From Web Design to UX Design: Understanding and Making the Transition

by Sheena Lyonnais

posted on 10-25-2017

You’ve spent your career building websites and now you’re looking for something more. For many, the idea of moving from web design to a career in user experience (UX) design makes sense. The two utilize many of the same qualities and skills, but they focus on different aspects of the design experience.

With a growing demand for UX designers, the field is ripe with opportunities for those who are looking for a new challenge. If you’re considering a career change from web design to UX design, this article will go deeper into what UX design is, how it compares to web design, and what you need to do to make the leap into this exciting new career.

Defining Experience Design

User experience design factors usability, research, and interactivity into the look and feel of a product. Its greatest concern is how a user interacts with the experience to achieve the desired results as effortlessly and seamlessly as possible. It’s a research-driven practice that combines elements of psychology, graphic design, web design, market and user research, interface design, and other disciplines to create well-rounded, data-backed products that function effectively and feel good to use.

This summary hardly scratches the surface of all UX design entails. For a deeper primer on UX, check out this article on What You Should Know About User Experience.

Similarities Between Web and UX Design

Aesthetics: Web designers take more of a brand’s aesthetic into consideration, balancing colors, typography and other visual content to present information in a cohesive way. UX designers are also concerned with the aesthetically pleasing, but place greater emphasis on ensuring they’re functional too.

Front-end focus: Web designers deal more with front-end coding and using programs like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to create visual components, while UX designers will use prototyping software like Adobe XD to map out experiences.

Problem-solving: Designers use design thinking, listening skills and creative problem solving to explore problems, find solutions, iterate and improve on an ongoing basis.

Communication and collaboration: Designers must communicate effectively about design while collaborating with others to bring projects to life. Whether you’re working with an external client or internal stakeholder, learning to communicate your ideas clearly is critical in getting them off the ground.

Differences between Web and UX design

More than just web: UX design transcends the screen and considers the experience beyond digital. It encompasses the user journey and the various emotions that correspond with this while exploring the relationship between the physical and digital and the impact this has on a user’s experience.

User-focused: Where web design is brand-focused, UX design is user-focused. A pillar of UX design is user research and usability testing, ongoing initiatives that are used to validate UX design solutions and inspire rapid iteration. It’s not just about what you’re designing, but who you are designing for.

Empathy: Having empathy for users is universally regarded as an innate part of a UX designer’s role. If you can’t put yourself in your user’s shoes, then how can you expect your experience to help them? Crucial to this is the development of user personas. These personas give UX designers a framework for understanding who their users actually are.

Prototypes: Wireframes and prototyping are big parts of a UX designer’s process. This phase helps to understand the problem on a deeper level while testing ideas and solutions before building the product out. While web designers may also do mock-ups, prototypes are more involved.

Level of coding expertise: Understanding HTML, CSS and certain programming languages may be an imperative part of web design, but depending on the company, they’re not always the responsibility of UX designers. Having a basic understanding of code is usually expected but expert-level isn’t always required.

Less traditional: UX designers come from a variety of backgrounds including web design, web development, graphic design, architecture, psychology, marketing and more. Check out this piece on The Many Paths to UX to explore further.

Moving From Web Design to UX Design

Web designers have a leg up when it comes to landing a job in UX because you already understand many of the fundamental elements of design and design thinking.

However, UX is its own beast and it doesn’t hurt to further develop your understanding of UX as well as your UX skills before you pursue new opportunities. The following tips can help make a smoother transition from web design to UX.

Start with the Fundamentals

Familiarize yourself with the basics of user experience design and begin to understand how it evolved over time. These resources are a great place to start. Not only will they provide you with some background info on the discipline, but you’ll start to understand additional similarities and differences between the two, including where your current skills stack up and where you have opportunities to improve your skills.

Enhance Your Skills

Once you’ve figured out which skills could use more work, start looking into opportunities to enhance your learning. Consider attending meetups or taking courses online, reaching out to current UX designers in your network, or perhaps begin tinkering with different programs and mapping out ideas. Also, take this as an opportunity to understand the strengths or your current skills. How could they apply to a career in UX?

For those looking for a more formal education, check out Boot Camp or On Campus? Where to Study UX to discover many of the options that are available.

Build a Portfolio

Time to get to work. Start building a portfolio to show potential employers what you’ve got to offer. Draw inspiration from these 10 Inspiring UX Portfolios and check out this piece on Getting Noticed: 10 Tips From Creatives on Finding an Audience For Your Work.

Design Something

If building your portfolio didn’t give you enough real experience, consider looking for a freelance project to kick things off. If you’ve never worked freelance before, don’t worry. This piece entitled Imposter Syndrome, and Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Start A Freelance UX Design Career has some valuable tips that also apply to your first freelance project.

Career Resources

Finally, it’s time to start applying. These articles will help set you up for success with tips on how to land your first UX job and insightful career advice from current UX professionals.

Switching your focus from web design to UX design doesn’t have to be scary. There is a plethora of information available out there and the world is ripe with opportunities to build your UX design skills.

If this struck a chord with you, why not give it a shot! Companies are looking for UX designers that have a keen eye for design, are proponents of functionality, and possess a passion for creating amazing experiences.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

Products: Photoshop, Illustrator, Creative Cloud