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Can Graphic Designers Become UX Designers?

career change Nov 08, 2021

With a bit of training, graphic designers can transition to UX design roles with grace and panache. Thanks to their background in digital art, graphic designers bring a highly transferable skill set to UX, including visual communication and design software expertise. 

If you’re a graphic designer looking for a career change, read on. In this installment of The Guac, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between UX design and graphic design. We’ll also provide strategies for leveraging your background to launch a rewarding UX career. 

Grab your chips and let’s dig in!

 

What is UX Design?

“UX” stands for user experience. User experience designers work to create user-friendly mobile applications, websites, and even consumer goods. 

UX professionals often work with a team of researchers and developers. They follow a design process, starting with research and brainstorming to define the problem at hand. Then, they move through many designs with varying levels of fidelity, refining their work with each iteration. They also build and test prototypes of the product to make sure it meets user needs. 

 

What’s the Difference Between UX Design and Graphic Design? 

To those who work outside of the industry, graphic design and UX design might seem like the same thing. Both types of designers can spend hours working with creative platforms like Adobe products to perfect pixels, tweak colors, and rearrange layouts.

However, industry insiders know that these similarities stop at the front door. These two design disciplines are quite distinct in scope and skill set. 

While graphic designers work to make a brand aesthetically pleasing, UX designers work to make a product more effective. Graphic designers focus on colors, typefaces, and graphics. In contrast, UX designers focus on a user’s experience with a product from start to finish, not only perfecting visuals but also improving information architecture and interaction flows. 

In short, graphic designers make a product look great. UX designers (along with developers) make a product work great. 

 

UX and Graphic Design Career Comparison

Looking for a new career? Graphic designers may be pleased to learn the advantages of switching to UX. 

One clear benefit is salary. Unfortunately, graphic designers tend to be somewhat underpaid, with an average annual wage of $53,380. In comparison, UX designers make $74,500 on average. 

Surprisingly, UX and graphic designers both need similar levels of education to land an entry-level role. They also often work in similar environments. See the table below for a full comparison of these two career paths:



 

Graphic Design

UX Design

Average Salary

$53,380/year

$74,500/year

Entry-Level Education Required

Graphic design or related bachelor’s degree

Any bachelor’s degree and some relevant experience

Setting

Studios, advertising or publishing agencies, freelance work, or in-house work for large corporations

Tech companies, creative agencies, freelance work, and in-house corporate environments. 

Duties

 

  • Evaluate design briefs and establish requirements
  • Help create project timelines and budgets
  • Prepare drafts to present and revise based on feedback
  • Design logos and other illustrations using software
  • Work within style guide to ensure appropriate colors, fonts, and layouts
  • Ensure final designs are attractive and on-brand
  • Research users and market trends to understand the need for a product
  • Collaborate with team to ideate design solutions
  • Develop task flows, wireframes, and prototypes of a product
  • Test and evaluate prototypes
  • Communicate and pitch ideas to stakeholders and developers


 

 

Graphic Design to UX: Transferable Skills

Graphic designers are well-suited to transition to UX design, as many of their daily tasks parallel UX duties. For example, both UX and graphic designers might establish and follow style guides, and both might work through several drafts of a design, incorporating team feedback to improve their work. 

Here are a few skills that make former graphic designers like you shine as a UX designer:

 

Your Eye for Aesthetics

Like graphic designers, UX professionals understand the importance of making a product beautiful. User Interface (UI) designers are especially concerned with how products look. 

As a former graphic designer, your knack for colors, visual hierarchy, and layout will be extremely helpful for creating balanced and appealing user interfaces. 

 

Your Comfort with Design Tools

New UX designers often struggle to learn how to use design tools. Luckily, your experiences as a graphic designer give you an advantage with this learning curve, as UX and graphic design software share many similarities.

UX professionals most commonly use Figma, Sketch, and Adobe XD. Even if you’ve never used these design tools, you’ll find that they have functions and features you know well, such as layering, auto layouts, styles, and even similar keyboard shortcuts. 

 

Your Ability to Elicit Emotions

UX designers want to connect and empathize with users on an emotional level. As a graphic designer, you probably have experience with this type of thinking. After all, every company logo, banner graphic, or advertisement should elicit an emotional response from your audience. 

