Getting started in Software User Interface Design

All apps rely on User Interface Design to make them easy enough for mortals to understand and use.

In any digital project nowadays you need the skills on your team. People just don’t have time for bad interfaces anymore. So, let’s say you want to become a User Interface Designer. Where do you start?

Here’s what I’d do:

1. Start thinking like a designer

Interface design is really a subset of design. I recommend the course at http://www.hackdesign.org which you can do over via weekly emails in your inbox. Make sure you set aside an hour in your calendar each week in advance of signing up for the email otherwise you’ll not do it!

2. Try lots of software

The more software you use, the more you are exposed to the ways other user experience designers have solved the common problems. Got a problem with Multi tier navigation hierarchies? Check out how leaderboarded.com handles it – would you copy or do it differently?

If you have trouble imagining that there is more than one way to solve the same problem –  try  alternative software: for example, in the personal online profile space, look at all the alternatives to About.me.

3. Get familiar with design patterns

Good user interface design is often a struggle against the temptation to reinvent the wheel. While your client might think a circular navigation system is fresh, the reality is most users want a nav that’s horizontal or vertical. I find the site UI-patterns.com really helpful.

4. Get paid to test other people’s apps

Reviewing software in beta can help you see issues early – you could become a software reviewer for TryMyUI. They will even pay you while you test, not much wrong with that!

5. Read the key books

Everyone knows Don’t make me think but I really liked GUI Bloopers 2.0. I had quite a few head slapping moments reading that I can tell you! There are tons more to choose from.

6. Watch other designers

Keeping tabs on other designers is a great way to track trends. Become a member of Dribbble and search the tags that matter to you.

7. Learn the tools of the trade

Wireframes are a way of laying out how the interface will work but not necessarily how it looks. As a UX designer you need to get really good at wireframe mockups! I like Balsamiq.

8. Get a project

There’s nothing like getting some real client experience – colleagues in other departments and  small businesses always need help with their intranet page or website.

Or, if they’re happy with their web site, then there is always an old Facebook page lying around that needs some Tender Loving Care.   If even Coca Cola with its 89m fans can have a broken tab then so can just about everyone else.

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