How to Become a UX Designer

A guide how to get started in UX product design in 2021 (or in any year).

So you want to be a UX product designer?

I hope this article gives you a little bit of help. Alternatively, watch my video where you can get a guide on how to get started in this field in 2021.

You can find all resources mentioned in this article here.

First off, do you need to go to design school to get into UX design?

My answer is a definite no.

Because school is one thing, and education is another...and these two don’t always overlap.

The best designer I know never attended design school. Never. His design is thoughtful, it's working and it's always beautiful. He's the best I know. He never went to design school. 

Ways to get into UX design

There are actually multiple ways to get into this field.

Perhaps the most traditional one is having a formal education through college or university. You can spend years obtaining a design degree, but then you will end up with a great portfolio in the end.

The next one is to attend a boot camp. It can be three to six months long, and it can also be expensive, I heard. I actually haven't tried any myself so I cannot really give you an honest review on boot camps, which one is good, which one is not. If you have the budget and the time, just do a Google search and see what people say about different boot camps, and perhaps you will be able to find something in your local area.

The last one is self-learning which can take as long as you want. Self-learning can be done for free or at a low cost. I am going to focus on this path in this article. Some recommendations are:

They always provide something new and valuable I can learn even after 10 years. This is not free but it's highly recommended.

  • Coursera - introduction to user experience design.
  • There are a lot of online UX free courses on LinkedIn Learning (it was called in the past).

It’s completely free with your library card - if your local council provides this option. It’s worth checking. 

Learn about interface guidelines

As a designer who just starts out, you need to familiarise yourself with the human interface guidelines for 

  • Apple iOS (and perhaps Apple Watch)
  • Google also provides an extensive UI toolkit for native Android and guidelines for user-friendly website design. Make sure you take a look at the Material design library
  • Microsoft also offers a design guideline for native Windows Phone, and they even provide a Figma file that you can download and reuse in your design.

Get inspired by other web and mobile design examples

You can search for portfolios, e-commerce stores, whatever you really need

  • Behance is not only your social media platform.

You can also discover other designers' work to get inspired, as well as you can create a portfolio page for your design projects

  • Dribbble is another social site. You need to have a pro account to use all of its features though.

I find it great for visual inspiration but not so much for UX, because it doesn't let you showcase your thought process. Sometimes I go to Squarespace and other website builders to check out their templates. You can preview the template and you can see their desktop, tablet, and mobile version of the site.

Design your own self-learning plan

To figure out what you might need to study to get into user experience design, you might want to search for universities and colleges in your local area. Take a look at their requirements and study details e.g. syllabus, requirements, the outcome of the degree is, which tool they teach, etc. You can always reach out to the course coordinator to schedule a session or receive a detailed brochure to find out more about the degree.

Learn UX design fundamentals

There are so many books out there, but there are only a few of them that are easy to read. I would recommend Lean UX (that's about four hours read). Another fantastic book is called Sprint. One of my other favourite books is Don't make me think. It's also a very easy read.

However, if you just want to get one book, I’d recommend User experience design for dummies. That book is amazing. That's all you need to get started.

Learn the principles and theory of graphic design

There are a few graphic design principles that are going to affect every project you're doing. You need to learn about layout principles such as balance, rhythm, movement, and proportion while considering scale, position, value, and colour using line, shape, texture, and space. I remember first reading about these principles, and they seem so foreign to me. It took me some time to get comfortable with all of these terminologies. 

You also need to be familiar with typography. Luckily nowadays, you can Google typefaces and matching typefaces, so you can pair fonts that go well together and you don't need to figure that out by yourself. One thing that works really well is pairing a sans serif with a serif font. 

I probably wouldn't buy graphic design books. I would go to the library and check out some of the books on graphic design (or rent them out online).

Design tools

I think if you're starting this year, then it is actually easier to learn the essential tools. In the past, Adobe products were the industry-standard design tools. We had to learn Fireworks, Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere Pro. They were so feature heavy and it took a long time to really master them. 

But luckily, in 2021, there is another industry-standard software, which is called Figma. You probably heard about it. You can create a free account for your personal projects. You can do all sorts of things with Figma such as creating layouts, wireframes, icons; building a prototype and so much more. Find tutorials on Figma on YouTube for free. 

Learn basic HTML and CSS 

Why? There's a debate on the internet if designers should learn how to code.

I think it's highly valuable to have a basic level of understanding. You don't need to be a front-end developer, but understanding how HTML and CSS are structured and how you can inspect elements in a browser, what the building blocks of the website are... think that's highly valuable. There are really great free resources out there where you can learn basic HTML and CSS. My recommendation is Codecademy. Check it out, learn the basics, you might enjoy it.

