How To Become a User Experience (UX) Designer

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From the way you hold your phone, to the way you unlock its screen, to all the intuitive swipes and gestures that allow you to use that advanced piece of technology without ever reading a user manual—you can thank user experience (UX) designers for all of this.

Using a blend of aesthetics, psychology, and engineering, UX designers, at their most elegant, are practically invisible to the consumer. But to the industry at large, they are very much in demand. And design is just a small part of the picture. With more companies migrating to cloud computing and practically every industry incorporating customer-facing applications, there’s a new gold rush for UX designers, according to Forbes.

There’s no singular path to becoming a UX designer. Much like the technology and software that they work with, customization and personalization are key features. An aspiring UX designer could spend six or more years in traditional collegiate environments, or they could build up online certificates from their home office, or they could mix and match between the two in a manner that suits them best.

Check out our step-by-step guide below and start building your own path to becoming a UX designer.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a UX Designer

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Optional, Four Years)

After graduating from high school, many aspiring UX designers earn a bachelor’s degree, and they have several options for their undergraduate major. Computer science or software engineering can give them a solid technical backbone upon which to build their career, while interactive design or digital media will focus more on the aesthetic front-end.

Common admissions requirements for undergraduate programs will vary from school to school, but may include a combination of the following: a competitive GPA (3.0 or greater), SAT or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Maryville University offers a BFA in interactive design at their St. Louis campus. Students learn skills in 3D modeling, animation, video, HTML5, and AfterEffects. The curriculum includes classes that cover topics like digital media, typography, motion graphics, interactive applications, and web design. The program consists of 132 credits, 90 of which are major-focused. The tuition rate is $26,070 per year.

Arizona State University has a BS in software engineering program that can be completed online. Students are expected to complete hands-on software engineering projects every semester until graduation. The curriculum includes classes in the principles of programming, computer systems fundamentals, design and analysis of data structures and algorithms, and software enterprise. The program consists of 120 credits at a tuition rate of $15,278 per year.

Step Two: Earn a Certificate in UX Design (Optional, Six to 12 Months)

The digital environment of UX design is a fast-changing space. While traditional academic degree programs can be slow to adapt to the industry’s changing needs, short courses and certificate programs can be more nimble in addressing present and emerging trends. Whether you’re looking for a targeted boot camp in UX design, or looking to fill in the gaps from a bachelor’s degree, these programs can be a useful hack to help you get ahead.

For those who want to jump-start their UX skills, the Pratt Institute has a certificate program in UX/UI mobile design that can be completed in a single semester at its Manhattan or Brooklyn campus. Classes include an introduction to UX/UI mobile design; visual artifacts in user experience; user experience design research; and user interface prototyping in code. The program has no prerequisites and costs $3,500.

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) offers an online short course in human-computer interaction for user experience design. Students explore the intersection of UX and human-computer interaction, including cutting-edge technologies such as eye tracking, gaze following, and advances in speech and vision tools.

The course is divided into six modules that cover the essence of interaction design; non-traditional and multimodal user interfaces; collaborative computer interaction; intelligent user interfaces and prototyping; multimedia, speech, and vision in computer interaction; and the future direction of the human-computer interface. Taught by MIT CSAIL faculty, and culminating in a verified certificate from MIT xPRO, the six-week program requires eight to ten hours of study per week and costs $2,500.

UC Berkeley Extension has a professional program in UX design that has no official prerequisites (though a bachelor’s degree is preferred) and can be a useful addition to an undergraduate degree in a more technical field like software engineering. The program allows students to build a professional portfolio while also upskilling in UX design.

The curriculum includes six required courses: visual design principles; diagramming and prototyping for UX; an introduction to UX design; user research for UX; information architecture and content strategy; and user interface design. Students also need to choose an elective in a subject like Photoshop, Illustrator, quantitative metrics, or web design with HTML5 and CSS3. The program consists of 14 credits and can be completed in two terms or more. Classes are priced individually at an estimated cost of $7,250.

The California Institute of the Arts offers an online specialization program in user interface and user experience design, hosted by Coursera and taught by CalArts faculty. Students learn how to research, design, and deploy visually-driven websites and apps.

The specialization consists of four courses: visual elements of user interface design; UX design fundamentals; web design (strategy and information architecture); and web design (wireframes to prototypes). Graduates of the program receive a specialization certificate. The eight-month program takes approximately ten hours per week of study and costs $49 per month.

Step Three: Gain Professional Experience (Timeline Varies)

Perhaps the only concrete step to becoming a UX designer is working as one. That might seem paradoxical, but work experience is some of the best education one can get, and even entry-level jobs can rapidly accelerate one’s skill set. Professional experience helps a UX designer to get a mentor, build their portfolio, and grow their professional network. Early work experience can be a critical step in finding one’s niche in UX design and determining next steps.

Step Four: Earn a Master’s Degree (Optional, One to Two Years)

A master’s degree is not a necessity for someone working in UX design, but it can appeal to those who want to pursue advanced research, entrepreneurial endeavors, or leadership roles.

Entry requirements for graduate schools will vary from program to program, but often include some mix of the following: a bachelor’s degree, a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or better), work experience, GMAT/GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Rutgers University is about to introduce an online version of its master of business and science (MBS) program with an emphasis in UX design. Built from its on-campus offering, the flexible core curriculum covers a series of business courses: accounting and finance for science and technology; ethics in science and technology management; and market assessment and analysis for business and science.

The UX core classes include an introduction to UX design and visual design for UX. Electives go over subjects such as contextual inquiry, usability evaluation, and information architecture for UX design. The program consists of 43 credits and costs $900 per credit.

The University of Washington has a master of human-computer interaction and design (MHCI+D) program at its Seattle campus that can be completed in 11 months or more. It takes a multidisciplinary approach that balances the need for creative design with the power of analytical engineering. The core curriculum includes studios in immersion, ideation, prototyping, and research. Electives cover topics like data visualization, experimental research methods, usability studies, value sensitive design, and interactive information visualization. The program consists of a minimum of 46 credits and costs $1,035 per credit.

Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University’s master of science in user experience and interaction design is an on-campus program designed to help working professionals and recent college graduates advance their careers in UX design.

Students take classes such as the essentials of interactive design; research & design process methods; digital experience design; information architecture; design business and entrepreneurship; prototyping interactive interfaces; and cognitive psychology for design. Electives go over topics such as 3D modeling, virtual reality design, interactive narratives, and database management. The program consists of between 31 and 37 credits, taking between 18 months and two years to complete and costing $1,170 per credit.

Step Five: Join a Professional Society (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Any professional field that revolves around the use of technology is going to be subject to constant change. And that means that a UX designer’s education is never really over, as they’ll need to adapt their skill set and knowledge base to account for emerging trends and technological developments. Professional societies fill that need, providing continuing education, career resources, conferences, networking events, and a general platform of interaction for both early-career and veteran professionals.

UX design has two main professional societies: the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) and the Interaction Design Association (IXDA). The UXPA offers short courses for continuing education, sends out a curated news bulletin on UX news, hosts conferences, and publishes quantitative research about the industry at large. Meanwhile, the IXDA has seen explosive growth since its founding in 2003 and now constitutes a network of over 100,000 individuals. The IXDA also maintains partnerships with industry heavyweights like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and IBM.

Helpful Resources for UX Designers

The best way to learn about UX design is to find out what UX designers are talking about. Academic journals and professional societies provide a way to listen in the conversation driving the industry. If you want to eavesdrop, check o-ut some of the resources below.

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