4 Myths About A Career In UX Design

4 Myths About A Career In UX Design

A confused student looks at a mortarboard and a rolled-up degree, and wonders whether it is worth the trouble.
Summary:

Career Foundry’s Rosie Allabarton debunks 4 common myths around starting a career in UX, and offers some practical tips for those considering a career transition.

UX design has become a hot topic both in and out of the tech scene, but as with many ‘buzzwords’ the legend often belies the reality. You may have noticed that many of your colleagues love to throw in comments about ‘the bad UX’ of a product, or ‘the great UX’ of a website, but there is still a lot of ignorance around what these terms actually mean. In this post I’m going to bust four myths about a career in UX design so you can sort the fact from the fiction if you’re thinking about launching yourself into this lucrative, creative and varied career.

If you have comments or questions about UX career myths, join our conversation here.

Myth: UX designers and UI designers do the same thing

A commonly held misunderstanding is that UX design and UI design are the same thing. This is far from the truth. Although UX designers and UI designers often work together on a product, they perform very different roles within the team. So, what’s the difference?

UX design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product.

UI design, on the other hand, is focused on the design of the actual interface elements that the user interacts with to accomplish a goal within an application.

During the UX design process the questions a UX designer is concerned with are: Was it easy to navigate? Did you ever feel lost or confused? How did you know where to click to get to where you needed to go?

While the questions a UI designer is concerned with are: How did it make you feel? Was there a logical hierarchy to the interface and typography? Was the color scheme consistent? Were there design patterns that you recognized from other interfaces?

Myth: Anyone can become a UX designer

Wrong. Not everyone can work as a UX designer. Why? Because working in UX requires you to not only LOVE people, but to be endlessly curious about why they do the things they do. If you’re not a people-person, and you have no curiosity about human behaviour then this simply isn’t the career choice for you. Sorry!

Here are some essential personal skills and traits of successful UX designers:

Empathy

During user research you will be regularly interacting with individuals and groups as they navigate your product. You need to be able to see that product from their perspective, irrespective of what your own is. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the user means you are able to understand how to make that user experience even better for them.

Curiosity

Being curious about people is not essential to doing your job right, but it will have a marked effect on how much you enjoy it. Most UX designers are fascinated by the workings of the human mind, and love to study human behaviour. Wanting to find out why people behave the way they do should be what gets you out of bed in the morning.

Communication skills

It’s not just your target users who you’ll be interacting with both online, over the phone and in person; you’ll also be communicating regularly with developers, CEOs, project managers and designers. This means you’ve got to be able to communicate clearly with people of all levels of knowledge and experience. In some cases you will even have to explain what it is you do, as there is still so much ignorance about UX out there.

Myth: You need programming skills to become a UX designer

You definitely do not need programming skills to become a UX designer. Being able to communicate with and understand how teams of programmers work (and at what stage in the UX design process you need their involvement) is very important though. Whether at a startup or large corporation, you will be working intimately with developers to reach your end goal for a project. The developers will be working to transform your design ideas into a real, working website, so how you approach this relationship will determine the success or failure of your project.

Here are some tips to working with the development team:

  • Honesty – UX designers need to be open with developers about what the end goal of the product is.
  • Transparency – Developers need to be transparent about what and how they need to do something to achieve the desired result. They need to explain clearly why something won’t work, not just that it won’t.
  • Involvement – UX designers need to communicate with the development team right from the start of the project, not just when they need them. That way, they have a much clearer idea of what might or might not work early on.
  • Work on the same team – If possible, make sure that you sit on the same team as the programmers at your company. There is much less chance of miscommunication or disagreement when you are freely communicating all the time.
  • Be realistic – When sending over a final design for implementation, talk to the developers about what a realistic timeframe for the project would be. That way, everybody is on the same page with their expectations.

Myth: You need graphic design skills to become a UX designer

Graphic design and UX design are dramatically different. Graphic design is concerned with the aesthetics of the product – the decoration, colours and fonts. Essentially it dictates how things should look. UX design is, as we have already discussed, much more about making the user experience as delightful as it can be so that the user can reach their end goal in the quickest and easiest way possible. It focuses on the logic and structure behind the elements that you actually see and interact with, whereas the graphic designer is concerned with how those elements look.

