I am a fledgling Web Designer, seeking to make myself into a UX / Interaction Designer. I am working on a degree (at my local University, Utah Valley University) in Digital Media (I don't believe they have a "UX" emphasis) What 5 things should I focus my time on?
...and a bonus one or two
i. experiment - don't be afraid to fail (but when you do throw it away)
ii. try new stuff, new applications, new technologies, new trends - keep up to date with the new things - but don't get overly seduced by them
iii. use and practice research - select what you use based on real needs rather than the cool new stuff you want to try out (see previous)
iiii. have fun - its fun stuff we do - spend some of your time designing beautiful fun stuff - sometimes the stupid stuff really informs the serious stade stuff
v. do an internship at a variety of good companies (consultancy, agency and client side) experience other roles in addition to design - see the full lanscape of the industry rather than a one sided or myopically focussed
Good question (once revised!) and best of luck
1) Be a life-long learner: Take every opportunity to add to your knowledge (workshops, books, conferences, courses) even after your official studies are done.
2) Mentoring: - Get a ux mentor: They can be an invaluable source of feedback and support for growth. Many ia/ux associations and groups can help connect mentors/protégés, e.g. IAI has an international mentoring program (you need to be an IAI member but memberships is reasonable at $40 USD/yr). - As soon as you feel ready/able, start mentoring someone else (you can often learn as much from working with/helping someone less experienced than yourself as from a mentor)
3) Try things and don't be afraid to fail: Innovation comes from trying new things and trying new things inevitably leads to mistakes. 'If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't taking enough risks' ;)
4) Get involved in the ux community (online, at events, volunteering etc.) This still being a relatively new industry with a relatively small number of formal programs of study, I find community involvement invaluable for learning, career networking, etc.
5) Expose yourself to different sources of creativity and inspiration re: 'great, pleasurable experiences' beyond just digital/web, e.g. nature, painting, sculpture, film, comedy, theatre. It's amazing how much those can generate ideas/inspiration relevant to your ux work.
Jan 13/10 update: You may also find the following article that was just published on the Johnny Holland site worth a read as it touches on the topic of early education for IxDs: Interaction Design’s Early Formal Education & Beyond by David Malouf (the sections 'Growth Path', 'Paths to Take' and 'Related Posts' of the article in particular).
The thing that makes a great UX designer is this:
Look around you. What do you see? Who made those things? Why did they make them that way? Why is the ceiling that tall? Who decided on the spacing of the boards in the floor? Why is the size of your pants measured in inches? Why is an inch exactly that long? Why did you want to buy that kind of dish you are eating off of? Who designed that fork? Look at the letter R. The font of this sentence.
Look at everything. Wonder why it was made that way.
We are surrounded at all times by design. Design is decisions. Most decisions have consequences. What are those consequences? What are the ones you want to have?
Finally, as you are thinking about this, write it down. Blog it. Eventually, you will have a chance to make some decisions yourself.
Do this, from now on, and you will make wonderful things.
To be well rounded it's important to learn things that are non UX centric.
The thing is this. Design is a decision, not a democracy.
A well rounded progressive UX designer is one who are able to use his or her intution to design solid solutions. Don't fall prey to the idea that UCD will take care of it all trap.
I am also a student, but some resources that have helped me:
In addition to Janel's recommendation of reading The Design of Everyday Things, I also recommend:
Join IxDa and sign up for email updates from their discussions (I do this through LinkedIn).
Try to get experience working on UX projects. It's amazing how much you learn during the first few struggles.
Trying to get an internship is ideal, but you can also learn a lot practicing on your own. I found the idea on this blog post to be very interesting as well.
I agree with Glen. Really you need to be passionate about design. What's inspired you to want to pursue Interaction Design/UX?
Some people have an innate ability for design, but to get you in the mindset, read Don Norman's books about the Design of Everyday Things and Emotional Design. He takes it beyond computers and looks at everyday items as mundane as door handles. It really does help you to look at the bigger picture.
Realize your degree is worthless and no one cares except the HR departments of large corporation with boring projects and yes I have a degree.
Sign-up for every web app and try demos of software, some call this research.
Not only figure out why a product sucks but think about why its good too.