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UX designers are in high demand. As mobile apps have become the norm over the past decade, more and more companies have realized that their digital products need to be user-friendly. 

And this trend shows no signs of slowing: according to Cognizant Jobs of the Future Index, the demand for UX Design will continue to grow in the “AI era”, even as conventional jobs become automated.

Even with these positive prospects, switching to a UX design career still feel very daunting. As well as the promise of future rewards, there is also a sense of risk and unpredictability. Something else we hear about a lot is the fear of “wasting” prior education and work experience. 

However, there’s another way of looking at things. The experience you bring from your previous career will almost always be an asset as you begin switching careers to UX design. Transferable skills can come from all kinds of fields, from marketing to management. 

Your existing skills not only mean that you’ll have a head start in your UX education; you’ll also have a lot to boost your resume when it comes to hunting for that first UX design job. 

Read on for our tips on how to leverage existing skills to support your new career!

Soft Skills

To succeed as a UX designer, you need a range of soft skills—from communication to time management. The great news is that soft skills are typically very transferable. Here are a few examples of experience you’re likely to bring from previous work.

[ Unsure what UX designers do all day? Check out our explainer on UX design job descriptions! ]

Communication

Whether it’s explaining the rationale behind design decisions, or annotating screen designs when handing them over to a developer, UX designers need to get their ideas across to others clearly and concisely.

Think about moments in your career where you’ve taught something to a group, presented a project, or persuaded others to buy in to an idea. Career switchers who have a background in sales, marketing, or customer support are at a particular advantage. The same often goes for teachers, pharmacists, and line managers!

Empathy

The first stage in the design thinking process is “empathize”. UX design is a user-centered discipline, and understanding user needs from a first-person perspective is critical to successful problem-solving as a designer.

Many professions require a high degree of empathy. In the big picture, experience in any customer-facing role is likely to have developed your capacity for empathy, and your understanding of how to act on those insights. Roles in healthcare, education, and customer service form a particularly strong launchpad for working in UX design.

Collaboration and Leadership

Effective design work requires collaboration at every stage of the process, whether it’s coming up with ideas (think group brainstorming), conducting research (you’ll need to work with users), or handing off work to a developer (discussion to solve problems and constraints that arise).

No matter what industry you’re coming from, there’s significant value in the knowledge and experience you gained from working alongside people who think differently from you. 

The same goes for leadership: UX designers are often project leaders, particularly within small teams. The experience you bring as a leader doesn’t evaporate just because you’re switching careers. Highlight your successes as a leader on your resume and hiring managers will understand your new design skills in the context of your full set of skills.     

Hard Skills

Naturally, there tends to be less overlap in the hard skills required for work as a UX designer. However, there are some areas that transfer well, and there are a number of paths available to level up your existing skills by learning more about UX design (without breaking the bank).

Research

Although usually called UX designers (or product designers), a large part of a generalist UX professional’s role is actually about research. Larger organizations also hire for more focused “UX Researcher” roles—so if research is your thing, you could consider specializing further down the line. 

As a UX designer, research typically takes the form of:

  • competitor analysis: looking at related companies in the market, understanding what they offer, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses;

  • user research: surveys, interviews, and observations about user needs, goals, and pain points related to the product or problem in question;

  • UX analytics: researching site usability by identifying patterns and insights from data about website visitors or app users.

If you’re coming from a background in academia or scientific research, you’ll be well prepared for the principles of UX research. However, many other jobs include elements of research; you might also have conducted structured research during your degree, even if it was in a different discipline. 

One Designlab graduate found UX Design when she completed a research project on diabetes management as part of her pharmacy school rotation, and realized her passion for mobile app design and technology! 

Writing

They say the web is 90% text, and copy for apps and websites—including the little snippets that go into forms and buttons—is a crucial ingredient in any digital products.

Content usually needs writing before the user interface (UI) design can happen, and in small teams, a fair amount of the writing often falls to the UX designers. In fact, there’s even a specific role—UX writer—for designers or writers who want to focus on writing copy for interfaces. Companies are recognizing the value of this role, and the number of positions available is expected to rise in the next year. 

If you’re coming from a copywriting, journalism, marketing, or other communications background, you likely have strong writing skills that you can use to boost your credentials as a UX designer or UX writer. 

Wireframing and Prototyping

Wireframes are sketched or outlined versions of screen designs, and they’re used to experiment with flows and develop different options for user interfaces. They’re typically the UX designer’s responsibility, as they’re used to create and test early prototypes of digital products. 

These can be made using pen and paper, or digitally using tools like Sketch, Figma, or Adobe XD. Similarly, the prototypes can be paper-based (an example of low-fidelity prototyping), or a more realistic, clickable version on screen (known as high-fidelity prototyping). Clickable prototypes can be created using the tools listed above. Alternatively, there are online platforms specifically for the creation of clickable prototypes, including InVision and Marvel. 

Although wireframing and prototyping might seem like very specific UX design skills, coming from a background in technical drawing, architecture, illustration, or graphic design will help immensely with wireframing, particularly because you will have a good sense of size and scale. Similarly, the cycle of feedback and iteration associated with prototyping and testing will be very familiar to anyone coming from these disciplines.

These are just a few of the UX design skills that your previous education and work might prepare you for better than you imagined.

Check out our full list of essential UX design skills and see how many more transferable skills you can identify—they could be a big help to your career switch into design. 

Although switching careers is never easy, recognizing the areas where you have a head start can be a real boost both to your confidence, and to how you present yourself when applying for your first design job. 

Ready to build your UX Design skills and switch to a new creative career? Check out our award-winning UX Academy program!

Nicole Tanoue is a UX Designer, artist, and content creator from Honolulu, Hawaii. Also a UX Academy alumna, she has a passion for human-centered design and how small, impactful changes can improve people’s lives.

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Nicole Tanoue

UX Designer and UX Academy Alumna

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