To become a UX designer one doesn’t need to undergo 3 or 4 years specialized courses as is the case with other streams. This means people from wide variety of professionals including software engineers can switch and become UX designers.
Today many software engineers are switching their career and becoming UX designers. A good UX designer should have basic understanding of technical skills and should be able to work with engineers – a software engineer has an advantage here. Software engineer understands the technology and will be more comfortable working with the technical product team. But this shift also has its own challenges and software engineers may need to unlearn few things to be a successful UX designer. Let’s look at it what it will take for a software engineer to make this shift:
Engineering mindset to a designer mindset
A typical engineering mindset is very different from that of a designer. Engineers are used to breaking things down based on logic. They understand the methodology to break down the problem in a logical sequence – to create a business flow. The difference in mindset is due to the nature of work – a software engineer works with technology and machines, seldom do they work with end consumers. For a software engineer – the priority is to understand the power and limitations of the technology to solve the problem in hand.
So while software engineers are good with logical thinking and rationality – they need to understand that users as human beings are emotional beings and many users may not be technical savvy. For a UX designer having empathy becomes a key skill. If one looks at architects or graphic designers, the most important aspect for them is empathy – as the designs they work on will directly impact the end users. To develop a mindset a UX designer should be willing to step into the user’s shoes, understand their ultimate needs and have empathy for their expectations.
The other most important skill that a software engineer will need to develop is the ability to visualize the concepts and transform them in views or drawings. Being able to visualize the solution before it is built is a key skill for any good UX designer. And it doesn’t stop at visualization only, but the designer should also be able to effectively communicate the visualization. For visual communication the UX designer will need to be good in concepts like typography, colour, layout, images, design theory etc.
One of the important skill is to be able to research down the potential users of the product/solution designer is working on. This includes being able to take a research to understand users motivations, goals and usage behaviour. This also include user modelling – ability to create persona and users scenarios.
Proficient in design tools
One will also need to great command on few if not many design tools. Some of the popular tools are Indesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Invision Studio, XD etc. One becomes proficient in the tools with a good practice and it does take some time.
The UX designer should also understand tools which help him/her create quick prototypes. The tools can include understanding of HTML/CSS, Visual basic, Flash, Director etc. Software engineers might be already comfortable with some of such tools.
A good way to develop as a UX designer from being a software engineer is to read good relevant content on UX design and observe the design elements of some of the popular applications/platforms.
Some of the popular books in design community which can help one develop design thinking are: The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug and The Non-Designers Design Book by Robin William.
A good course in UX will be important to get you started with basic UX principles and key tools. A great course will not only make you go through the basics but will also have real industry cases to make you understand the application in real business scenarios. It will give you opportunity to practice through real life projects and assignments.
Lastly, to become a proficient UX designer – regular practice is extremely important and will play a crucial role in refining your skills. Practicing will not only help you brush up your skills but also help you in creating a strong portfolio – which is important for a getting the initial break in the UX profession.