Getting back into interaction/interface work

So about ten or so years ago, right at the start of my career, I worked on several projects in the field, doing embedded interface for a few satellite radio products. It was alright work. The company I worked for eventually stopped working on similar projects, and I ultimately left the business. Later on I ended up working in totally different wing of the design field, working on POP, packaging, and packaging graphic design. These days, I do a lot of concept work, rendering, structural work, working with manufacturing, etc., heavy on creativity but in a different direction. It’s good work but it’s fairly niche, meanwhile every job search for ID people brings in a dozen interface positions that seem to be pretty lucrative. I’m well versed in human centered design/research methods (I have a master’s in ID), etc. and I can absolutely make things look great, but I’m a little unsure how to get going in a tangential design field again. I could take some courses at General Assembly or somewhere similar, but looking at the course offerings it looks like it’s all things I’m already familiar with. Could anyone more experienced than me advise me as to logical next steps to make this happen? Thanks!

I made the jump from ID->UX while at my previous job, and was able to do so since our team had both functions under a single umbrella (which worked out well in my advantage).

Interaction design like ID has a lot of smaller niches and learning about them and experimenting may try to decide where you want to focus. Similar to how ID has skills in sketching, CAD, model making, user research, etc - the Interaction field requires an understanding of information architecture, wire framing, interaction design, prototyping, visual design, development. You ideally want to be very strong in one or two areas with a basic understanding of the other skills, at least enough to drum up a portfolio. (You don’t need to be a killer visual designer to do UX, and if you are a killer visual designer you probably don’t need to be a wizard at coding or prototyping).

As a fair warning for someone who hires, I cringe a little bit when I see General Assembly courses on the resume, not because they are “Bad” per se, but many people take a GA course and assume they’re ready to go. Since you have an actual design background, I think you will probably understand the importance of a portfolio, how you present your work and process much more then the average biz school grad who wants a career change. You can look into it and see if it seems like it’s for you since I assume with one Master’s you’re not looking for another.

One benefit with building web sites or apps is the barrier to entry is very low. Consider starting your own pet project to learn some of the basics (iOS or Web is a good place to start vs Android). Even if you make something crappy, just making it you will learn a ton. There are tons of online courses, youtube videos, courses etc that have intros to HTML/design that you could watch through in your spare time to get a sense of the skills.

Once you get the basic understanding of how to build something, you can then use your design skills to understand how to test it, improve things, and really start to understand interaction patterns for existing apps. A lot of good UX is about applying the correct patterns where appropriate (an architect doesn’t redesign a doorknob for every door they install) and where to make things unique to solve a problem that might not have been solved yet.

Happy to chime in more for any more specific questions.

Thanks for the quick reply. So do you think that I could benefit from one of those 6 week General Assembly courses? It seems like some of the stuff I’m familiar with, but I’m wondering if coming away with a good portfolio piece will be worth the money in the long run.

Like a lot of other parts of ID, it seems like UX is really broad and there’s a LOT of skills people are looking for in one person. Research, design, prototyping, coding, etc. Should I learn Swift? Or another programing language? I’m up for learning whatever is necessary but I want to minimize false starts or spending a lot of time learning things that won’t be helpful, I need to focus on what will be most marketable. So what are people needing the most? Ultimately I’d like to get enough of a portfolio together to get some freelance work and possibly another position once I get enough experience from freelance. Is that realistic?

Anyway, thanks for your help with this.

The GA courses can’t hurt, but you’ll get what you put in. I have a former co worker who did the jump by taking a GA course and it seems to have worked out so far for him. But I do review a lot of portfolios that have GA stamps and terrible work. Just like design school, if you work your ass off to try and kill it you can probably end up with some better portfolio pieces.

As far as learning a programming language - I would suggest start with HTML and Javascript. I personally think the knowledge of code (Even if you don’t go that far) will be invaluable in the long term when it comes to understanding how frameworks work, what is and isn’t possible, and how to implement things that exist in your head. Far too few designers know anything about code and I personally think it will take you a long way (it’s always been a benefit that I knew programming basics, especially when speaking to engineers).

In terms of need - the market varies wildly. There is a need for a lot of UX generalists but find what piece makes you happy and focus there. I know people who love prototyping and have made solid careers out of just being awesome at prototyping.