Measure twice, cut once

How does an ancient carpentry expression apply to digital product design?

Consider this expression, well known in carpentry:

Measure twice, cut once.

We’re talking about wood, of course. Now, carpentry is a lot like any kind of design: We’re talking about designing and making something for a client here. The client has very specific needs — a specific room that the furniture needs to work in, for instance. Here’s a scenario:

Ola has a new loft conversion. She hires a carpenter, Julia, to make a staircase so she can access it. Julia starts cutting wood, to see if it will fit in the spaces required.

This is obviously ridiculous. No carpenter would ever do this. Imagine how long it would take Julia if she cut the wood first, then measured to see if it fitted! Imagine the waste of time and materials involved!

But amazingly, many teams creating software do exactly this. They ‘cut the software’ — a process that can take weeks, months, or even years — THEN they measure the results.

You can imagine what happens — people can’t use the software. It doesn’t work as intended, they don’t understand it, and it doesn’t meet their needs. In short, it’s a waste of time, and the team will have to go back, try to measure what’s needed, cut again, and eventually measure again. The vicious cycle continues.

How does this apply to software?

OK Bill — you’re talking about carpentry, this is all very well but how does this apply to digital product design?

First: Design is an old and noble tradition. Older even than carpentry! The lessons we’ve learnt over the millenia about designing and building things apply perfectly well today.

As a design instructor and mentor, I encourage designers to help their teams “measure before they cut” — saving them the time and expense of building the wrong thing. With just a little upfront effort, we can save product teams from ‘building blind’ and making expensive mistakes. By measuring ‘up front’, we lower risk, and speed up the process of ‘getting to good’ — building products that provide value by solving real user problems. Here’s how we do this:

  1. We measure what users want — through interviews, surveys, and by prioritising feature requests.
  2. We measure the appetite of our stakeholders for the feature — how much effort do we want to put into building it? Do we want something basic in two weeks, or do we want the deluxe version in six?
  3. We measure how effective our ideas are, by designing and testing mockups and prototypes. This helps us build confidence in our solutions, till we get to the point where it makes sense to commit an engineering team to building something — ‘cutting the wood’.
  4. Once a feature is released, we measure how well it fits the needs of our users. How could we improve it? What’s missing? Bigger feature requests will have to be prioritised for the next cycle, but sometimes we can quickly fix small details that make a big difference to the product experience.

The confidence to cost dynamic

“Measuring twice” is relatively cheap — the cost mounts as you move upwards in fidelity. If you’ve done your job well at the ‘measurement’ stage, you can be confident that building your design will add value for your users and the business.

Cost <> Confidence relationship chart.

When collaborating with product teams of researchers, designers, and engineers I advocate for a structured design process: from early sketches to mockups, to a Figma (or similar) prototype, to a code prototype, and finally to the working product. At every stage we gather feedback from our users (“measuring”) to make sure we’re on track. At every stage, we lower the risk that our investment (of time, and people, and ultimately, money) will fail.

Without clear measurement criteria in place, the first instance where you find out that the ‘successfully’ released project isn’t so successful is usually when the complaints come rolling in — or revenue starts to take a hit.

Rob W, HSBC

What about when the software is ‘cut’?

Obviously, once ‘cut’ the design is not set in stone. Working in software means we have a malleable material — there is no need for a design to remain static once built. However, the problem with changing software is that it’s expensive in two main ways:

  1. The costs in time, people, and money for your company
  2. The costs to customers as they have to re-learn your software

For this reason, it’s always worth testing ideas quickly and cheaply before you invest in building them. Get things right, or as close to right as you can the first time and your customers will love you. Sketching, prototyping, and testing your designs is the way you measure first.

Many in the incubator community will argue you only need a minimum viable product. I obviously take issue. Building something doesn’t make you a business!

Shaun Illingworth

In summary

It might feel quicker just to ‘build something’ in code, but in practice this tends to be a slow and risky process. So — when planning your next product or feature, remember the carpenter: Measure twice (or perhaps, several times!), and cut once.

Images by yours truly (you’re welcome)

How do I get started?

There are so many resources available, but if you get one book on testing designs make it Sprint by Jake Knapp. So many great techniques in this book that you can apply in many situations, not just short sprints.

