How to Become a UX Designer at 40 with No Digital or Design Experience!

Notes I wish I’d had before becoming a Designer in Sydney.

What is User Experience Design?

User Experience Design is the process of enhancing a persons experience with a product or service and involves an understanding of their behaviour to create a successful design.

Example: A business has an app, they want the sign-up process to have a great User Experience (UX). You have business requirements. You find the engineers (computer programmers) limitations. You research, collaborate with designers and others. You create ideas and prototypes to test. You develop what is the best, test more and iterate on that. That’s UX.

There is a great demand for good UX Designers. If you have no previous digital or design experience don’t panic. I had neither and managed to get into the world of UX. I chose to be a UX Designer because it was creative, in technology and in demand (and I didn’t need to wear a suit to work!). My journey was not easy, I’ve had bumps along the way but I wouldn’t change a thing.

If you are willing to work hard, be patient, and work outside your comfort zone, it’s a really exciting career.

Your journey into UX Design

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Topics I’ll cover:

Studying UX Design, the tools to learn, your UX portfolio, getting a job, the UX process, how to design, user testing, people you’ll work with and ongoing learning.

1. UX Study On Campus:

Bootcamp study provides you with a good foundation of working in User Experience Design. In Sydney General Assembly and Academy Xi are great places to start your UX journey. They don’t fully prepare you for the real world of UX work, but it certainly helps you in the door.

General Assembly

General Assembly is in several cities around the world and has a solid reputation. It focuses on short immersive technology learning courses.

In Sydney, it has a 10 week, 5 days a week, full-time immersive UX course. They also do a part time course for 10 weeks 2 evenings per week. I suggest if you are serious to move into UX (and have no experience) commit to the immersive 10 week course. Susan Wolfe taught me in Sydney in 2014 and I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.

The 10 week UX Immersive (as of March 2017) : $13,500.00 (AUS)

The 10 week part time UX Course (as of March 2017): $5,000.00 (AUS)

General Assembly, UX Design (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane)

Academy Xi

Academy Xi is the new kid on the kid on the block in Sydney and they to have a good reputation. They teach full and part time technology courses. In Sydney they have a 10 week full time UX course. They also teach UX Design ina 10 week part time course 10am-4pm on Saturdays.

The 10 week UX full time UX Course (as of March 2017) : $10,000.00 (AUS)

The 10 week part time UX Course (as of March 2017: $3,500.00 (AUS)

Academy Xi, UX Design (Sydney, Melbourne)

2. UX Study Online:

There are quite a few companies that do UX courses online. For me online wasn’t an option. I wanted to get an immersive experience and learn quickly.

A few courses worth a look:

Springboard

This would be my choice if I did an online course tomorrow. You get a mentor and it sets you up for an entry level UX Design job. It is also the best value of the online courses here.

The self paced 2–4 month UX Course (as of March 2017): $299.00 per month (USD)

www.springboard.com

Design Lab

I did a UI course with Design Lab and they are great. You get a mentor and the content is substantial.

The full time 12 week or part time 24 week UX Course (as of March 2017): $2799.00 (USD)

www.trydesignlab.com

General Assembly

There part time course is reasonable value. You get a mentor and can do it outside your working life. I would not advise this if you have no previous experience. They say allow 8–10 hours per week.

The self paced 5 week course (as of March 2017) : $850.00 (USD)

www.generalassemb.ly

Career Foundry

These guys are bit more pricey but go more in depth.They state it will be 10 months at 15 hours a week study. Looks interesting but is a big commitment.

10 month course (as of March 2017): $6000.00 (USD)

www.careerfoundry.com

3. UX Design Tools:

Sketching on paper

Pick up a pencil or pen, some paper and doodle. Sketching is an important part of UX design. You DO NOT need to be a born artist to be able to sketch meaningful designs. You just need to get in the habit of sketching out ideas, app or web screens and customer journeys. I am not a sketcher or an artist, but getting into the habit of sketching has been invaluable. With sketching you can look at ideas quickly. If they don’t work you can throw them away and get onto the next idea..

