In a world where social distancing and remote work are the new normal, we’re relying on digital products and services more so than ever—from online meeting tools to fitness tracking, from e-commerce platforms to healthcare and wellness apps, and everything else in between. The digital experiences that make up our day-to-day lives have been created, in part, by user interface designers; the people who make sure that these products not only look great, but that they’re also intuitive, accessible, and inclusive. The demand for UI designers is evident just by looking at the world around us and the myriad interfaces we engage with on a daily basis.
Started in UI design
If you are just looking to get started in UI design you are probably wondering how long will it take to learn enough to become a competitive UI designer and get an entry-level job.
The time it takes to learn UI Design and become a competitive UI designer depends on your background and the time you can invest in learning. It can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months assuming you have other commitments like work, family, or school. If you have a background in graphic design it might take less time as you will already have a lot of the design skills required.
6-12 months might seem like a long time. Why does it take that long to learn UI design? I’ll explain.
I’ll make basic assumptions about your background. I’ll assume that you have a non-designer college degree, and you have no prior experience in design. If you do have a degree in graphic design or worked as a graphic designer, your mileage will vary.
I’ll also assume that you have a job, family, or other commitments, and you can’t be learning UI design for days on end. Let’s say you have 1-2 hours every day and perhaps 3-4 hours on weekends. I think that is somewhat realistic and sustainable for most people.
Why does it take that long to learn UI?
UI design is a broad domain. There is a lot to learn:
- Understanding the users and business
- Coming up with design ideas
- Testing ideas
- Expressing design ideas in a visually appealing way
You can learn the basics of UI design very quickly by taking a free online course or reading UI books.
What will take more time is to apply what you learned and develop design skills. There is no way around it. You can’t learn to play the guitar by watching some tutorials or learn to speak a new language just by reading a grammar book. The same goes for UI design.
You need time to develop UI design skills!
To get an entry-level job you won’t need to practice design skills for 10,000 hours, but 20 hours won’t be enough either.
To be competitive in the design industry it is not enough to have the skills, you also have to show something for it. Typically, that will be a portfolio of your design work. It will take time to build out a body of work that you can confidently show to your potential employers or clients.
What skills are there to learn?
As I mentioned already there is so much more to UI design than producing pretty-looking screens. If it was just about pretty pictures, you could easily learn to use Sketch or Adobe XD in a couple of weeks, become a star on Dribbble and Behance, and have clients lining up to hire you for their next exciting project.
I won’t get deep into the skills you will eventually need here. I already covered those skills in detail in a step-by-step guide How to Become a UI Designer. In this article, I’ll focus on something that you can start working on right now.
Two main UI design skills you need to develop are: (1) spot problems, and (2) fix them with design.
- Confusing is a problem.
- Ugly is also a problem.
As a designer, you need to know how to address both!
Most of the digital products people have trouble with are either confusing to use or look ugly. Sometimes it is both. You can think of Confusing vs Ugly as UI vs UI. This comparison is oversimplified, but it works.
You might be drawn to one over the other. You can choose to specialize now, but I’d recommend you do that later. Become a generalist before you choose to specialize. Think of problems as opportunities. A problem can be an opportunity to improve an existing product or create a brand new one. Start looking around for confusing and ugly things and try fixing them. Make this a habit. It will speed up your learning big time!
Plan to work on your design skills every single day. It doesn’t mean that you have to design something every single day. There is a lot you can learn by looking at good design and analyzing it. A good place to start is by looking at other UI designers’ portfolios. But don’t just look at the picture. Look at the final products (when you can). Now you have an idea of how long it might take to learn UI design from scratch. It does take time, so why not start learning right away! Take a look at the How to Become a UI Designer from a scratch guide for a deeper dive into the topic of learning UI