Design is one of the hottest, in-demand fields of today. It is also constantly evolving and no longer represents a broad specialty. We now have graphic, web, visual, product, interaction, and UX/IU designers flooding the market. The latter professionals feel strong winds in the sails as eyeballs of big technology companies are on them.
What is more, the budgets and overall demand are steadily rising. Over the course of the next decade, the CNN predicts there will be 3,426,000 new jobs created in the U.S. alone. So, what do you do if you want to make headways into this career path and leave web design dreams behind?
Well, in this day and age, career pivots are not that hard to pull off, provided that you know what you are getting yourself into. I jumped into it confident but unprepared and ended up meandering more than I should have.
Navigating treacherous waters##
Financial incentive is one of the main reasons why web designers consider switching to UX. Nowadays UX designers s earn considerably more on average. Besides that, job opportunities are sprouting up everywhere, especially in established tech ecosystems.
However, I found out that disparities in pay ranges are quite wild, depending on the region and specialty. I did some research and confirmed my suspicions. It is estimated that between junior and senior/principal designers, the gap is as wide as $80,000. Not surprisingly, burgeoning hubs like Silicon Valley and New York offer salaries that are 150-200% higher than what you can get in less-than-high-tech regions.
Another hurdle may follow right away. Without a lot of experience and in-depth specialization, you cannot get close to the more lucrative end of the spectrum. You are expected to hit the ground running and deliver results ASAP.
For instance, the best web design companies of today will pay top dollars only for designers with a hefty track record and impressive portfolio. The experienced talent they possess hardly has time to mentor and monitor less experienced colleagues. That means junior UX positions are not only less paid, but also less in demand. And when you hit a wall with companies, you can revert to other career models.
Namely, the most popular way of working as an UX designer is self-employment and freelancing. As for the means of design education, 65% of professionals is self-thought. So, yes, you are pretty much on your own, and that calls for a ton of hard work and self-discipline.
The million dollar question is what are the main differences between the two jobs?
Is UX design that much different? Well, there is quite a bit of overlap between the two.
In the UX line of work, you are tasked with crafting the most optimal user experience, which stems from interaction with a certain product. This is a pretty damn broad definition, which encompasses fields of psychology, user research, interaction design, and other disciplines. It also blends the look, feel, and usability of products. My initial feeling was that I ended up in a super-charged version of web design, where both the big picture and tiny detail matter.
It is also worth mentioning that UX is platform-independent because its solutions are applied to everything from mobile apps to retail spaces. You are certainly not tied to web browsers like before. It was a peculiar mixture of a liberating and frightening notions brewing inside me.
Crossing the bridge
To get over the transitioning chasm, you have to show iterative problem-solving aptitude and strong ability to adapt. While web designers solve problems for clients, UX designers focus on alleviating pain points and friction in user experience. Both do it through research and feedback gathering, albeit UX designers mostly test validity and usability. So, the more research you did as a web designer, the better it is for your switch.
One other common thread you can cling to is emotional design. Web designers search for ways of evoking emotions via typography, color, images, layout, and other visual assets. UX designers have to do that and more on a larger scale, across all stages that form product experience. The range of tools is greater— motion design, content curation, information architecture, etc. It is by no means easy to grasp, let alone master these new concepts.
You can make things easier for you by looking for companies that work mostly with products that are at least practically web-based (services, apps, and sites). Also, you must do your best to put your aesthetic skills to good use. That way, you can enhance communication with external stakeholders. Make your product manager love your eye-popping reports! If you ask me, usability does not always overshadow the visual side of things.
Time to buckle up##
Ultimately, the best shot you have is to arm yourself with knowledge. The variety of platforms and channels UX pros have to design for is mind-boggling and requires a range of skills, methods, and knowledge. So, educate yourself.
Keep up the pace with trends such as proliferation and wide-spread adoption of lightweight rapid prototyping tools (Mockplus, Sketch, etc.). They are disrupting the dominance of good old paragons in the league of Adobe Photoshop.
Furthermore, know that jacks of all trades do not run the show. Follow new paths of cutting-edge specializations and innovation.
I am mostly talking about voice interfaces, conversational design, and virtual reality (VR). While many individuals entertain these options as I did, others are moving towards specific design areas, such as UX writing and aforementioned motion design. In any regard, you need to find your niche and carve it out meticulously.
Do not fret if things do not go the way you indented right away. In my case, it had to become worse before it got any better. But, look at me now: I am preparing for another transition and scoping up UX manager position.
It was a long a twisted way that got me here, but I can finally ask for a seat at the big table.
Up the ladder
UX design is one of the most dynamic and well-paid segments of the interactive industry. If you want to perform a similar pivot as me, I really cannot blame you. In fact, be my guest!
Just do not let the transition be a mere leap of faith. Have a thorough understanding of what it means to be a successful UX wizard. Profit on your experience as a web designer and the fact that you already speak the language of modern design. Make an effort to familiarize yourself with new requirements and tools of the trade. Build on your existing skills and acquire new ones through continuous education.
I hope lessons I learned will help you climb up that career ladder without unnecessary slips and falls.