Getting into UX with no creative background? POSSIBLE?

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#1

Aloha!
Yes, this will be another one of those “is UX right for me?” threads, so please bear with me. Everyone’s story is a bit different after all. And I would absolutely LOVE some veteran input. Thanks in advance!

So, here’s the story. I turn 30 this year. My background is in social sciences. Until recently I was even considering pursuing a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology. Consequently, I’m no stranger to applied research, and I believe this aspect has potential to carry over nicely to the world of UX. I also have work experience in advocacy, customer service, and project management.

Why UX? Ever since I was a kid I liked creative tasks, especially those related to visual arts. Back in high school, I really enjoyed art and drafting classes. I also tinkered with some amateur website design (Flash and Photoshop mostly). In general, tinkering with the look and feel of something (be it a website button or a PowerPoint presentation) allows me to enter into the state of “flow” – hours go by, and I don’t lose focus. I think a job combining research on usability with creative aspects would be really cool.

The BAD. At a gut level I think I can tell good design from bad. However, beyond this amateur appreciation, I have no formal training or professional experience relevant to this field. Sure, I can learn the tools, read up on theory and processes, work on my portfolio, and maybe even enroll in an online boot camp. BUT, will that be enough to land a job? Will I get hired without proper experience and/or design-relevant degrees or certificates?

I see a lot of people here crossing over from fields like graphic design and architecture. But is there also place for someone like me? Someone who has a social science background (applied research) and some “businessy” soft skills, but not necessarily a whole lot to show in the creative department. I wouldn’t want to be stuck as someone who does research exclusively, I’d very much like to also get my hands dirty and do some light UI work. Is this possible?

PERCEIVED STRENGHTS

  • BA in Cultural Anthropology (USA)
  • Soft skills / emotional intelligence / charisma
  • Amateur knack for design
  • Able to work in US/EU (flexible)

PERCEIVED WEAKNESSES

  • No formal training or professional experience in ANY creative field
  • No training/experience with UX, UI, or design (nothing relevant)
  • Mostly irrelevant MA (International Relations)

PLANS/GOALS

  • I can dedicate up to 6 months learning UX/UI skills & tools as well as working on my portfolio. I’m considering looking for an online boot camp (I cannot possibly devote time/money towards a formal 1 or 2 year degree)
  • I would like a job offer in UX within a year, preferably after 6 months. In-house or agency would be best for me, I do not enjoy freelancing from home.
  • I wouldn’t mind interning for a few months (but no more than 6)
  • I would like to learn/experience some UI design on the job, so not just the research/analysis side of UX (realistic?)
  • To increase my chances, I plan to start my career in a growing European startup hub (such as Krakow, Prague, or Tallinn). Would it be easier to launch a career there, compared to say Silicon Valley?
  • With 5+ years of relevant experience I would like to start looking for six figure jobs in NYC or California (realistic?)

One last thing, please be brutally honest. If there’s something seriously wrong here, please do let me know. I’d rather know now than months/years down the road.


#2

This skillset might prove to be more useful than you might suspect. If you want to focus on pushing pixels not so much, but the UX Design process is so much more than that. There are quite a few anthropologists who turn out to become UX Researchers.

If you could land a job as a UX Researcher, you could also get involved in the UI design phase as well. Initially you could observe and learn from your team mates, but your involvement in actually designing UIs could increase as well. And honestly, UI design is becoming more of a commodity, with all the guidelines and pattern libraries around.

[quote=“hundertwasser, post:1, topic:4105”]
To increase my chances, I plan to start my career in a growing European startup hub (such as Krakow, Prague, or Tallinn). Would it be easier to launch a career there, compared to say Silicon Valley?
[/quote] Don’t think it matters that much where you start, as long as you get started. I would really consider going for a position as a UX Researcher. Don’t ignore the major creative hubs in Europe: London, Amsterdam, and Berlin. Moved to Amsterdam myself a year ago, and jobs here are plentiful ;). I’m not that familiar with the UX scene in Tallinn, Prague, or Krakow, so can’t say much about that.

