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How to Be a Better UX Designer in 2020

Emerson Schroeter

If you’re just getting started in UX and you’re looking for ways to be on top of your UX game in the new year, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got the top five conversations and trends that you should be ready for!

While there are some big and exciting trends out there, sometimes the best things to pay attention to are the things that simply make us better UX designers—cultivating a skillset that is relevant to the job market, learning the best, cutting-edge tools for design and collaboration, and adopting the knowledge and practices that come along with where the broader field of UX is headed. 

Here are five UX ways you can prepare for a new year in UX design. We’ll even throw in actionable takeaways to help you get started! Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. UX generalist vs. UX specialist debate
  2. Specializations to keep an eye on
  3. Movement towards inclusive design
  4. Tools for digital collaboration
  5. Micro-communities for knowledge-sharing
  6. A final word

1. UX generalist vs. UX specialist debate

Starting off in the world of UX, you’re sure to find a number of roles out there—from “UX Designer” or “Experience Designer” to “UX Researcher” and “UX Writer.” It can be a little overwhelming, and some roles will probably interest you more than others. Get into the details of these job descriptions and you’ll find the list of required skills quite extensive! It seems like everyone’s got to specialize in something, and it doesn’t take long to find yourself wondering what skills you actually need to make it in this exciting field. 

This proliferation of roles and variety of required skills is partly a result of business catching on to the value of UX design and channeling more resources in that direction. Design teams are more common and much larger than they were in the early days of UX design. 

This, in combination with a movement towards integrating design with other aspects of business (designers working with developers and data analysts, for example), leads to a growing demand for UX professionals who either specialize in one key area or are able to thrive in a cross-functional environment. 

According to Jared Spool, though, the best and most flexible teams are made up of members who each have a solid foundation in all the core UX design skills, which he defines as: interaction design, information architecture, user research, visual design, information design, fast iteration management, copywriting, and editing. Spool argues that a team of specialists leaves one kind of work solely on the shoulders of one person, which can lead to overwork and bottlenecks in the process. 

So which is it, then? Should you generalize or specialize? The answer: perhaps a little of both. 

Build a strong foundation of skills in all things UX so that you can contribute flexibly to a design team and jump in at any point in the process to move things along. But don’t stop there! Along the way, pay attention to aspects of the process that you find most intriguing. 

Do you have a knack for connecting with people and organizing data? You could explore UX research as one aspect of your broad skillset to refine and get really good at. Do you have a way with words? You might find UX writing to be interesting and even fun. But gather those skills along the way to becoming a great UX designer with a foundation of core skills. 

Actionable takeaway: 

One of the best ways to ensure you have a strong set of core UX skills is to complete a UX bootcamp or to find a UX internship. Both of these routes can offer hands-on, expert-mentored experience in the industry—sometimes with a UX job at the end of it. 

2. Specializations to keep an eye on

Among the many UX roles and varied skill sets currently in demand, it will be interesting to watch how a few of these evolve over the next year. 

A recent report from McKinsey demonstrates the value of a more thorough integration of data and design—a type of cross-functionality that would require designers to, at the very least, communicate effectively with data scientists, but perhaps even share workflows. 

Similar convergences are happening between UX designers and content writers, researchers, and voice interface designers. So the roles and required skills do indeed continue to evolve. 

In our collaboration with InVision for the top design trends for 2020, our research revealed that Google, Microsoft, Airbnb, and other influential companies are already looking to hire UX professionals with additional knowledge or experience in: 

  • UX writing/content strategy and management
  • UX research
  • Voice UI design
  • Data analytics 
  • Video editing and 3D design

This bodes well for UX professionals who have special skills (or an interest to learn) in any of these areas. 

Actionable takeaways: 

Read up on UX writing, UX research, voice interface design, data analytics, and computational design; consider whether your existing skill set is already conducive to a special focus in any of these areas, or whether you’re particularly intrigued by any of them. 

You can also look for bootcamps and short courses that focus on these areas or offer specializations. By way of example, our UX Design program offers an optional specialization in voice design, advanced UI skills, or the basics of frontend development. And UX Writing Hub’s UX writing course is a great place to start if you’re a person who loves words. These kinds of programs offer a structured path as you broaden your skill set.

3. Movement towards inclusive design

UX design is all about designing to meet the needs of the people using your product. It’s about creating solutions that make life easier for humans. Increasingly, the industry is focusing on inclusive design as a means of accomplishing this. 

So, first: What is inclusive design? Inclusive design is an approach to design that takes into deep consideration the needs of users who might easily be excluded. It undertakes standard UX processes with a view towards ensuring that the product is inherently inclusive of (and equally easy and delightful to use by) everyone who would benefit from using the product. More specifically, inclusive design seeks to find design solutions that do not exclude anyone on the basis of ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, body type, cultural experience, etc. 

