Switching from Graphic Design to UX Design: How to Get Started

Illustration of two computers on different desks.

Considering a move from graphic design to UX design? It might not be as difficult as you think. Here is some expert advice on making the transition.

The importance of the UX designer role has become more apparent in recent years, as we’ve all grown increasingly attached to and invested in our various digital devices. But making an app or website functional isn’t the same as making it enjoyable to use.

If you’re a graphic designer who thinks you’d be good at developing an experience that’s appealing and fun for users, UX design may be for you. And this career shift may come naturally to those who already possess strong design skills.

“UX sits at the crossroads of a lot of fields,” says Chris Hass, senior vice president of experience design at Mad*Pow and a past president of UXPA. “Generally speaking, specific degrees or certifications aren’t necessarily required, just experience with related endeavors. As a result, people who work solidly in one area, such as graphic design, or whose work spans multiple categories can be valuable.”

And UX designers are highly sought after today. According to The Creative Group Salary Guide, the average salary for UX designers with one to three years of experience ranges from $49,000 to $75,000. Those with three to five years of experience can expect to make $71,250 to $97,250. With five years or more of experience, the average UX designer starting salary range rises to $87,750 to $128,000. Use our handy Salary Calculator to adjust these salaries for your city.

Given the demand, leaving graphic design for UX design could be a move worth making. But how do you start the transition? Consider these tips:

Reflect on yourself

Start by asking yourself why you want to make this career change. UX design includes many aspects beyond visual design, such as psychology, computer science and storytelling. The UX designer role requires stellar communication and collaboration skills. As such, introverts who prefer headphones to conversations and who desire hours of uninterrupted pixel play should, perhaps, continue to wield their power for feats of graphic greatness.

But if you’re intrigued by UX design, you’ve done your homework and you’re still confident that you could excel in a UX position, go for it. (If you’re seeking a more detailed picture of what a UX designer’s work life is like, check out our interview with UX expert Sarah Weise.)

Start thinking (and practicing) like a UX design pro

Joy Liu, a senior user experience designer with Samsung’s Product Innovation Team, says graphic designers can help themselves by getting into the habit of soliciting more feedback on their work. “UX design is a process. It requires exploration and dialogue to understand each user's unique point of view and motivation of using a product,” says Liu, instructor of CreativeLive’s “Become a UX Designer” class. (Check out a clip from the CreativeLive course below.)


“It is easy to assume what people want, but it may not be the most suitable for them.,” Liu adds. “Don’t be afraid of showing your work to others and let people test your thinking. You learn a lot from knowing what worked and didn't work.” 

Self-study, practice and experimentation are also important. “When envisioning and building my very first websites, I found that studying the combination of information architecture, taxonomy, self-publishing, visual design and coding pushed me to learn new things in all of those fields,” Hass says. “Bolstering multi-disciplinary skills while putting them into use led me from creeks to rivers to oceans of information and opened a lot of doors.”

Network and learn

UX design requires excellent people skills, and networking will help you hone your social dexterity. Liu advises getting involved with your local UX community and finding the nearest UXPA and IxDA chapters. “Join the UX Community on Slack and also subscribe to the UX Thought of the Day for a nice daily dose of UX tips,” she says.

Hass agrees that forging connections within the UX community is key. He initially broke into the field by finding ways to get to know those who understood more about UX than he did.

“While designing by day I started attending professional membership organizations at night,” Hass says. “Monthly UXPA — then called UPA — meetings were free, provided snacks, and most of all professional guidance and networking. I could talk shop with professionals engaged in UX pursuits. This inspired me to seek and win a job as a professional usability researcher.”

In addition to UXPA, Hass says there are other professional groups to check out, including CHI, Girl Develop It and Code for America.

As you network, keep your eyes peeled for potential mentors who could help direct you in your educational choices, guide you toward the appropriate UX specialty and introduce you to valuable contacts. Hass recommends asking yourself these questions when you meet UX experts you want to learn from: “How can I get close to them professionally?” and “How can I use my current skills to support them?”

Focus on building a UX design portfolio

Career-switchers often face the same dilemma as recent graduates looking for their first jobs: To get hired for a UX design job you need UX experience. But how can you get that experience?

“Again, don’t overlook the value of professional organizations and volunteer projects,” Hass says. “UX organizations bring passionate people together in a volunteer capacity to flex their skills for the common good. They’re fantastic opportunities for your nascent skills to bloom in a largely consequence-free arena. You can learn from others while providing real-world challenges and outcomes that you can point to as positive contributions to society.”

Pursuing pro-bono work on your own by finding a local nonprofit that could benefit from your help is another option. “Volunteer projects enable you to try new things and demonstrate proficiency despite what your current resume says,” Hass says. “They’re a great vehicle for ‘fake it till you make it’ as well as a safety net in the event that you find yourself looking for a new job. And they are fun!”

You also might ask to observe UX designers at your company or even sign up to pitch in on one of their projects.

Making the move to UX design may be an appealing choice for graphic designers who have a keen interest in product development and design implementation. Career-changers willing to follow this advice can look forward to a bright career in a field with great growth potential. 

Does the idea of a career in UX design interest you? Search our available UX designer jobs now!

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