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How to Become a UX Designer

ux Graphic designer creative  sketch planning application process development prototype wireframe for web mobile phone . User experience concept.

M.K. has been interested in computer science since building her own website as an amateur  freelance graphic designer.  With the introduction of the term “UX Designer” she began visualizing a clear, lucrative career path with generous opportunities and plenty of room for her natural creative talents.

UX stands for “user experience,” so a UX designer essentially deals with making software, websites, and apps work for consumers and businesses. It’s all about delivering a meaningful, relevant experience to audiences. It’s the process of making programs as easy to use, allowing people to perform all the tasks that were originally intended.

It requires a high amount of technical knowledge, utilizing computer logic, coding, and other software-related skills. UX design also involves a knowledge of human behavior; after all, understanding the interaction between a person and an app requires knowledge of both sides.

Looking into her newly designated career path, M.K. discovers she could jump into the field with her current associate’s degree.  But to really be competitive, a professional UX designer may lean toward a master’s degree.

If you are like M.K. and ready to pursue your professional career as a UX designer, this article will supply you with the what, how, why, and outcomes of becoming a UX designer today.

How to Become a UX Designer

There are generally four steps to becoming a UX designer:

  1. Enroll in a tech-related bachelor’s degree program
  2. Grow skill sets and become tech savvy. Focus on software and programming knowledge.
  3. Gain experience in the field through freelance work, internships, or in your current job.
  4. Refresh your abilities periodically, by following emerging tech trends and taking online UX courses.

There are also many ways to sustain and upgrade your UX design career:

  1. Learn how to code;
  2. Consistently update your portfolio;
  3. Expand your UX network by attending conferences, finding local groups, and keep up to date with the UI & UX Design Agency.

How to Learn UX Design

As an aspiring UX designer, M.K. can take many different routes with her education.  There are no formal requirements mandating a certain degree, certification, or license, but there are certainly ways to improve her chances of landing a job as a user experience designer.

Currently, M.K. has a college or post-high school education of some type, in this case, an associate’s degree in graphic design.  This gave her a foundation to break into the industry and start building knowledge about usability design. Associate’s degrees are more affordable, and take about two years to complete, making them a more convenient option for many students.

Most people working in user experience design will have a bachelor’s degree in a technology-related area that deals with websites, applications, and other programs that need usability testing. M.K. pursuing a bachelor’s degree not only helps her learn about topics specifically related to technology and software, it also gives her a well-rounded background in problem-solving, communication, research, and more. To be a high-quality UX designer requires all the skills that a bachelor’s degree can give.

On top of a bachelor’s degree, M.K. could add a master’s degree to her UX designer resume. This education further enhances her ability to deal with software, interpret audience or business actions, and make stronger decisions related to the UX process.

User Experience Design Degree Options

So what degrees should M.K. go after? There are many, and one of the biggest draws to UX jobs is versatility and broad scope of required knowledge.

However, this creates a potentially confusing path for people who want to learn UX design.  A future lawyer knows they need to go to law school. A future teacher knows to get a teaching degree.  There aren’t many fully-designated user experience designer degrees, and often the credential may come in the form of a certificate program or a concentration within a degree.

Essentially, M.K.’s education should focus on two key areas: software and people.  The software aspect of M.K.’s education will help her become familiar with a wide range of programs and systems, including HTML, JavaScript, Photoshop, iWork, and more. For many UX designers, a software-related subject will be their major.

Common degrees for UX designers include:

Because the application of user design deals so heavily with how people think, a college education will also be sprinkled with liberal arts topics like psychology or philosophy. Understanding how people think is just as important to UX design as understanding how programs work. While this may be a minor, it could potentially be a UX designer’s major.

Typical minors for UX designers include:

  • Anthropology
  • Psychology
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Sociology

Required UX Designer Skills

Because a UX designer deals with a wide variety of software and programs, they must possess technical skills and know how to implement certain techniques. Mastering these skills, or at least having a comprehensive understanding of them, will make aspiring UX designers more attractive to potential employers.

The UX process deals with different steps. Initially, a UX designer will need skills involving research. This could include the analysis of competitor’s programs and products, analytical reviews of current software, or interviewing potential customers to gain insight on what they want from the product.

During design and analysis, UX designers will need to understand the basics of user testing, which involves letting people actively use a product, or experience mapping, which lays out the step-by-step path that users should take.

One of the best things M.K. can do for her UX design career is to learn code. While an understanding of HTML and CSS is not the golden ticket to a user experience career, it’s one of the most vital components of the field. These codes act as the foundation or skeleton of a program, so there is no working in UX design without a basic understanding of code.

The UX Designer Career Path

Gaining Experience in UX Design

For M.K. to start her career in UX design, she not only needs UX training and education that relates to the field, she also needs to gain experience. M.K. will likely find that employers are looking to hire people with prior experience, but she doesn’t necessarily need a job in UX design to be experienced in UX design.

Local tech events and organizations are a great start. UX organizations may exist in local areas or regions that can help aspiring UX designers to gain the skills and networks they need. Even events or organizations related to specific software topics, like JavaScript or Photoshop, can help to gain valuable experience. These opportunities can be used to form relationships with people who are knowledgeable about usability testing and start getting an idea for how the field works. This could also be an opportunity to find a mentor in UX design.

Since M.K. is already in a tech job, she can start incorporating user experience design techniques into her work. Starting small and gradually working usability testing practices like surveys, content audits, or reviews into the job, M.K. can compile examples of her work into a UX design portfolio to show future employers.

