UX Calling! – Pivoting from Graphic Design to User Experience Design

This article was written by Priyanka Kodikal. She is a visual designer from Austin, TX. These days, she dabbles in UX research and design. You can follow her @pkodikal, connect with her on Linkedin and at GettingToUX.com, her UX journal. Priyanka believes she is a UX designer in the making!

As a relatively new entrant to UX design, it took me a while to find the line between tangible (graphic) and abstract (ux) design. This imprecision can cause visual designers – especially those who are not part of a UX team – to misinterpret what UX design really is. As a result, some designers even re-brand themselves as UX designers without fully understanding what UX entails. Here are some first steps I took to learn about and apply UX design principles before deciding to pivot. 

Pivot for the Right Reasons

UX design is really in the spotlight these days. I’ve come across some designers who’ve considered UX as a way to move up the ladder. Don’t pivot for this reason. UX is an abstract form of design in which structure and function trump visual appeal. You won’t be doing much visual design at all, and that best be okay should you decide to pivot.  What I want to stress here is that visual design IS significant; it is the first thing that users will experience when they look at a product. In my humble opinion, UX design isn’t any more valuable than graphic design; it’s just different. I see it as peeling back the layers and really understanding a problem from your user’s perspective. You could do a couple of things to evaluate whether UXD is for you: 1. Look up UXD job descriptions. Ignore ones that want UXnicorns (those who can design, code, research, test, write, and much more). You will find narrower and more specific descriptions. 2. Look up some UX portfolios. Read case studies, workflows, etc carefully and try to read into the thinking behind the design.  Of course, there is a ton of information about this subject on the www.

 Starting Small

UXD encompasses a host of disciplines such as psychology, user research, information architecture, visual design, content strategy and much more. While there is a ton of information out there to help you get started, it can be quite overwhelming. What worked best for me was to get a good starter book and read it thoroughly. I picked up the Project Guide to UX Design, which is a great book to learn the knowhow of UXD. Most importantly, it gives you a nice breakdown of different roles within a UX team so you can pick a hat that fits you right. Also, try to get hard copies of the books. These work best for highlighting specific points, dog-earing, sticking notes, or whatever it is you do to tag your notes. Designing with the Mind in Mind and Don’t Make Me Think are great subsequent reads. A quick note about wireframing tools: there is a plethora of cool wireframing tools out there, and it can be really tempting to try/buy some of those. If you are a beginner, consider using Keynote or PowerPoint. You’ll be surprised how neat these wireframes turn out!

Knowledge vs. Application

After being inspired by a number of UX books and articles, all I needed were a few projects under my belt. I was about to embark on a personal project when a small window of opportunity opened at my company. We were developing a web tool, and I was the designer for it. We don’t have a UX team, so this was new for all. In theory, I knew more than everyone. I knew how research, testing storyboarding, etc were done. But, when I actually got down to it, I was in for a reality check! My confidence declined and I constantly second-guessed myself. I felt the burden of doing this right. Luckily, the product manager is a real champion for user experience and let me dabble and try out some methods. My point: knowledge without application doesn’t mean much. Practice makes all the difference. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to go through the lifecycle of designing a product, but if this isn’t the case with you, start building a personal project. Remember, failure is your friend. Don’t be afraid of it; growth from failure is more valuable than that from success. If you need more motivation, take the HCI class on Coursera. I certainly did!

I’ll end by asking you to keep your eyes and mind open. It took me more than a year since I got interested in UX, to land a relevant project. That is just too long! Don’t wait for the right opportunity; look for even the smallest project to which you could apply UX methods. Enjoy the journey to your destination!

Here is additional information about ux software.