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Top Tips from Mentors for Aspiring UX Designers

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Words: Team Designlab / Illustration: Gina Medranda

We employ 500+ UX design mentors here at Designlab — and each one is full of unique knowledge and experience, together covering many different specializations within the industry. As we’ve progressed on our mission to highlight each member of our mentor community through our mentor spotlight series, we’ve gathered a wealth of inspiring advice and top tips for anyone looking to start out in the UX design industry.

Here we’ve listed that compilation so you can benefit from the gems of advice and knowledge from the amazingly talented UX design mentors within our community.

Marina Krutchinsky, Senior UX Designer at American Express:

Don’t be afraid to stand out! To stand out you must know your unique strengths, not the commonplace ones. This is how you become memorable — one of a kind, instead of one of many.

John Isaac, Full-Time Design Mentor:

Fall in love with the process. That’s it. All that matters is the process. The process doesn’t change. Tools and software always change. Ultimately, knowledge of the process will save you in sticky situations. Remember, the process is what makes certain startups and companies successful. Process is what makes certain athletes successful. They have a routine and they stick to it.

Olga Apolinarska, UX Designer at CBT Nuggets:

As long as you keep trying and practicing, you will keep improving.

Igor Dinuzzi, Senior Communication Designer at Toptal:

Use real data, and please don’t fall in love with your idea or design.

Mariana Amat, UX Researcher:

As designers we need to train the mind to be optimistic enough to see every problem as a new challenge. A positive mindset is completely necessary to overcome obstacles and to deal with frustration. I also suggest every new UX designer test as much as possible, whenever you have a new design or idea, test it. No matter if it’s with the final or real customer, but a fresh perspective on what you are doing is always insightful. So, as new designers, it’s essential to assume less and test more, to get away from your biases.

Sol Degl’innocenti, Service Design Strategist at Chamonix:

Embrace failure as part of the learning curve, trust the process and ask a lot of questions.

Cassandra Cappello, Product Design Lead at TouchBistro:

My advice would be to not be so self conscious about how good you feel you are or aren’t. You’re just learning, it’s not going to be quick, take the time to learn what you need to learn and over time you’ll see yourself improve. Try not to judge yourself as you’re ideating, it can actually limit the quality of what you come up with.

Justin Hanson, Sr. Product Designer at Classy:

Make sure you’re coming in with a beginner’s mind, as someone who’s excited to learn and continuously improve their work.

George Visan, Product Designer at Neo Financial:

Try as much as possible to create something that gets used by real people. Make web designs for friends or local businesses. Get practice recreating popular apps, screen for screen. Check material.io before you check Dribbble.

JJ Moi, Design Partner at Prime Movers Lab:

It’s okay to have the feeling that your work is just not that great. All you can do is put in a lot of work and your work will be as good as your ambitions. It’s gonna take awhile, but you will get there.

Erika Harano, Freelance Designer & Educator:

Question assumptions and ask questions fiercely and consistently — assumptions and biases are everywhere, and as designers we have to be mindful of the assumptions and biases we (individually and collectively) hold ourselves, so that we know how to work with them and actively address them as we design. I also think it makes us sharper, more critical, and ultimately more innovative designers and team players.

Kurt Yalcin, Senior UX Researcher at FutureFuel:

Ignore your inner saboteur. I learned that from RuPaul. Imposter syndrome can be healthy, but there’s a time and a place for it. Don’t let negative self-talk impede your progress.

Kurt Yalcin, Senior UX Researcher at FutureFuel:

Understand where ideas come from — I like the books The Adventures of Johnny Bunko and How To Make Sense Of Any Mess. Also, surround yourself with fellow designers, be patient with yourself, embrace challenges, and collaborate with others on real projects!

Patrick Multani, Lead Designer at Designlab:

Understand where ideas come from — I like the books The Adventures of Johnny Bunko and How To Make Sense Of Any Mess. Also, surround yourself with fellow designers, be patient with yourself, embrace challenges, and collaborate with others on real projects!

Michelle Lin, Product Designer at Reddit:

First and foremost, be humble but know that you will grow drastically as a designer and learn immensely from the best of the best when you learn with Designlab. Your confidence will grow as time goes on. Trust the curriculum and trust the process. And, of course, do your best to stay on top of your work so you don’t fall behind in order to keep the lessons and feedback fresh in your mind.

Carmen Plumb, UI Designer at Frontier Developments:

Above all, understand that feedback is hugely important, and you cannot put a price on it. Second, take ownership of your design work — believe in your abilities, and defend your design choices. You came up with these ideas to begin with. Of course they will need developing, but a little self-belief in explaining and defending your vision definitely goes a long way. Third, can you draw that logo from memory? You never realize how challenging it is to make a good logo until you have to design one! And finally, don’t give up! Keep studying hard and stay connected with the passion that got you started.

Anthony Faria, Design Director & Visiting Lecturer at Pratt Institute:

As with every art, practice is essential to design. The more time you spend physically designing, the more fluent you become in modes of thinking that enhance your craft. Starting out in design is a time consuming process, that’s one of the things that makes it rewarding. My biggest advice is to design every day. This can mean jotting down layouts in a notebook, building logos using vector software. Often I encourage my students to participate in the Daily UI design challenge. It’s a great way to improve your design aesthetic and add to your portfolio. Take any opportunity you can to experiment, play, and develop your own style.

Jess Nelson, Design Lead at Eventbrite:

The best piece of advice I can give is something I typically steal from Ira Glass…

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.

It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

We hope that these bits of wisdom from Designlab mentors can give you the inspiration you need to move forward on your UI/UX design career-changing journey!

To learn from a great UX design mentor like those mentioned here, explore our UX Academy program.


Top Tips from Mentors for Aspiring UX Designers was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.