Looking for a shortcut to becoming the best designer? Unfortunately, you won’t find that here or anywhere else. Becoming a better UX designer is an ongoing process with no end; only improvement. This improvement can be anything, from the quality of work and employability to making a positive change in the world.
So, why is there no end to becoming a UX designer?
The problems that UX designers are trying to solve are heavily intertwined with the key problems of modern society – the latest technologies, social and cultural contexts, and world situations, all of which are constantly changing.
As a result, designers not only create useful products but also produce and reproduce meaning through those products. To do this successfully requires designers to constantly adapt their skills, knowledge, methods, and tools.
1. Never stop learning
Keep up with current trends – including (but not limited to) the field of design. As UX designers, we also need to be up to date with social and cultural change, technological advances, and world news to deeply understand our role and responsibility in society and the people we are designing for.
Learn a new skill or brush up your knowledge through online training courses, read articles and watch webinars. Tip: try to focus on one thing at a time and achieve results with it before moving on to the next.
2. Practice the craft of design
Continually practice the craft of design. As obvious as it sounds, one thing that will allow you to improve constantly as a UX designer is going over UX design tools, outputs and processes. As often as possible, use UX design tools including pen and paper, Figma, Sketch, and XD. Use these tools to create UX deliverables, including sketches, storyboards, user flow diagrams, wireframes, mock-ups, prototypes and design documentation. Familiarise yourself with UX design processes, including user research, testing, evaluation and reporting.
Approaches and deliverables will vary depending on the type of project – it is important to be familiar with them all but understand what context to use them in.
3. Embrace technology
Welcome new technologies and recognise their place in society. Designers influence how people experience new technology – they design interfaces, interactive prototypes, and user flows. With this, designers are increasingly responsible for staying informed about new technologies to understand what they enable for the end user and how they can impact their experience.
While this is important, prioritising user needs, abilities, and the problem you are solving is crucial regardless of the medium or technology.
Reading articles about new technology is a great way to stay informed. But finding inspiration outside of the internet is equally important – things like books, museums, exhibitions, and, where possible, interacting and experimenting with technology are all great ways to spark creativity.
4. Directly engage with people
Design with the end-user, not only for the end-user. A designer’s responsibilities include understanding their users’ needs, abilities, and context, taking into consideration the community’s history, culture, beliefs, and environment. The most effective way to achieve this is to directly observe and engage with people in the research and testing process closest to those challenges and let those people provide the answers. This will not only help to gain real insight into the lives of the target users, but it will also help us develop empathy and design a solution that meets people’s needs.
5. Immerse yourself in the research process
Let your research take you to unexpected places. Due to the rise of remote working, often people are not looking very far to gain inspiration and insight for their projects. Websites such as Dribbble and Behance are good ways of gaining inspiration for a project. However, stepping away from your desk and immersing yourself in the research process can facilitate a greater understanding of the world around you and enable you to design something that has the ability to create positive change for real people. Whether it’s remote, local or global, try to let the nature of your project guide your research into new directions that allow you to discover authentic experiences and differing perspectives that may challenge your initial impressions. For example, if you are designing a product or service that is intended to be used in a certain country or region, where possible, explore those places and engage with people who live in that community to uncover more about the problems that you are trying to solve.
6. Collaborate and listen
Start conversations. Talk through your work with others, ask for constructive feedback, and most importantly, listen to people’s responses and use these conversations to reflect and improve on your work. Make use of your mentors and other designers around you to shape who you are (or what you want to achieve) as a designer. Where possible, try to work with different genders, ages, cultures, people with varying levels of experience and people who are more skilled in other areas. Getting a diverse range of perspectives can enrich your design work and make it increasingly powerful to more people.
Communicate effectively during the design process. Good communication is integral to any job role, but, as a UX designer, it is crucial to refine your communication skills. This is because UX design is part of a larger process – it happens after a need has been identified, defined, and ideated but before it has been tested and deployed. Within this process, UX designers will often communicate with stakeholders, end users, and work alongside people with other job titles, including user researchers, project managers and developers. All of whom will have different ways of working, various levels of involvement, and potentially little or no knowledge of design. The more clarity you can provide when articulating your ideas and design decisions, the better chance of it being received clearly and compellingly.
8. Be open to iteration
Work iteratively and do not rush to find a quick solution. While it may seem somewhat soul-destroying to spend your time creating a piece of design, only for it to be tested and possibly altered or completely disregarded, iteration is an imperative part of the UX design process. It is very unlikely to produce a deliverable suitable for the final product the first time around. Test smaller and simpler deliverables, reflect and learn from them one at a time, and the results will improve more and more with time. Use this process to gain valuable feedback that will eventually help the prototype become more rigorous, usable, and meet the user’s needs.
9. Be curious
Always ask ‘why?’. During the design process, you may come across unexpected outcomes or responses. Ask “why?” at each issue. This is particularly important when carrying out user research and testing. It can reveal gaps in users’ knowledge or highlight poor functionality and design that could be made more user-friendly.
10. Design for all
Design something that works for everyone. People are increasingly talking about inclusive and accessible design, but fewer are actually putting it into practice. Involve people with diverse abilities, cultures and beliefs in the process, from research to testing the final product. But don’t stop there! You can’t expect a user interview or testing session to educate you on the entirety of what it means to design for inclusion or accessibility. Seek to understand more about the experiences of people and continuously reflect on your work and who it may be (unintentionally) excluding.
Keep it short and simple! This design principle mirrors Hick’s Law, whereby providing minimal options to users can lead to more robust and successful user engagement with a product or service. Not overcrowding an interface with unnecessary functionality reduces the chance of users being overwhelmed and will lead them to make decisions to achieve their end goal quicker and more effectively. Put simply; simplicity is a key consideration to achieving the best user experience.
12. Utilise the power of visual hierarchy
Make important information visually distinctive. As The Von Restorff effect suggests, the most different object is likely to be remembered when multiple similar objects are present. Communicate contrast effectively (this can be shapes, colours, font size or weight) to make important information stand out or to guide the user through a particular journey. Tip: be careful not to exclude users with colour vision deficiency by relying on colour alone to communicate contrast.
13. Don’t be afraid to fail
Mistakes happen; it’s what you do after that can make making a mistake worthwhile. Acknowledge your mistake, take appropriate action, learn from it, and move on. Learning new skills and embarking on complex projects can be daunting, but stepping outside your comfort zone can help you push your boundaries and become a better designer.
These considerations and tips are just some of the ways you can strive to be a better designer. We’d love to hear from you – do you have any tips on how to improve as a UX designer?
Inclusive and Accessible Design
- A beginner’s guide to inclusive UX design
- Accessibility for Everyone by Laura Kalbag
- Giving a damn about accessibility
- How to begin designing for diversity
- Why design should include everyone – Ted Talk by Sinéad Burke
Design Process and Theory
- What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular?
- Human Centered Design
- UX Design Methods & Deliverables