How to Become a UX Designer


Practice

Short how-to:

  1. Design something
  2. Do usability testing

Detailed steps:

  1. Read About Face by Alan Cooper — I like it for being practical (unlike another book which is frequently recommended for beginners: Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman). My post about the book
  2. Install Axure RP or some other rapid prototyping tool (the link goes to Cooper’s agency too. I swear I don’t have any affiliation with Cooper)
  3. Make an interactive prototype of something. A small experimental project would be fine. Food examples from my experience are Pedro or Line Awesome — small isolated apps.
  4. Read a book about usability testing. There are many; I like those that speak less about ideal usability lab setup – you won’t have it anyway. I like the book called Remote Research.
  5. Make a usability study using your friends. Friends probably aren’t your target audience, but they’ll do fine at this stage.
  6. But hey, no cheating: automated testing like UserTesting is not the same!
  7. During the test, learn not to interrupt users and not to help them completing the task. If you’ve mastered it, congratulations: the hardest part is over.
  8. Learn that you’ve designed it wrong, most part of your prototype.
  9. Fix it.
  10. Go to step 5.

Feel Good?

And know what? Congratulations! You’re one of a few designers who actually test their prototypes. The duality of the profession is:

  • Most designers understand the importance of usability testing
  • Most designers don’t test

You’re on a steep learning curve now. See how it feels? What you feel now is the peace of mind that most UX designers never achieve.

Theory

It’s not random that theory goes AFTER practice in this article. I recommended Alan Cooper’s book in the very beginning to “get a taste of the field” before you jump into action. But that’s not enough.

Now that your first usability study is over you are ready to digest some theory. Otherwise, without practice theory just won’t stick in your head and will be as memorable as titles after a movie.

Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play. -Immanuel Kant

If you go right to googling “best books on UX” there will be a plenty of lists with books. It won’t hurt if you read them all. But if you’re looking for one that will drastically up your game…

I don’t know just one. I’m sorry. I know a few others, for starters:

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow – mental patterns, decisions – everything that’s relevant to your participant’s thought process is of a value to a UX designer.
  • The Social Animal – maybe kind of a stretch to put such a serious book here. You may skip it for now, but don’t forget it’s in your best interest to understand people as good as possible in this field.
  • The Art of Choosing – a good complement to “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.
  • Universal Principles of Design – I like to skip over this one from time to time when I want to find new angles during UX studies. Pick any random page and try applying it to your product. It’s usually a rewarding experience or pure fun.

Why these? Because I think in order to understand the “whys” behind other people’s choices, you first need to understand yours. That will make you a passive observer, a truth-seeker, rather than one more subjective opinion of someone, who tested a product with users.

Conclusion

I’m sorry for repeating this phrase, but I think it’s paramount for becoming a successful UX designer:

Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play. -Immanuel Kant

For some, it will be easy to read the books and hard to actually approach users and talk to them. For others, it would be extremely difficult to exclude “I” or “my opinion” and become a “spectator”.

Some don’t like to read and ignore theory, fully relying on his/her intuition.

All I can say is to use your strong sides but develop the rest as well. For the convoy’s speed is the speed of its slowest part.

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