If you’re thinking about moving from graphic design into UX design then keep the following in mind:

  • It’s more important to know what questions to ask than to have all the answers.
  • Keep your eye on the end goal of both the user and the business.
  • Plan roughly, don’t put too much effort in the early designs, and focus on the content and where it is, rather than what it looks like.
  • Think about the hierarchy of the content in relation to the user’s goal – what do they need to see first?

If you have comments or questions about UX career myths, join our conversation here.

RELATED:  The UX Mastery Community's Own Guide to Getting Started in UX

Resources

Get Started in UX
What Is UX Design? 15 User Experience Experts Weigh In
7 Signs This Person Isn’t Actually A UX Designer
The Difference Between UX & UI – A Layman’s Guide
UX – A Process Or A Task

Rosie Allabarton
Written by
Rosie Allabarton
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18 comments
  • I’ve seen a lot of articles lately claiming that “loving people” is a requirement to be a UX Practitioner. I’m not certain where this sentiment comes from, but it’s not just not true.

    Do great defense lawyers have to “love” people? What about great doctors? Great entertainers? Of course not.

    Let’s be clear: loving people is a fine motivation. But there are plenty of other equally effective qualities that can drive great UX practitioners if you don’t dream about helping old people cross the street: passion for creating great things. Hunger to solve problems. Love of knowledge. And sure, if you love people, that’s valid enough, too. But it’s just bad UX to blindly state that your own feelings are not only universally shared by everyone else, but are the only valid way to success.

    • I’m with you. Most of the time I don’t like people very much. But that doesn’t mean I’m not good at UX. I’m still good at research, I can empathise, I’m curious and a good problem solver. I’m good at designing great solutions. I can do all that without loving people.

    • Hi Ehren
      Thanks for your comment.

      I think the article emphasises that being curious about people and empathising with them is a great trait to have if you want to be a successful and happy UX designer as you spend so much of your time trying to find out how it feels to be in their shoes.

      If you’re not interested in people and why they behave in certain ways, or you find it hard to empathise with others you’re going to find this career a lot more challenging.

      “Loving people” is certainly not the “only valid way to success” in a career in UX design (and I sincerely hope the article doesn’t imply this), but it will make your path a much more pleasant one. And, if you enjoy your career, you’re far, far more likely to be successful in it and go the extra mile to be the best you can be at it.

      I hope that explains my point a bit more clearly.

      Best,

      Rosie

      • This is post-rationalising. It is actually stated they ‘not only are required to LOVE people’, which implies that this is one of the requirements for having a successful career in UX design. It’s not.

  • I’ve just recently started exploring UX design as a possible avenue for a new career. As a marketing communications professional with a very limited background in graphic design and coding, I thought after reading articles like this one that I could pursue UX design without having to also spend a lot of time learning coding and graphic design.

    Then I actually looked a job postings in my area. While I think what you say is true about UX design as a Platonic ideal, it seems that in the real world companies want to get the most bang for their buck and get UX designers to do it all, including UI, graphic design, and some coding.

    Here are some of the requirements I pulled out of UX job descriptions:
    – Front end programming – HTML, CSS, Javascript
    – Graphic design skills – proficient with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Sketch
    – UI frameworks – Angular, Bootstrap, Kendo UI

    This leaves me wondering, is it actually possible to find a job without these skills? Do articles like this downplay these skills because the people writing them already have them and don’t realize that they’re necessary to getting the job (even if they don’t actually use them day-to-day)? I think that if these skills are listed in the postings, I would definitely be competing with people who have these skills, making it less likely for me to get a job. I’m still a total novice about UX so I really don’t know, but my first foray into looking at these postings has me spooked!

    • Just keep looking! Anyone looking to fill a UX position with skillsets like that are looking for unicorns, single bodies to fill multiple roles. There are many UX and Usability positions out there that do not require those skills. Suitably large companies will already have programmers who handle the HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Bootstrap, etc.; and designers who handle the Photoshop and Illustrator work.

      UX professionals work WITH those people to create sites and applications which are easy to use, easy to understand, and enjoyable.

    • I think this article does a good job at busting some myths, but what you’re describing is very true. And while some may call people capable of matching this combination of skills “unicorns”, they’re out there. And their number is growing.

