UX designers blend web knowledge, intuition skills and user thought processes with creativity. They need to be flexible thinkers who anticipate business and user goals.
What is UX design?
UX is short for 'user experience' and means exactly that—a customer or consumer's experience interacting with a product such as a website or application. Although UX usually has to do with digital products, UX itself exists in just about all facets of daily life.
The layout of your local grocery store, the design of a restaurant's menu, or those online pop-up chats that connect you with a customer service representative—all of these are examples of UX design: deliberate choices meant to enhance and/or inform a user's experience with the product or company.
It may come as no surprise, therefore, that while UX does encompass a lot of technological elements, it is also highly informed by marketing, graphic design and even psychology.
Andrea Huang, a New York-based UX designer, worked in interior design, retail and exhibition design before getting into UX design. As an exhibition designer, she created physical experiences in stores (think: temporary displays, window displays, etc.) which shared many of the same principles as digital UX design.
"There's actually a lot of similarities to UX—it's basically physical user experience design," Huang said. "It's learning how to be a storyteller through this space, and then using objects and activities, something that's a little bit more tangible."
Industry terminology: UX vs. UI
When researching UX, you may come across a similar but distinct term called UI, short for "user interface." UI design is the visual and interactive elements of a product's interface. For example, a website's visual and audio designs, buttons, typography, animations and more all constitute the UI. In other words, it's what you actually see on the screen. UI is indeed one aspect of UX, and perhaps the part of UX that you might think of the most—but it's important to understand the distinction between these two industry terms.
Why study UX design? (Are UX designers in demand?)
UX design is an exciting, dynamic field where technology and design intersect. UX designers decide how consumers experience a product, with the goal of making that experience meaningful, enjoyable, easy and seamless. As technology continues to expand and evolve exponentially, demand for skillful UX designers is bound to follow suit.
How to become a UX designer in 5 steps
Determine if a career as a UX designer is right for you.
Are you interested in computer science and the technical design skills that come with it? Are you also creative and have an eye for design and marketing techniques? Are you a self-directed and inspired problem-solver? If you can answer 'yes' to any of these questions, a career in UX design may suit you.
Research UI/UX schools and education options.
Although it's not officially required, a degree or other education program is necessary to learn the skills within UX design. Furthermore, it's common for employers to prefer or require their designers to have at least a bachelor's degree.
A degree in UX design, computer science, human-computer interaction or a related field are all great options. UX design bootcamps are also available and can be especially great for those with a degree in another field but don't want to return to school.
Earn your degree and qualifications.
Once you've settled on an education path, you'll want to follow through on your education. Degree programs in UX design, computer science or similar fields often include numerous hands-on projects that you can add to a portfolio to show to future employers.
Take the opportunity to participate in an internship if one is available to you—this not only provides work experience to add to your resume but may also be another chance to add projects to a portfolio.
Build your design portfolio.
If you have a UX design or similar degree, you may already have a portfolio of graphic design projects in the works. Either way, you should continue to add to this portfolio so that you have a quality sampling of your work. You may consider adding personal, independent projects as well as freelance projects.
Apply for jobs and move up the career ladder.
If you have a relevant degree or similar education and a decent portfolio, you probably qualify for many entry-level positions in UX design. Once you land a job, continuing to add to your portfolio will come naturally and the number of jobs available to you will expand with more experience. Eventually, you may be able to move into a leadership or managerial role with a UX design team.
Overview of duties performed by UX designers
Here's what you'll do on the job on a daily basis. But expect some surprises.
A UX designer researches and creates optimal user experiences for a given product, which are usually digital. They fuse technical skills with marketing knowledge to come up with solutions for customers and provide a seamless product experience.
Their job can vary quite a bit depending on who they work for and their particular job scope, but in general, UX designers need the following skills to be successful in their role:
|HARD SKILLS||SOFT SKILLS|
|Wireframing and prototyping||Curiosity and creativity|
|User research and data analysis||Problem-solving and critical thinking|
|Graphic design||Effective communication|
|UX writing||Project management|
"I think the most fun part is definitely getting the brief and understanding what we're trying to do, kind of creating the blueprint first," Huang said. "I think creating the solution—or the assumption to the solution—is something that's really interesting, because I'm testing what would be a good way to explain what we're trying to do here. And I think that's usually the fun part."
Huang also said she enjoys doing user interviews for user testing when she gets the chance. "Many times we are putting the assumptions there in a design, but that is just an assumption. Sometimes we learn a totally new perspective through testing or through interviewing."
Many UX designers are employed by technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and more, as well as design consulting firms. It's not uncommon for UX designers to do freelance work as well. However, UX designers are utilized in many different industries besides just tech.
"It's interesting because there are a lot of [jobs] that aren't just mobile and websites or computers, but there's other more subtle computers we don't usually think about that may be on the internal or employee side," Huang said. "Usually there's a big section of B2C (business-to-consumer) or B2B (business-to-business) employers."
Education needed to become a UX designer
What degree do you need to enter the field?
There isn't an exact educational path required to become a UX designer so long as you can demonstrate the skills necessary for the job. To acquire these skills, many people choose to pursue a computer science or related degree to give them foundational knowledge for most tech-based careers. In fact, some schools even offer a UX design major which is a great choice for people who know they want to go into UX design.
A bachelor's degree can be a great starting point for people who want to go into UX design, but it isn't the only option available. There are also a growing number of UX design bootcamps which are an excellent way to gain industry-specific knowledge directly relevant to the role. As an added bonus, these are often shorter and less expensive than most traditional college degrees.
Earning potential for User Experience designers
Learn what your earning potential is once you become a UX designer.
The median annual salary for web and digital interface designers is $83,240, according to the 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics from the BLS.
This figure jumps significantly when you look at the top-paying states which have some of the biggest tech companies in the world, such as California (Apple, Google, Meta Platforms), New York (IBM) and Washington (Microsoft, Amazon). For example, the metropolitan area of San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara in California has a median annual wage of $223,270 for the same profession.
On top of the fact that six-figure salaries are certainly within reach with this profession, the job outlook is bright, too—the BLS estimates that the employment of web developers and digital designers will grow 15.2% through 2031, much faster than the average across all occupations.
Are you interested in starting a UX design career?
If a computer science career with marketing and creative design elements appeals to you—and has stable job growth projections—then UX design could be an excellent fit for you. Most of the technical skills needed to excel in UX design can be acquired through computer science, UX design or a related degree, as well as some alternative education options such as bootcamps. Start researching programs today to take your first step toward your future in UX design.