How to Become a UX Designer

So you’d like to become a UX designer but have no idea how to get started. Or maybe you think “UX designer” has a nice ring to it but don’t actually know what a job like this entails. Then read on.

Starting your career in UX design, or switching over to a career in this industry, requires having a little background knowledge to know if this is the right career move or not. Let’s answer a couple of questions that might be floating around in your mind.

What is a UX designer? What does a UX designer do? What does a UX designer job description look like? What are UX designer jobs and what do they look like? What skills does a UX designer possess? What is a UX designer’s salary? What does UX designer education look like? The following guide will answer all of these questions and more.

Read below to find out if this career is right for you. Alternatively, see our definitive guide to design in tech if you are not interested in UX specifically.

UX Design Computer Smartphone.

What is a UX Designer?

The “UX” in UX design stands for user experience. So UX design is essentially the process of designing something, whether that be a website, an app, software, or another interface, in such a way that creates a good user experience. Or that, hopefully, pushes a user to follow through with an action i.e. buy your product, call your sales department, learn more about your company, etc.

How do you build a “good user experience” for your users? A good UX experience is one that provides an easy interface, and answers all of the questions that brought the user to your platform in the first place. Good user experiences aren’t usually achieved overnight; they require research, user testing and strategic planning to meet the brand and voice of your company and needs of your users.

UX Designer Skills

Though the premise of being a UX designer sounds kind of fun (you get to spend your days creating, designing, and strategizing) there are also a lot of technical and soft skills required to be good in this field including the following. 

  1. Research and testing. A good designer has a background in research. Knowing how to analyze a competitor’s product offering and solutions, identifying your target users, learning how to properly create wireframes and prototypes for user testing, and conducting interviews are only the beginning to being proficient in research.
  2. Coding. Understanding the capabilities of HTML and CSS is essential to developing the best user design possible, as HTML and CSS act as the skeleton for virtually every platform a UX designer will use. Because HTML and CSS are only markup languages, and not actual programming languages, getting familiar with JavaScript and other coding languages will help you to be an even better designer. Having a background in these languages sets you apart from other designers as you understand how to create a prototype and also how to implement the prototype post-design.
  3. UX writing. Obviously having an understanding of the technical skills is massively important to speak the language of your field. However, writing to the needs and hopes of your user is vitally important as well. Any great UX design is also paired with carefully crafted messages. 
  4. Empathizing with your user. As equally important as having a good eye for design, is knowing how to step into the shoes of your audience. If you can take an unbiased approach to understanding the needs of your consumer, you will design a final product with all of the components your user needs.
  5. Collaboration. No UX designer finishes and implements a design without the help of others. In this process, you will likely collaborate with other designers, developers, clients, and other key players in making the perfect design. Knowing how to play nice with others will help you to be a stronger competitor in the field.
  6. Networking. Because there is no one straight path to UX design, building a network of fellow designers and connections to companies is important in landing your first job, or your fourth job later down the road.

The skills listed above are only just the beginning. As you become a well-versed UX Designer you will start to gain footing in interaction design, critical thinking, analytics, general communication, visual communication, and project management as well.

What does a UX Designer Do?

While scrolling on the internet, you might land on a website with a confusing checkout process, a long load time, or a complex website design. This is the definition of a bad user design. Essentially UX designers do all that they can to avoid the above issues by building user-friendly prototypes.

Your job is to design products, websites, and apps that are easy to navigate, enjoyable to spend time on, and accessible for your target audience. Rather than designing something you think will be beneficial for the user, you will design products based on the actual needs of your consumer. This process includes asking hundreds of questions and putting yourself in the shoes of your user to create the best possible design.

The typical process as a UX designer requires following the steps below and asking yourself these questions.

  1. Research
    • Who is your audience?
    • What are they using your service for?
    • How can you meet the needs of both your audience and stakeholders?
  2. Design
    • How can you design wireframes to meet the needs of your consumer?
    • How can you best turn your wireframes into a testable prototype?
  3. Testing
    • What will be the most effective way to run user testing?
    • How many rounds of testing should you run?
    • What have you learned through user testing to improve your prototype?
    • Now that you’ve completed testing, is your prototype ready for implementation?
  4. Implementation
    • What are the next steps in order to implement your design?
    • Who should be contacted for next steps? The developers, other designers, etc?
  5. Measure success
    • How well is your design performing?
    • How could it be further improved moving forward?

UX Designer Job Description

When searching for UX jobs to apply for, there might be slight variation in job title. Below are all of the types of jobs to look for when applying:

  • UX Designer
  • UX/UI Designer
  • Senior UX Designer
  • Mobile UX Designer
  • Experience Designer
  • Interaction Designer

Below are examples of the job responsibilities included in the description.

  • Manage research and analysis of competitor websites and offerings
  • Conduct customer analysis and build user personas guided by target demographic
  • Create wireframes and prototypes for design and development teams based on user testing
  • Collaborate with UI design department and web developers
  • Measure analytics and usability goals and create reports on metrics

Lastly, here is an example of the qualifications necessary for UX designer roles.

  • Bachelor’s degree in graphic design, web development, or a comparable degree in a related field
  • Excellent understanding of all Adobe products, including but not limited to, Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop
  • Ability to prepare detailed reports based on consumer analyses

This is by no means a comprehensive or complete list of everything a UX designer role might describe but should give you a basic understanding of what is expected.

Where do UX designers work?

UX design is usually needed in technology hotbeds, such as San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle. However, as online work is becoming more popular, many UX designers have the flexibility to work from home as well.

