Transitions: From Graphic Designer to UX Designer


Picture of a sign that says "Whatever it Takes." Photo by  Jon Tyson  on  Unsplash .

One thing I love about UX is that there's no one way to becoming a UX designer. Every UX designer I personally know didn't start their career in UX, and many didn't start it as a designer. Because of that, I think it can be really confusing for newcomers who want to jump into the field. When I go to an event or talk to students I usually have a few people who want to hear more about my journey into UX and any advice I can give them. So even though there are probably 1000 other blog  posts about "how to become a ux designer," this one is more of a glimpse into my own journey that I've tried to distill into some helpful points.

1. Express interest and ask for projects

My first two years of my career were rough. I was a designer at an ad agency, on the art director path and doing mainly traditional print work. I wasn't good at it, and I didn't like it. I didn't know I wanted to be a UX designer, but I did know that I did not want to be an art director. I felt like I had a lot of good ideas and instincts for digital projects, but at the time the agency didn't have many available. I made sure to ask for digital projects whenever I could. I told my creative director that I really felt passionate about digital design and felt I could really make a positive impact. I was finally able to jump on a project, and I poured myself into it and spent all my extra time playing around with designs. My hard work paid off—my designs tested very well, and my team was impressed. I was excited because I finally felt like I was good at something and enjoyed it. That one successful project lead me to going to an innovation workshop with a client (I learned Sketch on the 5 hour drive there), which lead to me joining the agency's fledgling ux team. 

If you have UX team at your current company, let your manager and the UX manager know you're interested in learning more and possibly switching gears. Ask for opportunities every chance you get, and offer to do the work the other ux designers don't want. When you get those projects, give it everything you have and do more than you're asked. This is your chance to show them what you've got—be so good they can't ignore you.

2. Ask questions and research everything

I'm an inquisitive person. If I don't know something, I'll look it up and then spend 2 hours going down a wikipedia rabbit hole. The field of UX is expansive and ever-changing, and if you walk this career path you will always have to learn something new. In many ways I still feel like a newbie, like I don't know enough to have this job. But I've always made sure that I ask questions and research what I can.

While I was at the innovation workshop with our client, I spent the evenings reading UX blogs, trying to familiarize myself with the language and terminology I should be using. I didn't want to be on a team as the "UX expert" and know literally nothing. I wanted to have reasons for my decisions and earn the client's trust. It's important to close the gap between ignorance and knowledge the best you can.

In the same vein, I have a strong eye for design, but my technical knowledge is my weakness. I'm not a developer, I can't really explain an API to you, I still don't fully grasp screen resolution and ppi, and I don't know shit about databases. But I make an effort to understand as much as I can and ask questions if I have any modicum of uncertainty. You will not be an expert at everything, and no one expects you to be. Don't be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they sound stupid. 

The worst thing you can do is pretend to know everything. Ask, research, and learn. Wash, rinse, repeat.

3. Fill in the gaps

UX design covers a wide variety of applications. From websites to phone apps, to VR and physical experiences, your options are really limitless. It's equal parts exciting and overwhelming. 

If you're lucky, you'll work at a place that lets you work on a lot of different projects which will help you learn what work you like and don't like. Even so, you'll probably find that there are gaps in your portfolio or aspects of UX that you haven't been able to explore. When I was on my job search, I knew I wanted to focus my career more towards mobile, but my portfolio was more web-focused. I took this opportunity to began a little redesign of an app I use regularly. Rather than just make it look nice, I've been really examining the flow of the application and writing about my discoveries and ideas. Since I've been hired, I haven't had the chance to jump back into it, but I really feel like doing this and posting about it helped me get the job. Taking on a side project is a great way for a new UX designer to expand their experience and show potential employers that they have the initiative to jump into new waters. If you don't have the kinds of projects you want, find them elsewhere or create your own.

If you're hoping to jump into a UX career, I hope this has been helpful to you. It's worked well for me, so chances are it will work well for you. If you're worried about getting into this world, don't be. As I said before, NO ONE I KNOW went to school to be a UX designer. Most of us have figured it out on the job. The learning process sometimes messy, disorganized, and frustrating, but I promise it's so worth it. ✌🏻