Another book well worth looking into is Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf. Everything you ever wanted to know about building a successful product, fast.

Finally if you’re new to UX in general, check out my guide here: How to Get Started with UX.

Product design principles in practice

Designing complex products isn’t easy.

As a junior designer, I made the mistake more than once of jumping straight into a design app and pushing pixels, without first considering the bigger picture.

As I learned my craft working with large tech companies and small startups, I discovered six principles that now inform the work that I do—and which guide the efforts of the broader Hopin Design team.

In this article, we explain these product design principles and and illustrate how they show up in the work we do at Hopin—specifically, through a redesign of our event setup dashboard that we completed in early 2021.

Design for our event setup dashboard beta in January 2021

6 Design Principles at Hopin

  1. Solve a real problem
  2. Consider the structure
  3. Collaborate for strength
  4. Design just enough
  5. Test your solutions
  6. Design is never done

As the market leader in virtual and hybrid events, Hopin has built its reputation on stellar user experience.

Our event product has two sides—one for event organizers, the other for attendees.

Since releasing the first version of our event platform in 2019, we have listened to our customers and evolved our products to ensure that they meet the specific and changing needs of our audience.

Here’s how:

1. Solve a real problem

As digital product designers, job is to solve real business and user problems through design.

In practice

When we began thinking about doing a major overhaul of our event setup interface in early 2021, we knew we’d have to get tactical about which problems we would try to solve. So we began by identifying the key problems our users reported. We spoke to:

  1. Event organizers—both those who ran events every day, as well as those who were new to our platform
  2. Our Customer Success team
  3. Our Support team

We also dug into our chat help system to identify the kinds of problems that kept recurring. We categorized and filtered the feedback, to identify three key problems with our event product:

Key problems
  1. “It’s hard to know where to start when setting up an event.”
  2. “How do I know when I’m done?”
  3. “I can’t find [that thing] that I need!”

Having identified the problems, we were now able to begin considering and developing solutions. We worked in two main teams — my team concentrated on the third problem, while an “onboarding” team focused on the first two.

2. Consider the structure

Design goes deep. When solving any complex problem, Jessie James Garrett’s Elements of User Experience is a useful touchstone. I consider what level I’m working on — and if it’s the right level to tackle the challenge I face.

5 planes of UX from Jesse James Garrett’s “Elements of User Experience”

In Practice

As we listened to our event organizers and observed newcomers setting up events, it became obvious that we needed to dig deep into the structure to fix the fundamental problems.

For business reasons, we had to move quick.

Given a limited timeframe, we couldn’t reconsider the entire event creation strategy or scope—but by working our way up the stack, we determined we could rethink the structure of the navigation (i.e., the “information architecture”).

Starting at this deeper, more fundamental level was a guarantee that our work would have more leverage and make more of a difference to the resulting user experience. 

One key piece of feedback we received was that pages were hard to find in our current menu. While the menu was divided into sections, it looked like a flat hierarchy. 

So our first task was to create a better way to categorize menu items and consider better ways we could lay these out.

We began this process with a series of short sessions with the Design team, Customer Success, and Support — to make sure that we had a logical and consistent structure for our navigation. 

Working at an abstract level, we were able to iterate fast and build detail in our designs—without getting bogged down by layout ideas.

Navigation hierarchy iterations

Once we had a structure in place, we then reviewed the skeletonHow could we create a more consistent and clear experience at this level? 

We looked at competitors and comparators, including some niche products that only a few of us knew. Drawing on a wide range of influences gave us a competitive advantage, because we needed a diversity of ideas for inspiration.

An early sketch from an ideation workshop with the Product team

Finally, we looked at what many people think of when they hear “design” — the surface level of the interface

We finessed details of typography and iconography, gave everything a visual polish, made sure our components were consistent with our wider design system, and checked color accessibility across all areas.

3. Collaborate for strength

Design is seductive. It’s easy to get distracted by the surface layer of shiny interfaces, smooth animations, light, and color. 

Indeed, as a designer working on digital products, it’s easy to silo yourself in an ivory tower. However, it is essential to remember that your work is part of something larger.

Your design always exists as part of a larger ecosystem—and your designs can always be improved.

