Advice needed on transition from freelance print designer to full time UX (with 20 years of UX experiences bolted on)

Hello fellow UXers!

I’m after some advice, but am new to this forum, so do excuse me if any of the questions I have are repeats of topics that have been covered already. My question is essentially what can I do to get a full time UX job? What extra skills do I need? My key question concerns working with developers.

Like many I have been a print designer for many years, but my circumstances are a bit unusual. Whilst designing books for a well known publisher, I was asked to look at the design of their GUIs for CD ROMS (cutting edge tech in the mid noughties) as no other designer seemed that interested. This was pretty crude initially, just a control panel with unformatted text, but eventually the interfaces (under my direction) got slicker, and the text was eventually carefully formated using CSS in system fonts.

A few years after this, the same publisher release educational apps. The first apps were (to be frank) horrible. So again I was asked what could be done. After some research on the Apple developers site, and a few others, I redesigned the Apps using Open Source typefaces, to creat a consistent look across different devices. I did all of this and never really considered myself to be a UX designer, but what I was doing was far more than just the visual interface, the apps were all mapped, and user journeys were considered. Unfortunately the politics of the client meant there were no opportunities to test these products.

Roll on several years, and having used the usual Adobe tools (with great frustration), I taught myself Adobe Xd, which was brilliant, because now I could make stuff that actually worked at the right size and was interactive. Using Xd I designed a Virtual Learning network for a London University. Then I helped a cognitive scientist create a new ethical social network ( which is an ongoing project.

As mentioned I’ve designed a lot of print, and specialised in complex information design, which has included dictionaries, medical books, science and tech. These products have always needed to look great, but more importantly to be functional. I have this experience by the bucketful.

Now I need work. Print has not some so much declined, more fallen off a cliff. I still do a little bit of print work, but not enough to pay the rent. The natural thing to do is move fulltime into UX (if my previous experience counts as UX?) and I love designing interfaces as much as I did print.

Where I am super confused is, what skills do I need to land my self an interesting job?
I have a deep background to build on, but specifics:
– I only have a vague idea of HTML5 and CSS, as I have never needed code specifically. It seems some companies have a development team that handles most of the front end stuff, so is it realistic to use apps like Xd and Sketch and then work with the dev team there after? Or do I need more than that. If so what code skills do I need (ones that I can learn quickly), and what other apps can I teach myself to get more employable?
– With my experience listed above, am I empoyable in a UX agency?
– If not, fundamentally what is the best way to become employable by a UX agency
– if the answer is yes (please please let it be so), where are the best places to find jobs. I have tried website like Indeed, but zero returns, possibly due to my age (which in mind is not an issue).

There are probably a zillion posts like this, so if any folks can guide me where to look I’d be extremely grateful.

Hey there,
You are not alone!

The best place to start reading is here. That will cover off a lot of your questions.

But to summarise, we all came from different paths to get where we are now. More people are doing formal qualifications now than they were before but it’s not strictly necessary. It sounds like you have a solid background with many of the skills required as well as some very relevant experience.

I’d start by doing a couple of online courses so that you are ‘speaking the right language’ and then consider putting together a portfolio to showcase your work/experience.

You know what? I’ve been thinking more on this.

A great many [most?] people that I know that are in a UX role transitioned there from another role in the organisation. I think it may make sense to look for tangentially related roles at the same time and express your strong desire to do as much UX work as possible with a view to transitioning within the company.

That is brilliant, thank you Hawk. I’ve seen some positions that ask for both print and UX design, so that is one route, but sometimes those roles can be jack of all trades, master of none. I am going to go through all the links above. The post about code was very interesting, and the 50/50-ish split seems to tally with people I have been speaking too (I’ve joined our excellent UX group in Oxford). As I’ve had a lot of doubt about code, it was interesting to see there are no rights and wrongs.
Vey much appreciated you time and thoughts on my long post!

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One point I should have made clearer is that I am a freelancer at the moment.This does make a lateral move into UX somewhat difficult. I’ve freelanced a few UX jobs, but have no idea of how to attract new UX work, the fact that my website is very printed orientated does not help.

So any suggestions of how to get into a UX agency from a freelance background would be very welcome. I’ve looked at a lot of the links posted earlier, and already they have been very helpful!

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This article may be helpful. 9 Job Boards to Find Your Next Gig

Advice that I’ve seen around here is to look for UX volunteer work. My understanding is that non-profits are often happy for UX professionals to help them out.

Another thing I’ve seen is people who create completely theoretical applications for their portfolio. You wouldn’t want all your projects to be theoretical, but some are fine because the most important thing about a portfolio is showing your thought process.

A different idea I just had… would you be able to modify some of your existing projects to make them more digital?

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Hi Piper.

That is great advice, thank you!

I should have explained that the book projects were Oxford Dictionaries, and also include the British National Formulary. These are really complex books, and need problem solving design skills. I’ve adapted the Dictionaries from print to CD-ROM to web, to App. The virtual learning network, and social media site are also darn nefarious things, so the user pathways look like a whole universe of different possible connections. I love doing these kind of things. My biggest challenge is really selling myself. Having look at the links Hawk posted yesterday, it has boosted my confidence that what I know about code already serves as valuable skill. The line between developer and UX was confusing me, but Gynasium course coding for designers set me straight on that.


It is for everyone! There are so many differing views that it’s really grey. Bottom line should be finding the spot on the continuum that makes you feel comfortable.

The impression I get is that being able to give clear instructions to the dev team is key. For my print work, I’ve designed books that are thousands of pages long, and set in XML systems, so these need very clear specifications down to the exact point, and that is something I can do well.

My hunch is, with the bigger more complex sites, it is similar. The UX team do their magic, and then once the visual design is resolved, this needs to move to the dev to set it up. It seems there are lots of ways to do the latter, using Apps like Sketch or Xd, even photoshop. The dynamic in smaller companies is different, with the UX doing some dev work, all hands to the deck.

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