Three Challenges That Come With Transitioning from Graphic to UX Design, and Tips to Overcome Them

by Linn Vizard

posted on 08-31-2017

The new economy means that most people will change careers at least once in their lifetimes. In some cases these changes are drastic (quitting your executive position to be a yoga teacher – anyone?), and in others, they are natural evolutions or lateral moves. For many graphic designers, the move to User Experience design (UX) is one that often happens organically.

The decline of the print industry and growing focus on designing for digital means that graphic designers are increasingly considering what it means to design for screens. In tandem with that, the heightened strategic importance of design for many products and services means that designers must consider their work beyond the visual aspect.

All of that said, career transitions are not a walk in the park, and although graphic design and UX have many overlapping or transferrable skills, designers will face challenges along the course of this transition.

Expanding Your Skillset

Having graphic design knowledge and experience is certainly an asset to the aspiring UX designer. While it’s a great base to start from, there are additional skills that are important to acquire through learning and practice. The biggest shift is in designing for use – creating products and systems that people use to complete a task, rather than communication pieces that people view and absorb information from. This means understanding principles of usability, being able to conduct design research, facilitate workshops, and rapidly prototype and test ideas.

This skills gap can feel overwhelming – so what’s a graphic designer to do? As UX is a relatively young discipline, there are few formal degree programs, and many practitioners are self-taught through a combination of reading, experience and shorter educational programs. The good news is that there are lots of ways to level up your UX knowledge:

Remember that theoretical learning is a great start, and that what you learn needs to be applied through your work, side projects or personal projects.

Feeling Pigeon-Holed as a ‘Pixel Pusher’

For many graphic designers looking to make the transition to UX, this can be the most frustrating barrier. Great graphic design skills and visual polish and be a distraction for some employers, and you may feel pigeon-holed as someone who ‘makes things pretty.’ The advantages of visual design skills are a double-edged sword; many students I’ve worked with have felt this pain, where they end up being seen as more suited to UI or graphic design work, even though they are longing to do more UX focused work.

It’s important to not get discouraged if this happens. Overcoming this challenge is all about knowing how to represent yourself and your work, and how to use those visual design skills to your advantage! Some approaches to this challenge include:

Presenting yourself and being seen as a UX designer will take some time and practice as you are learning a new mindset. It’s ok for this to take time, just stick with it!

Getting Your Foot in the Door

As with any career transition, getting started is often the hardest part. For many designers, landing the first job or opportunity to flex your UX muscles takes a lot of time and perseverance.

Getting your foot in the door is definitely a challenging phase of any career transition. This challenge is all about staying positive and persevering!

Genius is One Percent Inspiration, Ninety-Nine Percent Perspiration

As a graphic designer hoping to transition to UX, you have a great starting point. Being aware of some common pitfalls and strategies to overcome them will help you on your journey. As Thoman Edison said, it’s “ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

Products: Creative Cloud