Ever wonder why you like using your favorite apps and websites so much (even ones like banking apps which seem like they should be boring?) It’s because a UI Designer used research and design methods to make the interface enjoyable to use and visually appealing. Yep, it’s a real and awesome career option!
If you’re a creative thinking about a career in tech, you’ve probably considered the field of UI design. And you’d be smart to wonder about it — UI Designers earn an average base salary of $85,277 and the career path is seeing loads of growth with over 5,000 open roles on Indeed right now.
Let’s explore the myriad ways of entering the UI design field and what you can do today to start your journey towards becoming a UI Designer. Here’s what we’ll discuss:
- What is UI Design?
- What is needed to be a UI Designer?
- How long does it take to become a UI Designer?
- How do I become a UI Designer?
What is UI Design?
UI stands for ‘user interface’ so UI design is user interface design. A user interface is the point of interaction between a user and a digital product. UI Designers are responsible for designing kickass graphics and interfaces that are both aesthetically pleasing and intuitive to navigate. This means the person using them should be able to accomplish tasks and find what they’re looking for with ease. UI Designers work in tandem with UX Designers to create human-centered and easy-to-use apps and websites. A UI Designer is responsible for things like:
- Competitive analysis on look & feel
- Visual design — typography, buttons, colors, etc.
- Interaction design — animation, interactivity, prototyping
- Implementing cohesive branding across design elements
- Front end development
What is needed to be a UI Designer?
While you need training to become a UI Designer, having a few key skills can help you really thrive in the role. Here are some of the skills you can work on cultivating in order to become a successful UI Designer:
Are you creative?
UI Designers are creatives. Yes, they must adhere to brand guidelines when creating a new design, but overall they use their creativity to make interfaces new, fresh, and easy on the eyes. Designers balance beauty and functionality so they really have to rely on their creative thinking skills to come up with a user interface that fits both qualities. Are you up for the challenge?
Do you have a desire to keep learning?
At Kenzie, we encourage our students to be constantly learning because we see the value in being lifelong learners. You can become a lifelong learner by making education a part of your everyday life. Reading, listening to podcasts, taking certification courses, and doing research on what’s new in user interface design are all ways you can engage your desire to keep learning. Lifelong learners are open to changing their perspectives and practices when presented with new information. They’re also open to trying out industry trends and don’t get stuck in their way of doing things. This is precisely why learning how to learn is such a valuable skill (regardless of what industry you decide to work in).
Do you enjoy working on teams?
UI Designers must collaborate often whether it’s working with stakeholders, UX Designers, Web Developers, or others on the product team. Due to this, UI Designers should enjoy working with others and have good communication skills. You can sharpen these skills by joining local design groups, going to networking events, and collaborating on group projects for your portfolio.
Do you have an eye for design?
This question might seem like a no-brainer but it’s important to evaluate if you even like the concept of design before choosing this profession. If you find yourself daydreaming about visiting places like the Louvre or your mouth waters when you see an aesthetically pleasing website, chances are you’ve got an eye for design. Designers can sense good use of color, texture, lines, and fonts so if you’ve already got this sixth sense, you’re well on your way to launching your UI design career.
Did you answer yes to most of these questions? Chances are you’d make a fantastic UI Designer! This brings us to our next question.
How long does it take to become a UI Designer?
With the right learning tools, you can become a UI Designer in less than a year. Look into UI or UX Design programs to help you learn the skills needed for the job. These programs can also help you start building a solid portfolio to show off to potential employers when it’s time to job search down the line.
You don’t need a traditional four-year degree to become a UI Designer. But, you should still consider learning from industry experts in UX/UI as opposed to going the self-learning route, which could take more time. Let’s dive into this some more with our next question… how do you become a UI Designer?
How do I become a UI Designer?
Like we mentioned, you don’t need lots of money and time to get trained to be a UI Designer. With non-traditional education pathways, you can enter the field in no time. In 2021, the most efficient way to become a UI Designer is to pursue a certification program, practice your design skills, build a portfolio, and network. Let’s explore how all of these things can play a role in helping you land your dream UI Design job.