      Before the internet came along, I was a visual designer working in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Then Flash came along and soon thereafter, job posting for people who could do the design work AND build in flash. I scoffed at first, thinking “good luck” to the posters. However, time proved those “unicorns” grew to be a norm.

      Feeling spooked by this today is normal I think. I’ve grown into the discipline of UX as a practitioner for over 15 years and I’m seeing this “unicorn” idea repeatedly in job postings. I’m a freelancer, so I look through a lot of these posts. And like you may be doing, I feel disheartened, often thinking I’m losing my value because I don’t do all those things combined.

      However, as others have said, UX involves a multitude of skills and there is work for people like us who don’t have some of the skill combos job posts are asking for. I don’t code. I don’t build prototypes in HTML, etc. UX is more than the unicorns. Don’t give up.

      • Hi Albert,

        I just saw your response now. I had a feeling my fears were justified!

        I worry that posts like this one will guide beginners like me into believing that they don’t need to worry about the hard skills of design (graphic design and coding) when the market seems to be demanding this of UX professionals (regardless of whether these skills should fall under the UX umbrella). It’s comforting to think that the barrier to entry is low, but what really matters is the skills employers are asking for when you apply for a job. If the unicorns have the majority of skills listed, all other things being equal, they will likely get the job over someone without coding or graphic design skills. At least that’s what it seems like from the outside–hence the fears!

        Ideally, I’d like to learn all of those skills too, but I know it will take quite a bit of time and I’m anxious to get started on a new career.

        Anyway, I’m too new to UX to apply for jobs yet. I will keep learning and hope that when I feel like I have a good UX portfolio and am ready to start applying for jobs that the unicorns won’t shut me out!

        Thanks again, Albert! It helps to have one’s fears acknowledged.

        (In case any beginners are reading this who have the same fears as me, I found this thread today where people are debating whether or not you need to know the Adobe Suite as a UX designer. A lot of mixed opinions on the thread! https://www.reddit.com/r/userexperience/comments/2xitgs/do_you_need_to_be_great_using_programs_like/)

        • Hi there Cristina
          Thanks for taking the time to comment and for describing your experiences looking into a career in UX design.

          Although some companies will try to hire one person who fits a number of different roles, the number of companies doing this is becoming fewer as the profile of UX design and its value within a business grows.

          At the company I work for for example, we have a CXO (Chief Experience Officer) and a Junior UX Designer. Neither of these two are expected to do coding or graphic design, nor would they be able to (one retrained in UX design from a career in nursing!). We have programmers for coding, and graphic designers for graphic design and they all work collaboratively on projects.

          Although it certainly helps a UX designer to have some knowledge of programming, it is by no means essential. What is essential is that they can communicate their needs clearly to the development team at every stage of a project, so that their ideas are first or all realistic and ‘buildable’ within the timeframe specified, and second of all correctly implemented by the development team. Communication is the absolute key to success in this area.

          Many more companies are beginning to see the inherent value in UX designers for what they are able to bring to the company within the scope of UX design itself, for example increasing conversion rates and customer retention, increasing customer satisfaction and improving returning business. These companies know that the user and their experiences with the product require one person (or sometimes a team of people!) to dedicate their time and resources to, to make it the best it can be.

          What’s becoming clear is it’s better to have a great UX designer, and a great web developer who can work collaboratively, than to employ someone who says they can do a bit of everything and can only dedicate a fraction of their time to each and may not be highly skilled at either.

          I hope this adds another dimension to the discussion.

          Good luck in your UX career.

          Rosie

    • I am starting a company to help candidates build experience and transition into UX and have interviewed quite a few companies and candidates (if you are interested to learn more, just let me know and I could provide more info). You actually got it somewhat right. Yes, there are pure UX roles, but those are a bit less common than the UX/UI mixed role. Also, when someone is just trying to start out and transition into UX, knowing UI / some graphics skills is very useful. You might not need front end programming as much (although that can also be useful), but UI design is quite common. Do not be mislead by the UX growth / demand craze – that demand is mainly for more experienced people, and the demand for junior UX folks is way lower so adding as many related / tangential skills is very useful and will help to break in and eventually get into more strategic UX role. Also, pure UX as well as UX Research roles typically seem to be reserved for more senior folks. Keep looking, but also keep improving and broadening your skills and working on any good projects available (paid or not – until you really become a valuable experienced and “market-ready” candidate that can deliver value to the company, it may not be very productive to ask to be paid anyway). Basically, it is important to not only be “looking”, but to keep practicing, having open mind to different types of opportunities and working on what is available, taking courses and going to events to meet people, and eventually you’ll get to your target role.

