Graphic designer sitting on a couch with his dog, considering switching to UX design.

Graphic Design to UX Design: The Ultimate Career Change Guide

Emerson Schroeter

If you’re a graphic designer and you’re considering a career change, UX design could be just the field you’re looking for—and your current skillset could very well give you a head start!

The prospect of building a whole new career can be somewhat daunting, and it’s important to have a look around before you take the leap—to know just what you’re getting into (both the challenges and the rewards). This guide will give you a clearer idea of what that transition might look like. 

We’ll cover what exactly UX design is, the skills you’ll need to break into the field, which skills you may already have, and how to bridge the gap. We’ll even share a few stories of others who have successfully switched from graphic design to UX design!

Here’s what we’ll cover: 

  1. What exactly is UX design?
  2. Salaries: Graphic design vs. UX
  3. What skills will I need as a UX designer?
  4. Graphic design to UX: What are my transferable skills?
  5. Bridging the gap: How do I learn UX design?
  6. Success stories: Graphic designers turned UX designers
  7. Closing thoughts

1. What exactly is UX design?

UX design—or user experience design—is the collaborative, curious, and empathetic work of improving the usability of digital products, ensuring that products and experiences are accessible and inclusive, and creating a better—even delightful—user experience.

But what is a user experience? Put very simply, it is how a user feels as they engage with your product. It is the summation of what causes them to come to your product in the first place, what they do to accomplish what they came there for, what they encounter along the way, and how they respond to any one moment in that journey—or how they feel about the journey as a whole.

UX designers observe the full user journey, identify pain points (places along the way that don’t go as well as they could or cause users to give up or drop out of a process), and find ways to resolve those pain points and enhance the user experience

They wield the full power of design thinking as they go about the design process: 

Diagram demonstrating the 5 stages of the design process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test) and how they are not a linear process.

The process begins with user research, when the UX designer cultivates empathy for their users. They then go on to define what problems, needs, and goals users have that the product could potentially solve or help users achieve. Next, they actively ideate to come up with feasible design solutions, after which they prototype their solutions to refine them. In the final stage, they test those solutions with their users to ensure that their ideas have the intended effect on the overall user experience.

UX designers act as an advocate for their users as they collaborate with stakeholders (people who have a say in the product’s development), UI designers, data analysts, and web developers to navigate the evolution of their product. 

If you’d like to learn more about what UX design actually is, CareerFoundry’s UX design guide will give you a great overview of the definition and history of the field, as well as the key aspects of the job and it’s value in the world of product development.

2. Salaries: Graphic design vs. UX

Now that you’ve got a good overview of what you’d be doing as a UX designer, let’s dig into one of the most practical considerations of a career change: salary. However you feel about money or how much you’re making now, it’s important to have some idea of what your salary might be if you do change careers. 

According to Adobe’s hiring trends report, the demand for UX designers has overtaken demand for graphic designers, with 11% more managers placing UX designers as their top hiring priority (tied with software engineers). This bodes well for aspiring UX designers! 

As more and more companies embrace the business value of UX design, the value of this role increases. Here’s a breakdown of the average salaries for UX designers and graphic designers in several major countries. Bear in mind that while the overall difference in salaries is clear, there are always variations dependent on location, company, and your particular areas of expertise.

 

Map displaying graphic designer vs UX designer salaries by country

 

Canada

Average salary for a UX designer: CA$72,000 ($52,000 USD)
Average salary for a graphic designer: CA$44,269 ($31,504 USD)

Australia

Average salary for a UX designer:  A$90,000 ($57,000 USD)
Average salary for a graphic designer: A$54,720 ($35,442 USD)

Germany

Average salary for a UX designer: €51,000 ($56,000 USD)
Average salary for a graphic designer: €32,147 ($34,868 USD)

China

Average salary for a UX designer: ¥204,000 ($30,000 USD)
Average salary for a graphic designer: ¥127,200 ($17,934 USD)

United Kingdom

Average salary for a UX designer: €40,000 ($46,000 USD)
Average salary for a graphic designer: €24,737 ($30,388 USD)

United States

Average salary for a UX designer: $85,000 USD
Average salary for a graphic designer: $45,144 USD
 

3. What skills will I need as a UX designer?

Because the role of a UX designer is simultaneously strategic, collaborative, empathetic, and technical, the skill set you’ll need is incredibly varied. Here, CareerFoundry mentor Tobias gives a 5-minute overview of the essential UX design skills:
 

 

As Tobias points out, it’s all too easy to get carried away with getting those hard skills under your belt and forget about the softer skills that are just as essential to your success. 