I recently did a community college course in Sydney to practice cartoon drawing. I am no master but I wanted to create my own style to storyboard ideas. The Napkin Academy would be a great way to start your journey in sketching your ideas.

www.napkinacademy.com

Sketch

What is Sketch? Sketch is the modern day tool for UX Designers. In days gone by ’s photoshop and illustrator where the tools to use. I never used ’s software so jumped straight into Sketch. This will be slightly daunting at first but just dive in and get going. Go online and do some lessons. Be patient, practice everyday and you’ll get there.

www.sketchapp.com

Sketch LessonsSketch is easy to use, and quick to learn. We’ve created some short videos, and compiled invaluable resources to help you get started!

4. The UX Portfolio:

The UX Portfolio is the story of who you are and what you’ve done in your UX career. When I finished at General Assembly I decided to code my portfolio. I enjoyed the process but you DO NOT need to code your own UX portfolio. There are lots of great tools to help you do a great and simple portfolio to tell your story.

I will write a fuller article on the UX portfolio at some stage. Make sure you have a brief ‘about’ section with your contact details. Then have your portfolio cases. Document the problem you had to solve for each case and how you solved it. UX Managers will want to see your process. Remember to keep it simple with not to much jargon.

My first coded portfolio (excuse the UXGuy title!)

PDF Document

In many ways, this is a sensible option when you’re starting out. You avoid focusing too much time on the technical side of the portfolio and more on the content and UX. You can design it in Sketch (once you have got your head around Sketch!). It can be done in A4 pages which can then be sent as a PDF to the potential employer.

Squarespace

Squarespace has great website portfolio templates you can use off the shelf. Bit of thought is required but the results can be impressive.

www.squarespace.com

Dunked

Like Squarespace Dunked has portfolio website templates where you can add your content without too much trouble.

www.dunked.com

5. Getting a UX Job:

This’ll feel scary. You’ve studied and got your head around some of the tools. You don’t feel like a UX Designer, you feel like an imposter! Everyone started here, don’t panic, feeling like an imposter is part of the journey!

Linkedin

Get your profile on Linkedin up to date. Put in a simple photo. Give yourself a straight forward intro focused on your strengths. Put in your experience with a snapshot of your roles. Same for your education, plus add any short courses you may have done related to UX.

People want to get a snapshot of you on Linkedin, they don’t want to read a book. Keep the bullshit out, write naturally and avoid jargon and buzzwords.

Pay for the premium Linkedin if it helps you. You can direct message people with Linked Premium. This can be a great way to talk to a company that you’re keen to work at.

Good Tip: Message UX designers to ask questions about work at their company. This can be a great way to get in the door.

Meet up.com

Photo from Meetup.com: Tech Talks at Pivotal Labs, Sydney

Photo from Meetup.com: Tech Talks at Pivotal Labs, Sydney

Give them your email for regular news and updates for your area. When you go to a meet up, ask questions, say hi to people, be open. I am not a big crowd person but you need to meet people, this could be the door you need.

UX Design Meet Ups in Sydney

Good Tip: set up a new email for all your UX stuff. This will mean it will not get lost in your sea of regular emails. Avoid being [email protected], just have your name or something close. I had UXGuy and it pains me to see it now!

Recruiters

Photo from helloerik.com

Photo from helloerik.com

Recruiters are good and bad. Stay away from recruiters who don’t know what UX is. If the role includes coding forget it. If you’ll be the only UX Designer at the company, don’t bother. If like me you have no previous experience, find somewhere that’ll have good people to mentor you. It is nice to get offers from recruiters, but do your research.

The Interview

There is a great article by Springboard about the questions you’ll be asked at a UX interview. Read up and be prepared.

The 7 Questions You’ll Be Asked at a UX Design InterviewLanding a job is hard work. While it’s impossible to know (beforehand) the answer to every question that an interviewer asks you, there are a few common questions that you can prepare for.

