“The only skill that will be important in the 21st century is the skill of learning new skills. Everything else will become obsolete over time.” 

Peter Drucker

The “father of modern management” may have been a bit extreme to suggest that all skills will eventually become obsolete, bar the skill of learning itself. After all, the act of learning is only truly valuable if it’s used to acquire valuable skills. However, Drucker does make a valid point about the modern economy—and just how quickly the cutting-edge skills of today can become a given tomorrow; no longer setting you apart, but rather, serving as the foundation on which to acquire the next generation of knowledge and expertise. In today’s job market, upskilling is increasingly hailed as the key to long-term career success—and not without good reason.

According to Oxford University research, the average “half life” of a job skill dropped dramatically from thirty years to just five between 1984 and 2014. At the same time, a study conducted by global staffing firm Robert Half found that employers increasingly value candidates who are willing to learn new skills; 84% of HR managers are open to hiring people whose skills can be developed through training. 

It’s never been so important for professionals to stay current—and this rings especially true for the fast-paced field of UX. Operating right at the cutting edge of technology and human experience, designers have always been primed for a steep and continuous learning curve. Now, with the rise of voice technology, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence (to name just a few), the learning curve is about to get steeper.

So, as a UX designer, how can you adapt and enhance your skillset to keep pace with the industry? 

The great thing about UX is that it applies to pretty much everything—from digital products and services to physical devices and real-world experiences. Once you’ve mastered all the fundamental skills needed to be a UX designer, the possibilities for further professional (and personal) growth within the UX field are endless. 

To help you get started, we’ve narrowed it down to just five. So, without further ado, let’s consider some of the most valuable additional skills you can learn as a UX designer. 

1. Learn the basics of frontend development

Designers who can code are hot property, and not least because of their rarity. We’re not going to revisit the age-old debate on whether or not designers should learn to code, but we will explore how some basic frontend development skills can add value to your design career. 

Traditionally, designers and developers have remained rather separate. UX designers map out and design a user-friendly product; the developers bring it to life. It’s not strictly necessary for designers to know what the developers are doing and how they do it—but there are distinct advantages if they do.

The aim of learning to code isn’t to become a one-person startup who can do it all, but rather, to operate much more effectively within a product team. One clear benefit is smoother collaboration between design and development. As UX/UI designer Benek Lisefski puts it, “You need to understand the possibilities and constraints of your medium in order to do the best design work that technology can allow for.” Ultimately, if you know from the get-go what’s technically feasible (and what’s not), you can factor this into your design process—ensuring a time and cost-effective product development process. 

It’s not just about saving time or making developers’ lives easier; your creative design process will benefit, too. Once you understand how your vision can be implemented, you’ll start to view your work from a different perspective. You’ll develop new ways of thinking and problem-solving; and that, in turn, will empower you to innovate and experiment within the realms of what’s technically possible. 

Learning even the basic principles of frontend development will position you as a multiskilled designer with a solid understanding of the entire product development process. Beyond the design process itself, a good understanding of frontend is necessary to build out a workable design system—that is, a library of design patterns, rules, and UX guidelines that enables products to be iterated and shipped at scale without inconsistencies. As a designer who can speak the developers’ language and work with them to build such a system, you’ll be considered an extremely valuable asset in today’s job market. 

Getting started with frontend development

You don’t need to become an expert programmer; even a basic understanding of frontend technology goes a long way. Start by getting to grips with how the developers work: What tools and processes do they use? What challenges do they encounter when coding and developing designs? If, after that, you’re keen to get hands-on, start with the basics: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. For a structured approach to learning key frontend skills, consider a frontend development course geared specifically towards designers

2. Venture into the fascinating world of voice design

UX isn’t only applicable to screens and handheld devices; with the rise of voice technology, a new niche is opening up for adventurous designers.

The global speech and voice recognition market is set to be worth $31.82 billion by 2025, with an estimated 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023. Still, if you’ve ever interacted with a voice assistant at length, you’ll know that voice technology has a long way to go in terms of delivering a flawless user experience—and that’s where you come in. 

Given the rapid surge in voice technology, there’s a huge gap in the market for designers who can apply their skills to the realm of voice. And, while you might think that going from screen to voice is a huge leap in terms of the design process involved, many of the principles and processes that you’re already familiar with as a UX designer can be transferred to voice—such as user research, personas and user flows, information architecture, and prototyping. The challenge lies in applying these principles to conversations (and potentially multimodal interactions) rather than screens alone. 

In many ways, voice design is uncharted territory. Compared to digital design, it’s a novel field in its very early stages—yet to be shaped and established. As a UX designer, this is an exciting opportunity to diversify your skillset and have a real impact on the technology of the future. 

Getting started with voice design

To upskill into voice design, you essentially need to learn how to apply your existing skills to a new medium. Start by reading up on some key voice design concepts—such as voice personas and placeonas and information architecture for voice—before you go on to master the practical skills. Just like UX, you’ll need to take a hands-on approach to voice design, so opt for a project-based course. The CareerFoundry voice design specialization course has been created in collaboration with Amazon Alexa and will see you building three Alexa skills from scratch—ideal for showcasing your newfound skills in your portfolio.

