User experience design (commonly called UX design) focuses on the why, what and how of a digital product. It is an incredibly important part of the design process (here are 6 good reasons why!).
A UX designer is someone who understands user pain points and intent to create a product that fulfils that “wow, why didn’t I start using this before?!” moment.
In this article, I’ll give you a closer look at the life of a UX Designer, so you can see the processes and skills needed to find your first job.
What does a UX designer do?
A UX designer is responsible for 3 key areas in the design process
- The Why – they research the motivations, values and views of the target customer
- The What – they create the functionality and built-in features of the application
- The How – they work on accessibility and usability
Most people assume UX design only plays a role at the start of the product life cycle, but actually, if you want your product to remain something your customer loves to use, then you need to involve UX design in every update and added feature rollout.
We often work closely with clients on a UX audit ahead of a functionality or feature rollout. This helps the client get an objective point of view (POV) on new features and their value for the end user.
What are typical tasks for a UX designer?
Typically as a UX designer, you would be expected to contribute to
- User research and buyer persona development – the process of establishing who an ideal user is, their pain points and their behaviours, to provide solutions in the design.
- Userflow planning – a map of the buyer’s journey illustrating to the client and the wider team how they expect the user to navigate around the digital product.
- Wireframing – a process of mocking up a digital product, based on functionality and not aesthetics. Essentially, the digital skeleton of the software, including finer details like call-to-action button placement or page flow.
- UI kits – design notes for development teams who create the fully coded product for launch. This includes comments on things like button animations that change from when the page loads to when a user hovers over it right through to that all-important click. Little design quirks that users hardly notice, but make a big difference in their actions.
- User testing – working in processes that analyse accessibility, usability and intuitiveness through focus groups and moderated or unmoderated tests.
Which methodologies do UX designers use to create with?
There are generally two methodologies UX designers use to work through each project, the waterfall approach or the agile approach.
If a UX designer is a one-man band, or working on a small-scale project then they might choose the waterfall method: logically working their way through the design step by step.
Here at Strafe, we believe that an agile approach gives you a much better outcome because it works in reiterative sprints. The goal of each sprint is to share work in one area, get feedback and improve ideas on elements of the design quickly, allowing us as a team to get to the final design quicker.
We believe that if you focus on the whole design, working logically through it step by step, you miss the bigger picture.
Let’s say we design a “recommended reading” blog post block to sit at the end of each article, we share it with the client and test it with users. We learn that most users don’t scroll to the end of an article on average and so the client wants it to sit higher in the blog and to be more prominently coloured.
Having shared the design idea early on allows us to make that change quickly and inform other team members working on similar page structures – updating the entire project quickly, easily and effectively.
What skills does a UX designer typically need?
Aside from understanding how to carry out typical project tasks, like wireframing and buyer persona building, UX designers need to be great problem-solvers who are creative, adaptable, empathetic (especially to the user) and collaborative.
A UX designer will work with clients and users as well as fellow designers and developers. At each stage, communication is crucial in understanding and realising the goals of each project.
This means being assertive and deep-thinking, but not precious about your design. You’ll learn UX design is NOT about you.
How can you get started in UX design?
My best advice is to start learning each of the tasks I’ve outlined above. Reading and online research are great places to start. Then take some time to search out UX design agencies and follow their work. Remember it’s not just who they work for that is interesting, it’s the case studies that show you how they build and develop ideas and the blog posts that cover industry trends.
What to include in a UX design portfolio
Whilst most design agencies will want to see your CV, the crucial thing is of course your portfolio. We want to see your passion and proactive approach to problem-solving. Always include specific examples that suit the role you’re applying for, for example, do not only include branding work if you’re applying for a UX role.
I cannot stress this enough… no portfolio = no chance of an interview!
No experience to show in a portfolio?
If you are starting at entry-level, be creative and invent your own brief and create a portfolio to show your process, creative thinking and where you could reiterate ideas for post-launch tweaks and new features.
Programs like Figma are really cheap and have a monthly fee (there’s a free plan for students you can use to learn the ropes). You can use it to design anything you need. This gives you three skills straight out of the gate:
- Basic software understanding
- Ability to be able to create something original
- A willingness to learn and improve
This is what UX design teams are looking for: someone they can integrate into a team quickly, who has some basic training, a good eye for design and who is willing to learn the next set of skills.
Don’t forget to keep a sketchbook, something you can draw out designs and show your workings for each project in your portfolio – it shows your thinking and problem-solving process.
Remember not all of your ideas in your sketchbook will become portfolio pieces or elements in your final design. Showing which ideas you have eliminated and which you have realised into projects shows an eye for good design.
Here are some project ideas to get you started:
- Take an app you’ve used a lot and redesign elements of it that you think could be improved. Make sure you tell the interviewer why you feel this improvement makes a difference to the user experience.
- Come up with your own design for a website or SaaS product. Remember to showcase who it serves and how it helps them.
Once you feel you have more of an understanding of what’s happening in the UX space and you have a portfolio you can start applying for entry-level positions. A great place to look is on agency job boards, like ours.