Do you need a formal education?
I’ve come to learn that you can ask most User Experience designers (aka Product designers), and more often than not, they will tell you that they don’t have a formal education in designing awesome products. Interestingly, they often come from different backgrounds: art, programming, psychology, print design, and more. So you don’t have to go through a formal design education to become a product designer. I guess my business degree isn’t looking too shabby then. But you have to learn how to design valuable, useful, enjoyable, and beautiful products somewhere… So where do you start?
My UX Education Journey:
Luckily, the internet is an amazing place to learn about product design! There are a plethora of places where you can take courses and also read up on the subject. While these online courses and informative websites are great places to start, I think it helps to get in there and start getting your hands dirty right away. I started out helping design an app before I knew what I was doing, which while it didn’t result in a great product, it made me excited to learn more! So I recommend trying out a few tools and playing around a little before you get serious learning about user experience design. (Not interested in reading the whole article? Take a look at the link to Resources to find the quick list of some great online tools and resources.)
Some Tools to Get You Started:
When I starting working on my first app, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know that user experience design was even a thing that people did. In the beginning, I was fortunate enough to have someone point me in the direction of Balsamiq. Balsamiq is an extremely useful tool to quickly create a bare-bones screen of the application or website you might be building. While I didn’t know it at the time, these were the first wireframes I ever created.
Soon after doing research on how to design apps, I came across this awesome software called Sketch. I highly recommend it if you are interested in designing digital products. It is an extremely easy tool to start building something quickly without any experience. While I know quite a few other people design in Adobe’s Photoshop, Sketch was an affordable and easy tool for me to pick up.
After downloading Sketch, I started building out screens for an idea I had. Even if you don’t have an idea, just build an existing app like Uber or Twitter. When I needed to figure out how to design something for my idea – like a sign-up form – I mostly just copied what I saw other apps doing. Looking at a website like Pttrns.com or Mobile-Patterns.com helped guide me when I had no idea what I was doing!
Lastly, I found an amazing tool called Invision for taking the screens I created in Sketch and turning them into something that I could click through like a real app or website! Being able to actually flow through the application was extremely exciting.
I soon ended up realizing that most of the work I was doing was actually User Interface design (UI) and that there was much more to designing great products – like user research and testing. But finding these practical tools allowed me to start building something right away. When it comes to sparking a sense of excitement, I think there is something to be said about seeing a project that you created come to life.
Start Learning Online:
While most people only see the finished product of a screen that is created, there is much more to designing great experiences for the people using your products. There is quite a bit of theory and research behind it all. For me, I got started deep diving on building software products through two courses on Udemy: UX Design Fundamentals and Mobile App Design in Sketch 3. The first is a great general course and will give you a full picture of the design process – like the amount of work that is needed before ever opening Sketch or Photoshop. Plus there are great tips on being a UX practitioner and actually working in the field. The second course is great for starting to actually build something quickly. It also goes into the UX components of interface and visual design by looking at elements such as color and typography.
For a more general view of Product Design, especially taken from the entrepreneurial or startup viewpoint, take a look at Udacity’s Product Design course. Google is behind it, and they talk through the whole process from idea generation to UI/UX to prototyping your idea. It was great for me to be able to see the whole picture of designing a product.
If you are looking for something that is more project based, Skillshare is a great place to start. Kara Hodecker, a product design manager at Evernote, has a string of Getting into UX courses that take you through the full process of building an iOS mobile app. They also have a great course on Microcopy, which is a small but crucial part of delivering great experiences to people. I really enjoyed doing both of these courses.
My most recent discovery in the design education world is the Interaction Design Foundation. The IDF is an affordable option to not only start your design education but also provide an ongoing place to develop yourself even after you are working in the field. They often host courses in a variety of topics related to design – like how to become a UX designer, usability, consumer psychology, gamification, design thinking, and visual perceptions.
Read. Read. Read:
When it comes to the movers and shakers of the product design world, there are many great websites, blogs, and people to follow out there. I contribute so much of the knowledge that I’ve picked up from doing so much reading. People are willing to share their knowledge and experiences, and we are luckily enough to get to benefit from that. So let’s take advantage of it!
The first place that really started educating me on product design was the Invision Blog. And I highly recommend it! It is a fantastic place for all sorts of articles and webinars to get deeper into the field of design. They write about topics in a short and concise way as well as have interviews with design centered companies.
Try and find a few influencers in the field that you enjoy listening to. Some of my favorite people to follow on Twitter and regularly read everything they write are Luke W, Sarah Doody, and Laura Klein. However, find people that you like and that fit well with your personality. There are a plethora of smart people out there (I recommend getting on Twitter to find them).
Also, if reading isn’t your thing or you just want something to keep you entertained on a long commute, try out some podcasts. A few great podcasts that I really enjoy are The UX Intern, What is Wrong with UX?, and Talking Code.
While there are many ways to get out there and deep dive on this amazing field of UX and product design, this was how I got started getting my feet wet. And I have learned so much! But there is always still more to learn, and I can’t wait.
If you have any favorite blogs, courses, podcasts, etc., that I missed please let us all know in comments! I would love to find another place to nerd out on UX!