How to shift careers from Graphic Design to UX Design in 2021

November 15, 2021
 Min Read

As a graphic designer who wants to transition to UX Design, you probably have lots of questions running in your head. How do I start as a UX Designer? What do I need to learn? How long will it take for me to learn this? Then comes the dreaded inner dialogue — But there’s so much to learn! What if I can’t catch up? Everyone’s probably leagues ahead of me. Should I even learn UX Design in the first place or should I stick to being a graphic designer?

Tell you what. As a Graphic Designer, you’re already ahead:

  1. You obsess over creating the most attractive visuals.
  2. You’re great at designing hierarchy and using grids to structure content.
  3. You love typography, which takes up 95% of the web. (It might be 80% now though, because of those big damn banner ads!)
  4. You have a keen attention to detail.
  5. You create emotional connections through your design.
  6. You already practice creative thinking to solve problems. In UX Design, a similar framework called Design Thinking is often used.
  7. You’re a strong communicator because that’s what your job entails. 

All these are transferable skills, which are useful in UX Design. In fact, you already speak the language of design. You just need to hone skills that are unique to UX Design. 

How do you achieve this? Here’s how: 

1. Quickly understand UX fundamentals by taking online courses

As someone just starting out in UX Design, you’ll find it essential to have a good grasp of the UX fundamentals. It’s like building a house — Before you worry about painting the walls or furnishing the rooms, you must establish a stable foundation first, so the house doesn’t topple over. The same goes for learning UX Design — You must master the basics first before moving on to more complex topics. 

Joining UX Design bootcamps or taking online classes are ways to quickly master UX fundamentals because they offer a structured learning approach. You don’t need to worry about what to learn because the course outline has already been prepared for you. You just need to show up and absorb what’s being taught. 

If you’re on the lookout for UX Design courses, those of General Assembly and Interaction Design Foundation are excellent recommendations. General Assembly is a company that teaches coding, business, data and design to professionals. Its UX Design course gives you hands-on experience in wireframing, prototyping, user research, and usability testing. If you want to have more flexibility with choosing a course, you can browse the course catalog of Interaction Design Foundation. It has courses ranging from beginner to advanced levels. 

We also have a UX Crash Course of our own at UX+, which we're relaunching in 2021. In our 4-hour class, you’ll learn the ins-and-outs of User Experience Design. You'll also learn how to analyze a user’s entire experience with a product, so you can create designs that meet your users’ needs effectively, at every touchpoint. By the end of the class, you’ll have the tools you need to design products that keep your users engaged and give you the results you’re looking for. Watch out for our announcement soon!

2. Apply your learnings immediately by doing side projects and analyzing digital products

UX Design is best learned through experience. It’s not enough to only read design books or listen to recommended podcasts — You also need to apply your learnings immediately. Otherwise, you’ll eventually forget them. And then you’d have to go over what you previously “learned” again. Time-consuming, right? 

To avoid this, think of ways to apply what you’ve learned, either by doing side projects or analyzing digital products. For example, if you’ve read an article on how to design a dashboard, then design one yourself. Better yet, try designing something every day. 

You can start doing Daily UI Challenges. Daily UI Challenges are design prompts sent to your inbox for 100 Days. What’s great about this exercise is that it’ll hone your visual design skills. If you’re already confident with your visual design skills, then you can go for something harder — Artiom Dashinsky’s Product Design Exercises. Unlike Daily UI Challenges, Artiom’s Product Design Exercises focus on product thinking and UX Design skills. For a more challenging twist, try giving yourself only 1 hour to complete the exercise.

Another way to apply your learnings is to analyze digital products. For example if you’ve listened to a podcast episode on how social media keeps us glued on our phones, then open Facebook or Instagram. Study how they’re designed for us to behave that way. Think about why certain design components are of a certain size or color. Ask yourself — Why are these components placed that way? What was the company’s intention of doing so? How does this design decision affect the product’s users? 

The next stage is applying these skills in real world settings. This means creating actual projects. For any graphic designer, a portfolio is a familiar concept. A portfolio is key for graphic designers to showcase their work. This provides evidence to prospective employers that you have a solid track record of work. 

