Getting started in the industry: UI & UX design

On the off chance that someone who is interested in interface design or user experience and would like some basic information about how to get involved or start a career in the industry, then this might help them out.

Disclaimer: This article is very much a personal viewpoint. There are better, far more qualified people in the industry than me that are likely to provide more insight and advice 🙂

Let’s start with the basics…

To begin with, it would probably be beneficial to cover off a question that gets asked commonly. What exactly are UI and UX design? More importantly, what is the difference between the two?

Simply put, UX is how things work, UI is how things look. The image below helps to summarise the differences.

Image Credit: Writing For Designers

It might be beneficial for you to establish what your base skillsets are, or what you enjoy doing more of. From there, you can maybe establish which route would be most suitable as a career path for you.

If you enjoy designing and making things pretty, then the UI path would be more relevant to you. If you’d rather focus on why things happen and what the consequences of users’ actions are, then UX would probably be more applicable.

In the modern workplace (an agency in my case), you’ll likely be involved in a mixture of both.

In almost all of the projects that I’ve been involved in, there has been the requirement to carry out both UX and UI work. The two tend to go hand in hand. As a starting point though, it’s about finding what you enjoy most, and then building on that skillset. You’ll encounter the other attributes to develop your knowledge further in your journey.

As mentioned earlier, this entry will focus on the user interface design side of things. I plan to write another tailored towards UX shortly.

Where do I start?

If you’re reading this, then there is a likelihood that you have an appreciation for design on some level.

This could range from creating visually stimulating design or simply appreciating the beauty of certain physical products (I always loved the B&W Zeppelin 🤤).

It’s important to remember that not everyone will value design in the same way that you do and it’s up to you to convey this passion (and likely talent) for people to see.

There are a couple of routes that you could take to begin your journey. I’m going to stereotype here, but if you’re just out of school or college, then you might look at going into further education.

There are professional qualifications or certifications within the field of UI design that you can obtain. These will enhance your knowledge base and set you up for a working career. Equally, a lot of UI designers come from a Graphic Design background. Some progress through a psychology degree. Some have no degree whatsoever.

I’d likely guess that a large quantity of designers have somewhat stumbled into the role that they are in too. It’s a tricky industry to get into without a portfolio or experience of work, which leads me nicely to my next point.

If formal education doesn’t suit you, then there is nothing better that using your primary tool to your advantage – the internet.

The amount of websites that display fellow designers’ works and creations is staggering. Millions of designers are sharing what they do on a daily basis on forums, message boards and communities. Why don’t you do the same? It doesn’t matter how good you believe your designs to be. It’s important for you to practice at an early stage.

Developing a skillset

Design by Nelia Kleiven

If you already class yourself as a designer, but want to focus more on UI design, then you’ll likely need to tailor your skills.

Whilst a graphic designer may be able to create beautiful offline media, they may find it tricky to translate this design into a usable interface. I completely understand. I’ve tried the opposite in attempting to create a poster for an event. It was abysmal.

One method that you might find working for you again relies on your old friend the internet. Look around and see what you can find. Inspiration can be taken from anywhere. It’s then about taking this inspiration and attempting to implement it into a design of your own.

One thing to remember though is that it’s not vital that you create an interface from scratch. This is incredibly hard to do.

As Seth Godin once said:

“I’m going to go out on a limb and beg you not to create an original design. There are more than a billion pages on the web.”

That was said in 2007. Think how many more websites have been created since then.

Improve an interface

Dmitry Samarenkov

Instead of creating an interface from scratch, why not look at one that already exists. The likelihood is that, if you appreciate a design, then you’ll appreciate what is wrong with it too.

Why not find an interface that you like (or dislike) and give it an overhaul. Several designers have done so before with big, well established names:

It doesn’t necessarily matter whether ‘every audience has been considered‘ or whether ‘this stakeholder will buy into this design‘. At this stage you are developing your skills and validating what and why you are doing something. Given time, your designs will improve and you’ll have a nice portfolio as a bonus.

Look at the smaller details

Image Credit - Ramotion

Developing an entire interface might be jumping in at the deep end. After all, how are you going to design multiple elements on the page if you’re not sure how (or what) each of these elements does, or how it should behave?

In this instance, perhaps start by looking at the smaller details within an interface and establish what it is you like about them. “That’s a cool menu animation” or “That button looks neat” will help you to appreciate individual elements of each interface.

There really is no replacement to trying to do something yourself. Open your favourite image editor (whether it be Photoshop, Illustrator, Figma, Sketch or something else entirely) and try designing something.

“Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.”
Salvador Dali

A little resource that may provide you with some inspiration is the details that matter. This focuses on subtle animations and effects that provide the user with feedback. By getting these right and showing visual examples, it’s clear how your interface could be enhanced.

By exploring individual items of an interface like this, you’ll be able to grow your portfolio fairly quickly, as well as rapidly learning what does and does not work.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

With practice, you’ll find creating interfaces easier. Try publishing what you’ve created on to get feedback. Post your designs on a UI based Reddit forum. Add them to a twitter post. Keep them to yourself.

Whatever you decide to do, the important part is that you’re passionate about what you’re doing and that you see improvement.

That’s the takeaway from this entry. It takes weeks, months, years to develop a solid understanding of interface design. Just keep looking at and using interfaces. You’ll soon start to appreciate their positives and negatives. Then apply these learnings to your design.

Try to make every interface subtly different from the last. The culmination of little enhancements here and there will improve your design more that you expect.

Some useful links

I’ve included a number of resources below that you might find interesting when designing interfaces

There are thousands more, but this might start you on the road.

I hope someone, somewhere finds this useful. If you’d like to know more, or feel that I’ve missed something, feel free to get in touch – I’ll be more than happy to chat. 🙂

Thanks for reading.