Browsing the internet, I haven’t noticed much basic guidance for visual designers new to the UX world. A few get a start here, but many matriculate from traditional backgrounds like branding and print, or areas with semi-similar processes like interactive ad agencies and in-house web departments. Often these are positions designing for singular needs. Move product. Maintain presence. Communicate. These objectives tend to explode when making the transition to a UX process, which can be unsettling. If you are getting started in the field, these are some habits that might be helpful.
1. Develop an eye for patterns.
Reoccurring themes can be as simple as a control repeated in a user flow or as complex as scripted interactions. The more you look at wireframes and schematics, the more you can pinpoint patterns to describe. It’s important to develop this skill. It will help you to quickly anticipate what works with your visual system and what does not, which will save you from having to pull it apart and fix things later on.
2. Stay fastidious
As your files grow, fast design iteration can spin them out of control, especially on large projects. Don’t let this happen. Work from a master file—a bin of individual “parent” elements that you pull from whenever you need to replicate “child” elements in one of your compositions. Follow established naming structures and taxonomies in your folders and strive to arrange your files to reflect their relationships. This will help map your work to the overall project and keep a lid on version control issues.
3. Be water, my friend.
Look at your project like a whirlpool funnel. At the top, things are swirling around with lots of open questions. At the bottom, answers have been pinned down and things narrow into a fine-line stream. If you fixate on describing your visual system too specifically at the top, it will blow apart. Instead, describe your high-level direction freeform using tools like mood boards, story boards, sketches, and desirability charts. Detail your compositions when the larger questions have been answered and you can accurately match your system to the overall project framework.
4. Study behavior
Being that UX design is by definition user-centric, it’s critical for visual practitioners to empathize with users. For instance, to simply perceive what delights someone or makes them mistrustful is a powerful tool when orchestrating these reactions through design. Beyond “simple” and “usable”, all things visceral are at play.
5. Make defensible decisions
The work never truly speaks for itself. Many stakeholders see the visual field littered with risky decisions. Even though your heightened visual designer’s instincts will have guided you well, always expect to defend the decisions you have made. Do so with reason and panache in a way people can get behind.
Siloing yourself strictly to visual design is too isolating. Inevitably, you will need to learn other aspects of UX design if you are going to play well with others. Sit in on strategy meetings. Participate in research. Talk to developers. Learning about someone else’s work will help you collaborate better, resulting in better work.