Transitions to UX—Part 1

Posted 4 years ago by James Utley 1 Comment

When I made the transition into UX, I had some serious apprehensions and misconceptions of what the work of a user experience designer entailed. If you’re considering or are already making the transition into UX, I’d like to shed some light on how easily it is for a graphic designer to transition into the field.

Show what you have
A wise professor once told me “Show what you have because that’s what you have”. Seems simple enough, right? Well it is. User Experience is a relatively new field and professionals enter it from many different backgrounds. The transition is quite seamless for graphic designers because their problem-solving and design thinking skills are naturally aligned with the UX process. Even if you haven’t executed a large amount of web design, don’t let that deter you from pursuing a career in UX. Companies looking to hire user experience designers are looking for problems solvers, design thinkers and innovators. These qualities can be found in anyone, yours just happen to be a focused towards Graphic Design.

If Content is King, Delivery of Content is Queen
Graphic Designers pride themselves on creating “pristine visuals”, as Milton Glaser would put it. Their job is to “inform and delight”. Many times, as a practicing visual designer it’s hard to break the habit of focusing on the visual aspect of your work. When transitioning to UX, there’s a shift in focus. While UX relies greatly on information architecture and pristine layouts that inform and delight, it also emphasizes wireframing (what we refer to as sketches in graphic design) as its staple tool. It’s a tool that allows you to explore and get messy. When getting messy, interaction choices should be your focus, always asking questions like:

Is this the right way to display this content to the user?

Is this content easily accessed, perceived and processed by the user?
What needs to shine is the thought process you put into the user interaction above the visual aspect of the design.

Lean Design, Not Clean Design
Putting the delivery of content first means you have to train yourself to produce less than perfect comps. Your deliverables shouldn’t be clean, they should be lean, and quick. Designing meaningful and successful interactions can happen anywhere from a napkin to a clickable prototype in axure. Ultimately, the idea is what matters the most, as long as you can communicate that clearly to your visual designers and development team. It doesn’t really matter how pretty your wireframes are.

In an ideal world, we would have time to create beautiful wireframes every time, but ideas happen fast. Development is also fast, and as a UX designer it’s important to be able to ideate quickly. The leaner you work, the more time you’ll have to focus on user interactions over how many pixels should be between your header and body copy. Just like graphic design, where you go from thumbnail sketches, to tight pencils, the fidelity of your wireframes depend on the context in which you use them. Many UX designers use pencils as their primary means of ideating and reserve the high fidelity wireframes for the final prototype.

Take Things in Stride, You Don’t have to know everything at once
There’s a lot to be learned, I mean a lot. Instead of the final PSD’s or packaged InDesign files you’re accustomed to delivering, as a UX designer there’s a laundry list of documents and tools. Things you may not be familiar with, including site maps, wireframes, design loops, redlines, clickable prototypes, research documents and benchmark documents. The list goes on and on.

Rest assured, any good employer transitioning you into UX doesn’t expect you to know everything at once. Even the most experience UX designers are learning more every day. Take things in stride, nobody expects you to learn everything in one day. To help curb the pressure, it’s best to make time everyday to read up on the latest UX articles and tutorials. Make to-do lists everyday of the work you need to do and stay organized. It’s also a good idea to see if your employer has resources for learning, such as a Lynda.com subscription or any books they have purchased over the years. Remember, pay attention to what your co-workers are doing, some of the best knowledge comes from those you work with everyday. Before you know it, you’ll be rocking interactive prototypes and wowing your clients with the smartest deliverables.

Enjoy it—you’re still a creative.
Some may find themselves hesitant to jump into a field that feels slightly disconnected from what’s usually thought of as a creative job. I’m here to ensure you UX can be just as fulfilling as designing a beautiful typographic poster. Though the focus is shifted toward the user interactions with the product, the process of design is still present and there’s so much to learn from design challenges confronting UX Designers every day. Instead of designing visuals, UX designers get to design user interactions, something that’s extremely fulfilling. It’s just as much a creative endeavor as designing UI or Print. Graphic Designers are given parameters for their work everyday, like designing an 18X24 poster about an upcoming music event. UX designers are given a set of evolving parameters and have to work within those parameters to create a product that’s both intuitive and innovative at the same time.

Of course, it’s only natural to have some trepidations about making the transition Make sure to keep the aforementioned tips in mind and remember—you’re transitioning from one related creative career to another. They’re very similar in many ways. And after all, it’s still all about problem solving, a skill that is used in many other fields.

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