Image of a storyboard, sticky notes, a pen, a pair of headphones, a book, and a computer mouse Some tools of the UX Design trade.

One day in 2014, I was contacted by a young person who was trying to figure out their career path. The conversation started about games, but soon transitioned to the topic of user experience. After answering the questions about UX, I thought it might be good to share my answers online.

Below is all the advice I have for potential UX designers. As I answered more common questions, I added more advice to this post. I will continue to update it to ensure that it stays relevant.

1) What is your normal day like in this role?

UX designers must care about the entire experience of a product and make sure that it is both cohesive and usable at every point, so each day is different. Some days you’re doing research. Other days you’re facilitating a sketching exercise and turning the results into a design solution. You might also create diagrams to understand how users move through a system. 

If you’re into interaction design, prototyping might also take up some of your time. You could also work on visual design if that’s up your alley. Meetings are also interspersed between days since it’s necessary to ensure that everyone on your team has a mutual understanding of the product they are working on. UX design is a very flexible field, so a normal day depends partially on your capabilities and interests.

2) Do you have to stay in the office late?

Personally, my creativity dies if I stay in the office longer than 8 hours. This is great since it allows me to work on games or anything else I feel like doing when I get home.

3) Do you feel like your skills are growing as you spend more time in this role?

Definitely. I am now much more analytical and detail-oriented than I was a few years ago. As I have gotten more experience, I’ve learned to not only create usable designs, but also defend my own decisions and compromise with others to create solutions that can be built in a reasonable timeframe. I’ve become a better communicator and a more empathetic person who can read body language and vocal cues. UX design has made me a more meticulous, confident, and caring person, which helps me in other parts of my life.

4) Do you honestly think that a hardworking person with no college degree can learn this on their own from internet/books/practice and break into this industry?

People do this all the time, so yes. User experience design is a mixture of interface design principles and empathy-based, qualitative and quantitative research. It will be harder without a design degree as you will have to do a lot of self-study, but it’s completely possible to go without college and get into UX design.

5) If such person does break into the industry, will they do really well in the long run?

If they truly care about improving the experience that people have when interacting with an interface, yes. UX designers do best when they care most about the love of people rather than money or financial security (although those are also important!). If you don’t care about people, UX is probably not for you.

6) Besides having a good portfolio, what other qualities do you think a person should have to do well in the industry?

Empathy and passion. A love of people. A curious mind. An interest in constantly learning new things. Willingness to hear other opinions and come to a compromise.

7) Are you happy with your current compensation?

Yep! I’ve generally been compensated pretty well so far.

8) Do you see a steady growth in the role/compensation over the years to come?

Yes, there are several paths a person can go down as they grow in the field. One can decide to go into management, become a lead designer, or continue to be more hands-on in an individual contributor role. They can decide to be in-house at a company, work at an agency, or do consulting work. The compensation goes up as you gain more responsibility and experience.

9) What are the best books/resources to learn UX Design?

Here are several great reads that you can find online or (probably) at your local bookstore:

10) What are the most common mistakes design students make?

Forgetting who they’re designing for and instead opting to just make things look nice. UX design is about removing friction from users’ lives as they perform tasks. If your design makes things more complicated or confusing, you’ve failed as a UXer in my opinion.

Ignoring constructive criticism and feedback. Criticism hurts the ego, but it also helps to improve your designs and increase your level of empathy. Good UX designers know how to use feedback to improve their work.

11) How does one portray their skills as a good UX designer?

A good UX designer does the following:

  • Listens to others
  • Understands that they are constantly learning
  • Does research and shares their findings
  • Documents design decisions
  • Tells full stories rather than showing pretty pictures

12) If you were to interview me, what would be the key elements you’d look for in my portfolio?

Overall, I am looking to see if you are a good design thinker and collaborator. Some things I might be looking for as I peruse your portfolio are:

  • What your contributions to projects were
  • Knowledge of who your target users were and the business goals you were working to fulfill
  • How the decisions you made improve the lives of the people who were your target users
  • How the decisions you made fulfilled the goals of your client(s)
  • Humility and willingness to fail
  • Curiosity and creativity

13) If there were a million dollars on the line and you were to teach me UX design in 8 weeks, what steps would you have taken?

I’d put you in front of a bunch of people and make you watch how they use products, as well as practice various techniques, a lot of which are covered in The UX Team of One. Sticky notes, graph paper, and pens would be your best friends for 8 weeks.

14) If I was to join your company as a UX Designer at an entry level position, what would my salary be?

Your pay will be determined by your location, experience, and common compensation rates for your specific position. As with any job, you will have to personally identify how much you feel like your labor is worth and negotiate a fair pay.

Please use Glassdoor to ensure that your pay is at or above an average rate. Note that larger companies generally pay a higher salary. Startups are more likely to pay a lower salary and offer equity (shares of the company). Consider what kinds of compensation you would feel most comfortable with.

15) I’m looking to meet other UX Designers but I don’t know how to network. How should I start?

Try going to meetups, which are networking events centered around shared interests. Visit Meetup.com and Eventbrite to find relevant groups. You can also volunteer for design conferences. I’ve met lots of cool people through volunteering. Conferences will generally give you a free conference badge for your time, and some may also compensate you financially.

This is a good time to mention the following: please rethink your definition of networking before going to meetups and other design events. When you network, you are building business relationships. Business relationships, like all relationships, require human interaction. Treat everyone you meet as you’d like to be treated and try to connect with them on a human level.

Instead of walking around and handing a business card to everyone you see, focus on deep conversations. At the end of your discussions, ask each interesting person you spoke with for their email or Twitter handle and follow up personally. You never know who will send job opportunities your way or become your next collaborator, but you can certainly get a clue by more deeply connecting with people at events.

I hope this is helpful to anyone who’s interested in UX Design!