This is a question I am asked several times a week, and it’s a good one. It’s also a hot-button item for me related to a myth I’d like to annihilate. A significant portion of the media — aided and supported by UXers in fear for their jobs — would have you believe that UX is an exclusive club that only those with the right talent and extensive training can join.

It’s not true.

In my opinion, every designer — whether we’re talking print design or UI design — is a UX designer to some degree. Design as a discipline starts with visual communication, how visual things resonate with people, and how they interpret and act on what they see. If you’re a designer of any kind, you already have much of what you need.

I started my career in 1989 as a print designer, and all I did when I moved to UI/UX a few years later was to apply the same principles of good design that I used to design in print. We didn’t even call it UX then, by the way — the term didn’t exist. Many of my colleagues and I were doing the same work we have all come to know as UX. We just called it design.

Design is solving problems, not drawing pictures.

At Kent State University, we were taught design as a problem-solving discipline to begin with: the emphasis was always on whether or not the design served the purpose of its existence (communicating brand message, informing, educating, etc.) and how it was perceived (and received) by the viewer/audience.

UX and UI design are the same gig. You’re thinking beyond what’s on the screen — you’re looking hard at the appropriateness of content, of cues to act, of steps in a process. You’re evaluating whether the visual communicates why something matters and how it works. You’re determining whether people will perceive value or know how to do something based on what they see. You’re not making visual decisions because they look nice — you’re making them because they serve a purpose, because they accurately say what needs to be said, in a way the recipient will understand.

These same rules governed every print design project I’ve ever undertaken — and that’s thousands of them.

The difference between decorator and designer

There are plenty of great print and UI designers who simply have visual talent, and their work is beautiful to look at. The missing ingredient, however, is often appropriateness. Typical success metrics like increased product adoption, profit and market share don’t happen because while the work looks great, it’s not appropriate for the audience or the business.

So the difference between a decorator and a Designer, to me, is that the latter thinks a lot harder about the visual decisions he makes, and those decisions were informed by research, investigation and fact.

The former relies on his instincts as to what looks good and what doesn’t. Most designers who have never intentionally learned the timeless principles of design are in this category.

And even if you are in the decorator category, you absolutely can make the leap to UX designer simply by educating yourself. By learning to become intentional about the visual decisions you make. You want them to be sound, and you want them to deliver meaning and value to the people who use what you design. Need proof? Talk to any one of the 29,000+ people who have taken my User Experience Fundamentals course on Udemy. A significant portion of those folks are print designers who are wondering if UX is out of their reach.

It isn’t.

You can do this. Here’s how.

So my advice is to design with even MORE focus on delivering value — think harder and more critically about every visual choice. If you don’t have a reason for it, or can’t connect it to serving a purpose, don’t do it.

This is the foundation of my new book, Think First. I wrote this book to prove the point that UX isn’t some mystical power or talent that you are born with. It’s the result of changing the way you think about the things you do. The book hammers home the point that no matter what your discipline is — print designer, project manager, developer — you can (and must) play a powerful part in creating products that deliver equally powerful UX.

So if you’re considering a move to UX or have taken the leap already, here are some good places to start:

  1. Grab a copy of Universal Principles of Design — the rules within are absolutely timeless, and apply to any kind of design.
  2. Check out these 3 keys to launching your UX career.
  3. Check out my conversation with Magazine expert Dr. Samir Husni about the relationship between Print and Digital Design.

What will happen is that this new way of thinking will soon permeate what now comes naturally to you. The visual part you have already; what needs to be strengthened and expanded is the degree of critical thinking around every choice you make as a designer.

My opinion has always been that design is design is design is design — industrial, fashion, print, web, software, etc. I subscribe to Massimo Vignelli’s belief that “if you can design one thing well, you can design anything well.”

You’ll be just fine. Trust me.

Think First will arrive October 5, 2015!

A sneak peek at my new book on UX strategy, Think First!

You’re looking at the cover and inside of my new book, Think First; I am beyond thrilled to share this first look with you! I’d like to tell you a little bit about the book, along with a very limited opportunity to get $600 worth of FREE UX training materials from me. Yes, you read that right!

I truly believe Think First is unlike no other book on the subject of UX strategy. The book shares lessons learned from my 25 years as a UX consultant to Fortune 500 and 100 organizations. You’ll find step-by-step methods and straightforward, jargon-free advice that can be applied to anything you’re designing or building. You’ll learn:

  • Simple user research methods that anyone
    can conduct and apply
  • The right questions to ask stakeholders and users
    at the outset of any project
  • The 3 crucial questions you must ask of every
    client, every time
  • How to tell the difference between what people say
    they need
    vs. what they really need
  • A better, simpler way to generate meaningful
    UX requirements 
    at the outset of the project.
  • How to avoid scope creep and the never-ending
    project scenario

Special Offer: FREE bonuses worth $600!

My goal is to make this book a New York Times bestseller the first week of publication. So for one week only — the week of October 5, 2015 — I’ll give 3 bonus training products away for FREE to everyone who buys a copy of Think First. These are products my students and clients ordinarily pay for, but they can be yours FREE for helping me achieve this goal!

Get the details and sign up to be notified as we near publication!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If you’d like to get more advice from me every month on UX, UI and Product Design + Development topics — in the form of training videos, full-length courses, e-books, downloadable templates and more — check out my NEW online school, the UX 365 Academy. Every month I publish new content, and you also have access to every course, book and training video I’ve ever created — some of which have never been published online before now.

Check out the UX 365 Academy >