A UX Expert’s guide to starting out in user experience design with Jonathan Haines

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Brooklyn-based UX designer Jonathan Haines specialises in creating seamless user experiences online. But when he’s not working at his day job or spending time running and playing basketball, you can find him figuring out ways to help new UX designers thrive. 

Having worked for an early-stage education tech startup, Jon is passionate about the intersection between education and technology – so he was the first person I wanted to ask for advice on starting out in UX design as a beginner.

Here, Jonathan shares the info he’s picked up during his UX journey, including why negative feedback always shouts a lot louder than positive feedback, and how UX design can have as much as a 9,900% ROI. 

But first, here’s a little crash course on the basics of UX design:

What is UX design? 

“UX is basically solving problems,” Jon explains, adding that it’s when you attempt to figure out potential issues with an app, website or an online product before they happen. 

“So you look at data, you analyse patterns, you see what’s the most efficient way to continue growing the product, website or whatever it is so that newer problems won’t arise,” Jon says. “Even though that’s definitely not the case!”  

What does a typical UX project look like? 

UX projects seriously vary – which is one of the reasons Jon loves the industry. His own design process tends to begin with researching all the problems that he’s going to have to solve. 

“From there, I go into an ideation phase where I come up with valuable solutions that might be able to solve these problems,” Jon explains. “Then I implement the ideas while using prototyping tools. Eventually, I test everything out and see if the research was effective enough to give me something that makes sense. Then the process starts all over again!”

After the research phase, Jon says that new problems will definitely come up. Then it’s back to the drawing board to figure out how to fix these problems. “It’s a constant improvement process,” he explains.

What are some common misconceptions about UX? 

“A lot of people think a UX designer is someone who pushes pixels and creates designs and programmes. And that is a good portion of it,” Jon says. “But my main job is to see what a user is going to need in the future. Not necessarily what the user wants, but what they are going to need out of a particular product. That’s how I figure out what kinds of features to add to websites and products.”

According to Jon, a lot of the confusion over UX design is because people don’t quite understand what the phrase means. 

“When you say the term ‘salesperson’, you can imagine what a salesperson does. When you say the term ‘engineer’, you can imagine what an engineer does. But I think it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where UX starts and ends,” Jon says. “Some UX people are researchers, so they handle more of the psychology of how our user works. Then there are others who basically live on Dribbble and Behance and focus on making really nice designs.”

How do you know when a UX design is effective? 

As Jon points out, one problem with user experience design is that you know you have a good product, website or application when people aren’t saying anything about it. Your UX design is at its most effective when users are interacting with the product so seamlessly that they forget to complain about it.

“When there’s an issue with your product, people are more likely to criticise it in whatever way possible. They’ll go to Twitter and talk about how terrible I am at designing,” Jon jokes. 

“But in all seriousness, the design process never really ends. As I mentioned before, everything’s cyclical. So you have a good design, that’s great, but then it’s time to get back to work.”

Want to get a job as a user experience designer? Here are Jon’s tips for starting out in UX.

Join an online UX community

It’s an interesting time to get started in UX, according to Jon. You can learn everything you want about the field on the internet. But the problem is that there’s actually way too much information, Jon says, so you have to be picky with it to save yourself some time.

If you want to get up to speed on UX as quickly as possible, Jon suggests joining online communities that will introduce you to other learners and give you access to mentors in the UX community. Jon believes this is a far more effective way of learning than simply reading a book on user experience (although he definitely recommends picking up ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Donald Norman). 

“There are tons of Slack groups and the Instagram community is really great,” says Jon. 

Don’t worry if you didn’t study UX design at school

Jon studied journalism at college and firmly believes you don’t need a degree in UX design to have a successful career in the field. There are transferable skills from all sorts of subjects that work well for UX, he says. 

“When I’m doing user research, for example, I’m interviewing people,” Jon explains. “So years after going to school, I’m actually using my journalism degree accidentally. And I’m not the only one. There are UX designers coming from graphic design, architecture and computer science backgrounds.”

Jon even knows one UX designer who transitioned from banking into a design role. When trying to gain a position in the tech industry, she used a case study – figuring out solutions to make sure people coming to the bank were having a positive user experience. 

“You can become a UX designer with whatever background you have,” Jon says. “You just have to figure out a way to tell a story with it and solve problems.”

Keep ROI in mind

A report from Forrester suggests that for every dollar invested in UX, a company receives $100 in return – a huge ROI of 9,900%.

But a lot of businesses don’t realise this, says Jon. He says that companies which embrace UX sooner rather than later do much better than companies that wait. 

“The problem is that a lot of new startups want to save money and spend it where they feel is most effective,” says Jon. 

That’s why UX designers always need to consider the business’ needs along with the user needs. A UX designer should create an enjoyable experience for people but also make money for the company. 

Get over your imposter syndrome

There’s always this idea that you have to work your way up the ladder, but that hurts new designers, Jon says. For every seven or eight engineers, there’s only one designer role, which means it’s hard to get your first UX job – especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. 

But what should really shine is your portfolio, says Jon. “It kills me when I look at a portfolio and I see someone say, ‘I’m an aspiring junior designer’,” the UX expert explains. “It really just undermines the skills and talents that they have. I’m still learning too! When you label yourself as aspiring or junior, you’re putting yourself in a box. Confidently call yourself a UX designer regardless of how much experience you have.”

Voila! Now you know a little more about UX design and have some tips you can use for getting started in the industry. Let me know if you use them. 

Amélie Beerens


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