Mastering Visual Skills in UX Design: A Beginner's Roadmap to Success

Raluca Angelescu
November 13, 2023
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I've lost count of the conversations I've had with people making their way into UX, many feeling overwhelmed by the visual aspects. These conversations have opened my eyes to two prevailing mindsets:

  1. There's a group convinced that top-notch visual or drawing abilities are essential for breaking into the industry. They often feel that if they haven't excelled in art so far, they're doomed in UX.
  2. Then, there are those who understand that skills are acquirable, but they undervalue the role of visual skills in UX Design, fixating mostly on the technical UX aspects.

I've stood in both of these shoes. It took me a while, but I've learned that not only is it vital to combine visuals with UX, but it's also surprisingly manageable, even for beginners. Let me share my thoughts.

Why is the visual aspect important?

The role of a product designer encompasses a wide array of skills, and the creation of visual deliverables is a significant part of it. Whether it's about presenting your portfolio to potential employers or showcasing your latest project to a client, the visual appeal is a big deal. Here's why:

  • It bridges the gap for those who aren't versed in Design, reducing their cognitive load and helping them visualize the end product.
  • It's about making your work irresistible. Our brains are drawn to harmony and proportion, and even if we can't pinpoint what's off, good design always feels right.
  • It drives business value. Ever bought an expensive shampoo that wasn't miraculous but looked great in your bathroom? Yeah, me too.
grayscale photo of bottles on wooden table

Ok, but how do I get there?

Now, if you asked me to whip up a perfect screen right now, I'd still need to brainstorm, sketch, and pick elements. And that's just for a Dribble shot, not a real-world project where context is crucial. So don't get discouraged when seeing those perfectly Designed screen, they take some time and effort. And you can do them too. Here are a couple of ways that worked very well for me in the past:

  1. The first method is what we're all told: get out there and design. It's about taking action - grab your design tool of choice and dive in. The first attempts don't need to be masterpieces. Seek inspiration, absorb new ideas, and keep practicing. The ability to consistently produce, receive feedback, and iterate is what will make you an expert eventually.
  2. The second, often overlooked, way is to ask questions. We often associate "why?" with features, user feedback, or business choices, leaving visual elements to chance or inspiration.
red and grey Ask signage

To get you thinking, here are some essential questions you can ask yourself, in order to dramatically improve your UI:

  • What's the aim of this visual design? Is it for a real client or a Dribble showcase? Your answer will influence your design approach, how much you can experiment, and the level of practicality you need to consider.
  • Is every element on the screen necessary? Does every element on the screen need to be there? Audit your work post-design. Is everything essential? Can you achieve the same effect with fewer elements or colors?
  • How consistent are my design choices? Different elements and styles might not work well together. Review your work with fresh eyes and aim for consistency. And I have a couple of examples here: icons (are they line or filled?), corner radius, shadows and the list goes on.
white and black box on white table

Now, after you've asked yourself these questions, here are some additional ways to further cultivate a deliberate approach in your designs:

  • Immerse yourself in established design systems like Material Design and Human Interface Guidelines. Then, branch out to study the design systems of well-crafted apps.
  • Keep a keen eye on outstanding design work. Instead of copying, aim to understand the principles that make them effective.
  • Discuss your work with experienced designers. Engage in a give-and-take of feedback and ideas.
  • Regularly probe your design decisions with questions like the ones we've covered.
  • Attend workshops, webinars, and engage with the design community. By exposing yourself to a wide array of influences and perspectives, you'll enrich your understanding and adaptability in the fast-evolving world of UX Design.

In conclusion, navigating the intersection of visual skills and UX Design is less about innate talent and more about a balanced approach to learning and application. Whether you’re a beginner feeling daunted by the artistic aspects or an experienced designer undervaluing visual skills, remember that proficiency in this field is a journey of continuous growth.

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