My experience: designers who can actually code have a better chance to collaborate. You can build a better relationship with developers as well, because you speak the same language.

Build your portfolio

I hear it often from junior designers that they think they can only apply for jobs when they have an online presence. Having a website is great, but you don't need to have an online portfolio to be able to apply for design jobs. You can create a PDF file, then upload it into Dropbox or Google Drive, and have a shareable link. Then, you can share that link with potential employers when you apply for a new job. Or if you really would like to have an online portfolio, I would recommend Behance, because it's free, and the page layout builder is easy to use.

Regarding your portfolio, there’s one thing to remember: you don't need to have real projects in your portfolio. What I would highly recommend showing in your portfolio is your thought process. How you got from A to B, all of the steps, and write a paragraph on each step, add some visuals, and you are done. You must also resist putting all of your work in your portfolio. Just pick the three best that are relevant for the job you apply for. 

Practise your new design skills

I would recommend picking smaller brands, for example, your local shops and local companies, and redesign their online presence. When you look at their website, you can tell which one needs a little bit of love.

I would stay away from large brands, well known companies. The reason behind that is large companies already employ so many great, experienced designers. It's very unlikely you will come up with something groundbreaking (not impossible though ;). Better to stay away from them.

Ask for feedback

Ask for feedback as often as possible. Share your work with your designer friends and ask for honest feedback. You need to get accustomed to receiving feedback and acting on it. This is the way you can improve your design. As a designer, we need to take critiques every single day. Try not to be defensive, and keep an open mind.

Get your first design job 

Searching and finding your first design job without the proven work experience in the design field can be daunting. I know, I’ve been there. What I would do: I would join all of the meetups, that are available in your area. But don’t limit yourself to design meetups. Go to tech meetups as well. Tell everybody you’re looking for a job because you never know which company is hiring. Statistically speaking 50% of the jobs are not even advertised. It’s good to tell people you’re looking.

Search for design agencies and other companies you would like to work for. Send them your resume with your portfolio link. Reach out to them and see if they have something available. Use LinkedIn for building up your connections. Have the courage to message people on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is about connections and networking. So use it.

I believe you can teach yourself design just by using online resources and books, and YouTube tutorials. But you must have the diligence and the patience to go through that. Everything is hard at the very beginning. If I would start out again, I would probably spend at least four hours every single day practicing one of the disciplines. I would practise on projects, I would practise tools, I’d send out my resume, I’d reach out to people, I would go to all of the networking events in my area.

If you're looking for a job in a different city, I would recommend joining Meetup groups. Start networking, that's really important.

Always remember, even the best designers were beginners once.

Whenever you land your first job, keep practising and never stop learning. This is one of the jobs that will never bore you. Never. Actually, I don’t believe in boring jobs. I think it’s people’s attitude that really matters. So have a good attitude! Also, make sure you have fun along the way, otherwise what’s the point?

Before you follow all of the steps above

First, you need to find out if UX product design is really for you. I would recommend finding someone who already has this job, and talk to the person. Ask questions to figure out if this job is really for you. Talk to designers at different levels: not only a junior designer, but also an intermediate & senior designer, because your role will change throughout your career. First, you need to make sure this is something you want to pursue. Because it takes a lot of time, effort, and practice to be an efficient designer. So you need to make sure that is the field you want to focus on.

Bonus tip #1: Learn touch typing

This is such an important skill to have. Nobody tells you in design school how much you're going to write in this career. We're not only writing emails and Slack messages...we also write Confluence pages, Jira stories, and user research findings. You need to communicate your design decisions in writing. When you start learning touch typing, at the very beginning, you will be really slow, but just keep practising, don't give up. You will get better at it. Resist the urge to look down at your keyboard. Here's the link where you can learn it for free: (this is the site where I learnt it too)

Bonus tip #2: Learn to draw

I hear people saying they cannot draw or they are not artistic enough. But here's the thing.

Everyone can draw.

People are not bad at drawing, they are just bad at observing. What you need to learn is to see things differently. There are many books out there. A few of my favourites: Prestosketching and Visual thinking.

You don't need to be amazing at drawing, but you need to be comfortable with grabbing a pen, going to the whiteboard and sketching some ideas very quickly in front of other people. It's really important to learn basic shapes and how you sketch out some ideas, wireframes, user flows. I would recommend practising about 15 to 20 minutes a day.

I hope this article provides some value and makes you feel ready to start learning UX design.