Trying to navigate the UX landscape can be a minefield.
There are lots of competing definitions of what a UX designer does and what’s needed to work in the industry. It’s a struggle felt from UX beginners breaking into UX, to UX recruiters trying to build out their teams.
What is UX? UX stands for user experience and put simply, it’s how you feel when you use a product. Good UX means a product or website is easy and enjoyable to use; bad UX means a product is frustrating or difficult to use. UX is an industry that’s grown massively over the past few years and with it the need for skilled UX professionals.
Are you considering a career in UX but not sure what’s required? In this article, we take a look at some of the most common misconceptions about working in UX.
1. You need to be able to code to be a UX designer
One of the biggest misconceptions about working in UX is that you need to have a background in tech. The role of a UX designer doesn’t involve coding, in fact it doesn’t require expertise in software at all. It’s not about the technology, it’s about problem solving. Tech will evolve and change but being able to think like a UX designer and critically approach a problem is what’s really needed to excel in the industry.
UX designers use research, psychology and design to map out how a product should work, while software developers build and maintain it. Only then does the coding come in.
If you want to work in UX, you have to empathise with developers. It’s important to try to understand what they do, not emulate it.
Our students from non-product backgrounds are often apprehensive about the tools required but it’s a happy symptom of working in UX that the tools are by their nature easy-to-use. Julia is one such student who used our Professional Diploma in UX Design to move from brand management to UX. While initially worried about adopting new technology, she soon got to grips with the required tools.
“I was quite apprehensive about it and thought it would be difficult. But it’s really quite intuitive. Once I started one tool and just got into it, it was much easier than I thought it would be.”
2. UX designers and UI designers do the same thing
Often conflated, these two roles have very different areas of responsibility and require different skillsets. That said, they need to work in tandem to create beautiful, functional products. So, what’s the difference?
UX is a problem solving discipline that relies heavily on research to create a positive product experience for the user. UX design is not just about creating products that work, it’s also about making people feel good when they use those products.
UI or user interface design is more about aesthetics than functionality. UI professionals look after the visual design of a product and are responsible for things like fonts and the shape and colour of buttons.
This video clearly explains the difference between the role of a UX and UI designer using the analogy of architecture and interior design.
3. Years of experience are required to work in UX
While user experience has existed for a long time, it’s only recently that UX has become mainstream. This is largely down to software eating the world. Its disruption of industries such as finance, travel and entertainment has meant that companies have quickly realised the commercial advantage to providing excellent user experience.
Because UX is a rapidly growing field, there is a shortage of skilled UX professionals. When there aren’t enough qualified people to fill the roles, a couple of things happen:
- Employers are forced to look for more than just years of experience.
- Transferable skills become really important.
- Creating a strong UX portfolio is non-negotiable.
- Building your network can open doors.
Each hiring manager is different but those worth their salt know that it’s more important for a candidate to be able to show their understanding of the whole UX lifecycle than to have years of experience.
Moving to UX doesn’t have to mean starting your career from the beginning. Previous roles will have afforded you valuable experience that you can apply in your UX career.
To take a marketer for example, they may have knowledge of a customer journey; guiding users from an ad through to a landing page.
Similarly, a content creator may have experience conducting interviews and creating an article from their interviewees’ insights.
A further example could be someone working in retail or hospitality. They often have to field customer complaints; try to understand why a product or service isn’t meeting expectations, and come up with a solution.
Don’t underestimate the value of your soft skills when considering a career in UX.
Coming from a hospitality background, Erick said his experience dealing with people every day really helped when conducting research for his portfolio. He believes it was a real asset when studying our Professional Diploma in UX Design.
I’m comfortable with talking to people, that’s my advantage. Don’t worry if you come from a different background. If you want the change, make the change. Everything will fall into place at some point.”
4. You need to have studied design to be a UX designer
Having design experience is not a prerequisite for pursuing a career in UX. Graphic designers will understand certain design principles which can also be applied to UX (visual hierarchy, balance, contrast, etc.) but often their previous experience will be more closely aligned with visual design than UX. Because so much of UX revolves around research and process, visual design skills are seen in the industry as a nice-to-have, not a must-have.
Angus left a career in digital marketing to start his own UX consultancy. His success on our Professional Diploma was not deterred by a lack of design experience.
“I was a bit worried before I started but I soon realised that being a good UX designer is not about producing pixel perfect design. It’s a process. Once I got into the course, I realised the design tools and the technology are not that scary, and I really enjoyed it.”
UX design is a rewarding role because professionals get to influence how products are made. UX designers make a real impact by using insights from their user research. The need for better products is only going to increase and with it the need for skilled UX designers.
Learn more about breaking into UX