Today’s question “How Do I Get Started in UX?” is something I’m asked almost weekly, so I thought it’d be helpful to address it here.

Q: I am new to UX/UI, and I’m feeling like there is so much I need to know that I worry I’ll never  be able to learn it all. What advice or suggestions do you have for people who want to start a career in User Experience Design?

A: My advice to those of you just starting out in UX or who are looking to make a career shift into UX can be broken into six parts:

  1. First and absolutely foremost: be patient with yourself. There is definitely a lot to learn, but you do NOT have to do it all at once. Realize that it’s absolutely OK to feel fear, to worry that it’s too much to take on. That’s normal! There’s this pervading myth that successful people are somehow fearless in their endeavors. That’s not true. People who succeed are people who are feeling more fear than they think they can handle — and they dive in and do it anyway. It’s a mantra I repeat to myself daily: feel the fear; do it anyway.
  2. In the early stages of your learning or career, don’t fixate on any single aspect of UX or UI design. Take a wide, holistic view, because ALL of these things have to work together in order to create a valuable User Experience. Design isn’t enough, technology isn’t enough, good ideas aren’t enough. Consider Interaction Design, Information Architecture, Ethnography, Graphic Design, Programming, etc. While you may not be able to do all of these things equally well, you do need to understand that they’re all important. And it’s OK if you’re not perfect in every area – I’m not either! So what I do, and what you should do, is pull in people to support in the areas you’re not so good at. But one way or another, these things do need to be handled by someone. If those areas remain unexplored, your efforts and your projects will end in frustration more often than not.
  3. Be a sponge. Absorb and learn everything you can about ALL areas of UX — which, coincidentally, are all the areas covered in my Udemy course, User Experience Design Fundamentals. It’s  purposely designed to touch all the core areas of UX that any designer, developer or consultant needs to know. But wherever you get your information, what I want you to remember is that these principles are timeless; they do not change. What does change is methods, processes; the how-to stuff. But I am here to tell you that you DON’T need to know every new practice or process or method that comes out and is talked about on the Internet. The critical stuff isn’t what you DO; it’s how you THINK.
  4. Remember that there is more than one way to do all of this — no matter what anyone tells you. Every client, project and situation is completely different. And as such the processes, deliverables and testing methods you use should be different. And just because your methods aren’t “formal” or don’t match the ones you read about in articles and books doesn’t make them any less VALID. Too many UX consultants and designers skip certain areas because they’re afraid they’re not “doing it right.” There is no such thing. Whatever it is — user research, for example — do it to the best of your ability, always be looking at whether what you did helped you/the client/the users in some meaningful way, and aim to continuously improve. But get rid of the idea right now that there’s only one “right way” to do user research, information architecture, requirements planning, content strategy, wireframing, UI design, etc. Like Nike says, JUST DO IT. Something is almost always better than nothing. As long as you understand the principles of what creates positive UX, you’re on the right path. There are any number of ways to actually apply those things, but you don’t need to worry about that yet.
  5. Put people first. Above all else, your job is understanding how we think, how our environments and stresses and goals influence what we do. Get familiar with the principles I’m talking about here; once you do that and allow those things to guide what you do, you’ll get to where you need to be very quickly. For example, my PechaKucha 20×20 presentation, 20 Surprising Ways Your Brain Influences Your Experiences, addresses some of the core ways the brain affects UX. Simply being aware of this stuff — even if you’re not an expert — will change the way you think about people and how to design for them.
  6. Ask questions. Find someone practicing in the field whose work you admire. Whose articles or blog posts strike a chord with you. Contact that person and ask them how they do what they do. Ask them for advice, just like you’re asking me. Will everyone answer? Probably not. But you will find that many of us are happy to take the time to help you if we can — because at some point in our careers, someone did the same for us. I created the Pick My Brain feature on this site specifically for that purpose – you ask, and I will do my best to answer.

I wish you all belief in your abilities, endless curiosity and much success — and GIVE GOOD UX!

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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.

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