6. UX Process:

What is the UX process?

The UX process is the structure that UX Designers follow to get a desired outcome.

Research > Insights > Design Concepts > Test Prototypes > Develop

There are many variations to the UX process. Typically there is a common sense A to Z journey to get the outcome. My advice would be to look at the options and create your own process. Not all projects will use the full journey, but it’s great to have a structure to follow.

Work for a business that follows a UX process

Many businesses don’t follow a UX process. They don’t see it as important. Working for companies with no process will make life tough. I did this for a UX contract when I started and it was no fun. It did nonetheless teach me what not to do!

Work for a business with a UX process, as you will learn so much more. A mature UX business will really give you a great start to your UX career.

Do a side project and go through your full UX process

A side project can be great for your learning. Once completed you can add it to your portfolio. A side project could be a re-design of an existing website or app, provided you are solving a genuine problem. Or you could work for a business that can’t afford a full time UX Designer but would like some help.

UX books

Here are some great books to get started in UX Design:

  1. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
  2. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk
  3. Don’t Make Me Think (revisted) by Steve Krug
  4. Simple and Usable: Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design by Giles Colborne
  5. Smashing UX Design by Jesmond J. Allen and James J. Chudley
  6. The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garret
  7. A Project Guide To User Experience Design by By Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler
  8. Sketching User Experiences by By Saul Greenberg, Sheelagh Carpendale, Nicolai Marquardt and Bill Buxton
  9. Universal Principles of Design by By William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler
  10. Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen
  11. Measuring the User Experience by Tom Tullis and Bill Albert

7. How to Design:

Don’t be precious with your designs

One great trait of a designer is to be flexible. Don’t get attached to your designs. You need to be able to throw them away if they don’t work. Embrace failure of your designs, it means you are one step closer to reaching the end goal.

Don’t be scared to get feedback

Get up from your desk and talk to designers, developers, managers, whoever. My experience is that if you talk to five people at least one comes up with great feedback. The quicker you do this, the quicker you can fail and go on to create a great experience.

Talk to developers

You need to confirm with the developers that what you have designed can be developed and how long it’ll take. Normally this would be done at the sketching stage but be sure to confirm when designed. When showing stakeholders you want to be able to clearly state that your designs can be developed and the time it will take. Gaining trust from stakeholders by having this information is invaluable.

Concept Designing

It’s great doing concept work for a project if you have time. This is a good way to stay inspired and some of the work may filter through to get developed. My advice would be to do designs that disrupt what is being done. This can open the innovative culture in your team. I don’t do enough of this, but I can see the value and plan to do more.

8. User Testing:

User testing is a crucial part of the UX process. Get into some user testing yourself to see the process. At Tabcorp we have a great UX Research team. They give us great direction in how we should test our designs, to get the best insights.

Great free e-book on testing: www.uxpin.com/guide-to-usability-testing

9. People you’ll work with:

Be thoughtful of your fellow designers

Give positive feedback. When something seems odd maybe “looks great but might be worth looking at the option of…”. Never makes sense to trample on someones designs, doesn’t benefit anyone.

UX Researchers

UX researchers will organize and often do the user testing. If you need to get prototypes to UX Researchers be thoughtful. They may have lots of different prototypes so make their life easy. Check the prototype links on test day to make sure all is in order. If you are testing beta sites then make sure everything is in order. The research team does such an important job, so it’s worth keeping them onside.

Choose your battles and learn to fight

As a UX Designer you need to fight your corner.

“If you don’t battle you’ll end up a UI Designer”
(wise words from an old colleague of mine)

There will come a time when the business wants to do something that is bad for the customer. Go to battle with stats, testing results or any info that provides proof that it’ll be a problem. Your opinion alone will not be enough, so be prepared. Andrew Doherty (a designer at Google) writes a brilliant article about being prepared to fight:

www.medium.com/good-ux-designers-must-be-prepared-to-fight-

Choose your allies wisely

Once you’re settled into your new job, find your allies. These are the ones you can ask the stupid questions to. It’s so important to have a few go to people who can help you out when needed. I have a few people at Tabcorp that can always help me out when I need.

