In 2006, I was getting ready to graduate college and thinking about what I was going to do for a living after I graduated. The career goals I set for 2007 (and beyond) put me on the trajectory to have the career I have now.
The new year is a time for reflection and goal setting. Many of us will set personal goals. Many of those goals won’t be accomplished. Some will though. To improve the chance of success, the high achievers write out their goals, establish a plan and set habits in place to achieve those goals.
If you’ve been thinking about getting into design and wondering how to become a UX Designer, this needs to be your career goal for 2016. You don’t need a four year plan to do this. You can become a junior level UX Designer in less than a year.
No, you won’t be Jony Ives, but you can learn design and get decent at it. No, you won’t be in the top 5% of earners in the field, but you’ll be employable at a decent wage. In less than a year, you can learn the bare essentials and get started on the path to a very bright future.
[tweet “How to become a UX Designer in less than a year… (spoiler: it’s a lot of work). #UX #Design”]
Let’s break that goal down and get you going…
Step 1: Understand
First, you really need to understand what a UX designer is. What they do day to day and what functional skills you need to do that. It helps to model yourself after others early on. Look at how they developed their skills and what makes the best designers so successful.
As you’re looking around and learning, keep stock of what you see. Make a list of the skills you’ll need as you come across them. Make this list as detailed as you want. I personally feel comfortable creating broad buckets (e.g., “visual design”) but you may prefer to get more detailed (e.g., “Layer masks in Illustrator”, “Custom gradients in Photoshop”, etc.).
Step 2: Assess
People come into UX design from all over the place. Everyone will have individual talents and skills that are useful. If you’re coming from graphic design, you’ll have a huge advantage designing interfaces over someone coming from accounting. But everyone has transferrable skills. The accountant or economist will probably feel more comfortable using numbers to solve problems. That’s an advantage for using analytics and optimizing conversion rates in an A/B test.
That’s just one example.
With the list of the skills you made before, take inventory of your skills. What do you need to work on? Be brutally honest.
When doing this for myself, I graded myself on a scale of zero to five. Zero being I don’t even know what it is but I saw it somewhere (e.g., a job description). Five being I’m a master at it and could teach an advanced class to senior level professionals on it.
Feel free to use a ten or hundred scale to get more granular. That’s fine. The important thing is to see your progress over time so stay consistent with your measuring method.
Exclusive Blog Post Bonus
Get a free UX Skills worksheet to help you develop the skills you need to be successful as a UX Designer. A handy tool for learning UX Design at any level.
Step 3: Plan
So you know what you need to work on, now we need to get better. You’re going to establish a habit of working on yourself on a regular schedule. This is your personal development time.
It’s important to note that this will continue long after you get your first job as a UX Designer. You will continue learning so making this a habit now is really important.
Ok, we’re putting time into developing our skills. Preferably this is a daily habit, but if your schedule only allows you to do certain days in a week, work with what you have. But realize, it doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of time. You don’t need an eight hour block. In 30 minutes a day, you can accomplish a lot.
You’re not trying to become an Information Architecture guru in a weekend. You’re trying to learn a little each day to improve over time. Baby steps.
With the time earmarked, we need to plan to use this time effectively. You can plan to explore specific topics on a specific day or just grab from a list. However you feel more comfortable, but in my experience, planning ahead of time works the best. You’ll spend less of your development time looking for resources and more time consuming knowledge and practicing.
If you’re going to plan ahead, try to plan a week out at a time.
Learn Work your tail off
During your development time, kill the distractions. Go to the back room. Grab some noise-cancelling headphones. Go to the library. Find a babysitter. Whatever you need to do to get some peace and quiet so you can focus. This is learning time. No Twitter allowed.
What types of things do you do during this time?
People learn in different ways so use what works for you. But I recommend consuming information however you learn best (reading, watching or listening) and then applying it immediately. This will help the knowledge stick. Read a couple of blog posts on the topic and practice applying it on a personal project.
Pro tip: Not a fan of reading? Try improving how you read.
You can’t really become a great designer by just reading books, watching videos or listening to podcasts. You need to apply that information.
You can certainly learn everything you need on your own. But adding online courses at Maker Institute or HackDesign (free), books, or a coach/mentor will only accelerate things. There’s a lot of resources out there. Take advantage of them.
Return to step 2 and Rinse & Repeat
You’re going to reassess your skills on a regular schedule. How often will depend on how much time you’re spending in development. If you’re doing 30 minutes to a hour daily, you can reassess monthly.
Step 5: Achieve your goals
After a month or so, you should start thinking about creating your UX Designer resume and working on a portfolio. You can structure your learning activities towards projects for your portfolio. This means you’re going to start doing “practice” projects that encompass a full design process. You’re still learning but this gives you work samples to show potential employers.
After about 6 months, you need to start looking for a job as a junior level UX Designer. You may not get a job and that’s ok. But it’s important to start getting feedback and to see where you’re at in the marketplace. And you never know, someone may give you a shot before you’re ready.
But don’t stop your learning cycles. Keep improving and keep your job search active. Your design knowledge and skills will improve steadily with practice… as will your interview skills.
If you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll get there. Just keep improving.