As much as I may think my design solutions are great, I know from many years of experience that running them by other designers will always make them stronger. 

Moreover, this process of collaboration, and the learning that emerges, makes a design team stronger — producing better results throughout an entire product.

4. Design just enough

It’s essential to keep in mind that the designs you work on every day are essentially just digital trash. They will be discarded once the real thing — the actual product—is in use. The designs are mere blueprints.

In the end, the product is what counts

In practice

While designing solutions for the navigation and structure, we designed just enough to test the idea. 

After our pivot to an accordion layout, we built a prototype of just the first few dashboard areas to get a feel for the interaction. Did it make sense with the first few areas? Was this enough to indicate it would work elsewhere? 

With these basic requirements satisfied, we were able to comfortably discard our prototype and start building the real thing.

5. Test your solutions

A key principle in software development: Success is what happens when you’ve failed every other way. 

You will always fail the first few times you make anything new — so choose where, and make it quick. 

Learn fast, fix the problems, and move on. (One example from real-world products: WD-40 was the 40th attempt at making a water displacer.)

In Practice

We needed to learn quickly what worked and what didn’t. 

Working with our researcher, we created a quick information architecture test . How would our current flat hierarchy perform against one that was divided into structured areas? 

The results were surprising and amusing. While “time on task” was roughly the same, 48% of our participants completed the test of the current flat hierarchy format, compared to 86% of those asked to find items in our new, structured list format.

Flat hierarchy vs. structured test. In the flat hierarchy test, 52% of users dropped out due to frustration.

This gave us confidence that we were on the right track. So we built out a detailed prototype of the entire dashboard, so we could test the interaction model and layout. Would it make sense in practice?

Iterations on navigation. Working in Figma, we were able to rapidly prototype and test these ideas before development

The feedback was fantastic . Users loved the look and feel of the prototype. Everything felt fast and better structured. 

However, in practice we soon ran into the key problem mentioned in part 2: Your designs are not the product. 

Our prototype whipped through pages at speed, delivering an instant response as users navigated. Unfortunately, in practice, we were unable to deliver the same speed in the actual product.

When we put a coded prototype out as a beta for testing, we added a feedback form. A common theme quickly emerged : It felt too slow, as the navigation model required a page refresh each time the user went “back” to home.

We needed a quick pivot to solve this problem — and, fortunately, through our collaborative process and exposure to many ideas, we had one ready. Which brings me to the 6th principle.

6. Design is never done

To paraphrase Paul Valéry: “Design is never finished, only abandoned”.

In Practice

Once we had our new layout available in the actual working product — we really started to learn how effective our solution was. Did it solve our user problems? How could we improve it?

Figma prototype used to fine-tune the accordion menu interaction

Our quick pivot to an accordion model solved the problem of speed. A page refresh was now only required when selecting a menu item. Our users loved the new layout, the clarity of the tables, and the overall structure. 

As we add new features to the product, and learn more about how users are interacting with it, we’ll need to iterate again.

Design is really never done, but this constant process of improvement is what makes good products great.

Average scores from 0-10 collected via our feedback form

By applying these design principles to our work, we are able to work methodically and maintain a consistent level of quality at scale.

As a diverse and global team, through close collaboration, we are able to create designs that are better than any one of us could create alone.

Ultimately, the test of our work is whether it delivers real value to our customers. Design does not exist in a vacuum. Its efficacy and quality is only discernible when it is out in world and our users begin interacting with it.

How to get started with UX

How to get started with UX

AND WHAT ‘UX’ REALLY MEANS

What is UX?

How can I get into UX?

What does the day to day involve?

I get asked these questions a lot.

Many people, even designers, don’t really have a clue what UX actually means. They think it’s some kind of handy-wavy fu that consultants palm people off with. Meanwhile, real UX design is in high demand. What’s all the fuss about?

U Friggin’ X

UX is such an annoying buzzword (UX = ‘User Experience’). It’s a tiny acronym for a huge area, but many companies only use it in a very narrow way. It’s often used to mean something like an “Interaction Designer”, who works on the details of how people interact with an interface.

But this diminishes User Experience Design. UX design proper should include the bigger picture:

How does this particular app or feature fit into the bigger picture of what you’re trying to achieve with your project?

