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Career change? How to transition from Web Design to UX Design

Colton Schweitzer
Colton Schweitzer
March 30, 2022

UX designers are some of the most sought-after professionals in the world today. As the importance of user experience becomes more apparent, UX designers become even more invaluable. 

That’s why the compensation of experienced UX designers is among the highest of any profession. The field is also seeing rapid growth. A 2017 report from CNNMoney/PayScale shows a 13% 10-year job growth rate.

Simply put, there has never been a better time to transition into the UX design field. And although almost anyone can get into UX design, individuals with certain professional backgrounds have an added advantage. Web design is one of those professions.

Here’s the thing, web designers and UX designers share many skills. That’s why it can be relatively easy to transition from web design to UX design. But that’s not the only reason why you might consider making the switch.

UX designers also get better compensation than web designers. According to Built In, UX designers in the US take home $91,669 on average. On the other hand, web designers make $60,000. That’s another incentive to potentially pursue a career in UX design.

With all that said, I’m sure you can see why so many web designers are looking to move into a UX design career. But, where on earth are you supposed to start from? That’s exactly what we’re going to cover in this article.

Here’s what you’ll learn in this guide.

What is UX design?

UX (which stands for User Experience) is the process of making any product – digital or physical – useful, relevant, and meaningful for the people using it. A product, in this case, could be a website, application, software solution, or even a physical product like a TV remote.

Great user experiences help businesses convert more prospects. They also boost brand reputation and strengthen customer relationships. People expect excellent experiences nowadays. And if they don’t have a wonderful experience, users will quickly turn elsewhere. That’s why UX design is such a big deal among modern businesses. It’s also why companies pay the big bucks for professionals that can create products with excellent user experience.

UX design is data-driven. User experience designers don’t just include a feature because it’s cool. No, they conduct extensive research to understand users’ behaviors and goals. They then utilize the data from that research to create valuable user experiences.

If you couldn’t already tell, UX research is an integral part of UX design. In fact, some people branch out from UX design to become UX researchers and vice versa.

Speaking of which, there are many disciplines under user experience design. These include user research, content strategy, business analysis, information architecture, interaction design, and visual design. 

An image showing the 6 core disciplines of UX and when they come into play during the UX process.

You can specialize in any of these UX design disciplines. Some of them are pretty competitive too. For example, UX researcher was ranked number 39 in the 100 Best Jobs in America report from CNNMoney/Payscale. And it has a median pay of $106,000 per year!

Now, let’s look at the web design skills you already possess that will help turn you into a great UX designer.

What skills make web designers great UX designers?

Web design and UX design are similar in various ways. Both fields require designers to create functional and aesthetically pleasing designs. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Below are some of the web design skills that are transferable to UX design:

Understanding of design best practices

Web and UX designers are expected to follow design best practices. Here are a few examples:

  • Consistency - Consistent designs improve the user experience and overall functionality of a product. You’ll be expected to use the same typography, color themes, layouts, etc., in your designs. That’s not to mean that every part of a product should look the same. That can make your designs boring and monotonous. Depending on the product and company you work for, you can mix it up a tiny bit while maintaining some level of consistency.
  • Responsivity - The best designs are super responsive across all devices and browsers. That means optimizing your product for desktops and mobile devices. Your digital designs should work seamlessly on all web browsers.
  • Simplicity - Experienced designers know too well the importance of simple designs. Don’t get caught up trying to make your product look sophisticated by adding elements that have zero functionality. That only serves to confuse and overwhelm users. Instead, stick to the necessary elements. Also, avoid using too many colors and typefaces.
  • Usability - Usability is essential for every product. Your design must help the target users achieve a specified goal with utmost efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction. This is why usability testing is an essential part of the UX process.
  • Impact - Every design should be created with specific goals in mind. What’s the intended impact of the design on users? What do you want people to feel when using the design? Designers must also think about the impact of a design from the business’s point of view. After all, without the company, creating designs would just be a hobby. How does your design help the business achieve their goals? For example, do your designs allow for a new use case that allows the business to target new customers? Do your designs make the product easier to use, contributing to greater user retention? Do your designs make it easier for users to take the desired action to purchase a product or sign up for something?  
  • Credibility - A design tells a lot about the company behind it. You’d have a hard time trusting a business with a shoddy website design, wouldn’t you? The best designers create everything from visuals to navigation in a manner that conveys credibility. Following conventional rules can help increase a design’s credibility. 

You can create beautiful designs

Creating beautiful and functional designs is at the core of both web and UX design processes. Web designers utilize different colors, typefaces, and layouts to create elegant designs. Expect to use the same design skills when you move into UX design. 

Great problem solving skills

Problem-solving skills are critical to both web and UX designers. Web designers consult clients to identify the company’s problems that should be addressed through the design. They may also conduct site audits and a bit of usability testing. Web designers then utilize their problem-solving skills to create designs that resolve any of the issues identified. Some web designers may also stay on to help with the continuous improvement and maintenance of the product after it’s launched.