  • First of all, I like how this article separates UX from UI. They are very different specialties. However, they’re like vodka and soda water: they need each other to even begin to make a tasty cocktail.

    Secondly, having empathy or “love” for users is not a requirement to become a UX practitioner. By no means. You can become a UX practitioner without caring for the user whatsoever. But then, what becomes of the experience you design if you’re not including the user (i.e., person, human, specific type of person(s)) in your up-front user research, later testing and design iterations?

    I don’t have to love you to work with you. But I should carefully consider you and your thoughts and feelings if I want to design something for you to solve a problem in your life or remove some pain. If I don’t I won’t be successful.

    To Cristina: JD’s for UX’ers are notoriously asking for way too much from one person. As luck would have it — I was a humanities student who fell under the spell of computers and how they could help us find, classify and understand the world better … read and write better, think more better! (you get the idea) — and with my other interests in humanities and pseudo-sciences like psychology, library and information science, sociology, etc., I was able to find a career as a UX designer. To be sure, I also learned how to code and design the front-end of a so-called digital experience. In the late 1990’s it was practically required. Today, however, not so much.

    JD’s always ask for too much. My first job in this field was as an academic librarian supporting campus-wide web development, a highly non-traditional type of librarian. Within a couple of years we created a new IT group at this university to support web and email services. I learned a helluva lot (pardon the French) in those years.

    In sum, don’t be spooked if you’re truly interested in learning design a la “user experience”. Plenty of resources and people exist to help you. We’re a friendly bunch … after all, we tend to like getting to know people and how they do things.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Kevin.

      I know that job descriptions in most fields always ask for too much. I’ve been getting the feeling lately that employers are getting hung up on the skills they list in their job descriptions rather than trying to assess if the person is a quick learner who takes initiative to learn the skills they need on the job. At least that’s what I’m seeing with colleagues applying for marketing/communication roles. Not sure if that’s the case with UX.

      I’m definitely still interested in UX and will be learning more about it–likely through an in-person intro course–to help me decide if it’s the right path for me. Thanks for being a friendly bunch. The community around UX is a big part of why it appeals to me.

  • Hello Im Rachit From India,
    Im Currently Pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Computer Engineering(Final year).
    To be short & Precise: Im not good at Programming & hate Mathematics.
    I have interests in:
    -Human Computer Interaction
    -Design
    -Human Behaviour & Psychology.
    -& a Good Hold on communication Language.
    -Software Design Models.
    Im thinking to go for MS in UX design and Research & planning to study from Canada.
    Im still confused as the Content is Huge & I wud be investing a huge amount of my parent’s hard earned Money :(
    * Is it worth it ?
    * What skill shud i enhance being from a computer background student for the course ?
    * Do you Find me compatible for the Occupation ?
    Pls, All of ur guidance & Response is precious- I wud Appreciate it !!

    Thanks

  • I realize I’m late to the party here but I think @Ehren is spot on: Why do I have to “love people” to be a good UX designer?

    I don’t think you have to love people to be a good UX designer. I think you have to be curious about them. You have to be interested in them. You have to want to give them a good experience with whatever product you’re designing. But love them? Nope.

    That said, I take comfort in your last assertion: that you do not have to be a visual designer to be a good UX designer. I’m hoping that is the case.

    Unfortunately, the position listings I’m seeing don’t seem to reflect that. They seem to reflect that same concatenation of skills we saw in the late 1990s where every web person also had to have print layout skills. Hopefully that will fall by the wayside the same way the requirement to both know HTML and be able to use QuarkExpress did.

  • Hi, I am really interested in getting into the UX Design field and I enjoyed reading what you have written about it. I have started working full time this year after graduating with a Bachelor of Computer Science degree.