What Else Can a UX Designer Do?

The great thing about studying UX design is the opportunity to jump into other professions as well. After gaining UX experience, the transition into any of the following careers is typically a smooth one:

  • Application development
  • Information systems management
  • Project management
  • Software development
  • Web development

UX Designer Jobs

Starting a Career in UX Design

One way to start your career in UX design is to implement user ability principles into your current job, if you already have one. This is especially feasible if you work for a tech company, where user design and technology are already integrated into every day projects.

Freelancing as a UX Designer

One immediate way to start making a dent in the field is to freelance. Doing so is also a great solution if you are not quite ready to give up your job or fully transition into a full-time gig as a UX designer. Start by taking a few clients to build up your resume, and continue growing this clientele. Freelancing could turn into a full-time gig, especially if you can find a consistent enough base of clients. However, freelancing can also act as a launchpad to get enough experience to land your first job.

Build your Portfolio

If you are struggling to land freelancing gigs, or your first job in the industry, take matters into your own hands. Maybe you’ve visited a website or seen a product with poor user design and user ability. Create a redesign for fun where you turn the product into what you think is ideal for the user. Then, if it’s good enough, you can try pitching the redesign to the company. 

Use Job Boards & Networks

If you are more interested in landing a full-time job as a UX designer, utilize the network you’ve built out, as well as tools such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed. Reach out to friends that work for companies you are interested in; talk with them about their experience and look for positions with those companies. Additionally, search for jobs with titles such as “UX designer” and “UX/UI Designer” to locate positions on LinkedIn and other job boards. Reach out to recruiters and set up appointments to discuss these positions.

UX Designer Education

Screen of an UX Designer's Laptop.

Though there are no specific educational requirements in the field of UX design, there are educational pursuits one should take to stake a claim in the industry. The typical bare minimum here is a two-year degree, such as an associate of arts. However, many UX designers pursue four-year degrees with majors such as graphic design or web design

An associate’s degree is the easier and more affordable option for those who can’t sink a lot of money into school. However, a four-year degree will provide more comprehensive knowledge on user ability, graphic design, and web design. To be a proficient UX designer, it will be most beneficial to pursue a four-year degree, as it will provide comprehensive knowledge on not only design and technology, but also on communication, interaction, and more. 

Some designers choose to take their education one step further by pursuing a master’s degree. Doing so sets you apart even further as you’ve chosen to work even harder to master the field of UX design.

UX Design Degrees

With so many universities and degrees available, which should you choose? One of the greatest parts of studying UX design is the educational possibilities to pursue.

As UX design is two-fold, with a focus on both technology and people, it will be most beneficial to pursue an education that will meet those two requirements, including any of the following degrees:

  • Computer science
  • Graphic Design
  • UI Design
  • Visual Design
  • Web programming

Additionally, choosing a minor or a second educational focus on something related to people will be beneficial as well. These areas of study include Anthropology, Psychology or Sociology.

Online Education

That being said, many universities offer online degrees now, which is a great option for those who would like the ease of completing a degree or program from home. For those who would prefer to complete their education online, Coursera offers a variety of degrees and certificates to get you started.

Some courses to review include a UI/UX Design Course from the California Institute of the Arts. The University of Michigan also offers a program, and there are other beginner options as well.

For other technical and design degrees, such as Computer science, Graphic design, UI design, Visual design, or Web programming, Coursera also offers great learning options in those areas of study. If you’re not sure this is the best learning platform for you, read our Coursera review here.

Continual Education

As described above, Coursera is a great tool to use, especially when launching your way into a UX career. And Coursera also offers certificates which will help take your education one step further. For those who have been in the industry for a while, and would like to stay up-to-date, this is one great way to do so.

Another suggestion is to read articles and news from experts in the UX design industry. Reading this kind of literature will help you to stay on top of new trends, theories, and issues designers are dealing with.

UX Designer Salary

Though the buy-in to UX design does not come at a cheap price, it does pay off in the end as UX designers often land high-paying jobs, with high job security in future years to come.

In 2015, CNN Money reported the average UX designer making an average of $89,300 with the top performers hitting at least $138,000.

Glassdoor, which updated its number in 2020, reported similar findings with an average salary of $85,277 per year. Indeed reports a slightly higher average at $102,369. These findings show that, once skilled in this field, becoming a UX designer can pay dividends in terms of salary.

Job security moving forward

Will UX designers continue to be as in demand as they are now? According to the same CNN report above, the 10-year job growth of this role comes in at 18%, a whole 7% above the average reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The UX design space will continue to grow and transform over the years.

What is the difference between UX design and UI design?

UX design, user experience, and UI design, user interface, do share many similarities. However, there are still many differences between the two professions. While both deal with the experience of a user, UX design dives deeper into the theory and application of website and app development. UI design is more focused on the design of an offering, such as the outward appearance and appeal to a user or customer. UX design is in charge of making a platform or application easy to use; however, UI design is in charge of providing visual appeal and cues to guide users to make certain actions. Despite the difference between these two disciplines, some companies do merge the positions into one. So though you might study UX design, you might also dabble in UI design. At the very least you will interact regularly with UI designers in this profession.

Learn UX Design online

For those who are interested, there are plenty of in-person design and development courses to take at universities. However, it is becoming increasingly convenient to get degrees and certifications online. 

Online options are just as legitimate, and services such as Coursera make the process as easy as one, two, three. Additionally, Coursera offers certificates to achieve for those looking to take their learning one step further. Online learning will lead to just as much success in the UX design field as will in-person degrees.