What is UI/UX Design?

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User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design is a form of design focused on how people interact with technology. Today, most UI/UX design is centered around websites and applications. UI/UX designers develop and test layouts, menus, and functionalities across different browsers and devices. They tweak designs to make them more accessible or more marketable. And they ease the process of human-computer interaction through a mixture of art and science.

UI/UX designers are also a savvy investment for businesses: the best design performers increase revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry counterparts (McKinsey 2018).

UI/UX is at the intersection of various fields: computer science, engineering, graphic design, and psychology. Broadly speaking, UI designers will focus more on graphic design and psychology, while UX designers will focus more on computer science and engineering. Similarly, UI designers will spend more time adjusting the look and feel of the final product, and UX designers will spend more time prototyping and wireframing it.

Sometimes UI/UX design is categorized as the study of people and technology, with UI design dealing mostly with people and UX design dealing more with technology. However, there’s still a lot of overlap between the two.

In a world where the relationship between humans and technology is increasingly important, UI and UX designers have a critical role to play. Read on to learn more about the career outlook and educational pathways in UI/UX design.

Career Outlook for UI/UX Design

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be 45,400 jobs added for web developers and digital designers, including UI/UX designers, between 2021 and 2031 (BLS 2022). That amounts to a 23 percent increase, a figure which is over four times the national average for all professions.

And the high demand for UI/UX designers is reflected in their high compensation. While salaries in UI/UX design will vary based on experience, setting, and job title, the average salary for web and digital interface designers is $95,460 (BLS May 2021).

What Level of Education Do You Need to Enter UI/UX Design?

UI/UX is a relatively young academic discipline and a multidisciplinary one. That means that there is no single educational pathway that aspiring UI/UX designers must follow.

Technically, someone can get started in UI/UX without a bachelor’s degree, but completing an undergraduate education is an important step for those who aspire to advance within the field. A report by Nielsen Norman Group found that while 82 percent of survey respondents had a bachelor’s degree, only 42 percent had a degree in a related design field, and only 31 percent had a graduate degree (NNG 2019).

There are still comparatively few undergraduate programs with degree titles that specifically include UI/UX design, though this is likely to change. Until then, any of the disciplines contributing to UI/UX design are strong candidates for one’s undergraduate education: computer science, graphic design, informatics, or psychology. Dedicated degree programs in human-computer interaction (HCI) are still rare, but their curricula are ideally suited to UI/UX design careers.

For mid-career professionals looking to transition into UI/UX design, professional certificate programs and online DIY learning modules can quickly boost one’s skills and demonstrate proficiency in the field. UI/UX bootcamps can have graduates job-ready in under six months, with no degree necessary. Offerings range in level and focus, making them an option for UI/UX professionals at every stage of their careers.

Those who wish to take on UI/UX design leadership roles can look to dedicated graduate programs. Unlike at the undergraduate level, there are many master’s programs in UI/UX design.

What’s in a UI/UX Design Program?

At the undergraduate level, aspiring UI/UX designers should seek out degree programs that develop the core competencies, critical thinking, and conceptual framework needed to succeed in the field. Students should look for courses and majors that cover topics such as anthropology, computer science, graphic or industrial design, human-computer interaction, information science, psychology, and software engineering.

At the master’s level, UI/UX design programs become more complex, nuanced, and specialized. Specific degree titles will vary, but UX-focused options will often be master of science degrees. These programs will include courses such as designing with data; programming for interaction design; UX design ethics; prototyping the user experience; social networks analytics; and information architecture. Specializations can include geographic information science (GIS), health informatics, and project management. A feature of many master’s programs is that students will complete several projects that can be used in their professional portfolio upon graduation.

Professional certificates, short courses, and online bootcamps offer additional instruction on various UI/UX design topics. In the UI/UX design world, these are typically online, asynchronous, customizable courses that prioritize hands-on learning and job-ready skills.

Typical study topics include the foundations of UX design; the UX design process; building wireframes and prototypes; conducting UX research; and using tools like Figma and Adobe XD in UX design. Students who complete bootcamps and other DIY course offerings often have completed projects for their portfolio to show for it.

The Future of UI/UX Design

UI/UX design is evolving as fast as technology is. The industry has already seen a shift from desktop computing to mobile applications. Increasing computing power allows for more motion-based and dynamic designs, but a widening number of platforms means that cross-compatibility will be key.

Implementing gestures beyond point and click is a continuing area of study and development for UI/UX designers. Intuitive interaction methods, from tapping to tilting to swiping to talking, create a functional, multimodal language between humans and technology. Advances in AR and VR technology are changing the landscape of interaction and opening up new possibilities. As the average person’s life becomes increasingly high-tech, UI/UX designers will make those human-technology interactions as seamless and efficient as possible.

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