How to make the switch from design/advertising to UX

“How did you make the switch from a graphic design career to UX” is a question I get often. This is not just during interviews but from individuals interested in a career change themselves. In this article, I’ll share my short story, advice, and identifiers that can help you decide if UX is right for you.

user experience design

How I got into UX and you can too

Stepping outside our comfort zones and taking on new roles and challenges in small and startup environments happens quite often. These are not moments to shy away from and say “I don’t do that”. See them as opportunities for career growth. Shying away from them too often may also make one highly expendable or “difficult” to work with.

None of this isn’t to say one should be forced into UX. At the foundation of whatever we do we should enjoy it.

So about me getting into UX…

Doing some usability testing for Google’s Gmail back in 2004 was my earliest memory of testing a product or service, and reporting back to a team on what I thought worked and didn’t work. Gmail was invite only back then.

My real User Experience transitional moment, however, came in 2007 while in Chicago freelancing for a small boutique called Jayne Agency. One of their clients needed a website as part of the brand development and while a small shop, we still understood the importance of creating wireframes and a sitemap for that part of the work. Without knowing much of what the process or tools for creating these deliverables were I took on the work. I knew what the deliverables should look like, I had just never done them before. Later I Googled “wireframes” and “sitemaps” and used the limited definitions, examples, and knowledge I came across to develop the needed work.

You will be in a much better position than I was back in 2007 if you did that same search today.

Moving back to New York in 2009 provided some key opportunities that allowed me to start working closely with User Experience teams and further develop my strategic skills. During many of these working sessions, we would whiteboard, sketch on paper (low fidelity wireframing) and discuss the particular aspects of our ideation and problem-solving process.

I was leading small UX initiatives by 2014 and doing less creative work but enjoyed this transition.

How this can apply to you

  • Look for opportunities to take on UX specific work in your current environment.
  • Consider wearing a hybrid hat when you feel you’re ready.
  • Research everything if you already don’t.

But how will you know if you like UX?

UX designers have key personality traits that you may already possess.

  • They’re very curious.
  • Genuinely enjoy problem-solving.
  • They have a high level of empathy for the human condition.
  • Generally, ask a lot of questions.
  • Need to know how things work.
  • Genuinely enjoys psychology and the behaviorial sciences.

If you’re checking all these boxes you may end up liking the user experience discipline more than you currently think you might.

I recently gave some career advice to a young lady who thinks becoming a UX Researcher is harder than it sounds. The kicker? She already has a Master’s degree in Psychology. She’s much further along than she believes and you might be too!


Like anything else in life you’ll want to dedicate time outside of work to make this transition happen. You’ll need to dig deeper than my shortlist above and discover more of the traits of a good UX Designer.

  • Do lots of personal research and homework.
  • Go to local UX meetups.
  • Consider becoming UX certified.

How you might want to prepare

When you decide to make the switch as I did, some tough decisions will need to be made. Your LinkedIn profile and portfolio will need an overhaul. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about this. You should transition slowly and gradually from design to UX so that your network isn’t shocked by the change. This rapid change can leave you out of work for a while if you didn’t prepare for it.

Be prepared to now talk about process and design thinking instead of your favorite typefaces. Research and problem-solving techniques are more important than the final. Even if you have a small side hustle it’s not ideal to live off of that for a career change. This, however, can be debated if you’re determined UX is your calling.

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