Key among the soft skills you should cultivate: empathy. The business and strategic side of things is certainly a critical factor, but there are usually plenty of people in a company who can provide insight on those priorities. But your users aren’t usually present in those meetings. UX is all about connecting with and advocating for the needs of the people who will use your products. 

On that note, it’s definitely beneficial to have some degree of aptitude for business, both to help you relate more naturally to various stakeholders’ needs and goals and help you make design decisions that are well-informed in terms of how well they’ll work with the company’s finances, brand, and overall strategy. 

Another important soft skill to cultivate is organization. As a UX designer, you’ll often need to juggle multiple tasks, data sets, meetings, ideas, and communications—and often on a deadline. It’s critical to keep things organized and to be able to see a clear path through what might at times be a chaotic to-do list.  

UX designers work frequently with everyone involved in, or impacted by, the product development process—from stakeholders to developers, and UI designers to the end users themselves. Because of this, it’s important that you’re able to communicate appropriately to a wide variety of audiences, that you know how to ask good questions (that open a conversation up to real discoveries), and that you are clear and capable of providing clarification or additional examples or information when they’re needed.  

Successful UX designers also cultivate mastery of the art and science of information architecture. Information architecture is the science of organizing and structuring content in such a way that the arrangement of the content itself helps users accomplish what they came to the product for. A good UX designer has a clear understanding of what good information architecture looks like and can spot areas for improvement in a product’s design.

As a UX designer you’ll interact directly with users as you conduct user research—yet another critical skill in the world of UX. You might call this the heart of the job! Good UX designers know how to connect with users, what kinds of questions to ask, and the types of observations to make as they gather data. This skill alone is a combination of a variety of soft and hard skills—like communication (soft) and creating a research plan (hard). And it doesn’t stop there.

A good UX designer also knows how to take the data they uncover in their research and distill it into clear deliverables and actionable insights. This is a broad and varied set of skills that will include everything from critical thinking and problem solving to understanding the function and makeup of key deliverables—such as an affinity map, a user persona, a customer journey map, or a user flow—and how to create those deliverables through the efficient use of industry standard tools. 

And finally, speaking of industry standard tools, UX designers have a solid grasp on how to create low-, mid-, and hi-fidelity wireframes and prototypes. Once designers have landed on the ideas they want to try out to improve the product or experience, they move on to create wireframes and prototypes. Wireframing is the process of creating a digital blueprint of the product with the design changes in place. These blueprints are then used to produce a testable prototype of the product, which is the final step before rolling out that new and improved product. 

Now that you’ve got an understanding of what skills you’d need as a UX designer, let’s have a look at what skills you already have.


Graphic designer looking over her portfolio and CV, looking for skills she can bring with her into a career in UX

4. Graphic design to UX: What are my transferable skills?

Having looked at the skills you’d need as a UX designer, chances are you’ve already got a sense of how some of your current skills overlap with those of a UX designer. Let’s have a look at four specific graphic design skills that will transfer quite nicely to a career in UX. 

Industry standard tools and processes

While the specific experiences of graphic designers may vary, it’s quite likely that you’re already familiar with some of the industry standard tools and processes—such as prototyping—that would serve you as a UX designer.  

Knowledge of design conventions and an eye for aesthetics

This skill is one that will give you a head start and help you adjust more quickly to the world of UX. As a graphic designer you already possess a well of knowledge and understanding of the principles and theories that go into really great design. These might come in to play more explicitly in work as a graphic designer; for UX designers, this knowledge creates a foundation for understanding why users might be experiencing a particular problem, what kinds of solutions to test, how to build an excellent mid- to hi-fidelity prototype, and more. 