For an aspiring UX professional, a portfolio can be created based on your own projects. While it’s unlikely to be immediately hired by a company, it’s still possible to apply skills in real life settings. This is where building up a bank of work becomes crucial. To get started on real life projects consider the websites you could improve in your day to day life. A local charity could be looking to increase their donations by 10% in 2021 through their online presence. Could you apply your UX knowledge to increase this revenue? A small company might be seeing a drop off in sales due to the pandemic, is there any way you could increase revenue and decrease cart abandonments through a better UX? Start with small goals, create a timeline, and document your progress. This will become the basis of your case studies for your portfolio (3 case studies should be enough to get you started) and you'll be on your way to secure a UX job, whether locally or remotely. 

3. Take a UX Design internship

What’s great about internships is that they give you real world experience. Not only will you be exposed to how UX Design is done in the industry, but you’ll also meet mentors who’ll be instrumental in your growth as a designer. 

You may wonder, “But how can I land a UX Design internship when I don’t have prior experience?” While this may be true, it doesn’t mean your chances of landing an internship are zero. If you’re someone who’s new to the field, leveraging on your UX Design side projects could get your foot in the door. 

Side projects are useful because they create opportunities for yourself. They help you break into your desired field by making up for the lack of experience in your portfolio or resume. More than that, side projects also show recruiters and hiring managers that you’re proactive and willing to learn. 

An even more effective way of landing UX Design internships is by reaching out to people working in the industry. If you’re shy or if you don’t know who to approach yet, try asking friends who work the tech industry. Chances are, they’d know someone who is a UX Designer. From there, you can ask for an introduction and set up a time to meet with the designer online. 

While doing this doesn’t guarantee a 100% chance of scoring a design internship, you won’t lose anything if you try. At the very least, you’ll receive advice on how you can improve your work. In some cases, you might be connected to someone else in the industry who’s looking for design interns.

Starting out as an intern can prove effective at securing a full-time job as well, as you’ll have a foot in the door in the company. With a short-term internship, it becomes less risky for a company to have you on board. In any case, an internship would give you valuable experience that could propel you to your next job, whether in the same company or elsewhere.

4. Meet fellow UX Designers by joining design communities

Because you’re just starting out, you need all the support you can get to jumpstart your UX Design career. Joining design communities is a great way for you to achieve this because you get to network with people who are knowledgeable in the field. Who knows? You might even meet your future manager or co-worker in that community. 

Moreover, because the field of UX is rapidly changing, it can be difficult to catch up with whatever’s happening. Joining design communities makes your life 1000 times easier because people are there to share whatever knowledge they have and to help you out with your problems. And that’s so much better than doing everything yourself, right? 

If you’re a college student in the Philippines, you can join UX Society, the first student-run UX organization in the Philippines. If you’re no longer a student, you can still join Facebook groups such as UXPH (User Experience Philippines) and Designers Guild

UXPH is a non-profit organization that hosts the Philippines’ largest community of individuals passionate about User Experience. UXPH also runs annual conferences and monthly meetups. Events are usually free and online participation is always encouraged. 

On the other hand, Designers Guild is a community of 18,000+ designers from 100+ countries. It’s a group where designers share resources, discuss the future of design, and provide mentorship and job opportunities. 

Aside from those, you can also join various local and international UX events that have built-in communities and Slack groups.

5. Expand your knowledge by reading books and listening to podcasts 

There are hundreds of UX Design books out there. If you’re just starting out, knowing which ones will contribute the most to your learning can be overwhelming. To help you, here’s a list of the 7 must-read books for UX Designers.

Podcasts are also a great place to learn UX Design, because you get to learn while doing other tasks, like cooking or cleaning the house. 
Some recommended podcasts include:

Time to get started

Agencies and companies are always looking for new talent to join their teams. Showing that you have taken the initiative to invest in acquiring new skills and applying these skills will go a long way. It shows to a company that you’re willing to follow your passions and expand your creativity into new avenues. Following these five steps will allow you to transition from graphic designer into UX designer in 2021. While it may seem scary to start from scratch, just know that you have more skills than you think you do when it comes to making the transition. 

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