UX designer
Image: Bartosz Budrewicz/Shutterstock

How to be a UX designer

5 Dec 2016

With technology constantly moving forward, jobs and roles are evolving all the time, and the tech talent gap is still a problem. User experience (UX) designers are highly sought after in the market at the moment, but what exactly is a UX designer and how do you become one?

With so many tech roles springing up constantly, it can be hard to decide what role you might want to pursue in the future. Software developer? Data analyst? Cybersecurity? What about UX designer?

UX design is one of the hottest tech jobs at the moment and, as with most technical roles, the sector is crying out for talent with the right skills.

So, now you know UX designers are a serious commodity. But how do you become a UX designer? What do they do?

What exactly is a UX designer?

A UX designer is someone who follows the user-centred design process when designing products. They are the team members who are looking at the bigger picture and advocating for the end users’ needs.

UX designers do not think of design and technological capabilities as two separate entities, but rather, marry the two for a better customer experience.

According to John Buckley, UX designer with Frontend.com, the role of UX is “quite broad” and can extend from initial research to interaction design.

“The role of UX designer is quite vague; some UX designers specialise in one part of the UX process (for example, as a UX researcher or system architect) while for others, the UI design and front-end development are part of their remit,” says Buckley.

Diego Dalia, a designer with IBM Design, says because the term UX designer is so vague, it can often be misrepresented. He believes it’s more correct to consider a UX designer to be a professional that works in the UX field, but not someone that is an expert in all of the disciplines that belong to it. “People would call that a unicorn, and everybody knows that unicorns do not exist.”

How do I become one?

With so many courses and degrees on the subject, Buckley says there is a wide variety of educational routes you can take, depending on what experience you have so far.

Design colleges in Ireland, such as the National College of Art and Design, and Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, offer masters’ degrees in the field.

However, Buckley says those coming from other jobs in design, media or digital might already have a lot of the skills required and might be better off going straight to companies for internships.

“There is no best path to landing a career in UX,” says Buckley. “However, it’s quite a sought-after role so no matter what, you do need to show an interest and a passion – how you convey that is up to the individual.”

What kind of job can I get and how?

“The UX field is a broad discipline and there are many opportunities for designers, especially if we consider the different sectors in which UX designer might operate, like software, healthcare, automotive, fintech, cybersecurity, travel and leisure, and entertainment,” says Dalia.

“The most popular job roles are: interaction designer, visual/UI designer, service designer, motion designer, user researcher, business/strategic designer and front-end developer.”

When it comes to successfully getting one of these sought-after jobs, Buckley says you must start as you mean to go on.

“Apply the user-centred design process to the job. Start off by researching, find out the companies or industry who do what it is you want to do, and ask questions of people in the role you’re investigating.

“Once you know what role you would like and your strengths, start by creating a CV, a portfolio website and draft an introductory email. Network and reach out to people. Where possible, meet people who can potentially hire you.”

Buckley says face-to-face meetings are the best way to showcase your passion and enthusiasm, even if you’re not confident in your experience yet.

Dalia has been actively involved in hiring new designers since he joined IBM in 2015. He says they expect to be inspired by candidates.

“As we look at the portfolios, we expect to see not only outstanding work, but also the process well communicated. We are interested in how they applied user-centred design methodologies, how they worked with their users, what tools they used to synthesise the data collected, and finally, how they evolved a concept idea into their final solution.”

Dalia looks for intelligence, passion and integrity. He also says empathy is key. “The ideal candidates are users’ advocates; they empathise with them and serve as their voice. They should be able to understand their needs and design solutions that will not only solve their problems, but also meet their needs and go beyond their expectations.”

The five disciplines of UX design

User research: Design researchers build continuous knowledge, discovery, and empathy. They craft actionable insights through empirical observation and experience. Tools of the trade include contextual inquiries, co-design, customer journey maps, and quantitative research.

Interaction design: Through the interpretation of research and requirements, these designers craft experiences that connect people with our products and services in meaningful, enduring ways. Tools of the trade include market and audience analysis, user journeys and wireframes.

Visual design: Visual designers manipulate observable elements, with the goal of eliciting desired emotional responses and building durable connections with users. Tools of the trade include imaging, typography, layout, colour and style.

Service design: Service designers are able to look at the big picture, and to apply service design-thinking and other user-centred design methodologies to immaterial products. Their activities consist of planning and organising people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and final end users.

Front-end development: Front-end developers collaborate with the team to generate ideas and make design concepts tangible. Tools of the trade include web and mobile programming skills, and synthesis.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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