Tech industry jobs (and even tech-adjacent jobs) have become highly sought-after, thanks in large part to the sheer amount of money that various tech companies attract from investors and customers alike.
As such, tech can appear quite desirable to young people making early decisions about their professional specializations and eventual careers.
User interface and user experience design, shortened to UI and UX, respectively, are crucial roles in tech today, and of course. App and website creation are not limited to tech-focused companies such as Apple and Alphabet, there is a widespread need for professionals who can deliver these services to help build all sorts of different products both big and small.
Both LinkedIn and Glassdoor (a career website owned by Indeed) have shortlisted UX design as an in-demand skill and a desirable position.
But it’s also possible to rush into this career path without having an accurate and comprehensive view of what this work entails.
This is precisely why we enlisted the help of an incredibly successful and sought-after UI and UX designer to provide five key tips for aspiring UI/UX designers.
Xintong Liu has found a great deal of success in UX and UI design, currently working for Apple as an Interactive Designer on the Apple Online Store and the Apple Store app.
Additionally, she has worked with numerous startups and even the United Nations Development Programme.
During lockdown periods last year, Liu even assisted nonprofits and minority-owned businesses pro bono, improving their digital presence and giving them the tools to maintain easy-to-use websites and storefronts.
Most relevant to today’s topic, Liu also mentors junior designers, helping them to find their footing in a career field that, as we already established, is fiercely competitive.
Liu shared with us 5 key tips aspiring UI/UX pros can leverage to better realize their career aspirations, mined directly from her impressive skillset and resume.
1. Discover the real problem
Liu’s very first tip for aspiring designers is to make sure that the real problem has been identified.
Let’s put that idea into context.
“The essence of User Experience Design is to understand the problems and pain points our users face and find solutions. However, most of the time, the apparent problem probably isn’t the real problem. An apparent problem usually is just a surface that covers an underlying macro-problem, which is sometimes an entirely different issue.”
Another way to conceive of the difference between smaller, acute problems and larger, underlying problems is by bringing to mind the difference between a symptom and an illness.
If someone has sore muscles, for example, simply treating this discomfort is definitely helpful to the patient, but stopping at this point could mean ignoring a much larger, more serious issue that needs to be addressed.
In fact, in this example, it’s likely that the patient will return with similar discomfort in the near future because the root cause has not been discovered or treated.
Bringing this concept back to UX design, if users are consistently having trouble locating one specific feature, designers could put a bandage on the problem by adding flashy colors that draw attention to the feature in question. Realistically, however, this problem may be symptomatic of poor menu layout. Simply splashing colors, therefore, may just delay other issues that will eventually arise as a result of a layout that should be revised or rethought.
2. Don’t be afraid of pushback
Most of us like to avoid workplace friction whenever possible. But for designers working in demanding environments, a certain amount of challenge is most likely inevitable.
Liu warns that designers may be beset on all sides by different people who all want the completed design to accomplish different things.
“In the professional world, companies not only need UX/UI designers to create better experiences for the customers but also rely on designers to bring growth to the business. That means our design will be influenced by multiple stakeholders across the board. It’s common to get pushback from those stakeholders.”
These external and varied demands can add to an already significant set of requirements and design principles that a designer already juggles.
If a designer takes all of this personally, it can easily lead to burnout or a lack of enthusiasm for the work.
But staying agile, focused, and determined can make it much easier to keep perspective on the project as a whole and what should be tried next. As Liu describes:
“Being creative doesn’t mean designers need to come up with a successful solution in one try. On the contrary, being creative involves continually learning, discovering, trying out new possibilities, adapting, revising, and incorporating.”
3. There is no one-size-fits-all solution
If you’ve been studying UI and UX for any serious amount of time, then you’ve probably already heard quite a bit about the accessibility of various designs.
It’s a complex topic, and for designers, increasing accessibility for a wide swathe of users with varied needs can represent a great challenge.
But the benefits of designing for as many different kinds of users as possible have too many benefits to ignore.
“When we design an experience, we need to keep in mind that our users are diverse. Therefore, we need to make sure our design is accessible. A well-designed product is accessible to users of all abilities, including those with low vision, blindness, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, or motor impairments. Improving your product’s accessibility enhances usability for all users.”
Though it may take a great deal of time and effort to create a truly accessible design, the final result, as Liu mentioned, will be appreciated by all.
Even users who don’t have barriers to accessibility and usability can appreciate when a design is presented (and updated) with a certain amount of care and consideration.
4. Don’t work in a vacuum
Especially for design students, it can be rather easy to make the mistake of assuming that their current experiences will be reflected in real-world UX design positions.
To put this another way, students spend a great deal of time studying on their own and practicing design work on their own computers, perhaps with occasional input from an instructor if they happen to be in class at the time.
Yes, design work can technically be completed by a solo designer, with little or no interaction from other individuals.
But in the professional world, working and making decisions alone at all times is neither common nor recommended.
“UX/UI designers should understand that UX and UI design is about teamwork. Within the design team, you should always ask other designers for feedback, insights, and more importantly, critiques. A fresh eye can provide some ideas you might never have thought of and therefore push your creativity to the next level.”
On the one hand, working closely with other team members is an excellent way to stay on the same page, as it were. This makes it much easier to stay on top of what other team members are doing and how that work will be integrated with your own.
But beyond that, a strong sense of teamwork and open communication can stand to make your designs far better by accepting suggestions and other types of input from the rest of the team.
Designs created in isolation can have a strong identity, but it’s also less likely that these designs will account for the needs and preferences of others.
Unfortunately, in an educational setting, it can be hard to recreate a professional’s team environment. Still, simply asking fellow students or instructors for feedback on your work can give a sense of this collaborative spirit.
5. Stay hungry
Liu’s final tip for aspiring designers doesn’t have quite as much to do with the technical aspects of design work but rather focuses on the attitude or mindset of each designer.
She recommends that UI/UX designers stay motivated and ambitious throughout their careers, as this helps designers stay competitive and aware of changes in the industry.
“Technology is constantly changing. Human behaviors are changing as well. UX/UI designers need to constantly keep up with design trends, the development of technology, and social changes. Outside of the work environment, it can be helpful to spend some time engaging with the design community, learning new techniques, or even picking up some creative activities as a side hustle.”
This statement may seem intimidating to amateur designers, but even renowned designers can slowly lose touch with trends and improvements over time if they’re not careful
Keeping up-to-date on (some) industry trends and contemporary design principles can help keep your creations aesthetic and efficacious.
But if you can stay at the top of your game for an extended period of time, it will be that much easier to find work and keep it.
As a bonus, we’ll leave you with some parting words of advice from Liu:
“You have to make sure this field is really what you are passionate about. UX and UI positions are definitely getting more attractive and competitive…you need to fight for a seat on the table for designers.”
It can be difficult to face down this question of whether this particular field is really the career you’re looking for.
But it’s an extremely important question to ask yourself, especially if you’re currently taking part in a design program.
Also, don’t be afraid to try out a UI/UX-related internship that could give you a taste of what this career is really like for the people who have committed themselves to it.