Meanwhile, the UX design process starts with user research. A UX designer will conduct interviews, create surveys, run usability tests (if working on an existing product), and analyze user behaviors to determine what the users need. That data then informs the product design.

Research is built in throughout the UX process to always ensure that you’re creating designs that solve the right problem for the user. For example, a UX project might start off with a survey and user interview to help the UX designer understand the problem and the user’s goals. Later in the process, the designer will conduct usability testing with a prototype to make sure their solution is usable and actually meets the users’ needs. Once the designs have been launched in the product, UX designers will do additional research to determine whether it meets user expectations. 

Therefore, your problem-solving skills from web design will be pivotal when transitioning into UX design. But as you’ve seen, you’ll likely have to learn additional research skills to identify the problems that need to be solved.

Web design is a multidisciplinary field

Both web design and UX design are multidisciplinary fields. You probably already know that modern web designers are expected to do more than just create website designs. They are required to have web development skills. They’re also expected to have some knowledge of coding languages like Javascript, HTML, and CSS. Some web designers even conduct user research and usability testing. 

UX design is also multidisciplinary. Like we talked about earlier, UX is made up of 6 primary subdisciplines, user research, content strategy, business analysis, information architecture, interaction design, and visual design. Obviously, you can’t design great user experiences if you have no idea what the user needs. Therefore, conducting user research and analyzing the findings are integral roles of a UX designer. UX designers also need to create visual designs, understand business needs, design the interactions, and evaluate usability.

Key differences between Web designers and UX designers

Web design and UX design have several unique distinctions worth pointing out. Generally speaking, UX design covers a much broader scope. That means there is more to learn and even more to do when creating UX designs.

Here are three other key differences between the UX design and Web design:

#1 User research

Probably the biggest difference between web design and UX design is user research. While some web designers do conduct some user research, it’s typically not as extensive and isn’t as user focused. User research is arguably the most important discipline of UX. Without the user research side, UX would just be X.  UX designers are expected to be able to conduct user interviews, usability testing, create surveys, and many other methods. And they are expected to be able to analyze all of that data and make meaningful recommendations based on their findings. 

#2 UX designers are platform independent

One of the most significant differences between web designers and UX designers is that the latter are platform-independent. Web designers' work is limited to the web. Meanwhile, UX designers create user experiences both for the web and beyond it. UX design can be applied to anything, from software solutions to mobile applications to physical products and experiences.

That’s one reason that makes UX design such a broad field. It’s also why UX designers have so much more to learn. But on the brighter side, the opportunities are plentiful. You can choose to design products for the web or outside it. Plus, both startups and established companies (in tech and other industries) look for great UX designers all the time.

#3 Focus on technology vs. the user

Web design focuses on technology a lot. On the other hand, user experience design is at the center of technology, business, and the user (with a heavy focus on the user). 

Web designers have to stay on top of the latest developments in coding languages, for example. They also have to worry about tech-related issues like the compatibility of CSS and JavaScript versions with different web browsers.

With UX design, the focus revolves around users. Designers constantly look at what the end-user needs. That’s why the first phase of the UX design process kicks off with user research. 

Keep in mind that UX research explores users’ needs and problems, not wants. Asking users what they want will more often than not give you superficial data. That data may also be biased based on the previous question or conversation you’ve had with the user. 

That’s why UX designers use the research stage to understand the user’s pain points and not necessarily their wants. They’ll look at what users hope to accomplish and the bottlenecks standing in their way. They’ll then leverage the data to develop a product that solves a real need. 

UX designers also collect user feedback and iterate on their designs even after the product launch. This helps to ensure the design is still in line with the ever-changing users’ needs.

How to transition to a UX design role

There are three main options to facilitate your switch from web design to UX design; graduate school, bootcamps, and teaching yourself. As you can expect, every option comes with its own pros and cons. Let’s go through them:

Graduate school

There are several reasons why you may want to choose a graduate school to learn UX design. For starters, a degree can set you apart from other designers. That’s especially true if you pick a reputable university.

Graduate school also presents an excellent opportunity to meet and network with other designers. These connections will support your learning process. They will also prove valuable when seeking internships and job opportunities.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with graduate schools, though. For one, this is the most expensive option. However, you can use student loans to offset the financial burden. Some employers are also known to contribute to the tuition fees of their staff.

Second, studying UX design in a graduate school can be very time-consuming. You may not be able to keep your day job because many schools require you to be a full-time student. 

Last, graduate schools place a heavy focus on the academic side of UX (go figure). You don’t always get to learn how it’s actually done in the real world.

Bootcamps

Bootcamps are the shorter, usually more intense option to learn UX. They range from being self-paced to cohort-based, from being onsite to online, and as short as 12 weeks to up to a year. 

