User experience (UX) design is a thriving field in the tech industry. A 2019 report by LinkedIn ranked UX skills among the top five most sought-after job skills in the market.

Not only is UX design a dynamic and fast-growing field—it’s one that doesn’t necessarily require a college degree. This, combined with high salaries and cushy benefits, make it one of the most desirable fields in the job market.

These are all compelling reasons to learn UX design, but they’re not the only ones. Here’s your intro to UX: why this career path is so inviting for creatives, what you’ll be doing on the job, and how to launch a career.

What Is UX Design?

UX design may be a relatively new career track, but the concept of user experience has been around a while. It has its roots in human factors and ergonomics, a field that focuses on the interaction between humans, machines, and design systems. Donald Norman, a professor and researcher in design, usability, and cognitive science, coined the term “user experience” in the 1980s and brought it to a wider audience.

In the modern business context, UX design refers to the entire process of acquiring and integrating a product, including areas like design, marketing, branding, usability, and functions. UX design involves various disciplines like psychology, market research, business strategies, design, technology, and even copywriting to an extent.

Modern Day Applications of UX Design

In today’s crowded market, consumers are presented with a myriad of options to choose from. UX design aims to enable a delightful—or at least hassle-free—experience that encourages repeat customers and brand loyalty.

Say you want to buy clothes online. If you visit a website that’s cluttered with information, has poor quality images, and no filtering feature, you’ll probably go back to Google to find a site that’s easier to use. Because when it comes to convenience, we’re spoiled: you’ll easily be able to find a better website with great images, better browsing and the ability to filter your selection for color, fabric and price range.

Good UX ensures that a customer sticks around, leaves positive reviews, and might even come back for their next shopping spree.

How to Get Started in UX Design

If you’re interested in becoming a UX designer, it all starts with the right training. Many choose to take the traditional route of enrolling in a bachelor’s degree. Colleges like MIT, New York State University, Boise State University, Shillington School of Graphics, and UC San Diego are some of the top institutions offering courses focused on UX design.

If you’re further down the track in your career or you have some prior study under your belt, a shorter course or certificate program might be the right option for you. Below are some of the most reputable study options that will have you on your way to becoming a UX pro in no time.

Interaction Design Specialization – UC San Diego

UC San Diego offers a two-year certificate program called Interaction Design Specialization, which is run completely online. This is touted as one of the best distance learning programs on User Experience. Other UX Design programs on the same campus are either partially or completely online, and the duration ranges from 15 to 21 months, depending on the number of courses taken.

UX Design Degree – MIT

The UX Design course offered by MIT is one of the best in any state. This again spans over two years. MIT also offers part-time courses that last about three months and require you to be available 6 to 8 hours per week for lectures. This course is meant for experienced professionals, especially in the field of product design, senior UX designers, and the top leadership of organizations.

Master’s Degree in UX Design – Stanford University

Stanford University offers a two-year full-time master’s degree in UX design as part of their Human-Computer Interaction program. This course is meant for students or professionals in engineering or computer science.

Shillington School of Graphic Design

The Shillington School of Graphic Design is a little on the expensive side, but well suited to beginners in this field. Their course content is appropriately paced and uses a mix of theory and real-time project experiences.

UX Design courses – Coursera

Coursera offers many online courses in UX design that cater to both beginner and advanced levels. Some of these courses are available free of charge, and some offer financial aid.

UX Design Bootcamp – Thinkful

If you’re interested in a more comprehensive course that offers exceptional peer support and one-on-one mentoring, Thinkful’s UX/UI Design Bootcamp has a career-ready curriculum. You’ll learn UX/UI design fundamentals, the skills required to design your first product, and how to design in a team setting, among other industry-relevant topics.    

