How Traditional Designers Can Break Into UX Design

By Diane Domeyer, Executive Director, The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals with a variety of firms.

Technology continues to open up exciting career paths for design professionals with digital savvy and stellar soft skills. One of the hottest jobs right now is user experience (UX) designer, and companies are willing to pay top dollar for people with experience.

According to a recent survey by The Creative Group, six in 10 hiring managers said it’s challenging to find UX design talent. It’s little surprise, then, that mid-level professionals in this field are expected to see a 6.1 percent increase in starting salary to a range of $75,640–$103,000 in 2017.

Are you ready to embrace UX design but not sure where to start? Read on to learn more about the career path and how you can add UX design to your skill set.

Creating An Optimized User Experience.

What exactly is user experience design? UX design describes the entirety of a user’s interactions with a product. From the look and feel of the interface to experiences like customer service and order processing, UX is all part of a journey that — if done right — ends with the user forming a positive emotional bond with the product and brand. It’s about creating feelings, specifically, a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction.

Graphic design is a crucial element in creating that feeling, but UX design is an interdisciplinary role that requires unique skills. To succeed, these professionals also need experience in wide-ranging areas like software development, advertising and marketing, psychology, user research, and information architecture. Nobody can be an expert in all these fields, but the broader your knowledge base, the more you bring to the role.

Dive Into The Experience.

Because this field is still relatively new, there’s no single degree or typical career path for gaining UX design skills. That’s good news for professionals without a lot of digital experience, as they can pave their own way.

Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Think Differently

The world of user experience can mean a change of workplace culture, as it tends to be more collaborative than print design. If you enjoy being part of a team, this may be an ideal role for you. Start getting more involved with collaboration around the user, the product requirements and the user’s journey. UX designers are constantly modeling, testing usability, gathering feedback and making adjustments.

This is also a field that doesn’t reward perfectionism. Instead, designers adopt a “fail fast” philosophy that’s common in startups: make rough sketches and wireframes; test, break and learn from them; and then move on to the next prototype as quickly as possible. If you start taking this iterative approach to your current work, you’re one step closer to having the mindset of a UX designer.

2. Learn New Skills

As mentioned earlier, UX design is an interdisciplinary role, which means you may have to add several new tools to your existing skill set. There are several ways to go about acquiring the requisite knowledge and experience.

According to our survey, 36 percent of creative professionals said they are most likely to take online courses or webinars to learn about UX design. Countless internet-based options exist from providers like and Udemy as well as major universities. Our research shows other popular methods for gaining UX design proficiency are reading industry publications and blogs, as well as enrolling in UX bootcamps (short, intensive “crash” courses).

3. Make Contact

While many designers gain their UX expertise through online content, don’t dismiss in-person seminars and conferences. Besides picking up basic skills, you can learn about the latest user experience trends, developments and best practices.

Such events are also great for meeting other creative professionals, which is essential when making a career move. You can discover what courses they recommend, where to look for UX design jobs and which companies are hiring entry-level talent. The more you network with insiders, the smarter — and better known — you’ll become in the field.

4. Build Something

What do employers look for when hiring UX designers? Our survey finds the top two factors they consider are previous experience (37 percent) and the content of their portfolio (26 percent). If you don’t have the former, focus on the latter. How? Do some pro bono work for a nonprofit company looking to create a mobile app. If you’re a freelance designer, offer to revamp a favorite client’s website — at a reduced rate.

A UX design portfolio is not just any digital portfolio. The chief difference is that it focuses on case studies rather than end products. Aim to showcase three to five projects, each of which tells the story of how you arrived at the final design. What was the initial concept and vision? Describe the user (Persona) and the main business challenge? How did you create the solution and the prototypes? What methodology did you use for gathering user feedback?

The design managers reviewing your application and portfolio are interested in the process that led you to the final design. They want to know if you have the broad skills necessary to create a seamless and satisfying experience for the user.

Without a doubt, the UX design field is rewarding — both creatively and financially — and ideal for innovative thinkers who are passionate about solving problems. If you’re ready for a professional challenge, dip your toes in the water. You may end up loving the experience.