In our opinion, any bootcamp that’s less than 12 weeks doesn’t provide you enough time to truly learn and apply the concepts. That’s fine if you don’t plan on transitioning to UX and just want to add it to your skillset. But, if you do want to become a UX designer, then you’ll need to consider a longer, more immersive option.

Bootcamps are not the cheapest option on this list, but they are cheaper than graduate school. A good UX design bootcamp can cost anything from $4,000 to $16,000. By the end of the bootcamp, you’ll have gone over a vast amount of knowledge and will have worked on multiple UX projects. On top of that, you will access a community of mentors and fellow UX designers.

Some bootcamps also help students get their first internship or job. Some go as far as guaranteeing your money back if you do not get a job within a specified period. Don’t buy into the hype of a job guarantee, though. We talk about this extensively in our other article on the subject.

On the flip side, there are way too many UX design bootcamps out there. Only a handful of them are worth your investment. You must do thorough research before putting your hard-earned money towards any of them.

Our program: UX/UI Expert. Transition from graphic design to UX in just 24 weeks.

In case you’re interested, our program, UX/UI Expert, is a program made exclusively for Graphic, Visual, and UI designers. Check it out!

Here are some tips to help you choose the right UX design bootcamp:

  • Go through the course outline and learn how regularly the outline is updated.
  • Check out the course reviews. Don’t just rely on the company’s website for reviews. Use Reddit to search for honest responses from previous bootcamp grads. With that in mind, consider reaching out to past students through Reddit or LinkedIn to discuss their experience.
  • If possible, talk to the bootcamp instructors. See if you vibe with them and get a sense of everything you’ll learn.
  • Determine if you’ll be working on predetermined projects or if you’ll be able to choose your UX case studies. If you work on pre-canned projects, you won’t get to practice the full UX process. On top of that, you’ll have the exact same projects that everyone else worked on. Therefore, your portfolio won’t stand out. It will be absolutely obvious that you’re a bootcamp grad. In our opinion, this is one of the biggest downfalls of bootcamps. 
  • Is it part-time or full-time? This is critical if you want to keep your full-time job while studying.
  • Make sure the bootcamp has an active student community. Many bootcamps just give you access to a Slack channel and call that a “community.” But students don’t create meaningful bonds or have the ability learn from each other. Find a bootcamp where you can meet with your peers weekly to discuss your projects.
  • Check the total cost of the bootcamp and available payment options. But don’t focus on getting the cheapest bootcamp. Instead, look for something that delivers maximum value for your money.

It’s good to get in touch with someone from the bootcamp before signing up. Use this call to figure out whether the course is a good fit for you or not.

Self-taught

Finally, you can use books and online courses to teach yourself UX. This is the cheapest and most flexible option at your disposal. If you’re new to UX, check out our free UX design course to see if UX is right for you. 

Besides free courses, you can also get cheap online UX design courses from Coursera and Udemy. 

From what we’ve heard, Google’s UX design course on Coursera is a good beginner course! It’ll provide a basic foundation for your UX knowledge. However, don’t expect to get a job by taking this certification. Most hiring managers we know don’t take it seriously. Also, you won’t get any mentorship. One previous student told us that it was a great intro course, but the lack of feedback from qualified UX designers was a huge problem. 

Online learning is also flexible in that you get to choose your schedule. You can learn at your own pace and even maintain a full-time job. 

Unfortunately, online courses have significant drawbacks as well. First of all, most courses don’t have a proper structure or guidance. Second, almost all of them lack one-on-one interaction with mentors and other students.

Another massive problem is the amount of self-discipline required to complete an online course. Remember, there is no one to keep you accountable. That means you can easily get distracted and fail to complete the course.

But perhaps the biggest drawback is the lack of mentorship. Unless you happen to know someone in the industry, you won’t have the ability to get feedback from an experienced UX designer. This can mean that you end up doing the wrong things and wasting your time. 

It’s absolutely crucial to have mentorship throughout this process. Luckily, there are resources like ADPList, which provide free mentorship from industry experts. If you use services like this, we recommend you try to see the same mentor every time. That way, you can get consistent feedback from someone who knows what work you’ve done. 

Like bootcamps, there are so many online UX design courses, but most of them are a complete waste of money. So do your due diligence before investing in any course.

In closing

As a web designer, you are in an excellent position to transition into UX design. You are already familiar with design best practices and are an excellent problem solver. Plus, you have an eye for gorgeous designs. While it won’t be a walk in the park, your transition will be much smoother than people from other professions.

And as this guide has shown, there are three ways to make that switch: 

First, you can go through graduate school, which is more expensive and time-consuming. 

Second, you can take the faster, more intense route of a UX design bootcamp. These are much cheaper and provide lots of networking opportunities. 

Finally, you can go the self-taught path. That’s the cheapest and most flexible option. But you’ll need to find mentorship and continually motivate yourself to get the work done. 

So, are you ready to take on the challenge and transition into the exciting world of UX design?

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