In other words, you’ve already got one key component for a strong foundation in UX. With your keen eye for aesthetics, you’ll be even more capable of collaborating with UI designers and developers as they bring your designs to life!

Connecting with users

In UX, the user and their needs and goals are the primary measurement of a design’s success. The very heart of UX is designing to meet the needs of the end user—this is the goal of every deliverable, every decision, and every stage of the design thinking process. 

It’s a good thing that, as a graphic designer, you’re already versed in how to design to connect with your target audience! Your success in the world of UX design will rise and fall on your ability to wield this critical skill.

Thinking outside the box

As a graphic designer, you’re often required to take a fresh approach to existing designs, to think creatively, and to solve problems with an eye on what will best suit your target audience. These are all skills that you’d use as a UX designer! 

In UX, the design thinking process guides every phase of product development, enabling designers to approach problems creatively and to generate innovative solutions. You simply need to take your creative approach to solving visual design problems and turn it toward solving problems of usability, accessibility, and inclusion. 


Graphic designer sitting at a laptop, working on assignments in his UX design certification program

5. Bridging the gap: How do I learn UX design?

Looking at your skills as a graphic designer and comparing them to the skills of successful UX designers, there is overlap in the most important areas: creativity, problem solving, and user-awareness. Chances are that you can also spot some areas to target as you develop new skills.

You may already be familiar with some of the industry standard tools, but this is one area where there is almost always room to grow. Design tools like Adobe XD, InVision, Sketch, and Figma are staples that you’d do well to master, as well as tools such as Miro, Mural, and any number of user research/usability testing tools and techniques. Get familiar with the most essential tools in UX, common tools for user research, and the best ones for wireframing. Look at it as an exciting way to explore the field and find which tools you like best and want to master!

Beyond learning the tools of the trade, you’ll need to learn some key processes and deliverables, and develop a high-quality UX design portfolio before you start applying for jobs. This can be a daunting task, but luckily, there are a lot of resources out there to help you get started. You can explore the basics by taking a free short course in UX design. For a detailed overview of what it takes to be a UX designer, check out CareerFoundry’s free UX Design tutorial

For a deeper dive—and to really master the art, the craft, and the science—a full certification program might be your best fit. Taking a full course in UX design or earning a certificate in UX design can be one of the most effective ways to jump start your career change. These kinds of learning experiences provide structure, feedback, mentorship, and sometimes even a job guarantee. 

Find the right UX certification program and you’ll have found a one-stop shop for learning industry standard tools, mastering key UX processes and deliverables, developing a professional-grade portfolio, and growing into a UX designer that potential employers are eager to hire. Some—like the CareerFoundry UX Design Program—are fully mentored and even come with a job guarantee to provide some additional feedback, coaching, and assurance as you grow into your new career.

Best of all, perhaps, the best certification programs will immerse you in a community of fellow career changers. You’re not alone! 

6. Success stories: Graphic designers turned UX designers

If or when you decide that UX design is the right change for your career, you won’t be the first and you won’t be alone. Here are three graphic designers who successfully transitioned their careers to UX design:

  • Flora found freedom in starting from scratch. Read about how she found positivity to be a key ingredient in a successful career change.
  • Priyanka was In search of a more varied career path, when she discovered UX design. 
  • Virginia felt uninspired in her career—until a spontaneous hackathon led her to UX.

7. Closing thoughts

Career change is no small thing! There are a lot of things to consider as you dream about the possibilities and directions you might go. We hope this guide brings some clarity to that process, shedding light on what skills will make you a successful UX designer, which ones you already possess, and how to enrich that skillset and become a true master of the field. 

If you’d like to learn more about UX design, or about career change as a whole, check out these articles:

What You Should Do Now

  1. Get a hands-on introduction to UX with a free, 6-day short course.
  2. Become a qualified UX designer in 5-10 months—complete with a job guarantee.
  3. Talk to a Career Advisor to discuss career change and find out if UX is right for you.
  4. Learn about our graduates, see their portfolio projects, and find out where they’re at 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 diversity, inclusion, and UX design.