I have good news too: If you get into the right place, you will grow quickly!
Don’t be afraid to know nothing
As I’ve already said, starting a new career path was a huge change for me. I had never used any design tools; I didn’t know what the difference is between front-end and back-end. And the last time I drew anything was at school in arts classes (with underwhelming effects, to be honest). “Scrum”, “Jira”, “Material Design” and “MVP” sounded like mysterious spells from a geek fairyland. And I have never been a geek! To be honest, for various reasons I was a bit reluctant to adopt new technologies into my life. Entering this new realm was a great deal of effort for me. But I was curious, eager to learn and not afraid to ask basic questions. And I think this is key. So, the main takeaway is: Don’t worry if you know nothing or very little. And don’t be afraid to ask. Everything is learnable, if you have the motivation to do that.
Take advantage of your previous experience
As I wrote above, If you have been doing something that lies far away from design, it may be difficult to prove that your previous experience can be valuable and useful in your new role. But it’s worth trying. Actually I would try to think how you can transform this experience into your competitive advantage. It is a paradox: if your previous experience is very distant from UX design, at first sight it may seem useless. But when you really think about it, you will realize that you are probably one of the very few people who have this combination of expertise. Try to take advantage of it!
In my case, at the beginning I thought there was no link between my old and new profession. But after some time I realized how valuable my experience could be. Interfaces “talk” with users not only with visuals, but also with words and sentences. And how microcopy is written is crucial for user experience. I decided then to invest some time in acquiring knowledge on UX writing and plain language issues. And I treat it as my competitive advantage.
All in all, I’m very satisfied with the shift that I have made. My new job brings me joy and I see that the results of my work are useful. In my case, it turned out that it was possible to overcome the obstacles. But I have to admit that lots of things are outside our control. Changing a career path in many cases can be extremely difficult. As I wrote, doing it requires time, some money and very often a temporary drop in personal income. Not everyone can afford it. So I don’t think we should hastily judge people who would like to improve their life but are not ready to make such a step.
PS: If you want to learn more about what we do at Artegence, take a look at our work.