It’s important to note that inclusive design is different from accessibility. Accessibility looks at how products work for people with disabilities or differences in ability that directly affect how they will access and experience a product. Inclusive design takes this into account and broadens the vision to consider how someone might experience a product differently if they are not an “average” user. 

Two examples. What if there are people who would certainly benefit from using your product, but they are unable to do so because they are 1) transgender and your product includes gendered language that is uncomfortable or even harmful to them, or 2) they fall outside of the ethnic or socioeconomic majority of your users and your product includes images that represent them inadequately or inaccurately? These individuals (representing entire groups of potential users) are, to varying degrees, excluded from using your product. 

Forrester’s Inclusive Design Imperative suggests that many companies design for 80% of their users and, essentially, leave the other 20% behind. The same report also points out that many companies take accessibility concerns into account only so far as they are legally obligated.

The result is missed business, and Forrester suggests that companies are likely to benefit from designing for the 20%—with the understanding that the needs of the 80% will probably also be met along the way, and that it’s possible to break into unexpected markets (this is the Paradox of Specificity at work!). 

Actionable takeaway: 

No matter what you think you already know, learn more about inclusive design! Truly inclusive design is a matter of keeping yourself on a growing edge, always willing to learn and unlearn and approach challenges in new ways. Here are a few resources to get you started:

4. Tools for digital collaboration 

With bigger design teams and more cross-functional roles and teams in the mix, it’s clear that design is, more than ever, a team sport—and less than ever a one-person show. 

The State of UX named Figma as the top tool for 2019 and it’s no wonder. Figma is a free design tool with collaboration baked into the interface. Forget design files! Start a project in Figma, then share it and collaborate digitally, in real time. The implications of this are huge, as it makes remote collaboration easier than ever. 

And Figma isn’t the only tool out there to offer this. Adobe XD, InVision, Miro, Sketch for Teams, and other platforms are making collaboration as integral as any other design function, mirroring the general movement of the field towards cross functionality and true integration. 

Actionable takeaway: 

Explore Adobe XD, InVision, Figma and other tools that offer great options for digital collaboration. See what it’s like to work with this tools as an individual and experiment with the features that enable collaboration. The more familiar you are with these tools and their collaborative functions, the more prepared you’ll be for the dynamically collaborative nature of working in UX. 

5. Micro-communities for knowledge-sharing

No designer is an island. Neither is any design team. The learning and collaboration that is at the heart of UX design is easy to see reflected not only in the tools we use (as we just discussed), but in the ways we learn and share information.

There are hundreds of millions of groups and on Facebook, countless events on Meetup and open workspaces on Slack, and the list goes on and on. Broadening your professional circle and learning new ideas and skills has never been easier.

These particular opportunities for learning and networking are nothing new, but these micro-communities offer a wealth of resources that you don’t want to miss out on as you get your start in UX. And it costs nothing (or next to nothing) to get involved. 

Aside from the fact that these communities are extremely affordable to join, these communities also offer the chance to narrow your focus as you broaden your professional knowledge and network. Many of these communities are not “micro” in their membership, but in their focus. 

The Designership, for example, is an open Slack community with a specific focus on matters of designIt offers a place where you can engage in conversations, ask questions, and share information with some 2,800 other designers. That’s a significant network! 

For those interested in UX writing and content strategy, UX Writing Hub’s Microcopy and UX Writing Facebook group is another fantastic example—boasting nearly 9,000 members. The conversation is vibrant and the information you’ll find there is directly relevant to this specific interest. 

Micro-communities are also great because they adapt to your needs. You can decide for yourself what level of involvement you want to have—whether temporary or long-term, multiple times per day or just a few times per year. There’s usually no engagement requirement either, so if you want to sit back and listen to the conversation for a while, you can!

Actionable takeaway: 

Join one (or two or ten) of these communities and engage in conversations that will deepen your knowledge and broaden your professional network. Facebook is a great place to start. Search for groups and events with a focus that matches your interest and join up! Meetup is a good place to start if you want to find groups and events in a specific city or region. And finally, here is a quick list of some virtual communities you can check out:

6. A final word

So there you have it: Five key considerations for the new year as you get your start in the world of UX design! It all boils down to:

  • Building a strong foundation of UX skills
  • Designing inclusively
  • Deepening and broadening your skills, knowledge, and professional network by exploring new areas, collaborative tools, and micro-communities

Tackle a few of the takeaways we’ve offered along the way and you’ll be well on your way to transforming your career.

If you’d like to learn more about UX design, check out these articles:

What You Should Do Now

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Emerson Schroeter

Emerson Schroeter

Editor at CareerFoundry

Emerson is a New Mexican transplant to Berlin. They’re a nonbinary human with an MFA in creative writing and a passion for UX design.