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I would like to be a software engineer (I am a computer science grad), but I would like to focus on user interaction/experience/interface design. Although I would love to get more into the design I read (http://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/1863/as-a-programmer-how-do-i-move-into-user-experience-design),

but currently I more interested in development. What types of programming languages do IxD, User interface, or XD designers use when creating their software/interface? It seems to me like a lot of these designers use web technologies like html, flash, Javascript, CSS, etc.

Also how "graphical" do these designers usually have to be? Will I have to demonstrate artistic abilities in software such as photoshop, flash, and other graphic disciplines?

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3 Answers

The whole idea behind UX design is that it's based on solid data about what users do and how and why. A lot of UX therefore consists of studying user behaviors and preferences, which means you need to know things like:

  • What research methodologies are available for studying user behavior?
  • How do I design a study which will tell me what I want to know?
  • How do I find and recruit subjects within the target demographics?
  • What ethical guidelines should I follow when conducting a study?
  • How do I interpret vague or contradictory data?
  • How do I use the data to inform decisions about UI?
  • How do I convince my bosses that all this research is worth the time and money?

You do need to know programming in addition to all this stuff, because your decisions about UI have to be informed by a knowledge of what is technically feasible within the platform you're working on. However, as a comp sci major, you probably already have a reasonable grasp of that, and you can study and pick up more languages/platforms as they become relevant to projects you're working on.

As for the graphic design aspect, it certainly helps to have that. You're likely going to wind up mediating disputes between programmers and designers. It helps a lot to know enough of both disciplines that you can hold an intelligent conversation with both parties. So yeah, study that too, but you don't necessarily need to become a dedicated graphic designer yourself.

UX is one of those fields where you have to learn an awful lot about an awful lot to get really good at it. Just keep piling on the topics.

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A lot of work is done in either HTML+CSS+JS+SVG, Silverlight/WPF (Microsoft frameworks based on C# .NET), or Flash.

I personally work in .NET because that's what we use at work, but the skills I have learned are easily portable to the other languages/ platforms.

I have a background in graphic design and have come a long way since I began in the field of UX/UI design three years ago.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to pick a technology, maybe HTML5+SVG+CSS+JS (since it seems to be the most versatile, and because you don't need to purchase proprietary development tools) and immerse yourself in it. Start a couple of practice projects and spend a lot of time on sites like this one learning what the common conventions are and how to implement them into your work.

Also check out Apple and Microsoft's interface guidelines, they will help you to start off with a solid foundation in standard conventions and practices (although they do not need to be followed 100%, as each of them offer some conflicting and debatable advice).

UPDATE: Check out these links for some graphic design basics taught by Robby Ingebretsen. Design for Developers and 10 Ways to Attack a Design Problem and come out Winning. He also had a video from this years Mix 11.

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Thanks this is great advice. I guessing the practice projects I should be working on is web development or design is this correct? I know you may get this question a lot but considering that I will have to learn some graphic design (because of the principles) will I have to become a "better" artist in order to create "pretty" things with photoshop? –  Ecurbed Jun 14 '11 at 15:39
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I would say to come up with a simple web page and attempt to do both the design and the development. Then after this try another site that is slightly more complicated/interactive. The main thing to keep in mind is not to start off something that is far too ambitious that you won't be able to complete. Take it one step at a time. –  Matt Rockwell Jun 14 '11 at 15:51
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For web pages, jQuery is a MUST have technology. Go deep in that and you wont regret it. For application development, I suggest Sencha ExtJS. We use it and love it. Its an enormously beneficial technology to accelerate your product.

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Is Sencha ExtJS used for application or web development? –  Ecurbed Jun 14 '11 at 18:32
    
Web sencha.com/products/extjs –  Matt Rockwell Jun 14 '11 at 18:35
    
Its a web and mobile client side framework built in JS. For web applicatons, its perfect. –  Glen Lipka Jun 14 '11 at 18:45
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