From Web Developer to UX Designer: 15 Practical Tips to Make Your Career Transition Happen
The role of UX designer has become one of the most noticeable in the industry. Companies have realized that the user experience of the products they create is crucial to their bottom line and they are willing to pay top salaries to people who can design great products. The median salary for a UX designer in the U.S. is $70,000/year for entry-level, and $100,000/year for experienced professionals. This puts UX designers in high demand.
Given the prospects, leaving web development for UX design could be a move worth making. But how do you start the transition? If you’re a web developer looking to become a UX designer, but not sure where to start, this article is for you. I’ll provide five tips to help you decide whether UX design is for you, and 10 tips that will help you make the actual move.
5 things to consider before making the move
Despite UX design being a popular field, it’s not for everyone. Before making the move, it’s crucial that you take the time to find out if UX design suits you. The worst thing is if you spend a few months in an intensive UX design course just to realize that it’s not what you want to do.
1. Consider your personality
Your personality plays a big part in deciding whether UX design is for you or not. It’s important to understand that, after switching to UX, your primary focus will be your users, not technical code. You should be ready to work with a really diverse range of people, not only developers. You’ll need to master skills like communication, collaboration, presentation, and exploration. If you’re not the type of person who enjoys communication and prefer to work alone, that might be a strong sign that UX is not right for you.
2. Read fundamental books about UX design
Fundamental books will give you a feel for what UX design is all about. The essential reading list includes following books:
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
- Designing for Interaction by Dan Saffer
- 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People by Susan Weinschenk
- Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
- About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper.
3. Talk to people who have recently moved to UX design from other fields
Don’t think that your intention to move to UX design is a unique thing. A lot of people are making the same move right now. Talk to someone who has already made the transition. This will help you better understand what challenges you need to overcome when switching to the new role.
4. Observe the work of UX designers
Find UX designers and ask if you can shadow them at work. Being in the actual workspace might trigger a positive or negative response.
5. Be ready to spend time on learning and job hunting
When switching to UX design from any other field, it’s essential to be patient and stay humble. Developing necessary UX skills will take some time (at least a few months), and you should be ready to spend some time finding the right job.
10 things to do when moving to UX design
If the possibility of working in UX design gets you excited and you’re ready to spend some time learning, then you’re ready to make a move.
1. Pick a specialization
There is no single defining characteristic of a user experience career. UX design is a broad term, and there are various areas of design such as UI design, user research, usability testing, etc. The best advice is to start in the area where your strengths are and learn other areas as you go. For example, if you have experience in user interface design, it’s worth focusing on this area and make it your strength. Picking a specialization early on will help you stay focused during the next steps of your career switch.
2. Find transferable skills
After you figure out which specialization is good for you, it’s time to find out whether you have the functional skills and knowledge needed to be successful in it. The key to a successful career transition is identifying and leveraging your transferable skills. The good news is that many of the skills you’ve gained as a web developer will be a great asset as a UX designer. The biggest benefit of moving from web development to UX design is the amount of overlap between the two fields. The term ‘web developer’ implies a few definitions such as ‘web designer’ or ‘front-end developer.’ Most web developers are responsible for creating the visual designs of the website and doing front-end development. Some web developers do user research and testing as part of their jobs, and in this case, the transfer to UX design will be easy.
3. Find design mentors
I define a mentor as someone who has a few years of practical experience in UX design. A mentor is someone who can offer advice on how to solve a particular design problem. It’s important to find a mentor earlier in your process of moving to UX design. You’ll definitely have a lot of questions, and it’s good to have a person that can help you with answers.
Finding a mentor might be hard especially when you’re entering a new industry. Here are a few simple tips that can help you do it:
- Try to find a mentor in your current workplace. If you work for a big company most likely you have UX designers on your product teams. Approach them and introduce yourself. In most cases, it’s possible to get a piece of advice in exchange for a coffee.
- Try to find a mentor online. Communities like Designers Guild are excellent places for new connections.
4. Get educated
Getting educated doesn’t mean that you should apply for a university program to get a formal degree. The beauty of the UX design field is that you don’t need a degree to get a job. At the same time, this doesn’t mean that the process of education will be easy. You’ll need 10,000 hours of learning using UX techniques. Start working on your 10,000 hours any way you can. Learn as much as you can. In general, you should focus on the following areas:
- General design approaches. Develop an understanding of human-centered design and design thinking.
- Basic theory of design. You’ll need to have a solid understanding of the basic theory of visual design. Things like color theory, typography, Gestalt principles, etc.
- Information architecture. You’ll need to understand the principles of taxonomy and hierarchy.
- Design patterns. When you’re just starting in UX design, you’re going to feel like there are an infinite number of solutions to each problem. Soon you will realize that’s not true. The vast majority of problems you will face have already been solved by other designers. The most popular solutions for common problems are called design patterns. Learning case studies on certain design patterns is super important.
If self-learning from the ground up isn’t what you want to do, consider taking a specialized course. Specialized courses such as General Assembly’s 10-week full-time UX Design Immersive will fill you up with good academic knowledge and help you develop confidence as a designer.
- When you start learning UX design, there’s so much to learn all at once and it can be very overwhelming. Don’t push yourself too hard. Instead, set measurable, specific, and realistic goals that you can achieve without overwhelming yourself.
- Train your eye to see the difference between good design and bad design. As a UX designer, you’ll need to identify strengths and weaknesses in design solutions. The most effective way to gain this skill is through inspiration. Build a habit of looking at what other designers are doing on Behance.
5. Master your prototyping skills
One of the handiest skills of a UX designer is being able to prototype things. Since you have practical experience in web development, you probably have some prototyping skills (such creating native prototypes). But prototyping in UX design isn’t the same as prototyping in web development — you’ll need to shift your focus from creating a final product to constant iterations of prototyping. Fill in the gaps in your prototyping skills by starting with the basics — pen and paper.