Also, and I keep repeating myself on this forum (maybe that should become my signature), UX Design is not just creating the interfaces, it’s much more than that. it’s the Interaction designers, UI designers, and visual designers who really focus on the UI details. If you’re looking for that kind of work, keep those job titles in mind as well ;).

Good luck, and feel free to ask more questions about this.


#3

Hey there,
I agree with @glenn says above.

I also want to stress that the key to getting a job in UX at the moment is experience. That is much more important than formal education. You need to be able to demonstrate that you understand and can undertake a UX process. Doing an internship while studying online would be perfect. That would give you projects to put in a portfolio – which needs to be your first step in the job hunt.


#4

Hi! My background is very similar to yours - I’m 30, have an MA in Anthropology, and until recently zero creative experience. I hadn’t even heard of UX Design until about 2 years ago when I got made redundant from a completely unrelated role. At that time I took a 12 week part time UX job at General Assembly and managed to land a full time junior UX role in an agency not long after. So it’s definitely possible!
Like you I was really worried about my lack of UI design ability (I think I’d opened photoshop once, and had never ever heard of Sketch/Axure/Omnigraffle etc), however I’m actually finding that my Anth background is incredibly useful in this space. In some situations my lack of UI design ability is a plus as it lets me focus on the user and the functional aspect of the design without getting caught up in the visuals. I’m also lucky enough to be teamed up with people who are a lot more talented in visual design, but don’t have the research skills I do, so it works really well.


#5

I don’t think formal training is essential. Every UX person I have ever met has come into a different way, with different skills to offer.

I used to be a teacher, then trained as a jounalist, became a writer/research then web editor, and stumbled into UX by putting my hand up for an IA project at my old job. I discovered I had a knack for organising things, and realised user testing was the scariest fun ever (an introvert dealing with strangers!). I wouldn’t say I have the best design skills, but I work with others who have great design skills and always add to what I do. Same with technical skills.

Focus on what you know you can do, don’t be afraid to admit what you can’t do or lack confidence in, and ask for help.

Good luck!


#6

I would nix the idea of trying to do UI and instead focus on your strengths:
User Research and Human factors

I have interviewed ux folk and the visuals are often designated to a UI person.
What I look for:

A) What real projects has this person worked on and was the end result good?
B) Does this person understand typical UX Documentation techniques
C) Has this person ever set up user interviews
D) Does this person explain how their research correlates to the end product
E) Also it is not a creative background that we look for as much as a web & mobile background (aka does this person understand typical user patterns / responsive technology?

For resumes, you want to make sure it is beautiful and an overall great UX it is an instant qualifier,

hope that helps!


#7

Also Im from Los Angeles, and having good UI chops is very helpful for UI/UX positions which can become a gateway into a pure UX role. Also, you can attend hackathons and offer your services to startups to get good beginner projects for your portfolio.


#8

Hi @hundertwasser,
It’s definitely possible to do UX from many different backgrounds. You have a good background to do UX Research and Design. I would suggest taking a bootcamp (either online or in-person, I recommend in-person). This helps you focus and know where to focus your energies.
One thing to keep in mind is that you will need to hustle to get that first job. I think the areas you are looking in are good. I wouldn’t look at Silicon Valley for at least 5+ years (it’s the most competitive place in the world for UX right now).
I teach an in-person bootcamp and have had people with Anthropology degrees take the course and get a job as a UX Researcher.

Hope that helps!


#9

I disagree on the waiting 5+ years thought. I’ve been to hackathons and interviewed for UX positions in Silicon Valley and it is a great place of opportunity for UX. They understand the position there and you never know if you’ll get an offer! I applied while I was in a bootcamp and got a phone interview with imgur! the market is great and turnovers are pretty high, so there is a lot of opportunity to get your foot in the door. Plus you can make connections! very important. I would recommend starting in Silicon Valley to do your bootcamp.


#10

Silicon Valley is great, but it is very competitive. It’s not easy to get your foot in the door. I’ve taught people at General Assembly in San Francisco, CA that took a year to get a job after the UX Immersive Bootcamp. A lot of jobs ask for at least 5 years of experience. There are very few junior roles and hundreds of people applying to them. It looks a lot better in NYC or London if you are just starting out right now.