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What Degree Do I Need for UX Design?

ux designer experiments with mobile prototypes on desktop

UX designers are part of an expanding workforce within the field of computer technology. They optimize a user or consumer's experience with a physical or digital product from start to finish. Being able to architect a web page or application, for example, requires both technical know-how and an understanding of marketing, research and design principles.

With such a variety of skills needed to excel in UX design, that opens to the door for many different degree programs that can prepare you to be a UX designer.

UX design school and education requirements

You don't need any special license to become a UX designer, which means there are no standardized education requirements to become a UX designer. While this may make choosing an education path difficult, it also means there is a lot of flexibility when it comes to the education you need to be a UX designer.

In general, a bachelor's degree is often considered the entry-level degree needed to land jobs in UX design and other fields adjacent to computer science. Some more senior roles, such as a UX design director, may ask for a graduate-level degree in UX design, computer science or a similar subject. Even with that said, individual employers may not require their UX designers to have a bachelor's degree—or any degree, for that matter—if they possess the necessary UI and UX skills for the job.

Andrea Huang, a New York-based UX designer, went to school for interior design before she changed her career path to UX design. Since she already had a bachelor's and master's degree in a different field, she chose to attend a UX design bootcamp. She's encountered other UX designers with diverse educational backgrounds.

"They already were in web design, so some people started there. And they were basically fluent in coding, web development and design, so they already understood the environment and then they moved into UX." Huang said that she's encountered people who got master of arts degrees in UX design, too, or who began on marketing and strategy teams (which often work with UX designers) and then moved into UX design after getting exposed to it cross-functionally.

Teajai Kimsey, a digital marketing leader with extensive experience in developing and executing successful marketing strategies across a range of industries, says, "Before I got my degree I was actually doing the UX work as a web developer. The question of how to make people click, follow through and motivate them to take an action is all a part of UX. I didn't know it was a degree program. Anyone who is curious about how humans interact with the world has the apptitude to learn on the job and develop the curiousity to test what works and what doesn't." 

UX design degree options

Some schools offer a UX design major which can be a great option if you know you want to work in UX design. Others offer UX design as a concentration within another degree or as a minor. However, UX design degrees are not yet all that common. Many UX designers have degrees in computer science or a related field, such as:

UX courses: What you'll learn in a UX design program

Although there are relatively few schools that offer UX design as a major in and of itself, they are a fantastic option for people who know they want to be UX designers. A UX design degree isn't the only option for prospective UX professionals, but if you do choose to major in UX design, you can expect to take courses in the following subject areas:    

Foundations of Internet technology:
Learn about the history and development of the World Wide Web.
Data and information visualization:
Students learn how to graphically represent data, then interpret and use that data to solve UX problems. 
Visual communication:
Visual communication courses teach students how communication occurs using graphic design elements like typography, color and more.
Writing for digital media:
UX designers need to know how to write effective microcopy that informs and delights readers. Courses about writing for digital media bring this concept to light and teach students how effective writing changes depending on the digital medium.
Human-computer interaction:
Courses on human-computer interaction teach the theories and methods of creating user-friendly digital products.
Web authoring:
This type of course touches on the basics of coding languages and how to use them to create user-friendly web architectures.
UX design studio:
Just like art students have classes that consist entirely of practicing the art forms they've been studying in lectures, UX design students synthesize what they've learned and complete hands-on practice in-studio classes.
Many degree programs place their students in internships as part of their graduation requirements so that the student can practice what they've learned in a real-world setting and gain experience that could later be used in a portfolio.
A capstone project for a UX design student usually consists of completing a final project to round out their professional portfolio.

UX design bootcamps and certificate programs

In addition to traditional degree programs, many colleges, universities and independent providers offer UX design bootcamps and/or certificate programs. These are concentrated training programs that prepare students for entry-level jobs in a given field such as UX design.

Bootcamps and certificate programs are typically completed in several months and therefore cost less than most college degrees. Their curriculums are focused entirely on the fundamentals of UX design and don't require completing courses in other subjects the way many bachelor's degrees do. 

Most UX design bootcamps or certificate programs are meant for beginners with none or very little prior UX design experience. They can be an alternative to a UX design degree entirely or a great resume booster on top of your existing education. For example, someone with a computer science degree likely has an excellent foundation of technical skills needed to be a UX designer, but completing a bootcamp on top of that could give them that extra boost of knowledge and skills in UX design specifically.

Getting a job: How to get into UX design

Getting an education in UX design, either through a degree, bootcamp, or another program, is undoubtedly important to gain the foundational knowledge needed to enter the field. In addition, some employers may place more value on having a certain level of education for their particular UX positions and tie it into their entry-level UX designer compensation.

It's important to understand, though, that your education may not mean much if you aren't able to demonstrate your knowledge to future employers, which is where the importance of portfolios comes in.

Building your portfolio

One of the most important parts of getting a UX design job is having a portfolio of projects you've completed to show to employers. This may include things like user flows, wireframes, sketches, even collages and mood boards—anything that shows your creative process and how you arrived at the final product.

You may already have some items to put in a portfolio if you completed a UX design or related degree or a UX design bootcamp. Internships are also a great way to complete projects to put in a portfolio, especially when you're just starting out.

Hiring managers usually don't expect a robust portfolio from entry-level designers who simply haven't had the experience yet to add to one, which is just one reason why your portfolio should include items that show your process rather than just the polished final product.

Huang said that when she was starting out after she completed her bootcamp, she didn't expect employers to be so interested in why she made certain design decisions instead of simply what her decisions and methods were. "And that is not the actual intention of what the hiring managers are probably trying to see. The most important thing is the rationale behind each decision. But in a hypothetical environment where a student works, it's totally different because there's no rationale, because there are no constraints."

Once you get that first job (or two), your portfolio should continue grow and evolve as you become a more experienced UX design professional.

Ready to take the next step towards your future?

If you want to be a UX designer, there are many different programs out there to meet your educational needs. If you are able to attend a school which offers a UX design degree, that can be a great choice—but not your only option.

Research degree programs in computer science, human-computer interaction, industrial design and more based on your particular interests. Any of these types of degrees can benefit a future UX designer. If you're interested in a shorter, more concentrated program, consider UX design bootcamps as well. These can be especially advantageous for people who already have a degree.

kendall upton

Written and reported by:

Kendall Upton

Staff Writer

With professional insight from:

Andrea Huang

UX Designer

Teajai "T.J." Kimsey

Digital Marketing Leader
BWD/Advanced Web Strategies, Inc.

UX Designer Degree & Career Guide