Getting started in UX can be daunting. As a UX mentor and educator, the most common question I get is “How do I get started?”  There are so many resources out there and there’s no magic formula to screen the right information or what you need in order to progress.

To make things even more difficult, you’ll find several pieces of conflicting advice about the same topic. This is why UX can be so complex and require you to be highly skilled in critical thinking.

So instead of writing another piece revolving around how to get started in UX or what UX actually is, I’ll start pointing out some ideas that should help you gain some clarity first.

There’s more than one definition for UX. And a variety of other equally debatable terms.

What is UX? It’s a valid question you might have when getting started, especially as you want to know what you’ll be doing once you land your first UX role. However, if you ask practitioners what UX means, you’ll get distinct and often conflicting answers. This lack of consensus can be very confusing for beginners to UX.

Even though nowadays UX is often associated with digital interfaces, the term User Experience was popularized by Don Norman who defines UX as “encompassing all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

Originally, UX was mostly applied to the field of human-computer interaction and there was a focus on computers as the main form of interaction. According to Nielsen Norman Group, leaders in the UX field, the context and era led to a limited interpretation of UX as based on a single interaction level. That’s why we often have the impression that all that UX designers do are related to websites or apps.

The reality though is that in order to provide a good User Experience, we should consider the whole experience that we are providing to the user, and that goes beyond completing a task through an app. Understanding the user journey and the relationship of the user with your product is essential.

It’s also why UX and CX (Customer Experience) can be interchangeable depending on how we use these definitions as CX started being used to describe all the interactions the user has as part of the overall user journey.

In the end, what you need to know is that even though as a UX designer you’ll most likely be working on an app or interface, UX goes beyond that.

The same UX role might mean different things as well. And there are many of them.

As if defining UX wasn’t difficult enough, understanding UX roles doesn’t get any easier. Why are there so many? Why do all of them require different skills?

It’s difficult to share an official definition for roles as UX in itself is not an officially regulated field.

So it shouldn’t come across as a surprise when companies interpret UX roles differently. That’s why it’s important to always pay attention to the job description and understand what each role entails. Depending on the type of company and their UX maturity, you’ll see that people with the same job title will be doing different things.

Another misconception is that UX always involves some form of visual design. Even though starting as a UX/UI generalist is common, there are plenty of roles that do not involve visual design.

The best way to understand a UX role is not to read another “UX designer vs Product designer” or “UX designer vs UI designer” article but rather 1) read job descriptions; 2) ask your potential employer questions about the role; 3) talk to other people in similar roles and companies.

UX is more than usability.

Usability is only one component of UX. It’s an essential aspect because if your users are unable to complete a task, then we can’t move to other aspects of the experience. However, at the same time, a product that is usable doesn’t always mean it’s a product we will use.

“Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word "usability" also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.”

Source: Peter Morville’s UX Honeycomb

There’s not a right or wrong way to do things.

One of the main challenges I see students facing is to find a one-size-fits-all way to do things. With so many tools, frameworks and methods, UX becomes a complex field with many different paths.

In fact, an underrated but highly valuable skill is this ability to tackle a project and be able to adapt tools and processes to its constraints.

Developing critical thinking skills should be part of your learning process. Instead of trying to find a framework that works for everything, how can you combine different frameworks and methods to achieve a project’s goal?

In order to stand out from the many aspiring UX designers out there, you need to go beyond presenting UX deliverables to understanding how these move the project forward and help you achieve the goals of a project.

In summary:

“You don’t know what you don’t know”, so placing the pieces together might be the most daunting task you’ll face in your journey of learning UX.

In the end, learning UX is more than just completing a course, reading a few articles or even tackling your first project. Just like the field itself, learning UX is an iterative process where you’ll fail many times.

The most important place to start is to embrace that never-ending process so you can constantly learn from it.

Ana Santos is a UX specialist living and working in in Portugal She has worked with with agencies and companies of all sizes, from start-ups to giant techs such as Google. Ana teaches teams & individuals how to create user-centered experiences that convert, and I genuinely believe that we all can contribute to a positive impact in the world through our businesses.

Cover artwork by Andrew Footit