Pursue a certification program
Certification programs are typically around 6-9 months and will teach you the fundamental skills of UI/UX design. There are a plethora of programs out there so it’s important to do your research and find the one that works best for your unique learning style and goals. We encourage you to read reviews, check out syllabi, and speak with Admissions Counselors to get a feel for what programs are compatible with your needs as a student and future UX/UI Designer.
At Kenzie Academy, we offer a 6-month part-time UX Design course which teaches you all the UX/UI skills you’ll need to land a job in the industry. Our course is designed and led by industry experts so you’ll graduate with a portfolio of projects to show off to potential employers. We believe in our students’ ability to succeed so much that our program comes with a guarantee: if you don’t land a job within 6 months of graduating, we’ll refund your tuition — that’s the Kenzie Guarantee (terms and conditions apply)!
Practice your design skills
You’ll get a lot of UX and UI practice if you decide to sign up for a bootcamp or online course, but it’s important to practice outside of the classroom too. You can use websites like Dribbble, which offers a weekly design warm-up to website members. You can join local UX/UI groups and participate in any design challenges they may offer.
You can also riff off tutorials or get inspiration from other designers you find online. The Internet is one of your best resources as an up-and-coming user interface professional. Finally, you can try your hand at freelance work using websites like Upwork. Freelancing can help you make some extra cash and give you professional experience to beef up your design resume.
Additionally, freelance work gives you the opportunity to get acquainted with different companies and may give you insight on how to deliver on a project and work on a team. All of these are valuable skills you could take with you into a future in-house role.
Build your portfolio
Portfolios are incredibly valuable for designers. They’re the primary deliverable interviewers will evaluate during the hiring process. So, it’s essential that you start building your portfolio as soon as possible. You’ll likely work on group and individual projects in your UX/UI Design program – you can add these to your portfolio! You can also show your initiative, drive, and dedication to the field by working on projects outside of class time (remember, practice makes perfect!). Add freelance work and any fun passion projects to the mix and you’ve got the foundations of an impressive portfolio.
This guest post from Pathrise sums up the portfolio-building process pretty well. Here’s what our friends at Pathrise suggest including in your portfolio:
A successful UX portfolio should include the following:
- Context on the project, including your role and the number of team members (if any)
- The problem you and your team tried to solve, including the goals
- Research & methodology, including your hypothesis, insights, and competitive analysis
- User personas, including their journeys, needs, and wants
- The design process, including wireframes, sketches, usability maps, and mockups
- Specific design choices, including feature details, mistakes, design language, and iterations
- The final product, including details about the launch, impact, results, learnings, reflections, and next steps
Network, network, network
So you’re pursuing a certification program, practicing your design skills in your free time, and building a portfolio? Great! Now it’s time to get out there and network, network, network.
Networking is the bread and butter of making it in any industry. After all, it’s not always what you know… sometimes, it’s who you know. Why? Because that “who” could help you land your next job, connect you with an employer you really want to work with, or be a fellow designer friend to chat dreams and goals with over brunch.
Not sure where to get started in the networking game? You can search for local UX and UI design meetups in your city on websites like Meetup.com (start by searching for ‘Kenzie Academy’ and joining one of our 11 Meetups!). Follow designers (both local and otherwise) whose work you admire. Try finding your local chapter of IxDA (Interaction Design Association) to get started.
Stay up-to-date on industry trends
Successful UI Designers supplement their design practice and networking by immersing themselves in the industry. You can do this by keeping up with industry news and trends. Sign up for tech and UX/UI newsletters and follow trends on Twitter or LinkedIn. You can also subscribe to our newsletter The Byte for the latest in UX/UI and Software Engineering news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday morning.
Staying up to date on what’s trending in user interface design shows employers you’re willing to continue learning, growing, and innovating in the field.
Want additional resources on user interface and user experience design? Check out these blogs for even more information:
- How to Build Your UX Design Portfolio
- What does a UI Designer Actually Do?
- What is Digital Design & Why is it Important?
- What Skills Do I Need to Become a UX Researcher?