Design influences everything we see and interact with. User experience (UX) design is a process of making sure a product is easy to use. Here, we break down how you can get started in design, how to improve your skills, how to make money, and more!
I’m Grace! I’m a designer, illustrator, founder, runner, and content creator from the SF Bay Area. I created the world’s largest design community, Design Buddies on Discord. I work as a UX/Product Designer at Electronic Arts building products for creators and events. I create content about design, art, career, and running. I’m also training to become a part-time professional runner and love to travel.
I studied bioengineering and computer science engineering at Santa Clara University. I wanted to biohack myself to run faster and develop fun games. After a few internships in those and years of drawing for fun, I realized I wanted to go into product design instead and taught myself design with the help of online resources like this.
There are many different career paths in design such as User Experience (UX)/Product Design, Graphic Design, Brand Design, Illustration, and more. Our adventure will mainly focus on UX/Product design but also provide some examples of others.
As a UX designer, you work with engineers, researchers, product managers, other designers, and more to build products to solve problems for users.
It’s easy to get stuck in tutorial land. However, you must practice in order to improve. Tutorials are great to learn fundamentals to then apply to practice. Through practice, it helps to get feedback to further improve your craft.
A portfolio is essential these days to help yourself get opportunities. Your portfolio should include types of pieces you hope to do more of (eg. illustration, UX design, or graphic design) and showcase how you think as a designer. I’ll be diving more into building a portfolio that stands out and helps land you jobs later in this article.
For a long time, there has been some belief that since creative work is someone’s passion, it’s okay to not pay them or pay them very little. I think that is wrong and that creatives should be fairly compensated for the effort they put into their work. Don’t be shy to ask for money if someone requests you to draw or design something for them!
1. Learn fundamentals - Theory and principles
Familiarize yourself with some fundamentals such as design thinking, color theory and psychology, business principles and metrics, and user-centered design,
You can do this by taking a course, reading books, watching YouTube tutorials, and more. Some resources are linked at the end
Never stop practicing and learning from feedback. You can get opportunities to practice design via hackathons and designations, design challenges, collaborating with friends, volunteering, and making something of your own.
3. Asking for feedback
Don’t be afraid to share your work! We are all on our own journeys. Sharing your work helps you get feedback on how to improve.
When giving and receiving feedback, it’s important to be specific and actionable. For example, if someone says “this is bad!” but does not explain why you shouldn’t listen to their feedback. An example of actionable feedback is: “try using a lighter background because it would make the text more readable.”
4. Improve in design tools
This is placed last because it shouldn’t be the emphasis for beginner designers. I recommend improving your critical thinking and problem-solving skills when starting out. There are always new design tools coming, and once you learn one, it’s easy to pick up another.
Some design tools a UX designer might use to design websites and apps are: Figma, Sketch, and Adobe XD. Graphic designers may use Adobe Illustrator to design logos. There are many tools out there - don’t feel overwhelmed about getting them perfect in the beginning. You will improve through practice.
5. Join communities
Participating in online design communities is a great way to help you find even more resources and connect with other designers (as well as potential employers). Design Buddies is an example of a community that offer’s that. Their mission is to help designers level up in their careers by providing free resources, events, job boards, community, and more.
UX designers should have a combination of both technical and soft skills. Some examples of these include user research, interaction design, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, visual design, communication and collaboration, and problem-solving.
UX design is a multidisciplinary field and there are different areas of specialization within it such as user research, interaction design, visual design, product strategy, and more. When you are starting out in design, it is helpful to learn about everything. Once you have several years of experience, you can decide to go deeper in a field or be a generalist.
A portfolio helps you stand out as a designer and help you get opportunities. You can have a portfolio site and social media to showcase your design work. You can make it stand out by adding your own personal brand to it such as using consistent color, font, and visual elements throughout your site and on your resume.
There are many platforms that you can use to build your portfolio without code! There’s Webflow, Editor X, Squarespace, Notion, and more.
To make money as a designer, you can work in-house, freelance, or sell merchandise of your artwork.
Working in-house is working at a company full-time like a traditional “9 to 5” job. There are many different kinds of companies and industries you could choose from. In order to get a job, you must have a portfolio and go through interviews with the company.
Freelancing can consist of art and design commissions. You offer a service (eg. drawing a streamer’s emotes or designing a landing page) and get paid for it. It’s a great way to get started in monetizing your work and experiment with how high you can negotiate to get paid for it!
Merchandise of your artwork can include stickers, charms, enamel pins, t-shirts, tote bags, and more. You can hand-make or work with a manufacturer to create those. Then, you could set up an online store (eg. Etsy) to sell them or bring them to events (eg. anime conventions) to table and sell them.
If you want to create merchandise and only want to do the design, you can use print-on-demand sites such as TeePublic or RedBubble. All you have to do is upload a high-resolution transparent version of your art and they will do everything else for you - host your shop, manufacture, and ship it to your customers. You save a lot of time but the print-on-demand site takes a large earnings cut.
You’re not limited to those options to make money as a designer. There are more options such as selling templates and creating content. When you create content and build a loyal following, you could make money through sponsored posts, ads (eg. Youtube partner program), and affiliate links.
To get a full-time job or internship in UX design, you have to have a portfolio and resume. You also have to apply for the job through the job site or through networking. Then you have to go through a series of interviews with the recruiters, hiring manager, and sometimes the design and product team before knowing whether or not you got the offer. After you get the offer, you can also do some research and negotiate for a higher salary.
Some types of interviews you may get (also depending on the company):
Behavioral interviews are typically questions where you get asked, “tell me about a time you overcame a challenge). This is a good time to respond with a story in the STAR format - include situation, ask, action, and result. You can even look up common company-specific interview questions on glassdoor and prepare for that.
Portfolio reviews are where you walk through your case study in depth. It’s recommended to create a separate presentation deck instead of scrolling through your portfolio site. Make sure the problem you’re trying to solve and the reasoning behind your design decisions are clear. Also, pause in between to let the interviewer ask questions - it’s more like a conversation than a presentation. *
App critiques are when you and your interviewer walk through a common app. Be ready to share your screen and analyze the user needs and business goals the app is trying to solve through its product, interaction, and visual designs.
Design challenges could be a whiteboarding challenge or a take-home challenge. You’re given a problem to design a solution for. The interviewer will look for your process of solving the problem - don’t skip any steps or add too many features that don’t relate directly to the problem you’re trying to solve.
Everyone’s journeys in design (and life) are different! It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you enjoy doing most.
Design Buddies Community - includes resource channels: #paid-opportunities, #ask-mentors, #career-questions, #faq-new-to-design, #learning-resources, #events, and a series of forums where you can get feedback on your designs, portfolio, resume, cover letter, and more)
Degreeless Design - learn design without needing a university degree
Guide to start design - by UX Collective
Bestfolios - portfolio inspiration
Salary negotiation guide - by Candor