How to Become a UI Designer in 2022

The global pandemic has changed how we communicate, collaborate, and socialize; creating new opportunities in the UX/UI (user experience/user interface) field. The resulting explosion of digital tools and services is transforming the ways we can buy our groceries, play games with friends, and even attend exercise classes. As a result, user interface (UI) designers are in high demand, since they make engaging and easy-to-use websites, apps, and software. They develop intuitive visual styles that encourage users to interact with products, while minimizing user learning curves and increasing user adoption.

Are you curious about a career in UI? Read on to learn more about UI design, the skills you’ll need to succeed, and how to stand out in the UI job market.

What Is UI Design?

UI design plays a significant role in interacting with and utilizing digital tools — but what is UI design? It is the practice of understanding how a user engages with an app or website, and continuously improving that journey. UI design includes the use of such elements as language, typography, imagery, color, and icons (in alignment with brand style guides) to both engage users and provide a seamless user interface experience.

Building a successful career as a UI designer involves combining hard skills such as user research, design tools usage, and interaction design principles, with soft skills like empathy, creativity, and active listening.

In addition to hard and soft skills, many candidates make a point of highlighting diversity and life experience in order to stand out in the job market. Each individual brings a different perspective that helps make user interfaces accessible to audiences of all demographics, including those who may be neurodiverse or visually impaired. The bottom line is that diversity is critical for successful UI teams.

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How to Become a UI Designer in 4 Steps

UI designers work to infuse digital interactions with human connections by understanding how and why a user takes a particular action and how to optimize it for them. Whether you’re looking to begin a new UI career, or transition into UI design, knowing the right steps to take on your career journey is important.

Here are four things you need to do to become a UI designer:

1. Develop Your UI Skills

New technology, digital tools, and consumer trends contribute to the continuous evolution of the UI design field. However, one constant is the need for the fundamental skills that every UI designer must possess before launching their first project. For example, in addition to basic coding skills in HTML (HyperText Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and JavaScript, UI designers must understand visual prototyping and wireframing using tools such as Adobe XD, Figma, and InVision — just to name a few. UI designers must also be skilled in UI grids and composition, colory theory, typography, iconography, and accessible design best practices.

Boot camps offer prospective UI designers an immersive, real-world experience that teaches the in-demand hard and soft skills needed in the UI workforce. UI boot camps also reinforce learned skills through team projects that populate learners’ professional portfolios in preparation for their upcoming job search. For example, Columbia Engineering UX/UI Boot Camp focuses on a holistic design curriculum of hard and soft skills, with user empathy being an overarching theme for the course.

2. Understand UI Design Software

While UX/UI designers’ tools are constantly changing, there are still some foundational UI design tools that designers need to create different types of user interfaces:

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most commonly used tools, Photoshop has earned its place on every designer’s tool belt. While it is a strong image editing tool, it does have a steep learning curve that can take time to master — but it’s well worth the investment. Taking the time to learn Photoshop will help you successfully progress on your journey in graphic design. And, to help you on your way, Adobe offers free tutorials on its website.

InVision is a popular prototyping tool, InVision assists UI designers in creating design mockups and interactive prototypes with basic animations during the early stages of development.

Figma is a free, browser-based program that assists in designing and simulating prototypes, Figma is a popular tool for designers. In fact, it was one of the first tools to incorporate real-time collaboration for distributed and remote teams.

An image that highlights the standard UI software programs, as outlined in the article.

3. Create Your UI Designer Resume

As you emerge from your boot camp, you will have a few UI design examples to include in your portfolio. Because the UI design field is so dynamic, there are few formal degrees that recruiters can use to consistently evaluate candidates.

An up-to-date portfolio is critical to show hiring managers the depth and breadth of your design skills. While it may be thin at the beginning of your career, there are ways to expand your portfolio:

Redesign an app or website that’s crying out for a refresh. By redesigning a well-known or beloved brand, you can connect with hiring managers when explaining your rationale for design decisions and why your approach is superior. Designers must explain their thought processes, as design is often subjective and can require contextualization. Context can take the form of a presentation, a blog post narrative, or comments in a .PDF file.

Whether it’s developing apps with friends, or offering your skills on Fiverr, side projects allow you to build up your portfolio and expand your design skills.

COVID-19 continues to impact many worldwide, and nonprofit organizations are feeling the burden. Working through a site like Catchafire, UI designers can volunteer their time and skills to the charities of their choice while growing their portfolios.

Today, many designers build websites and microsites to host their portfolios online. Making your portfolio easily accessible to recruiters and hiring managers allows you to upload high-quality images and videos without fearing an email bounce-back or rejection due to large file sizes.

Online portfolios also enable you to change and modify your portfolio dynamically, so prospective employers can constantly see your most up-to-date work and designs. There are a wide range of tools and platforms available to host your online portfolio including Squarespace, Wix, Adobe, and Crevado.

Once you’ve built a portfolio brimming with fresh designs and concepts, you’re ready to start applying for jobs in your new field.

4. Apply for UI Designer Jobs

User interface designer jobs are in high demand due to a shift from “just window dressing” to playing a critical role in the user experience process. Recruiters hiring UI designers often look for coding or UI boot camp attendance, and UI job descriptions may occasionally call for candidates with boot camp experience. Since UI design boot camps are short, immersive, and continually update their curricula to reflect employer needs, recruiters hold boot camp learners in high regard. In fact, in a recent study, 72 percent of hiring managers and recruiters surveyed think boot camp learners are “just as prepared and more likely to be high performers” than those with comparable computer science degrees.

While boot camps offer learners a chance to tackle real-world problems that UI designers face, they can also introduce learners to recruiters within the industry. For instance, Columbia Engineering UX/UI Boot Camp offers learners the opportunity to work with a dedicated Career Services team to help prepare them for their job search, like surfacing open roles, arranging interviews, running practice interviews, and preparing learners to meet with potential employers.

According to Burning Glass Technologies, a typical UI designer salary starts at around $65,000, with a median U.S. wage of $78,928. UI designers, whether in freelance or staff positions, are critical in optimizing the user experience when accessing digital tools. Further, according to Burning Glass, this field is projected to experience 8 percent growth (annually) over the next decade, giving confidence that the skills and experience you develop today will aid in the development of a prosperous career for years to come.

An image depicting some stats about the job market for UI designers.

How to Become a UI Designer FAQ

Broadly speaking, UI (user interface) refers to how users interact with a computer or digital product/service. Well-designed UI allows the user to perform tasks and interact with the software naturally and intuitively. All websites, operating systems, and apps strive for a clean and straightforward UI that doesn’t require extensive tutorials to use.

The job of a UI designer is to make complex app or software interaction seem deceptively simple and engaging for the user. This includes understanding how the user interacts with buttons, colors, and text layout, as well as color theory, iconography, and accessible design.

When designing a digital experience, both UX and UI are critical to ensuring that audiences can understand and interact with a website, app, or OS. The UX designer’s focus is to consider the user’s journey, or experience, from the moment they open the app or website, to how they navigate the platform, and what actions they take. UI designers, on the other hand, focus on all the details of this journey, ensuring visual aspects are accessible, on-brand, and rendered in a way that’s functional and intuitive.

Become a UI Designer Today

Are you ready to jump into the exciting, dynamic world of UI design? There are numerous options for learning the craft — with UX/UI boot camps offering rapid, immersive exposure to modern UI design theory, methods, and tools. Armed with your in-demand skills and professional portfolio, you’ll be ready to begin your UI design career with confidence.

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