What About Freelancing?

While many UX designers will be hired by companies, the potential exists to be a freelancer, taking jobs as they come and running one’s own operation. This is a good path for any independent, disciplined, and focused person, but it may not be right for everyone. 

M.K. is interested in working in UX design for a company for at least a couple years. This will help her build experience and allow her to see if the user experience career path is right for her.

As long as there is no conflict of interest, M.K. can start taking jobs on the side, building her resume and slowly taking on more and more clients. Creating a pipeline of work is essential because it allows for a steady, somewhat predictable income when leaving a job with a company.

Do UX Designers Work Remotely?

Because the career of a UX designer deals mostly with software and programming, there is certainly the opportunity to work remotely, even as a full time employee. While some companies have intranets that require special access, remote UX designers may be able to complete most of the work outside of their system.

There are a lot of tasks that require onsite work. For example, a UX designer often needs to interact with users to determine how they are working with the program.

However, a large portion of UX designer tasks can be done remotely. Analytic reviews, online surveys, analysis of competitor’s products, and usability testing can all be performed from a remote location, allowing for greater flexibility and freedom.

Staying Up-to-Date in Usability Design

UX design is a constantly-evolving profession. Updated software, new technologies, and innovative devices  make the task of a UX designer more and more complicated. So how can
M.K. stay up-to-date and competitive in the industry?

She can start by reading literature written by experts in the field. There are hundreds of potential options to learn UX design and new techniques, ranging from industry publications to expert blogs. You’ll be able to learn about new theories, frequent issues, and current trends in the industry.

Another, and probably more reliable option, is to take UX design courses throughout one’s career. Online courses or certifications for UX design give designers the chance, no matter what experience level, to continually improve their skills and knowledge. Many trusted organizations offer high-quality UX designer training and certification, and this is a great way to show value to future employers.

The Difference Between UX and UI Design

While they share many similarities, UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) design are far from the same thing. They both deal with making the best product for a customer or user, but a UX designer is more rooted in the foundation of the website or app, while the UI design deals with the appearance and visual appeal. Consider it like this: if the program were a human body, the UX design would deal with the bones and muscles while UI deals with the skin.

Let’s look at it a little closer. The user interface design is the steps to visually guide the user from start to finish. The user interface will also consider how the product reacts to a user’s input, and create guides, hints, and directives for the user to follow. Essentially, if it looks great, it will be a result of good user interface design. 

If it is easy to use, it will be the result of good user experience design. The two fields of expertise intersect quite a bit, but they are distinct in their own right. However, with some companies the lines can be blurred between UI and UX designers.

The Difference Between UX and Graphic Design

In some sense, both UX and UI design start with graphic design. This is the field that determines how things should look. Not move, function, or respond, but look. A graphic designer will choose colors, fonts, shapes, and tones. Arrangements of elements and layouts will be the role of a graphic designer. They deal with non-interactive layouts, creating visual graphics that help begin the process, which ultimately culminates in excellent UX design.

User Experience Designer: Career Information

UX Designer Salary

UX design continues to be one of the most rewarding careers when it comes to potential earnings. According to a 2015 report on jobs by CNN Money, people working as user experience designers earned an average of $89,300 in 2015, while top professionals brought in salaries around $138,000.

Glassdoor posts more impressive numbers, currently. Their survey of 1,034 user experience designers found an average salary of $115,743. The minimum was $81,000, while the highest reported salary was $165,000.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not keep tabs on UX designers specifically, they do compile information on similar careers, which shine more light on the earning potential of UX designers. For example, computer systems analysts earn around $93,730, web developers earn about $77,200, and software developers earn an average of $110,140! If nothing else, this further shows the earning potential for anyone with high-tech software skills, similar to those needed by UX designers.

UX Jobs: Future Outlook

So UX designers stand to earn a lot of money, but will the jobs be available in the future? All signs point to yes. The ten year job growth for UX designers according to CNN Money will be 18% through 2025. This is well above the average expected job growth, which the BLS says will be roughly 5-8%.

Again, tech-related jobs provide more clues to the future of user experience careers. The BLS says that web developers will grow by 13% over the next ten years, while computer occupations overall will grow 13% as well. Computer systems analysts will grow 7% and software developers for applications will grow by 22%. Once again, UX designers can see a fertile field on the horizon.

Where are the UX Jobs?

While the industry of UX design is full of telecommuters, there are certain areas that give aspiring user experience designers more opportunities. New York, to no one’s surprise, is always a hotbed for UX and other technology-based opportunities. This is largely due to sheer size, but it’s also because New York has a vibrant technology sector. San Francisco and the Bay Area is also known as one of the top regions for anyone looking to enter UX design. Other top areas include Boston, Atlanta, Seattle, and Chicago.

Related Careers: What Else Can UX Designers Do?

When working as a UX designer, there are many other paths one can take throughout their career.

UX designers can move into higher levels of software and application development, such as project management, or into another job that deals directly with development, such as web development, information systems management, database administration, or one of the many tech-related titles.

Learn UX Design: The First Step

If you are considering an exciting and challenging career in UX design like M.K., education could be the next step to making your dream a reality.

You’ll learn the latest techniques for developing programs and making them work perfectly. As a UX designer, you’ll combine human input from surveys and testing with computer science, coding, and other high-tech topics. You’ll be one of the people that makes the information age turn, but you need the right education to get started.  Click the link below to find more degrees available to the online student through the GetEducated database!