How to Become a Software Designer – 5 Essential Skills

Do you like creative problem-solving? If you’ve spent more time sketching, working through details, or obsessing over technology than you would like to admit, then Software Design might be the field for you.

As a Software Designer, you will be involved with user research, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, visual design, user testing and working closely with developers to create effortless, powerful software.

However, trying to enter a relatively new field like Software can be very overwhelming. What skills do you need? Where would you even start? Having recently been through this process as a Software Design Intern at Atomic Object, here are 5 starting points that will help you develop vital skills required for the job:

1. Learn to have empathy for your users.

The first rule is to connect with your user and their problem. Confused? Its simple: try finding a personal tie that helps you relate to the situation. My tactic is to start open conversations with end users on difficulties they face with the existing product, their expectations from it, and how they interact with it on a typical day. Being able to put yourself in your user’s shoes and share empathy for their problem will help you create products that are intuitive and sustainable.

2. Learn to prototype; explore different prototyping tools.

Prototyping is involves making rudimentary plans (such as sketches or wireframes) to mock up your product. It’s an effective and inexpensive way of identifying problems and evaluating different design options early in the process. By stripping away styling from your prototype and focussing purely on the content flow and interaction, you are able to assess the functionality of your design without bias towards the visual design. Prototyping also allows you to easily test your designs, incorporate user feedback, and figure out what works best for your software before starting the development process.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of tools available for prototyping. There isn’t one “correct” set of tools you should be using to prototype. It is a matter of personal taste. One’s choice of tools would depend on their strengths and weaknesses as well as the needs of the product. Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, Balsamiq, and InVision are a few popular tools I have used for high-fidelity prototypes. I recommend spending some time exploring different tools to figure out what works best for you as a designer.

3. Learn to code.

More and more software designers are learning to take their designs to the next step—implementation. Even if you are working in a team with other software developers, you need some common ground. You need to be able to code.

Coding skills will give you the power to take your idea from a prototype to a functional product. If you are confused about what to learn, frontend programming languages like HTML, CSS, and Javascript can be great starting points. You can find many useful tutorials on W3Schools, Codeacademy and

4. Stay inspired.

It can be tough for any artist to stay motivated and keep those great ideas rolling. A good way to combat this is by finding people that inspire you. There are tons of online design platforms like Behance and Dribbble that showcase designers and allow you to discover their work. Not only do these inspire you, but they also allow you to interact with other designers and keep track of new trends (not because you always need to follow these trends, but because they can be used as good starting points for a discussion with a client, potential employer, or other designers).

Subscribing to emails is also a good way of keeping up with the latest news and technology. Some of my favorites are Webdesigner News and Hacking UI. Another source of inspiration is books. I usually resort to these when I want to get a new perspective on things. The Design of Everyday Things, Design for the Digital Age, Thinking with Type and Steal like an Artist are a few from my list.

5. Most importantly, practice!

The things on this list will help you gain important knowledge and skills, but the only way to actually become a designer is to practice using those skills. Try and find a project you can work on. Have an idea for a deli down the street? Pitch new marketing or branding concepts to local businesses and non-profits. Think you have a concept for the next great website or app? Now is the time to get those creative juices flowing! After all, designing is a skill, and every skill takes one thing: practice over time.

So feel motivated, get creative, and start making.