How to become a UX Designer in South Africa
by Ndumiso Silindza
Hi, I’m Ndumi.
A user experience consultant at Freethinking and Co-Founder of UX Anonymous I’ve been planning on writing this article for a while now but between changing jobs and growing my startup, I did not really get the time to.
Please note that this list is not meant to be exhaustive and will in no way guarantee you a UX position, this are just some tips & advice from my past experiences.
Let’s start by defining what UX is:
“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products”
Got it? Good. Let’s dive right into it then…
This is quite obvious I guess… but when it comes to UX learning, quality means more than quantity. I will sort the options according to cost. Starting from the most costly to the cheapest and I might throw in a free option, just for control.
Human Factors International comes highly recommended, it is one of the only industry recognized UX qualifications.
UCT Online I have not personally gone through this course but based on interacting with people who have obtained this certification they learned quite a lot.
Udemy I am currently enrolled in one of their courses and I was doubtful at first since I only paid R120 for the course but so far so good. Update: It’s good
UX Apprentice This is a site I came across while researching ways to gain UX knowledge. It is free and is by no means comprehensive. I would recommend starting with this course just to get a basic understanding of UX and then saving up for the above courses.
For all the bookworms out there, here are some books to help you level up your UX skills (Click here for books)
How did I do it?
“I was lucky to have been enrolled in a 2 month UX program run by the Johannesburg Centre of Software Engineering, it’s a full-time course and it tends to be more focused on people under the age of 35 years old. They also help you in acquiring your first UX internship.”
LEARN THE TOOLS
Where do I start… there are so many tools you can use. There is probably one being launched on Product Hunt as we speak, haha. I think it’s best if I list them according to where they might fit into your design process.
Let’s start with the Research Phase
TypeForm is one of my favourite survey creation platforms. It is quite easy to configure and quite interactive from a user’s point of view. I like it so much that I once used it as a homepage on my personal website.
Google Analytics Without an analytics suite you have no data and without data, you can’t do a darn thing (that’s well informed). Simply put: your analytics data will tell you where you are succeeding and where you are failing. (P.S. I stole this explanation from here)
Optimizely is great if you want to compare multiple versions of a site with A/B testing.
As a bonus
UX Anonymous, this is my platform so I might be a bit biased but I think it’s great for you to find out what your users really think about your company.
How I do it?
“I found that nothing beats just sitting with your users (P.S. don’t call people users, it’s not cool) and talking with them. I fell in love with the Jobs To Be Done method, it really helps you gain valuable user insights.”
There are a lot more tools you can use (check here) but these should help you get started.
Now onto the Ideation phase
This is where technology can’t really help you.
Your best bet is just taking a box of stickies and writing down all your ideas (I mean all of them, even the flying cat app one). This is best done with other humans but alone is cool too ( But seriously try and get some friends).
Also never forget the good old pen and pencil.. they have never let anyone down.
If you want to be fancy you can use the various Design thinking processes. Those are quite cool but again nothing beats ye’ old pencil and paper.
If you don’t have stickies or a board use this.
How I do it
“I take a pencil and a paper and I just start scribbling until it all starts making sense, really”
Ahh the Implementation phase
By implementation I don’t mean you’re done, I just mean you are structuring your ideas and preparing them for testing.
Paper prototyping is a technique that allows you to create and test user interfaces quickly and cheaply. It’s easier to change a prototype than the final design.
If you want something fancier, or you have a Mac and you are not afraid to use it. Try Pencilit lets you create really low fidelity designs so you can test early and fail early (That’s a good thing).
So you are ready to start designing and prototyping for realsies? Well, the options are endless so I’ll just tell you about the ones prospective employers are most likely to use.
Axure, this is a prototyping powerhouse, if it can’t be done here then it can’t be done without pure coding. Axure is really good for functional prototypes but if you have a UI background, you might just hate it.
Sketch, most companies swear by this software. to be honest, it’s an ok software, but wait till you start adding plugins and Sketch becomes unbeatable. Not to mention the number of UI libraries that are available for it. If you want to prototype I would recommend pairing Sketch with Invision through the Craft plugin. However, Invision is also launching Invision studio which is meant to compete with Sketch, I have requested early access and I will give my review when I am allowed access.
My favourite the Testing phase
This all really depends on whether or not you can meet with your ‘users’ in person or if distance is a problem.
Silverback lets you record users as they interact with your prototype on your computer. It works by recording your screen and also using your webcam to record your user as they use the site (This is great to see subtle facial cues you might have missed).
