Getting Started as a UI Designer

January 22, 2016 • By

Certain designs please you. Others don’t. You don’t know what causes these emotions, but you feel something when you look at a design. Then you experience the first wave of curiosity and ask yourself, why do I feel this way when looking at this particular design? What makes one design different from another?

You start researching design and discover the differences between UI and UX, between Visual and Interaction. UI design catches your eye, and the more you learn, the more you want to know. Maybe, you think, I should be a UI designer, but how do you start?

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to go ahead and make a few assumptions: 1) you’ve had a similar experience to the one described above, 2) you don’t have any experience in design, but 3) you’re passionate about it and want to learn how to do it.

If any of those assumptions aren’t true, then this article likely isn’t for you.

Still reading? The following steps will provide a rough path of how to become a UI designer on a professional level, and the first step is basic. Start simple.

  1. Do as Babies Do

And what exactly do babies do? Babies are curious about everything and constantly look at things. If you want to be a UI designer, the first step is to start looking at a lot of UI design. Every time you visit a website, use an app, flip through a magazine, or read a newspaper (if you still read the newspaper), think about how it is laid out and how that affects its function. Look through UI designer portfolios on Dribbble and Toptal Designers. As you look at more and more design, you’ll notice what is trending and also discover your own personal preferences for what you like and what you don’t.

  1. Copy What You Like

Once you look through designs, start copying the designs that you like on paper. Don’t worry if you’re not a great sketch artist. Finesse isn’t important. Rather you are sketching designs to get a better idea of different layouts and the objects that they are composed of. Sketching designs will give you a better understanding of UI design, and how different elements in design can be combined in new variations to create unique presentations.

  1. Read Books on UI Design

After some exploration and experimentation, it’s time to make your learning a bit more formal. At first it’s important to focus your reading on theory and philosophy rather than on guides to using specific tools. Study the elements of good design, such as typography and color theory. Rather than learn the technical aspects of creating a carousel, instead learn what impact a carousel has on your design and why you would want to use one instead of a hero image. At this stage, it’s more important to learn why than it is to learn how.

  1. Learn How to Use the Tools of Design

Now that you’ve expanded your theoretical knowledge, it’s finally time to learn how to design in the technical sense. The most important tools of design are Photoshop, Sketch, and Adobe Illustrator. Do some research and pick the one that seems like the best fit for you to start with. Of them, Photoshop has become the weakest tool, but you should still learn all of these tools somewhere down the road. Use online tutorials like Gibbon and Skillshare to aid you in learning the technical side of design.

  1. Design, Design, Redesign

With a grasp of the tools needed to design, it’s time to start designing yourself. In many ways, this step is the hardest. Don’t be dissuaded when your first attempts at design are bad (because they will be bad). No one becomes a great UI designer overnight. Talent comes from experience and experimentation. So start experimenting. Pick a project and start designing. Then pick a new one and design again. Constantly revisit your designs and redesign them to improve on them. Designs are rarely perfect on first iterations, so start learning how to revise and look at your design critically early on.

  1. Get Out of the House and Network

Really, you should be doing this since day one, but if you haven’t started yet, go out and start meeting other designers. Not only is knowing people in the design industry useful for finding employment, but you can pick designers’ brains about design and learn tips from them. Go to local design events to meet designers in person and find designers you respect online and message them however you can. You’d be surprised how often designers are happy to talk about their work or the industry at large. Show them your designs and get feedback. At a certain point, your designs won’t improve without outside input, so talk about your work with other designers to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of your projects.

  1. Find a Mentor

Mentorship can be extremely helpful when you’re starting out as a UI designer. Mentors provide many of the benefits of networking but on a greater and more personal level. A mentor can show you how to navigate the design industry, where you need to improve your design skills and how to do it, and simply be someone who has your back during the learning process. If you’re just entering any industry, a mentor can be an invaluable tool to guide you through the right course to success.

  1. Build a Portfolio

The final step to becoming a fully-fledged UI designer is creating a portfolio of your work. Your portfolio is one of the most important considerations to employers. Make sure your portfolio shows a diversity of projects that reveal your different skillsets and styles. Don’t play it safe when preparing for a web UI design interview. You want to push yourself as a designer, and your portfolio should show how you’ve expanded your skills over the course of your projects. Once you have created your portfolio, you’re ready to apply to jobs!


Becoming a UI designer is a matter of time and effort. Don’t be afraid of failure: it’s part of the learning process. At first, you’ll be doing projects for free, but that’s okay. Work on a variety of different design projects and develop your skills. Once you have a grasp of UI design, consider learning front-end coding languages like HTML5 and CSS in order to better understand the possibilities and limitations of design.

Remember that above all else you should analyze other designs as much as you can. It’s one of the fastest ways to learn and improve your own skills as a UI designer. As Pablo Picasso says, “good artists copy, great artists steal,” and that is as true for design as it is for art. Happy learning!