9 Essential Skills for UX Designers in 2021

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jul 29, 2021

Learn what skills you need to get hired as a UX designer and how to get them.

A smiling UX designer works on his phone and laptop in a brightly lit startup office

It’s an exciting time to get started in user experience design (UX design). Popular job site Glassdoor listed “UX designer” as one of their 50 Best Jobs in America for 2021 based on job satisfaction, earning potential, and job openings [1]. 

There’s more than one path toward becoming a UX designer. Showing that you have the right set of skills is often key to getting hired. But what are those skills?

To find out, we reviewed UX designer job listings on LinkedIn to find the skills most frequently included in job descriptions (as of April 2021). Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Peloton, IBM, Playstation, Tesla, Adobe, and Visa are among the companies hiring for these skills. 

What skills does a UX designer need?

UX designers use a combination of technical skills and workplace skills in their design work. Some of these skills are specific to the world of UI/UX, while others are more general. Chances are you already have skills that will transfer into a new career in UX design. 

You can learn many of these skills with the Google UX Design Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn more about the program and how to get started for free.

Placeholder

UX designer technical skills

1. Prototyping, wireframing, user flows, mockups

A huge part of the product development process is envisioning what a product will look like. Depending on the stage of development, you might do this by creating wireframes, low or high-fidelity prototypes, mockups, or user flows. Let’s define these terms.

  • Wireframe: A web page layout stripped of visual design used to prioritize page elements based on user needs

  • Prototype: A sample or simulation of a final product used to test and gather feedback. Low-fidelity prototypes might be sketched on paper and don’t allow user interaction. High-fidelity prototypes are typically computer-based and allow for mouse and keyboard interaction.

  • Mockup: A realistic visual model of what a final webpage or application will look like

  • User flow: A diagram that maps out each step a user takes when using a product or service

These elements of interaction design are hands-on skills that require practice. Luckily, you can get started with a pen and paper. Practice sketching out wireframes and user flows for an app or site you already use frequently to get familiar with the components. 

Prototypes and mockups often require special UX software. If you’re just getting started, consider working with a free option, like Origami Studio. Popular paid prototyping tools, like InVision, Sketch, or Adobe XD, typically come with a free trial that allows you to design some prototypes without having to subscribe.

Alternately, practice prototyping using this paper prototyping method with a simple pen and paper.  

video-placeholder
Loading...
Paper prototypes are inexpensive; all you need is a pen and paper. They also allow for rapid iteration. Because you're only using pen and paper, you can whip up paper prototypes for lots of different ideas quickly.

2. Visual design and design software

Both UX designers and UI designers use visual design software, like Figma, Sketch, Photoshop, and Illustrator, to create the visual elements of a product. Besides proficiency in the tools, you should build your knowledge of visual design best practices for things like typography, color theory, layout, icons, and general design theory.

3. User research and usability testing

To design a product that solves a user problem, meets a user need, or generally delights a user, you first need to understand who that user is. That’s where user research comes into play. 

Conducting the right type of user research for the product or feature you’re designing can empower you to make a product even better. As you develop prototypes, you’ll conduct user testing to validate your design choices. Knowing how to iterate through these two user-centric phases can help make you a more effective designer. 

This skill is so critical that some companies have a specialized role on their UX team known as the UX researcher

4. Agile

Agile, a set of project management practices popular in the software development world, is based on an iterative approach to building a product. Since many software development teams use the agile methodology, it would make sense that UX designers could benefit from an understanding of this popular product management approach as well. 

UX and agile have begun to overlap to the point that there’s a term for it—agile UX design. While you don’t need to know every detail of project management to be a UX designer, you can enhance your resume by knowing the basics. Read more in our beginner’s guide to agile development.

5. Information architecture 

Information architecture (IA) involves effectively organizing and structuring content. When designed well, IA helps users find the information they’re looking for or complete their task. UX designers can facilitate this by making it easy for users to understand where they are, where they need to go, and what’s next.

If you’re new to information architecture, start out by studying some common website IA patterns. Much like you did with wireframing, you can also practice by creating a sitemap of a website or app you enjoy. Do this a few times, and try to identify the elements that lead to good IA.

6. Application development

While UX designers are not generally expected to write code—that’s a task for developers—it can help to have a basic understanding of application development, including languages like JavaScript, CSS, and HTML.

Understanding how applications are developed can help you as a UX designer in a few ways:

  • You’ll have more realistic expectations of what’s possible in your design.

  • You’ll be able to better communicate and collaborate with the development team.

  • You might be more marketable in small startup companies that hire for a wider range of skills.

  • You’ll have basic coding skills should you choose to move into UX engineering or UI development. 

UX designer workplace skills

7. Collaboration

As a UX designer, you’ll be collaborating with other teams on a regular basis. Depending on the project and phase of development, you might work with leadership to define business goals, user interface (UI) designers to add visual elements to a mockup or high-fidelity prototype, or developers to translate your designs into code.

Working as part of a team also means knowing how to give and receive feedback and incorporate new ideas on how to make the best possible product.

8. Communication and presentation

Communication and collaboration go hand in hand. And it’s not just your team you’ll need to communicate with. Strong communications skills help you to get more valuable data from customers when conducting user research and build enthusiasm in stakeholders when presenting your designs. Good UX often relies on effective visual communication and written communication (UX writing) as well.   

9. Prioritization and time management

Companies are often looking for UX designers who can manage their time and prioritize tasks to address the most critical needs first. You might be working on multiple projects (or multiple parts of the same project) over the course of a day. Practice staying organized and flexible in your current tasks, and you’ll set yourself up for success in the world of UX design. 

How to improve UX skills

You probably already have some of these skills. Others might be new to you. Either way, you have several options for developing your UX design skill set. Your efforts could end up giving you a competitive advantage when it comes time to apply for jobs.

Take UX courses.

Enroll in a UX design course for a more structured approach to skill development. General UX courses might touch on several of the skills mentioned above. You’ll also find niche courses targeting individual skills. Look for courses that include group projects to develop collaboration and communication skills. Browse our full library of user experience courses from leading universities.

To start building job-ready UX design skills in less than six months, consider earning your Google UX Design Professional Certificate on Coursera. You don’t need a degree or any prior experience, and you’ll cover skills like wireframing, prototyping, user research, usability testing, and design software.

Stay up to date on the latest UI/UX trends.

As you build foundational and more advanced UX skills, subscribe to a few top UX blogs and podcasts to keep yourself informed on the latest trends. You can learn a lot from the wealth of free UX resources out there.

Put your UX skills into practice.

Sometimes we learn better by doing. If you’re ready to start practicing some of the UX design skills mentioned above, here are some Guided Projects on Coursera that you can complete in under two hours with no special software required.

Getting the job: How to present your UX skills in your resume and interviews

Getting a job as a UX designer is often about showing recruiters and hiring managers what you’re capable of. As you add new skills to your UX tool belt, remember to add them to your resume as well. You can find some tips on how to tailor your resume to the role you want here.

As you prepare for job interviews, practice some specific stories about times when you’ve used these skills in a previous job, course, or even a personal project. 

Get started in UX

Take the next step toward a career as a UX designer by enrolling for free in the Google UX Design Professional Certificate on Coursera. Experience for yourself what UX design is all about with a seven-day free trial.

Related articles

Article sources

1. Glassdoor. "50 Best Jobs in America for 2021, https://www.glassdoor.com/List/Best-Jobs-in-America-LST_KQ0,20.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jul 29, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Learn without limits