How Do I 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 the 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 an increased demand for UI/UX designers in 2021.

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 the two in a manner that suits them best.

Check out our step-by-step guide below and start building your 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

Maryville University offers a BFA in interactive design at their St. Louis campus providing students with an in-demand skill set for today’s altering digital landscape. 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, visual thinking, digital illustration, publication design, graphic design, and web design. The program consists of 132 credits, 90 of which are major-focused.

For admission to the program, students must submit a high school diploma, high school grade point average of at least 2.5, a completed admission application, an official copy of high school transcript or GED, and official transcripts from each college or university previously attended, among others.

Graduates will be prepared for employment in all advertising, marketing, and design-related industries. The degree also prepares them for careers in specialized areas such as gaming, information design, eLearning, and film making.

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $781 per credit

Arizona State University

Arizona State University has a BS in a software engineering program that can be completed online. Students are expected to complete hands-on software engineering projects every semester until graduation. This project-based program will help students in acquiring proficiency in modeling and coding while also practicing creative problem-solving.

The curriculum includes classes in the principles of programming, computer systems fundamentals, object-oriented programming & data structures, computer organization and assembly language programming, introduction to programming languages, design and analysis of data structures and algorithms, and software enterprise. The program consists of 120 credits.

Graduates of the program will be able to pursue professional paths in systems and database administration, application development, web and software deployment, and more. The program will help students in building skills in areas such as database management, programming fundamentals, computer and operating system management, and physics and mechanics.

Upon completion, graduates will be ready to take roles such as computer programmer, computer science professor, computer software quality engineer, software developer, software engineer, and information technology manager (IT Manager).

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: ABET
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $688 per credit

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.

Pratt Institute

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.

This program will provide students with all the necessary knowledge and skills required for getting started as a UX/UI designer. Starting with an introduction to the field, through methodologies and best practices in user research, graduates will finish knowing how to manifest their designs so that they can be deliverable to both clients as well as developers.

  • Location: Brooklyn, NY; New York, NY
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: One semester
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,912 per credit

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) offers an online short course in human-computer interaction for user experience design. This online program is delivered in collaboration with online education provider GetSmarter. 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; natural interaction; 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.

  • Location: Online (GetSmarter); Cambridge, MA
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Six weeks
  • Estimated Tuition: $2,500

UC Berkeley Extension

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; essentials of 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.

The faculty of the program includes working designers who have real-world experience. Students learn about the essential, user-centered design techniques and principles, including wireframing, user research, prototyping, affinity mapping, persona building, and more. Graduates will be able to change their careers or expand their expertise as web developers, graphic designers, or content strategists.

  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two terms
  • Estimated Tuition: $7,793

California Institute of the Arts

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.

  • Location: Online (Coursera); Santa Clarita, CA
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four months (five hours per week)
  • Estimated Tuition: Free

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 anyone 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 the 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

Rutgers University’s master of business and science (MBS) program with an emphasis on UX design helps students in developing the skills and knowledge needed for designing and developing easily learned, engaging, usable, and accessible interactions and interfaces.

The flexible core curriculum of this hybrid program 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.

Graduates can take up positions such as user researcher, information architect, usability analyst, interaction designer, UX designer, and visual designer.

  • Location: Piscataway, NJ
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $900 per credit

University of Washington

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, interactive systems, UI software + technology, 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.

To get accepted into the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university or college in the United States, or its equivalent from a foreign institution, a minimum GPA of 3.2, a personal statement, a current resume, three letters of recommendation, transcripts from every college or university attended, and English-language proficiency for applicants whose native language is not English.

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 11 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,098 per credit

Thomas Jefferson University

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. Graduates of this program will be provided with the knowledge and skills necessary for evolving the standards of and interaction and communication.

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.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0, official undergraduate and graduate transcripts, a statement of purpose, two letters of reference, a current resume, and official TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities such as interaction design, user research, user experience design, usability analysis, web & multimedia design, and user interface design, among others.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 months to two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,226 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 skillset 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 120,000 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 to the conversation driving the industry. If you want to eavesdrop, check out some of the resources below.

  • Journal of Usability Studies
  • User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA)
  • Interaction Design Association (IXDA)
  • Journal of Human-Computer Interaction

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