Optimizely is great if you want to compare multiple versions of a site with A/B testing.
Ask questions during your interview and really try to engage with your user. Also never make them feel like they are being tested.
How I do it?
“I am a big fan of un-moderated user testing, where the user gets a link to the site and they get to play around the site without anyone (read: A room full of people) looking over their shoulder, I record the interactions remotely and contact the user afterwards.”
There might be quite a lot of tools I missed in between but if you get stuck along the way my inbox is open :).
Momma said: “practice makes perfect!” and she was right.
There is really no substitute just doing something over and over again. Oh, snap! You are still trying to get into UX so there’s no work for you to do… that’s where you are wrong my friend.
You can elicit business from friends and families, I don’t really recommend this because depending on who your friends are, you could be working on a plumbing website that gets 1 visitor per month. But that does mean there’s a lot of room for improvement.
If you are looking for more juicer challenges the website below is perfect for you. It’s more UI focused so please bare with them.
For something a little closer to home and a bit more practical. I recommend ‘Ladies that UX Johannesburg’. Their Meetup’s are pretty cool because you get to work on real-life projects and gain some awesome skills. You also get a neat certificate to boot! Don’t be fooled by the name, guys can join too! I try to go whenever I can so if you see me here don’t be afraid to hala! I only bite when I’m hungry and they offer snacks so you’re safe.
Last but not least and very close to my heart is UX Anonymous, it houses a plethora of complaints from anonymous users (Thus the name). The complaints are less interface focused and more service design related. So if you have ambitions of having a more service design focused career… Do check us out, show us what’ve you’ve done and you might score yourself an internship with us (If your allergic to peanuts don’t worry because we don’t pay them).
After doing a few design challenges it would be wise for you to put together a portfolio, you have alot of options such as WYSIWYG site builders like WIX and Squarespace for instance. I’ll list the lesser known options here:
You can check out UX Folio, it’s like WIX but for UX people like you and me, it has a simple drag and drop interface and I find it quite easy to use.
You can also use Medium, it’s best when you want to document text heavy case studies… My co-founder & partner in all things life related, used it for her profile. I don’t know if she ended up posting any of her case studies yet… With dealing with a 9 to 5 job and dealing with me and my overly ambitious nature, I don’t blame her. Here’s how you could structure a case study:
Also you can check out my site, I followed none of the advice I’ve listed above… Why not you ask? Well I’ve already kinda, sorta proved myself so there is less of a need for me to have a detailed portfolio.
GROW YOUR NETWORK
I can not stress enough how important this is!
There is what is called the hidden job market, these are jobs that are never advertised. The hidden job market is actually bigger than the known job market. I’m not saying going on Careers24 is a waste of time, I’m saying that networking with people in the industry will do you a greater good. Here are some of your options:
- Linkedin is great for connecting with like-minded professionals, you can start by connecting with me, I’m always keen for a chat so hit me up
- Facebook has quite a few UX groups but I recommend this one here, simply because it’s South African. Also, there’s a lot of cool people here and I always see job posts floating around…
- Whatsapp, yes I said Whatsapp… There are various Whatsapp groups but this is by far my favourite. It is well moderated and all the content is relevant. It has a lot of cool people who are dying to share their insights. As a bonus, they have a dropbox folder to better distribute knowledge.
- These are great for meeting people already in the profession and also expanding your learning. I won’t go into alot of detail here, I’ll just list the ones that I am a part of:
UX in South Africa is still growing so there aren’t that many UX related events…Here are some I’d recommend
Pixel Up, I know the organiser personally and he’s a pretty chilled guy, I volunteered to help at the last one and I thoroughly enjoyed that experience.
UX South Africa, I’ve never personally been to one yet but everyone who has, speaks highly of it. I consider these people friends and I don’t see why they would lie to me so I will take their word for it. Maybe I should give a talk there…(Universe are you listening?)
I tried to link it the same way I did the others but got the error above… it’s still clickable though…
The UX Awards, my first event. Obviously supported by my partner, without her you would have to be sitting on crates in my garage and you would have to bring your own food. The aim is to highlight the good and bad in UX and also honour the UX person of the year… Tickets are currently sold out until we can get a bigger venue so stay tuned.
To end it off…
If you are as lazy as me and can’t be bothered with trying to find the next event or meetup just visit the below link, it’s updated regularly and you can also leave any questions you may have about the event in the comments section…
Whew! That about covers the bulk of it. There are probably a thousand more ways to get into UX and I’m not saying this is the best but I hope this guide helps you in your journey.
Till we meet, hopefully as colleagues.