UX design has been around for a while now, and it has predecessors in industrial design, user centered design, and human computer interface design.

It is important to understand that UX design is not some new, ‘science fictional’ practice — people have been wrestling with these problems for a long time.

For instance: many of the lessons learnt in designing and testing a physical ticketing machine might apply well to designing a touch-screen version. Similarly, if you had previously designed layouts for a library card system, you’d have very useful insights into designing a digital equivalent.

However, though it does have precedents in a variety of disciplines, UX design is not just the ‘function’ behind the visual ‘form’. It’s thinking through the entire experience a user might have — every encounter they might have with your product or service, and finding ways to improve the entire structure. Depending on what you’re working on, it may well go beyond the screen, into physical goods, services, interactions, and products — even relationships between people.

That Sounds a Bit Like ‘Design Thinking!’

Ah, another trendy buzzword! Like ‘UX’, ‘Design Thinking’ is a reframing of design, so that folks who aren’t designers can understand that design is not just about making stuff pretty.

The only difference is — while UX tends to be centred around digital products, Design Thinking might be applied to pretty much anything — an organizational structure, a medicine distribution project in the developing world, or a drone delivery service.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s still nothing short of revolutionary for the average company. But it’s just user-centred design-done-right under another name. (Jared Spool, an expert on the subjects of usability and design, does a great job of explaining this — link in the footnotes.)

So What’s the Difference Between UI and UX Design?

User Interface (UI) design is a close cousin of graphic design — it’s the craft of laying out interactive and informative content on a screen, to make an interface with which people can interact. However, the interface is not the solution. UI is a big part of UX, but it’s not the ‘whole experience’.

“What about all those UX / UI people who say they do both?” you may be wondering. Often, they don’t. UI designers, graphic designers, visual designers are not necessarily UX designers, but they tack “UX” on their resumes and titles because it’s a popular buzzword.

“But — people experience the things UI designers create; therefore, they’re UX designers, right?”

Wrong!

Well — to clarify: Only in a very narrow way.

The UI designs and animations on popular site Dribbble, and the latest swipey interaction patterns are just one very small aspect of UX. The average UX/UI designer does UX in the same way a house painter does architecturenot much.

The BIG PICTURE

Don Norman tries to fit his brand new Macintosh in his car

We need to circle back here, and get to the root here of what UX actually means. In fact, there’s barely any reason to use the term, unless we use it at the level of design legend Don Norman, who originated the concept of ‘UX’ while working at Apple in the early 90s:

“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

We’re not just talking about an app here. We’re talking about the entire experience of a brand or product.

Norman was thinking about things like the size of the box that contained the original Apple Macintosh, so the poor new owner could fit the thing in his car.

It’s a design process that should include every aspect of the product; from the first hint of it in someone’s life to their eventual deep, emotional relationship with it.

Popular Slack app vs. venerable IRC

Very few companies understand this, and even fewer actually manage to execute on it.

With digital technology becoming generic and ubiquitous, the feature war is now over. Companies can only differentiate themselves on the experience they provide.

Given that most of the ‘experiences’ companies currently provide are rubbish, there’s a lot of work to be done — which might be where you come in.

10 Key UX Skills

As the field of UX is so broad, the day-to-day work of a UX Designer can be incredibly varied — but there are fundamental skills that you cannot do without. There’s a lot in this list! But don’t be put off — no-one can be an expert in all these areas. I’ve worked with brilliant UX Designers who were specialists in just one or two key things.

Realistically, if you start with just one skill and put it into practice, you will make exponential improvements in your product or service.

1. Communication

Design is easy – people are hard.

The technical side of UX design is easy. The real challenge is developing the so-called ‘soft-skills’: discussion, negotiation and collaboration — with a whole range of people including other designers, clients, coders, product managers, and executives.

Industry veteran Aza Raskin does a great job of summarising this:

Your job as a user experience person is to cultivate a culture where good design has a leading voice at the table. If you cannot communicate, you will fail. If you cannot convince, you will fail. If you cannot listen, you will fail.

As Mule Design Founder Mike Monteiro puts it in his excellent book ‘Design is a Job’- your role as a designer is to be a “Communication Professional.”