Don’t miss out on lunches with your team

Any chance you get to do social stuff with the team do it. This is a great time to make some mates at your work. Creating relationships with your colleagues is key to making the team work well together.

No doesn’t always mean ‘No’

Ask a team lead if something can be developed, they may say ‘no’. Ask a developer the same question and they may say ‘yes’. Different people in the business have different priorities. A team lead may be saying no because of a time constraint. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, so ask a few people before you park a great idea.

Get up from your desk and talk to people

Insights can come from anywhere. You normally don’t find them looking at your computer screen. The real insights come when you talk to people in the kitchen, at their desk or at the pub. Be open to peoples ideas from a top manager to a developer intern. Everyone’s voice is important, so keep your ears pricked!

10. Ongoing Learning & Staying Inspired:

Find UX mentors

People who have lots of experience are gold. I have a few friends who are gold but I don’t use them enough. Experienced designers are great mentors. They are also very giving. Chose the people that you want to be like and learn from them.

Have a strategy to stay inspired

“It’s easy to be creative but more difficult to stay inspired.”

I read the above quote on Medium but forget who wrote it. It could have been Julie Zhuo, from Facebook. There are lots of online resources to keep you inspired. I use Panda which a great Chrome plug in which lets you flick through lots of different tech and design news. I spend 15 mins a day flicking through news. Any articles that interest me, I save them and read later. UX Weekly and Sidebar are also good resources.

Go to Conferences

This is a great way to get out of the office and refresh. Going to conferences or workshops can be inspiring. You meet new faces and with that comes new ideas.

Carry on learning

This is a must as a designer. You are always learning and always growing. Read medium articles, on your Kindle or on your computer. Don’t stick to just UX Design. Read about programming, product management and other areas that you work with. Great to get some insights on what is happening around you. Take short courses that fit with your life. When you are at your desk instead of listening to music try a few podcasts instead. This is a great way to learn and work. Product Hunt have a great list of design podcasts that are worth listening to.

11. Final words:

Learn the patterns of these two operating systems. If you are an Apple user then switch to Android and vice versa. Get a feel for what you don’t know. Look at Google’s Material Design guidelines and Apple’s iOS ones.

Listen

To become a good UX Designer you need to listen. Lots of listening and noting down comments.

Avoid Jargon

The tech world has too much jargon for me. Too many buzzwords and not enough straightforward talk. Say things as they are and you should make good headway.

Have humility & fail fast

This is a great quality for any designer. Humility comes from being humble. Being humble allows you to fail fast.

Be authentic & don’t bullshit

This is a life rule. You are never the smartest one in the room in a tech company. If you attempt to know more than you know, you’ll get yourself in a pickle. People can see through it so keep yourself honest. If you don’t know something, you can get back to people once you’ve figured it out.

A must read article for new Designers

Alana Brajdic (a fellow UX designer at Tabcorp) has a great article on ‘22 things new UX Designers should know before entering the workplace’. Make sure you read it.

Things New UX Designers Should Know Before Entering the WorkplaceWhether you’ve graduated from a short course or a degree, when you first enter the workplace you’ll learn 100 times more than you’d ever imagine.

Conclusion

Having UX Designer as your job title is easy. Getting your head around the full process takes time. Study, learn the tools, read lots, do projects, get your portfolio out there and get a job. Once you have a job this is when the learning really starts. Enjoy the journey as it is a unique time to be a UX designer. Good luck!

For the story behind this journey, be sure to check out my follow-up article, UX Design For Your Life. And for further learning, have a read of ’53 Tech Terms you need to know as a UX Designer’.

This article was originally published on Guy’s Medium page.

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Husband and father of 2. Made in England, grew up in Scotland, living in Australia. Currently a UX Designer with Tabcorp in Sydney. Say hi on Twitter and read more from me on Medium.

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