UX Design is one of the best-paying and future-proofed careers you can have right now. The job title UX Designer made it onto the Glassdoor list Best Jobs in America 2021. Many people want to switch into this fantastic field but don’t know where to look or how to get started.
I switched careers from Architecture to UX Design in 2017, and it was a bumpy road to call myself UX Designer eventually. The whole transition took me around 1 – 2 years.
Here are the principles and mindsets I used that helped me make the switch. You can apply these principles with any career background!
Know Your Why
A lot of my success as a UX Designer is built on the foundations of my Architecture studies. The constant focus on discussing my work with an audience helped me develop solid presentation skills. Furthermore, I got conditioned to visualize my idea through sketching. This still allows me to this day to think through ideas and move them from my head onto a piece of paper. I love it.
Yet, the professional Architect life can look very different from the sheltered University life.
I started my career in the very regulated and risk-averse construction industry. I couldn’t live out my creative drive. These days, at least in Germany, most design aspects of a building are regulated through DIN (Deutsche Industrie Norm e.V.)
Four years ago, I asked myself how my life should look within the next ten years. It struck me immediately I had to make a change. I wanted to work in an environment opposite of construction – risk-taking, innovative and celebrated change and movement. I knew that I wanted to go into the tech industry, but I had no idea how.
Learning By Earning
I took my first steps as a designer with a weekend WordPress course. With this knowledge, I created simple landing pages for small businesses—a website for a non-profit here and a law firm there.
My eyeopener: For five years in university, I learned how to get a job in an architecture firm. It took me two days of practical learning to deliver value to clients as a UX designer. The experience of monetizing recently acquired knowledge gave me a lot of confidence. I felt with enough diligence, I really could get a foot into the tech space.
I didn’t do unpaid internships or get extensive design education before freelancing. Some designers disagree with me because “it’s not fair for the client” if you are not experienced and ask for money. I see this differently. It’s not the knowledge you possess that qualifies you to be a designer. It’s the ability to deliver value to those who need it.
Position yourself as a Business Person, not just as a Designer
In 2018, I completed The UX Design online boot camp from CareerFoundry, and I can recommend it if you are looking for a head start in the field.
I was always worried that people might see me as a designer only as a “creative snowflake” and not take me seriously. I compensated for this feeling by reading a ton of business books on top of the coursework.
The following books helped me get a general understanding of the business side of product management:
- Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard P. Rumelt
- The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
- INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan
In hindsight, reading business books was an essential ingredient for my success. I could participate in product discussions with Product Managers or Hiring Managers, which gave me confidence in job interviews.
5 things you can do today.
- If you want to do an online Bootcamp or coursework, focus on building an industry-ready portfolio and an online presence.
- Build your website – it’s your stake in the digital realm.
- Reach out to non-profits to design their websites for a bit of money or free. It will give you some practical portfolio projects among the more theoretical boot camp projects.
- Always keep in mind, it’s about delivering value to your customer or employer, not the number of years you spent learning a subject.
- Start reading one business book out of the list above. Reading business books helps to broaden your horizon as a designer. Business people will recognize when you can speak their language.