It’s not enough to do great work. You must be able to explain, persuade, and sell that work, or it will never see the light of day.

You have to get along with your colleagues, deal with tricky problems, collaborate, mediate, listen more than you speak, and be both empathetic and diplomatic.

Without these skills, it’s likely your ideas won’t even get used— even if they’re ‘technically’ superb.

  • Action: Ask yourself where your strengths and weaknesses are in communication.
  • Even better, ask friends, family or colleagues. If you want to improve your skills in this area, you need an honest assessment from those who know you best.
  • Read Design is a job by Mike Monteiro — it’s a superb book that includes lots of great advice on improving your communication. Monteiro is an absolute design legend — you should really watch all his video talks too.

2. User Research

The entire foundation of UX design is the people we are designing for.

If we don’t know our users, how can we create great products for them? Talking to users — on the phone or in person — is the most direct and powerful way to get qualitative feedback on an existing product, feature, or idea.

From this research, we can start segmenting prospective users and classifying them into different character-types (‘personas’), and by what they are trying to achieve (‘user stories’). This research process is your guiding force in UX design — without it, your only compass to follow is your assumptions — which are usually wrong!

  • Action: Before you start your next design project, ask yourself “Who is this for?” — What do they want, and how can we help them?
  • Even better — ask some potential users, and make a list of their needs and difficulties in the area you working in. Use this list to create a ‘Persona’ or two to guide your work.
  • Read Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf. Quite technical, but really “Everything you ever wanted to know about developing digital products but were too afraid to ask.” An essential primer.

3. Information Architecture

Information architecture is “making sense of mess”. Life is messy. Projects are messy. UX is messy. There can be so many moving parts to keep track of, it can be hard to make any sense of them. Information Architecture is a set of tools that WILL HELP YOU SOLVE THAT MESS. And once you have solved it, and have a basic draft of where you are, and where you want to go, everything will slot into place.

Don’t get me started on how essential this is. As a consultant, I’ve troubleshooted many ongoing projects that were big trouble because they failed to plan out a decent structure from the start.In this context, it’s your job to go back to the start and figure out “what we have”, “where we want to go”, and “how to get there”. You will need to answer questions like:

  • How do we organize the menu hierarchy?
  • Which items get priority?
  • What filters should we add to these search results?
  • What words should we use for these interface elements?

Without planning out the structure of your work, you may not even consider these questions, and will answer them poorly even if you ask them. Your users will have endless problems trying to deal with your product or service, and they will switch to your competitor without hesitation.

  • Action: Information Architecture seems like a daunting subject, but it can actually be very simple. Here’s one quick example: Ask your users what language they would use to describe the actions they want to take, then try running a card sort with them next time you are building a navigation system.
  • Build an Object Oriented UXfor your app or service. It will make your life infinitely easier as you plan, design and build features.
  • For more on this subject, read How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert. It’s a brilliant introduction to Information Architecture — and in fact, managing any kind of design project. Practical, simple and straightforward.

4. Workshops and Collaboration

Back to communication skills. This is where they really have a chance to shine.

Can you express your ideas clearly, with nothing more than a pen and paper?

Can you help people express their ideas in a way that others can understand?

The more ideas you start with, the better your range of options. If you can include technical staff, the office intern, and the CEO in your design process through fun and engaging workshops, your product is almost guaranteed to be better. And there’s an added bonus — as your team is directly involved in the design process, they will feel more invested in the product, and understand better the direction the project takes.

  • Action: Read Sprint, by Jake Knapp and pals.
  • Google Ventures use the 5-day ‘Design Sprint’ process to help startups figure out what they’re doing, and test their ideas. It’s a brilliant, straightforward summary of loads of UX techniques, and a robust structure for a week-long workshop.

5. Wireframing and User-Flows

With all those great ideas knocking around, it’s up to you to synthesize them, hone in on them, and give people what they actually need, not just what they say they want. As Ford put it:

If I’d listened to what people wanted, I would have just built a faster horse-buggy

A wireframe is a rough, skeletal model of a UI built with mostly black and white lines, boxes and shapes representing the structure of an interface. It’s a simple way to diagram your idea — while a ‘user flow’ is a sequence of wireframes, describing the sequence of interactions a user goes through to complete a task.