3. Learn how to craft compelling microcopy

The importance of copy in UX and the subsequent rise of the UX writer is a much-discussed topic in the design industry of late. While you may not wish to specialize solely as a UX writer, learning how to write compelling microcopy is an interesting—and highly relevant—way to upskill as a designer in today’s market. 

Microcopy refers to the text that the user encounters when using a product. Think sign-up forms, error messages, welcome screens, instructions, terms and conditions—literally any text featured on a website or app. Just like every other aspect of a user interface, microcopy is a crucial part of the user experience; it’s there to guide the user and ensure a seamless journey across the product. So, just like any other UX or UI element, microcopy must be carefully designed. 

If you happen to be a UX designer with a flair for writing, learning how to craft compelling microcopy will put you in a very unique position. In fact, you’ll be something of a unicorn in the design industry! 

Even if you don’t consider yourself a talented wordsmith, getting to grips with UX microcopy will still prove hugely beneficial to your work as a designer. More and more, we’re seeing writers embedded firmly in the design team (just look at the likes of Facebook, Google, and Airbnb); just by understanding the importance of microcopy and the role it plays in UX, you’re in a great position to collaborate with these UX writers—and, perhaps most importantly, to involve them in the design process from the very beginning. So, whether you’re an aspiring wordsmith or just want to be a future-ready UX designer, it’s worth getting on board with UX writing.

Getting started with UX writing

An easy (and fun) way to get started with UX writing is to sign up for a daily UX writing challenge. You can also practice incorporating copy into your next design project; instead of using the classic “Lorem Ipsum” placeholder text, think about the kind of wording you’d like to see on each page or screen. What text could be used to guide the user? How should the style and tone reflect the brand? If you really want to master the art of powerful microcopy, consider a UX writing course

4. Add some user interface (UI) design strings to your bow

If you’ve ever searched for design jobs online, you’ll have noticed that lots of companies advertise for UX/UI designers in one. If you’re a UX designer or a UI designer looking to focus solely on your area of expertise, this can be a frustrating reality. But, if you’re a UX designer looking to upskill, it’s more of an opportunity.

There’s no avoiding the fact that UX and UI design go hand in hand; you can’t have good UX without good UI, and vice versa. As a UX designer, adding some UI design strings to your bow is an excellent way to deepen your mastery of the product design field—especially in the startup world, where so-called “t-shaped” designers are considered extremely valuable. 

As with many of the skills we’ve discussed so far, though, you don’t necessarily have to label yourself as a UX/UI designer. Even if you’re not actually interested in designing visual UI elements yourself, it’s important to have an understanding of how the UI designer works—and how you can support them. Learning the fundamentals of UI design will help to achieve synergy throughout the design team; a synergy that employers, clients, and colleagues will be extremely grateful for! 

Getting started with UI design

If you’re currently working alongside a UI designer, seize every opportunity to learn from them. Ask them to show you the tools they use, the processes they follow, and how they make decisions. At the same time, read up on—and start practicing—some fundamental principles of UI design; delve into the wonderful world of typography, get familiar with UI patterns, and learn how to design an icon from scratch.

5. Become a data-aware designer

UX design is as much about business as it is about the user. Yes, you advocate for the user and focus on improving their experience, but this work is mediated by the effect that your work has on the company’s bottom line. Analysts may glean this impact from all sorts of secondary metrics, whether that be retention, NPS, or referrals, but UX will remain coupled to its revenue outcomes. And, as companies grow increasingly aware of the value of design-driven business, UX designers will often find themselves involved in shaping the strategic direction of the company. At the same time, businesses—and now designers—are under pressure to become more data-driven; Nina Ritz of DesignRush writes that UX design and data science need to become best buds.

Now, venturing into data isn’t for everyone—and it’s certainly not the be-all and end-all as a UX designer. However, if you are interested in data and how it can inform your design process, this is an exciting opportunity to expand your skillset. 

Essentially, data-driven design is all about eliminating guesswork and making improvements based on analytics. It can be as simple as running A/B tests, or as sophisticated as developing predictive, data-driven personas.

Whether you choose to position yourself as a data-driven designer, or simply want to be able to measure and prove the impact of your designs, an awareness of data and its growing importance will place you right at the intersection of design and business. As Aaron Gitlin, interaction designer at Google, puts it: “The ability to be a productive member of a data-informed team will help designers to become respected business partners within an organization.”

Getting started with data-driven UX

If you’re keen to become more data-driven, the good news is that you can start right away. In fact, you’re already adopting a data-informed approach when you conduct user research and usability testing! You can also experiment with introducing project KPIs and identifying measurable outcomes—it might be worth enlisting key business stakeholders to help with this. At the same time, learn as much as you can by way of research and reading; Designing With Data is a firm favorite among designers. 

In this post, we’ve touched on just some of the many ways you can upskill as a UX designer. When it comes to branching out and learning new skills, it’s important to think about what motivates and excites you—and remember, upskilling doesn’t always need to be a formal endeavor. Learn from those around you, keep up with where the industry’s heading, and teach yourself as you go. Embrace the change—that’s one of the many joys of becoming a UX designer!