Career Advice

Pathways to Being a UX Designer in HK and Beyond

min read
Mikaela Thompson

With the pandemic still raging in its second year in many parts of the world, you can’t help but feel some trepidation about embarking on your career journey or switching to a new one. With remote work becoming a ‘thing’ for employment, questions and doubts about career viability and longevity lurk in the back of your mind, made worse by the uncertainties that lie ahead in 2022. But, like it or not, we need a paycheck regardless of Covid-19, and finding a good fit in a career and company is not optional albeit daunting. 

If you believe you’d fit well as a UX (user experience) designer but are freaking out about your choice and how to get started in these tumultuous times, chill! We’re here to help you sort it. Of paramount importance, is that the tech industry is proving to be resilient and one of the most robust industries. A 2020 report, done by Onward Search, concerning where companies should focus their hiring efforts for growth, indicated UX designers came second in demand for creative professionals.

Specific to the Hong Kong context, technology fields are viewed optimistically with a 51% increase of technology startups between 2017 and 2020. This has been a result of initiatives, such as, the HK$50 billion injected through the government’s recent budget for tech and innovation along with Hong Kong’s inclusion as part of the ‘Greater Bay Area’ project aiming to make Hong Kong and ten other nearby regions, the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Asia. UX designers are now in high demand in the tech industry. In fact, HK employers often need to hire from abroad to fill these UX designer positions since there’s a huge gap in supply here. Those with the necessary skill set are therefore set to have fantastic opportunities as a UX designer.

What is a UX designer?

In a nutshell, UX design is the art and science of creating the best ways for users to experience products, services, or processes. 

Why should I consider being one? 

First up, if you don’t have a knack for design perspectives or an ability to empathize with users, best to forget it. It’s not for you! However, if this fits you, you can expect the following benefits:

1) Career satisfaction - UX designers have a healthy work-life balance e.g., Glassdoor ranked this role second in a list of top 20 jobs for work-life balance.

2) Involvement in cutting edge technology projects – if you wish to impact millions of people’s lives, this is the way to do it as one of the most transformational roles in the tech industry.

3) Great salary packages and chances for growth – since there’s a current discrepancy between role demand and supply, there’s endless opportunities for growth in this field. An average annual salary is around HK$310K depending on the skills you already have; mid-career, a UX designer with the right skill set can earn up to HK$500K yearly. In Hong Kong, tech startups may not offer the best pay but the sharp learning curve you’ll experience makes up for it; established startups e.g., GoGoVan, Klook etc., however, are likely to pay more. You should also look into the finance industry as employers of UX designers e.g., the banking and finance industry are on the move to digital models where the attention is on designing user-friendly digital products therefore the demand for UX designers is high.

What’s in the UX designer’s toolbox?

Anyone with a passion for UX can find a way to leverage the skills they already possess and pick up the ones they don’t. The following skills are acquired as part of an ongoing process whether you’re a seasoned UX designer or an aspiring one. Both can benefit from a combo of certificate courses (full or part-time, face-to-face, or online), industry events, conferences, blogs, books etc. There’s always something new to learn. 

Hard skills: These include user research and strategy (including data collection), wireframing and prototyping, user interface design, responsive web design, UX writing etc.

Soft skills and personality qualities: project management, collaboration and communication skills, empathy and humility, initiative. 

(Keep in mind though, that Covid-19 has impacted on the skills needed by UX designers. How? By increasing the potential for remote work, you may have to adapt some processes, like, conducting user research remotely and getting a handle on using remote tools; the need to learn how to collaborate and communicate with stakeholders remotely; being in increasing demand in new fields due to people spending more time indoors e.g., in healthcare, online education, media and entertainment, logistics and delivery services to name a few. In 2021 it’s essential more than ever before to design for inclusivity, accessibility and with an incisive social consciousness.

How can I break into the field?

There’s no traditional route to becoming a UX designer, unlike for instance, to be a doctor, you need to attend med school. Lots of UX designers come from outside the tech industry e.g., teachers, psychologists, graphic designers, bankers, office administrators etc., and newcomers moving from one field to another bringing with them their transferrable skills. 

Some general pointers for aspiring UX designers are:

1) Read up on UX e.g., established UX blogs, UX communities, MyUXBites, podcasts etc.

2) Learn UX design principles e.g., Hick’s and Jakob’s UX design process, research laws, principles of hierarchy and consistency etc.

3) Learn about core UX design methods and processes e.g., design, testing and implementation etc.

4) Learn key design tools e.g., Sketch and InVision familiarity will be expected by employers but also play around with others like, Typeform, photoshop etc.

5) Work on your own projects to develop your UX design skills e.g., use opportunities in your current job to apply UX methodologies, such as, finding out what consumers want with a quick user interview etc.

6) Build a UX portfolio. This should be your most valuable asset. It tells the story of who you are as a UX designer and showcases your design work e.g., your process to be a UX designer, demos how you solve problems and makes your thought processes transparent. Select about five pieces that will resonate with the company you’re applying to (do background research on the company and their objectives, values etc.) and the role you’ll be performing. 

7) Network with both aspiring and veteran UX designers. You may get a job referral as well as inspiration and motivation e.g., you can use online platforms such as Slack; check out Designer Hangout, Junior UX community. 

8) Do UX design courses and bootcamps which will fast-track a career in this field. Hands-on immersive learning is best since companies want to see, and value, demonstrable skills and experience, over mere credentials. There’s a plethora of online courses, as well as in-person ones to choose from.

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