Other Ways to Upskill in UX Design

There are plenty of other ways to learn from the UX design—make sure you check out the awesome blogs, podcasts, video lectures, and tutorials available online for free. UX Collective, UX Planet, and Google Design are some popular UX publications available on platforms like Medium. Creative Bloq is another platform where beginners can learn all about graphic design, market trends, what potential employers look for in candidates with UX experience, as well as the industries that most UX designers cater to. For more helpful tips, don’t forget to check out our do’s and don’ts guide for learning UX design.

Programming Skills for UX Design

If you’re serious about making it in the tech world, especially web and mobile design, you should learn a bit of programming. UX design courses will teach you about aspects of web design, but they won’t necessarily detail how websites are built and maintained. For this, knowledge of languages like HTML and CSS come in handy. This takes the role of UX design a step ahead and closer to the job of a front-end developer. Below are the main programming languages you should be aware of.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) defines how your content looks online. HTML was the way many websites were created back in the 90s. It’s easy to learn and requires no major investment. Access to the Notepad application and the internet is all that is needed. Plenty of free articles, technical blogs, and YouTube channels by experts explain HTML from scratch. If you’re looking for a comprehensive experience, paid programs that last a few months are also available.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is a style sheet language that defines the presentation of a document written in HTML. CSS offers more flexibility to design web content. It enables the separation of presentation and content, including fonts, layouts, and colors. This separation enhances content accessibility and control over the specification of presentation characteristics. The same formatting setup can be shared across multiple webpages just by including the relevant CSS file. This reuse helps reduce design time and complexity.

Besides skills like HTML and CSS, JavaScript can be an excellent addition to your UX design portfolio. Knowledge of JavaScript helps UX designers team up with developers better and understand how their design is being implemented. This can lead to improved collaboration and awareness of each other’s pain points. A Smarter Way to Learn JavaScript by Mark Meyers is an excellent book for beginners. The content is presented in a structured format and includes several online practical assignments to complement the learning process.

Self-Learning Vs Formal Education

There are plenty of ways to get acquainted with UX design and its tools. Both self-learning and formal education have their pros and cons. While self-learning might not offer much opportunity to work with peers or receive mentoring from experts and industry insiders, it’s easy on the pocket and helps candidates pace their study in a way that suits them.

On the other hand, formal courses and certification programs can be costly, but they provide the opportunity to learn specialized and structured content from experts with industry experience. If cost and course duration is not a concern for you, these courses often have additional perks like networking opportunities and scope for job referrals.  

Jobs in UX Design

After building your knowledge base in UX, practical experience should be next on your to-do list. You might struggle in the beginning, especially if you don’t have a formal learning experience or are transitioning from a completely different field. Experience and proficiency in UX and its tools would help you in the job ahead.

It’s often a good idea to advertise your portfolio online on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. You can also meet other UX designers on forums like Reddit and Quora. Networking will help you to broaden your perspective, learn how the work of UX designers differs between industries, and get feedback from experts in the field.

UX Designer Salaries

How much a UX designer makes varies depending on their level of experience and skillset. On average, a UX designer takes home about $85,000 a year. As a beginner, they can earn an average salary of $50,000 a year, while highly experienced UX designers can fetch over $125,000 a year. U.S. cities like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle are home to some of the best design schools and Fortune 500 companies like IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft—all of which offer competitive packages for talented UX designers.

But regardless of where you live, you can also take a career-focused course online, from the convenience of home.

The Future for UX Designers

UX designers can have skills ranging from graphic design to programming to consumer psychology. Big companies are realizing the potential of well-designed user interfaces, whether it’s in experiences and services or tangible products. With the advent of artificial intelligence, demand for UX designers who can create seamless interfaces between human users and machines is predicted to rise exponentially.

So learning UX design is one of the safest and wisest choices for a flourishing career ahead. And if you choose to study with us, you can look forward to years of career growth: our students typically earn around $81k after their first year in their UX design career. When you’re ready to learn how to build a wireframe, conduct compelling user research and build a beautiful product, we’re ready for you.

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