Graphic designers know how to use visual creations to make viewers feel a certain way about a brand or product. This level of empathy will set you up for success as a UX designer.  

 

Your Experience Explaining Design Decisions

Both graphic designers and UX designers must know industry conventions and “design rules” to make a successful product. Rather than following their tastes or preferences, UX professionals know that their design choices must be backed by data and best practices. 

Most graphic designers are used to having their design choices questioned, and they know how to defend their design choices when necessary. As a UX designer, you will have to lean into similar experiences to present your work to stakeholders and advocate for user needs.

 

Skills You’ll Need to Learn 

 

User Research

At the beginning of a project, UX designers must conduct research to identify their users’ needs. While you may be familiar with research, you’ll need to learn UX-specific practices to succeed in the field. 

UX research often includes writing surveys, conducting interviews, performing card sorting tests, and more. Be prepared to learn these methods as you transition to UX design. 

 

Iterative Wireframing and Prototyping

Graphic designers are quite familiar with the process of creating mockups. However, UX design wireframes and prototypes are different animals. Rather than revising drafts to improve how they look, you’ll be iterating on designs to make them more logical and usable. 

 In UX design, these updates are often driven by user testing. Testing a prototype with users often reveals design flaws that require major revisions. 

 As a UX designer, your revisions may go beyond stylistic adjustments to restructure how an entire product operates. If you plan to switch from graphic design to UX, be prepared to rethink your mockup process!  

 

Information Architecture

Part of a UX designer’s job is deciding how to categorize, label, and structure content to help users access critical information without feeling overwhelmed. Information architecture involves finding the most logical way to structure all of this information.

As a graphic designer, you may not be familiar with structuring site maps or navigation menus. You’ll need to learn information architecture best practices to transition to UX. 

 

Five Steps to Transition from Graphic Design to UX Design

Graphic designers are perfectly poised to become fantastic UX designers. If you’re ready to pivot away from graphic design, user experience design could be a fantastic opportunity for you. 

 To switch from graphic design to UX design, start with these steps: 

 

1. Identify Your Why

 Before you up and quit your graphic design job, we encourage a little self-reflection. Try to understand why you want to move on from graphic design and why UX appeals to you. Are you curious about understanding users? Maybe you can become a UX researcher. Do you want to flex your graphic design skills to build beautiful interfaces? Perhaps you should take a UI bootcamp.  

 Thinking about your “why” can help you choose the right UX learning pathway and set you up for a more rewarding, enjoyable career pivot.  

 

2. Set a Timeline & Budget 

Be prepared to invest lots of time (and probably some money) into your career pivot. 

A graphic design education is an excellent starting point to becoming a UX designer. However, you’ll still need to complete 6 months to 2 years of learning to make the switch. You can take some courses online for free, or you can invest $30,000+ for a master’s degree. Both options have pros and cons. Whatever you choose, be sure to set realistic expectations to reach your goals without blowing your budget!

 

3. Start a UX Learning Program 

With your motivations, timeline, and budget established, you’re ready to learn UX design! There are a few different UX learning pathways to choose from. You can join a UX bootcamp, choose a UX master’s program, or learn UX online through free and low-cost classes. 

Take time to research options and consider your learning needs. For a more in-depth guide to UX bootcamps, check out our comparison article for a breakdown of popular programs by timeline, features, and pricing. 

 

4. Build Your UX Portfolio 

As you learn UX design, you’ll need to start building a UX portfolio. You may already have a graphic design portfolio, but you’ll need to create a separate way to showcase your UX work. Check out Avocademy graduate Rebecca Rausch’s portfolio to see how you can include your UX and graphic design work in one place!

A strong portfolio is essential for landing a UX job, so it’s wise to have your portfolio critiqued by UX experts so you can apply to open roles with confidence. 

 

5. Apply to Jobs & Start Your UX Career!

Now that you’ve completed a learning path and have built an amazing portfolio, you can start searching for your first UX job.

Try to be patient during the job search. At Avocademy, we find that students usually need 3-6 months and 150 or more applications to land an entry-level UX position. Trust us— it’s worth the wait!

 

Ready to Become a UX Designer? Schedule a Free Mentoring Session!

 

If you’re a graphic designer thinking about becoming a UX designer, schedule an Avocademy mentoring session! Whether you’re looking for a new career or just looking to learn new skills, we’re ready to help you get started.

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