I am a UI designer and developer and have been designing websites for aound 10 years. I want to get into user experience design. I know how to do a design, but I am lagging the terminologies and the technical things in the user experience field.

So how do I go about getting the skills and mindset necessary for being a User Experience Designer?


6 Answers 6


I hired a new UX person last year, right out of school. Some highlights of my inspirational (imho) UX talk with him:

  • Always be observing and analyzing. Why is the ceiling this tall? Who is that? Why do they do it that way? When do they decide this? How do they figure it out? Which? What?
  • Never, ever, ever nod your head and say you got it when you don't. It's not rude. They won't think you are stupid. Never accept a terrible answer. Say, "I don't understand what you mean, if you don't have time, how would you suggest I learn about that? I need to know it to do a good job". Designers fail at this all the time. You must understand what is going on. Don't assume you will figure it out. People go years at a job without understanding what that funny acronym stands for.
  • Most organizations communicate like crap. Read this blog post about the curse of knowledge. It's not anyone's fault, but realize that it's your job to help explain things. Learn, then teach.
  • Deliver something useful. This may seem like it goes without saying, but many designers out there (no one here of course) don't deliver usable designs. Think through the problems from the beginning to the end. Don't let people dictate how you deliver. You need to understand the problem and give a thoughtful response.
  • Don't be bullied into not thinking. You might get a boss/colleague who thinks they know everything and all you need to do is XYZ. Think it through no matter what from the beginning. You are responsible for the user experience, not them, no matter what they say.
  • Learn. This is a new job. Learn from it. Observe how an office works. Learn from peers. Find mentors. Learn, learn, learn. You won't be at this job is 5 years, but the lessons you learn stay forever.

Good luck. I hope these tips help.

  • 5
    Glen, nice answer!
    – Dan Barak
    Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 16:24

There's only one way to become something: start doing it. Start designing user experiences and along the way you'll learn the "terminologies and technical things", although I'd have to argue those are pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

  • "terminologies and technical things" value is relative to the position. If you're joining a big team where you need to communicate intra-team, this is important. If you're the sole UX person, not as important. In fact it may be counterproductive!
    – cbosco
    Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 18:59

As an addition to Glen's answer I'd say: read books. You might find something useful here: http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/user-experience-books-for-beginners/

  • I highly recommend Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. You can read it in 1-2 hours and it gives you the mindset you need to start effective UX. I give it to all my new UX recruits and they love it. sensible.com/dmmt.html
    – Evan
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 21:15

Well of course hanging around on UX Stack Exchange and actively participating in discussion is a great way to learn.

Can I also recommend a free online course that is coming to the web this october. Alan Dix is co-author of one of the best Human Computer Interaction text books. In October he is going to be running a free online HCI course - Alan is an amazing teacher with lots of practical consultancy experience. I have no doubt it will be an excellent resource for all involved.


I would also suggest getting out there and doing a few projects can be a very quick route into learning. It is only really by practicing that we can really understand the nitty gritty of these problems. Most University Undergraduate HCI courses are now completely project based because this is the only way to learn these skills. The question is how do you get your first project? I would suggest offering to help on an open source project is a great way to get started.

When I first started out on this consulting malarky I also had a lot of success on (and big breaks) on odesk. Through this I learnt how to use Axure and Balsamiq. And I did my first mobile projects. It has been a great way to build a portfolio. There are lots of people out there looking for help with their design work. Much of it you could do based on a quick read of "Don't make me think" - assuming that you have a modicum of intelligence.

As Steve Krug himself says "it's not rocket science" - get out there and do some (AND don't forget to throw in some user testing).

Good luck.


User Experience Designers, as opposed to people who program user interfaces, are a whole class of professionals in their own right. They may or may not be programmers.

If you really want to get into the business properly you will probably need to get additional training if you want to get into this field as a full-time professional- some kind of degree is most likely the minimum requirement. If you think this is unnecessarily strict, imagine how you would feel if someone with a degree in User Interface Design thought they were qualified to code that interface because they had read one book on programming.

Having said that, if you want to be a programmer with a high degree of interest in user interfaces, there are plenty of books that will teach you about this.

  • 8
    ...If you want to get into this field as a full-time professional- a Master's degree is most likely the minimum requirement. - I disagree, and I'd advise interested parties to read books and practice both at home and pro-bono for organizations that need the work.
    – Jim G.
    Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 18:56
  • 2
    Most programmers I know (in the US) don't have master's degrees, just bachelor's. Actually, I worked with a User Experience designer at Microsoft that didn't have a college degree at all, just high school + experience. But damn, he could design a mean master-details view. Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 22:39
  • 1
    I think setting someone who wants to learn up with the expectation that they need "at least a Master's degree" is counterproductive. All you need to design interfaces is common sense. All you need to design great interfaces is experience. It only gets complicated and dependent on big theory once you start building really complex solutions, but most people won't be doing that.
    – Rahul
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 18:21
  • I didn't set up the expectation of a Masters for people 'wanting to learn up'; I set it for people wanting to become professionals in that area. That's not the same as "people who design interfaces", and the perception that HCI professionals and "interface designers" are the same is hurting the profession, in the same way that not long ago it was thought that "anyone can write software". Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 16:40
  • The statement about probably requiring a Masters was on the assumption that the questioner already has a Bachelors in a technical field, in which case a Masters is less effort than a bachelors. Otherwise I'm sure a Bachelors in HCI would work just fine. Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 16:43

As someone who moved from the software development field ( I was doing datawarehousing and database management ) to UX, here are the things I did right (and wrong)

  1. Look at the skills you can transfer to your new role: Your background has been in web design which already gives you a heads up over other designers who have no experience with coding and the challenges involved in transferring a design into a full fledged site.Dont discard those skills and bring them to a table while working on an user experience project
  2. Try to look from the perspective of the user as opposed to the technical perspective: I work with a lot of excellent technical Program managers who understand how an application must be developed but have no idea about what questions to ask the client and often create questionnaires which ask details about tech stack and preferences in which databases to use which leaves clients confused about what they wish to achieve.Instead learn to focus on the details of what the client(user) is trying to achieve and then how you would guide the user along that part without him having to worry about the backend
  3. Volunteer on open source or non profit projects: Most companies I have worked with have a very defined process about how to do things and its often difficult to change their views on how a UX process should be approached. But working with non profits or an open source project gives you flexibility in determining what UX methods to use and when
  4. Spend a lot of time on UX stack exchange: While answering and observing questions,look at the design principles which drive the successful answers and also look at the logic behind the questions posed with regards to how would an user of the system handle that issue
  5. Spend some time reading up on UX best practices: Sites like UX magazine,smashing magazine, jacob neilson alertbox etc are good places to start.

20 UX blogs to consider

As other said also try reading up on some well known UX books to get a theoretical understanding of the subject

Must-read User Interface Book?

What book would you recommend as a decent 'intro to UX' aimed at non-practitioners?

  1. Look at a few wireframing and prototyping tools and find out what you are comfortable with and become fluent in them. I also recommend looking at tools such as Photoshop and illustrator since they give you a new dimension to your skill sets. One mistake I made for a long time was not learning Photoshop and hence restricting my abilities to take up roles which required it.

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