  • Action: Next time you’re doing any kind of design work, sketch out your ideas on paper first! It doesn’t matter how rough your drawings are — just test out some ideas.
  • Even better, try out half a dozen ideas and choose your favorite. Keep off the computer till you have something solid that you’re happy with.
  • Computers are fantastic for high-fidelity designs, but they will always slow you down and fix your ideas if you try to use them in the early stages of your work.

6. Copywriting

You won’t see copywriting listed on a lot of UX job descriptions, but really it should be. After all, the bulk of the average interface is text.

If you can write effectively, in language appropriate for the user, you’re already halfway there. Walkthroughs, tutorials, dialogs, icon labels, button labels, marketing sites — all require good writing to be effective.

  • Action: Use real copy in all your interfaces! Using ‘placeholder text’ like ‘lorem ipsum..’ is a lazy shorthand that will do you no favours. Improve your copywriting skills through practice.
  • Read John Zeratsky’s 5 Rules For Writing Great Interface Copy article, and find ways to use less words — as Torrey Podmajersky recommends.

7. Visual Design

This might seem surprising in a list of ‘UX’ skills — but without an understanding of the basics of graphic design, interface design, and color theory, your work may well suffer. Even wireframing needs visual hierarchy and good typography!

Moreover, visual branding, use of color, and typography make up a large part of a ‘user experience’ — if they’re poor in your product, that experience will suffer, and you won’t always be working with a talented user interface designer to back you up. Building skills in this area will be a massive asset to your work.

  • Action: Visual design is best learnt through direct experience, so try one of these free online courses: Alison, Udemy, Canva, or Skillshare.
  • Want to go a bit deeper? Try a mentored online course like Design Lab. (Full disclosure — I have taught here!)

8. Prototyping

Smart UX designers don’t build their product before they test their ideas. Instead, they prototype — a quick and simple way to make something that looks and feels like a real product, but actually isn’t.

Prototype, test, repeat — and you get to something awesome long before the average programmer has even set up the environment they need to start working.

  • Action: Make a free account on. Invision or Marvel and have a play! Try out the example prototypes, and experiment with making your own.
  • It’s very easy to create something using your existing digital designs, or even by taking photos of your sketches on paper using the mobile app.

9. Product Testing

Once you have developed your prototype, it’s time to test your ideas.

Product testing is an art in itself. Do it wrong and you learn nothing, or hear only what you’re looking for. Do it right, and you may get incredible, unexpected insights that change the whole direction of a product.

The key thing here is to avoid asking ‘leading’ questions — like “Do you think the social media icons are easy enough to find here?” or “Is this new design clearer?”

Leading questions deny the opportunity to hear an open answer.

Done right, product testing is a careful process of showing (not telling!) users the product, setting tasks (ideally tasks the users care about), listening, observing, and asking why they are doing what they are doing as they go through the process, and what they are thinking.

  • Action: Test your work! Whatever kind of design you’re working on, try it out with friends or colleagues. Set them a task, don’t lead them on, observe, and ask them to ‘think out loud’.
  • Read Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug . This is probably my favorite book ever written on UX — and he doesn’t even mention the ‘buzzword’. Awesome writing on usability testing, and improving digital products, delivered with humour and charm.

10. Analytics

You need to know how users are using your product out in the wild — that’s where analytics come in. Be it a web app or a mobile app, you can learn a lot from all the data pouring in about how people are actually using your product.

Does anyone ever actually click on that button? No? Well, maybe you should get rid of it.

Good design has to be informed by the data, and if you learn to use it right you will get enormous improvements in your work.

  • Action: Add Hotjar, Mixpanel, (web) UXcam, or Appsee (mobile apps) to your personal site, company site, or mobile app. It’s free to get started, and you’ll quickly get useful insights into how people interact with your product. It’s fun too, to see where people are tapping around on your product! You can learn a lot, very quickly.

A Final Note

This list is by no means comprehensive! To keep things short and simple, I have for example left out Coding — which is an enormously useful skill for a UX designer to acquire, but not one that I see as central as say, Information Architecture. I’m sure there may be others — please let me know if you think I’ve left out something essential.

