(Image generated using DALL·E 2 by author)
Congratulations on landing your first job as a UX designer!
Not long ago, I was in your shoes. I studied Product Design and worked as a physical product designer and around a year ago I decided to make a career transition into Digital Design. I remember my mind was a 50/50 split of excitement and sh*tting it.
To help with the latter emotion, I’ve collated some advice I wish I had to help you make the most of your work experiences and thrive with a design or UX design team.
11 tips for Junior UX Designers
1. Ask Questions
A great junior should be a sponge. Absorb everything, listen, and accept people’s opinions. Designers, Developers, PM’s; everyone has their own wealth of knowledge, and you need to utilise them. Ask questions while they’re relevant. The longer you wait, the more awkward these questions become, and you potentially lose the opportunity while the idea or thought is still prominent in someone’s mind.
Questions don’t just benefit you. By questioning design decisions and processes, you introduce fresh perspectives and can spark a concept for someone else.
Very few questions are stupid, but every question you don’t ask is a missed learning opportunity.
2. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver
While researching for this article, I came across the advice “never say no”. I get where this suggestion is coming from (be a team player), but It’s a little more complex than simply being a ‘yes person’.
If you’re asked to do something outside of your schedule, discuss it with your line manager and be honest about your capabilities and workload. Some tasks may require you to learn something new, these are great learning opportunities that shouldn’t be passed up. If a project is tight on budget or time, it may make sense for someone with an existing skill set to do the work. The last thing you want to do is start a task and realise halfway through you’re not able to complete it by the required deadline. There is nothing stopping you from asking the senior designer to give you a debrief afterwards so that you can understand how they approached the work – giving you the knowledge and confidence to take it on next time.
Don’t feel like you need to please everyone and promise the world, you’re just getting started so learn your capabilities first and set time aside to hone in on your knowledge and understanding.
3. Learn from feedback
The U in UX stands for users, not you.
I’ll set the scene; you’re super proud of some completed work. You show it to your colleagues, and suddenly you have tons of proposed amends. It can be overwhelming, and it might even feel personal when you’re told it’s not right. Trust me; It isn’t. More often than not, your colleagues will have more experience, and may propose an amendment that solves several unforeseen issues.
Being able to take design feedback is a crucial element of the job. Getting an objective opinion can help highlight small details you may have missed. Positive design critique and discussion will undoubtedly elevate the end result, and further you personally, creatively, and professionally. One pitfall to be wary of is designing for yourself, not your users.
4. Always be organised
As a junior, you’ll have a lot to learn; with this in mind, you can’t afford to waste any time or miss an opportunity. As cliche as this sounds, being organised takes minutes and can save you hours. Here are a few tips:
- You should know what you will be working on for the immediate days. If you don’t, try and get into the habit of proactively chasing briefs from PM’s, managers, and clients.
- Some meetings can be pretty last minute, and you don’t want to miss them! Check your calendar regularly.
- Breaking down projects into smaller tasks helps keep you on track. These can be entered into project management software or to-do lists.
- Messy files look unprofessional to clients paying you to be the expert. So keep ‘em clean.
- There are so many great tools out there to keep you organised – Todoist for making lists & Miro for managing projects. There’s also nothing wrong with a good old notebook!
5. Don’t reinvent the wheel… yet
Whatever you’re designing, chances are someone has probably done it before you, and that’s ok! As a Junior Designer, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. You might like the spacing between elements on one site or a user onboarding process on another. It’s perfectly acceptable to use this work to drive your own design. But beware, you shouldn’t just copy-paste. It’s important to question what you’re reusing. Why does it work? And how can you improve upon it? Taking something good and improving it is a great approach as a junior designer; soon enough people will be stealing your work.
CSS Peeper is an awesome plugin allowing designers to inspect CSS elements intuitively to derive details such as line-height, font, and button size.
6. Become Agile
If you haven’t heard of agile working, it’s a popular project management method allowing for rapid development of technology, where employees are now enabled to work from anywhere in the world, and development is run concurrently to design. As UX designers, you’re expected to interact with a swathe of other departments, from marketing to sales and development. Along with general communication and collaboration skills, it’s wise to add Agile (or other project management methods) to your UX design skills.
A core principle of Agile UX is that everyone can (and should) have design input, it’s your job as the design expert to facilitate this and then collate and refine these suggestions to inform the design. Learning these agile practices will allow you to collaborate more effectively in every project.
Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden is a compelling case study that offers the foundational thinking behind Lean UX and navigating Agile teams. It might sound dull but it’s a great resource that’s definitely worth your time.
7. Get up to speed with the design industry
Keep yourself immersed in the latest trends in UX. You can read UX articles on Medium, brush up on the Laws of UX or learn basic HTML fundamentals on treehouse. Doing so will not only help you stay on the pulse of what’s new in digital design but will help grow your terminology and confidence when creating designs.
Resources such as Landbook, Prolific North Top 50 and Awwwards are great for researching agencies, freelancers, and their work. Knowing who’s crushing it allows you to build your own library of inspirational examples.
8. Become a software master
Coming from a background in product design; sketching is one of the most important skills. Instagram might indicate otherwise, but it isn’t meant to be flashy. It’s a tool that’s set up to get ideas from your head into the physical world, and it’s indispensable.
Design software is exactly the same. Whether you’re learning Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD, my biggest piece of advice would be to learn it early and become an expert. Being confident in a software package means you’re never limited to only what you can create in software.
Don’t worry about memorising shortcuts or fancy animations just yet – in time, it will become autopilot.
9. Don’t jump straight in
It can be too exciting to not just jump straight into Figma, but doing this can back you into corners later on.
Before getting started, you need to get under the user’s skin, the problems they face, and the design strategy. You’ll also need to take into account the client’s business objectives. It’s also useful to consider how your idea can translate across different touchpoints and come to life as a brand.
Most UX designers use frameworks to combat this. A framework creates the basic structure, kind of like an outline for a project. These aren’t set in stone, and aspects can be changed depending on the project, but using one will allow you to work methodically through a project whilst getting collaborative input at each stage.
10. Much to learn; you still have
Inevitably we will all start our UX journey differently. Some will study design (in some form) at university; others will do intensive online courses looking for a career change. This knowledge is a starting point that helps you establish the fundamentals of good UX design.
However, commercial environments and live projects are different animals. There are other factors such as budget, scope creep as well as managing stakeholder expectations. I’m not trying to scare you, I’m just highlighting that only time and experience will help you navigate through a project. So don’t rush it; focus on taking on new challenges, asking questions, and building on your existing knowledge.
11. Be proactive
Getting ahead of the game and showing determination is one of the best things you can do.
When you’re a junior, confidence is one aspect you won’t have developed yet. If you have downtime or allocated learning time, keep growing your skillset, especially in weaker areas. The more you develop your techniques, the more confidence you gain.
As you gain experience, you’ll learn to focus on the ideas that are the right ones. With more experience, you’ll learn to stand up and take ownership of your design decisions.
Starting as a junior can feel incredibly daunting, but it’s also a fantastic experience and the beginning of your new career. Take a breath and embrace the challenges thrown your way. I hope these hints, tips, and nuggets of advice help, and best of luck on your journey.