User experience design is booming. Companies are willing to pay top salaries for people with experience: 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. High demand makes UX design very attractive for specialists from other fields (especially design and software development). We’ve already discussed the possibility of jumping to UX from graphic design. In this article, we’ll see how to move to UX design from a job in marketing. But before that, it’s essential to define what UX design really is.
What is UX design?
In general, UX design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product. Essentially, UX design is a human-first way of designing products: it’s all about creating experiences that people can use with ease and delight. A key UX design skill is learning how to make that experience the best it can be. UX designers tend to be concerned with three primary factors: usability, look, and feel.
- Usability is the cornerstone of user experience. If a product isn’t usable, the user is guaranteed to have a negative experience.
- The look of a product is the visual appeal. It should satisfy or exceed users’ expectations.
- The feel is about designing products that are a joy to use. Products should provide a functional and pleasurable experience.
However, UX design isn’t solely about the user. Meeting the business goals of the product and aligning the business goals with those of the user are equally important. Ultimately, the goal of a UX designer is to connect business goals to users’ needs through a process of research, testing, and refinement.
A guide to transitioning to UX design
Start with your strengths
The key to a successful career transition is in identifying and leveraging your transferable skills. Since UX covers a lot of ground, many people who want to switch to the field start with a specialization. Your prior experience in marketing can be of significant advantage when you shift into UX design. The choice of specialization for you will be straightforward — UX research. Both marketing and UX design are heavily focused on research. In fact, neither marketing specialist nor UX designer will be able to perform their work without conducting proper research. There’s also a significant overlap in research approaches. Customer interviews, surveys, and user groups are all marketing research techniques that can be used for UX research.
Shift your focus
The most significant change that you need to go through when transitioning from marketing into UX is to shift the focus from customers to users. Marketing is focused on ultimately increasing the conversion (i.e. number of sales). UX design, on the other hand, is about trying to find a fine balance between satisfying users’ needs and meeting business goals.
The difference between marketing and UX design can be seen in the techniques specialists use and the approaches they follow. For example, here are two techniques that are popular in marketing but totally unacceptable for good UX design:
- Pop-ups with promo messages. As was mentioned in The 12 Do’s and Don’ts of Web Design, automatic pop-ups are one of the major ‘Don’ts’ in web design.
- Dark patterns. The term ‘dark pattern’ is used when UI is explicitly designed to trick users into buying something.
Another major change will be in the way you think about research. When you switch to UX design, you’ll focus more on what people really need instead of what they say they need. That’s because you won’t need to sell a product to potential customers, you will need to create products your users will love.
Focus on self-learning
When it comes to learning the world of UX design, it might be hard to start from the scratch. UX is very broad, and you’ll need to learn many different disciplines such as visual design, interaction design, and information architecture. Applying for training programs like GA’s User Experience Design Immersive or Springboard’s UX Design Course might be a first logical step for career switchers. Such programs aim to equip students with skills and tools necessary to work in the field of UX design. So, hopefully, you’ll get the fundamentals right.
To be truly successful in the field of UX design you should go way beyond the basics and focus on constant learning. Read, watch, and listen to everything you can get your hands on.
Tip: Create a habit of reading articles about UX design. Subscribe to popular design news (such as Designer News) and spend some time (say, an hour a week) on reading one or two articles from the list. Not only will this help you fill gaps in your knowledge but it will also keep you up-to-date with the latest trends.
Don’t get overwhelmed
When you just start learning UX design, there’s a lot of information coming at you all at once. This amount of information might overwhelm you, but don’t panic. What you need to do is prioritize activities. Create a list of what you need to learn/do and then try to do the most important or time-sensitive things first.
Gain practical experience
Remember, UX design is a specialty that comes with experience. After finishing a training program and reading a lot of information related to the field of UX design, you’ll have a set of skills required to participate in UX activities. Now it’s time to practice your skills. There are two popular ways of getting this experience:
- Try to find on-the-job experience. This is the most desirable way of gaining practical experience, especially if you work with experienced people who are willing to teach you.
- Apply for an internship. Participate as a volunteer on non-profit projects. This way you not only master your UX skills but also provide a positive contribution to society.
If you have a few options to choose from, select the place where product teams follow a solid design process.
Tip: Collect information about your projects as you go. Write notes and take photos of the journey. This information will help you when you prepare your portfolio.
You probably know that the best opportunities come from people already involved in the field. As a person who recently started in UX design, you need to start networking as early as possible. Don’t wait until you’re in an active job hunt!
- Start with online networking. Follow people on Twitter, and join UX groups on Facebook and Linkedin. Here is a list of industry leaders that you should follow: Jared Spool, Luke Wroblewski, Karen McGrane, Oliver Reichenstein, Don Norman, Peter Merholz, Julie Zhuo.
- Attend UX events and conferences. Tech events are typically a melting pot of active members of the UX community. Join local UX-related meetups and conferences, engage with people, and you’ll eventually build an all-important network of UX peers.
Find a mentor
As you network, try to find a person that you can call your mentor. Mentorship doesn’t have to be a formal set up; it only needs to be a relationship where you can ask for advice and get inspiration about your career, ideally from a person with a similar background. This person will be happy to help you avoid making the same mistakes they did when they were in your place. A good mentor is also a person who will encourage you to step out of your comfort zone.
Tip: Learn to take criticism openly and humbly. Ask mentors for feedback on your work and allow them to speak frankly with you. Don’t consider criticism as an insult. Keep in mind that receiving constructive criticism is a natural part of UX design. It’s a valuable tool that allows you to grow fast.
Build a portfolio
Anyone who calls themselves a UX designer should have a portfolio. A portfolio is what you’ll show potential employers. It’s critical to have a solid portfolio that demonstrates your capabilities. A solid UX portfolio is more than just a set of screenshots or illustrations, it’s proof that you can deliver results. It demonstrates your ability to create usable, useful, user-centric products. It should also give potential employers insight into what it would be like to work with you.
Don’t worry if you don’t have too much practical experience. Case-studies in your portfolio might include a project you did during an internship. Make sure that you have at least 2-3 solid examples that demonstrate that you can deal with complex problems.
Tip: Find inspiration. Putting together a portfolio can be challenging, especially if you’re relatively new on the UX scene. If you don’t know where to start, check the article 10 Inspiring UX Portfolios. You’ll find great examples that will give you some ideas.
Be Prepared for The Interview
Once you have a portfolio you’ll be ready for the interview. While every interview will be different, there are some common questions that you should be ready to answer:
- How do you define UX design?
- What’s your design process? Describe the design methods that you follow.
- Do you prefer to work alone or with a team? What’s your process for working with other designers, developers, or product managers?
- Tell us about a project you’re most proud of.
- What would you say is the next big trend in UX design?
- Where do you get inspiration from? Who in the industry do you follow and read?
Nailing answers to these questions won’t guarantee you a job, but it will improve your chances of success.
Many people believe that UX is an exclusive club that’s only open to people with the right talent. This isn’t true! It’s possible to move to UX design from almost any field. But when you switch from marketing the move can be smooth. The significant overlap between the two fields makes the transition much more comfortable.