Sketching is a fundamental skill for any designer and aand an essential part of the UX design process. You need to get in the habit of sketching out ideas. It’ll help you to bring your ideas to life relatively easily, and help others to understand it.
Regarding software, it’s absolutely vital that you learn a great digital prototyping tool. Digital prototyping tools, like Adobe XD, will empower you to create product prototypes that feel almost real, and test them with real users.
6. Get real practical experience
Reading books and learning tools is an excellent start, but knowing how to apply your newfound knowledge is a different thing altogether. After you learn fundamental theories and tools, the next thing you need to do is to get hands-on experience. This is perhaps the most critical part of the process of switching to UX design, and during this phase, it’s important to remember a few basic rules:
- Practice makes perfect – It’s a well-known fact that the best way to learn something is by doing. The more you practice, the better a designer you become. Build a habit of creating things. Try to create new things each time you have a moment.
- Do real work – The good news is that you don’t have to have a UX related job title to do UX work. You likely have a few excellent opportunities in your current workplace.
- Start looking at your current projects – Look at ways you can make the front-end better. Many web projects are under-designed. If you find yourself involved in one such project, then take on the UX role in addition to your development work. Redesign poorly designed parts and share the results of your work with the team.
- Ask to participate in a UX-related activity in your current workplace – If your company has dedicated UX activities, tell your managers that you want to do UX work. Start by identifying a small design job there and ask to do it.
Alternatively, you can pick a few side projects or freelance for smaller companies. Take a few projects even if the pay is tiny. Don’t focus too much on the money, in the beginning. Remember that your goal with these projects isn’t to make a lot, but rather to gain invaluable practical experience that will help you make the jump to a full-time UX position.
Tip: When practicing UX design, make sure to take lots of photos of the process. Taking photos as you go and adding notes of what you did at each stage will make your life much easier when you build your portfolio.
7. Collect feedback on your work
It’s essential to not only practice design but also to hear what other people think about your work. Seek critique from experienced UX designers.
- Be open to critique – Being open to critique means that you aren’t afraid of making mistakes and welcome feedback on your design. When you start out in UX design, the real learning comes when you build things, make mistakes, and fix them. You learn design by designing and iterating through feedback. It’s important that you start to follow a user-centered design process and iterate based on regular feedback from your users along the way.
- Spend time watching users – Observing how people interact with your designs is an invaluable experience for anyone who wants to join the field of UX. The knowledge you get during observation will help you understand what is hard and what is easy for users. This is an extremely practical skill since you’ll be able to get out of your head and get into the heads of your users when it comes time to design products for them.
8. Create a portfolio
What do employers look for when hiring UX designers? There are two key factors they consider: relevant professional experience and your design portfolio. Getting a job as a UX designer is a lot more about showing what you can do as opposed to saying what you can do. A portfolio will help you demonstrate that you can actually create good designs. A solid portfolio is key to landing a design job.
Let’s define some properties of solid portfolio. A solid portfolio:
- Provides context for each piece. Each case study in your portfolio should include information about project goals and requirements, target audience, and time estimations.
- Shows the way you solve problems. Each case study presented in your portfolio should speak to your design processes and understanding of UX principles. You’ll need to explain how you design each solution in detail.
- Consists mostly of stories. It’s essential to use your portfolio as a launch pad to tell stories about the projects you’ve worked on. Case studies should demonstrate not only your skills as a problem-solver but also your skills as a storyteller. And the better the stories are, the more impressive your case studies will be for readers.
- Study the portfolios of successful designers. This will give you some ideas on how to structure your own portfolio. Consider reading the article 10 Inspiring UX Portfolios for some of the best portfolio examples in the industry.
- Don’t put everything you have into your portfolio. Your portfolio should be geared toward the type of job you want to find (remember the #1 tip about specialization). For example, if you want to join a UX research team, focus on that aspect of UX design in your portfolio.
- Seek critique from hiring managers. Each time you send your portfolio to a hiring manager, ask for their feedback. Continuously tweak and adjust your portfolio based on the feedback you receive.
9. Get connected
Once you’ve got some practical UX design skills and created your UX portfolio, you’ll need to focus on networking. Networking is essential for UX designers since the best opportunities are often found when someone already in the field recommends you for a position.
- Participate in local UX events – Find the places where UXers from your area are getting together. The easiest way to do it is via meetup.com. Going to local events can be inspiring; you meet new faces and with that comes new connections and ideas.
- Do online networking – Two of the best places to start networking online are LinkedIn and Medium. Join UX-related groups, start asking and answering the questions, and you’ll eventually build an all important network with your peers.
- Pick UX experts and follow them – Don Norman, Luke Wroblewski, and Steve Krug. Not only will you learn a lot from them, you can also interact with their followers who are mostly designers like you.
10. Never stop learning
UX design is a constantly evolving field; new technologies and methodologies are introduced all the time. It’s essential to be at the forefront of the industry by investing time and effort in learning new UX skills. Continual on-the-job learning is the most important skill for any UX designer.
Tip: Build a habit of reading design articles everyday. There’s nothing better than learning something new everyday. So start your day with reading a few inspirational articles on the Adobe’s blog, Medium, or Smashing Magazine. Subscribe to the Designer News newsletter.
Moving from web development to UX design is not difficult. The good news is you already have a lot of skills you can use in the new field, and once you invest some time in learning and practicing UX design, you’ll be ready for the transition. The world of UX design is full of opportunities for your creative career. Good luck! And for UX insights sent straight to your inbox, sign up for Adobe’s experience design newsletter.