Top Skills First-Year UX Designers Should Master

If you’re a junior-level UX designer desiring to hone your skills and build a solid career, check out these three tips for making a successful leap from beginner to expert.

1. Skills You Need

Taking on the role of an intermediate UX designer requires a combination of interpersonal skills and proficient knowledge of industry-specific tools that allow you to create, lead, and collaborate with equal confidence. Some days you may need to present to a client, while others may be deep in the design process, requiring the ability to pivot when needed.

So, what are some of these valuable skills?

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are those that make you a great team member and partner on projects. More specifically, within the UX design world, you need to collaborate regularly with various team members and departments from subject matter experts (SMEs), to copywriters and graphic designers. UX designers who pursue the following skills will add value to their team, in addition to providing valuable insights for users and clients.

  • Analytical skills: Being able to think critically and uncover behaviors, motivations, and needs of specific users helps UX designers provide more value to users and their internal teams.
  • Creativity: Visual Designers make aspects of the user experience (such as menus and buttons) visually appealing, which may elicit more positive responses from users. Intermediate UX designers understand how to take a user interface from simply functional, to something functional AND attractive. A good designer will not just look at what users say, but what they do during usability testing.
  • Collaborative mindset: UX designers are part of a team that includes a number of different roles such as developers and content strategists, so it’s important they be willing to collaborate, offer suggestions, receive feedback, and effectively communicate with clients.
  • Empathy: Good UX designers have the ability to empathize with users, understand their problems, and anticipate their needs. Combining empathy with good research can set an average UX designer apart from an excellent one.
Empathy is a critical skill for designers. Image by Interaction Design Foundation

Industry-Specific Skills

In addition to more general skills, it’s vital for UX designers to maintain industry-specific skills that help them work more efficiently and creatively. Master these skills can elevate a UX designer from an entry-level position to an intermediate position.

  • Researcher: UX designers who methodically and thoroughly research can offer better insights for their designs and to their clients. Good research allows UX designers to help develop clear user personas and other segments for well-informed, data-driven designs. Tools like Dscout help to manage, collect, and organize data to be used in the desing process.
  • Usability testing: UX designers who master usability testing can check how effective design is from a user perspective. It helps reduce the risk of creating and using a poor design, which can help save time and money. Tools like Uselytics and Hotjar help to visualize user actions and gather insights for improved designs.
  • Prototyping: Helps UX designers visualize ideas for themselves, their team, and clients before it goes to developers or gets implemented. Tools like Adobe XD, InVision, and Figma are helpful when prototyping.
A process of prototyping user interfaces. Image by Designlab

After reviewing these skills, compare with your own to rate yourself. Do you have a healthy mix of interpersonal and technical skills that go beyond entry-level positions? If not, take time to outline what skills you can improve upon and create an action plan for what you’ll do to achieve the necessary intermediate UX design skills.

2. Make a Plan for How to Get There

Whether you’re starting out as a junior UX designer, or already have an intermediate position, it’s helpful to create a roadmap that charts the trajectory of your UX career and how you’ll get to your desired role. With a clear plan, you’re not only setting yourself up for a successful career and advancement but discovering opportunities for growth both personally and professionally.

Pursue Further Educational Opportunities

If you’re in a junior-level UX designer role and you have a goal to move into a senior role, acknowledging where you are will help you determine what you need to do to attain that next-level position.

At a junior level, you may have minimal experience so it’s a great opportunity to pursue some of the following avenues for further education:

  • Join local UX organizations in your area. Check out meetup.com for UX-focused networking groups.
  • Attend events, trainings, or conferences about UX design. A few good conferences include
  • Pursue continuing education or certifications for software relevant to UX design. Here are a few good places to learn new things.
  • Visit Dribbble for inspiration and to connect with other designers.

Identify the UX Position You Want

Think 5 to 10 years into the future: where do you picture yourself? If you’re just beginning as a junior or associate level UX designer, you likely have goals of furthering your career in the UX field. A few potential career paths to consider are:

  • Information Architect: Focus on how to construct the information for users
  • UX Strategist: Helps align the client goals with a well-strategized, user-centered design
  • UX Copywriter: Use language to create engaging, actionable conversations between a brand and their users
  • Interactive Designer: Use data and research to create more engaging experiences

It’s important to be specific in your goals so that you can create a detailed, actionable plan

Understand Trends in the UX Design Sector

The UX/UI design industry is constantly evolving, so there’s no shortage of new skills and technologies to learn and you want to be at the forefront of those learning opportunities. Some trends to keep an eye on are:

  • Neumorphisms: Enhances flat UI to bring it to life, giving a sort of 3D effect and applied to various visual elements like buttons and progress bars.
Neumorphism UI Elements by Filip Legierski for Riotters via Dribbble
  • Vibrant color palettes: Bold colors, color blocking, contrasting typography, and other applications of vibrant color to enhance design.
Ticket holder UI by Gleb Kuznetsov✈ via Dribbble
  • Animated illustration: Using animation to create stand-out designs that entice users and show them brand personality.
Control Animated by Anton Tkachev for UI8 via Dribbble

A great way to observe trends is to stay connected with UX Designers on platforms like Dribbble and Behance. Follow your favorite designers, create mood boards, and gain inspiration.

Set Goals

When setting goals, remember the S.M.A.R.T. concept of goal setting: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The following ideas may be helpful when setting your own goals:

  • Try the DailyUI Challenge to test and improve your UX design skills
  • Sign-up for a UX conference or event.
  • Improve collaboration and presentation skills to help when working with clients and colleagues such as practicing active listening and creating a system for recording important information
  • Ask for feedback regularly to improve designs and how to communicate in feedback situations

It may be helpful to create a visual timeline so that you can see your plan and include relevant objectives for each step of your journey.

3. Resources to Elevate Your Skills

Thankfully, learning opportunities are at your fingertips, literally. The Internet offers a wealth of information for every stage in your UX design career and is the perfect place to begin your research.

  • Search for references and trainings on different aspects of UX design like prototyping, user research, UI design articles, and more.
  • Get to know tools like Adobe XD, which is a great place to learn and grow UX design skills.
  • Subscribe and read UX publications like:
  • Attend trainings and certification courses that you identified in your career roadmap.

The UX/UI design field is an exciting place to be. Every day there are new opportunities to expand the bounds of digital communication and design with your unique skills and innovative ideas. With a combination of skills, goals, and resources, you’re sure to find a rewarding career in UX design.

About the author

Kelly Doran is a Senior Content Writer at Neil Patel Digital who is passionate about helping brands tell their stories. Her extensive experience includes writing and editing high-quality content for enterprise organizations in technical, lifestyle, and regulated industries, with special focus on copywriting.


Top Skills First-Year UX Designers Should Master was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.