Getting Started with UX

Now you have a rough idea of the skills, it’s time to get involved. Not a designer? Don’t worry — UX is not just for designers! Anyone wanting to build a better digital product can and should learn more about UX design.

Yes — even without formal training. Many phenomenal UX designers don’t have any formal training either. They learned on-the-job, through years of trial and error.

Moreover, UX designers come from a wide array of backgrounds – I’ve worked with brilliant designers who stated in areas as diverse as psychology, industrial design, engineering, law, finance, and education.

The key attribute they all share is a fascination with UX, and an enthusiasm for learning.

For those of you looking for a place to start, here are some ideas:

Talk to teammates

If you’re lucky enough to work with UX designers — hang out with them. Ask them what they do. Try to get involved as much as possible with workshops and other activities. Ask them how they learned.

Reach out to friends

Know a UX Designer? Visit their office. Take a tour. Get a feel for what they’re doing. They may not be able to show you all their work due to NDAs, but at least, you can ask them questions about their process. Maybe you even could intern for them.

Attend Meetups

Meetups are so essential. The design community is broad and welcoming, and I’ve learnt so much of what I know from talks and conversations at events. It’s very likely that there are great (and often free) local events near you, where you can listen to talks about design, meet the speakers and really get acquainted with the scene.

I highly recommend Interaction Design Association’s events (IxDA). The User Experience Association (UXPA) is also worth checking out. I’ve also heard great things about UXCrunch in London.

Enroll in a course

If you live in, or near, a big city, there are many part-time and intensive courses for you to choose from.

Companies like General Assembly, School of UX, and Webcredible offer really strong courses that will help you learn the ropes, network; and for the intensive courses — switch careers and find a job. [Full disclosure — I’ve both taught and studied at General Assembly].

These courses are no ‘magic bullet,’ but they can be a really strong foundation from which dedicated students can launch themselves into a career in UX.

Learn Online

For most people, I think this method is going to take longer — as so many of the skills UX designers need to master are people-related, it makes sense to take an in-person course.

That said, if you’re a long way from a big city, or just want to learn on your own time, online courses can be a good way to get involved.

Search for courses with hands-on mentors, who chat with you weekly. DesignLab, Interaction Design Foundation, General Assembly, Springboard, and Udemy are worth checking out.

See Diego Mendes for more thoughts on getting into UX — link in the footnotes.

Conclusion

UX is a broad field — and really those cute little swipe animations are just a tiny part of it. UX is still learning how to define itself, and new job descriptions and titles are emerging all the time.

It’s an exciting industry with plenty of room for you to get involved and help shape it. Moreover, there are tremendous opportunities all around the world, as the ‘Digital’ becomes ever more central in our lives. The technology is changing at an incredible rate, and human psychology and experience are endlessly fascinating. While the work can be challenging at times, it remains fun and engaging, because there’s always more to learn.

Final note: I’m easy to reach via my Twitter, or the form on my site. Please feel free to ask me anything about design, UX, remote work, or Toptal (where I work remote).

UX Design Resources

Videos

  • It’s a great time to be a UX Designer — Part stand-up comic, all awesome designer. A fantastic talk by industry veteran Jared Spool, that really takes in the breadth of UX.
  • Mike Monteiro — 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations. You see, I like funny speakers. Mike tells it like it is. This talk is not very ‘UX’ focused, but great on the life of a designer and communicating with people (clients or otherwise).

Short Articles

Books You Really Ought to Read

A quick summary of the books mentioned above, in recommended order:

  • Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. Funny, short and on point. Everything you need to start thinking about the people who might use your product.
  • How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert. Such a great outline of the principles of Information Architecture, along with the essential politics of any design job. All laid out in plain language by an expert in the field.
  • Sprint, by Jake Knapp and pals. Tons of useful UX workshop techniques, laid out in a simple, structured way.
  • Design is a job by Mike Monteiro. Hilarious and concise — everything you might want to know about freelancing, clients, and keeping your shit together.
  • Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf. A little more technical, but a deep instructive read on the Product Strategy and Business Analysis side of UX, with a particular focus on startups.

Finally, a couple of real classics by Don Norman