5 pearls of wisdom for aspiring UXers

Allegory of Divine Wisdom painting

Over the years I’ve been asked on numerous occasions what advice I have for aspiring UXers, and how best to get into the industry. As anyone in UX will tell you there is no one set path into UX (which is one of the reasons why it’s such a great profession) but there are certainly some steps that someone can take to help with their journey. I’ve listed 5 pearls of wisdom that I think all aspiring UX professionals would do well to take onboard.

1. Connect with fellow UXers

A great way to meet fellow UXers, to make contacts and to learn more about the industry in general is to hook up with your local UX community. Most large cities are likely to have some sort of UX community and it’s usual for groups to arrange regular catch-ups, talks and other UX related events. Meetup.com is a good place to find local UX groups, or perhaps ask on UX stake exchange (a UX community question and answer site). The User Experience Professional Association (UXPA) also has details of UXPA chapters by region on their website, and you can also find details of local UX groups and meetups on the Find UX events website. Of course if you know of other UX people in the area you should also ask them.

UX conferences and events (such as talks, design jams and workshops) are also a great way to connect with other UX professionals. Smaller conferences can be better for making contacts, although don’t discount bigger conferences as there will often be smaller talks and workshops. Lanyrd and Eventbrite both have details of UX conferences and events, along with the Find UX events website.

Room of people at a UX conference

UX conferences are a great opportunity to meet fellow UXers and learn more about the industry

2. Get UX educated

Speaking as a UX professional with a UX related MSc (Human-Computer Interaction from University College London) I know first-hand how useful it is to get a good UX education. I think that it’s really important for UX professionals to have some form of UX related qualification or at least to undertake some formal UX training. Trying to piece UX together through random UX related books, talks, articles and videos is a bit like trying to put a giant jigsaw together when you have no idea of what the finished picture looks like. Eventually it will (hopefully) start to make sense but it’s sure as hell not the most effective way to learn a topic.

 

Wooden jigsaw pieces

A good UX education will help you to put all the different parts of the UX jigsaw together

UX related education and training will help to open your eyes to the different aspects of UX (such as user research, interaction design, information architecture, usability evaluation etc…) and help to put the UX jigsaw pieces together. Along with UX related academic courses (which obviously can be full or part time) there are also a number of online UX courses that you can take. I’ve listed some of these below. You can find a more comprehensive list on the UX Mastery website.

Online UX courses

3. Get exposure to all aspects of UX

In days of old an apprentice would learn (and hopefully master) all aspects of a particular trade from the master craftsman before he (or she) could take up that trade. In a similar vein I think that it’s really important that aspiring UX professionals get exposure to all aspects of the UX trade before they can call themselves a fully-fledged UX professional. That means not just learning about UX design, but user research, usability evaluation, usability testing, information architecture and so on. I’ve written before about the need for UX professionals to have a T-shaped skill set; to have a wide breadth of skills and expertise, with ideally a depth of expertise in a few areas.

When you see a finished design, it’s really just the tip of the proverbial design iceberg that you’re seeing. You don’t see all the work that went into getting the design to where it is now. It’s important that aspiring UX professionals get exposure to and experience of the different parts of the design journey (sorry to start getting all Zen on you) as it’s only with solid foundations that you can design a really stunning user experience.

Iceberg

To truly master UX you must get exposure to all the UX work that goes on below the surface

4. Find a UX mentor

Like Luke Skywalker and Yoda, or the Karate Kid and Mr Miyagi, you too should find your UX mentor. It’s so great to be able to get advice from someone that has no doubt already been there, and done that. I know that I’ve certainly learnt a lot from speaking to more experienced UX professionals over the years.

You can often find a mentor (or mentors) close to home. Perhaps there is someone you work with that could mentor you, or perhaps someone in your local UX community? Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask because as the wise Yoda once said, “Always pass on what you have learned”. You’ll be surprised at how many people will be willing to share their experience and enthusiasm for UX.

Yoda with people

Find a UX mentor you should

5. Practice, practice, practice

If you only take one thing away from this article it should be the need to practice, practice, practice. It’s been estimated that it takes 10,000 hours (yes ten thousand hours) of practice to truly master something (although as with anything this is disputed). Now I’m not going to say that it takes that many hours to master UX (if you even can do such a thing) but certainly practicing UX is the only way to really get good at it. You should take every opportunity to do UX work, whether that’s as part of your job, or just in your spare time. For example, you could create your own website, mock-up your own app or even conduct your own user research. You could offer to help a local charity with their website or offer to carry out some usability testing for them. You learn so much more from actively doing something rather than just passively learning.

More advice

There’s lots more advice out there for aspiring UXers. In addition to the above pearls of wisdom also take a look at the following articles and ebook: