Set yourself up for success in UX with the right degree or certification.
Starting a career as a user experience designer (UX designer) lets you leverage your problem solving and creativity to design products people love to use. But what qualifications do you need to get started? In this article, we’ll explore the types of degrees that translate well into UX, whether you really need a degree to get hired, degree alternatives, and tips for choosing the right UX program for your goals.
Since UX is a relatively new field, you’ll only find a few UX-specific degree programs out there (at least so far). Human-computer interaction, interaction design, and information architecture degree programs have the most overlap with the skills and concepts of UX.
Luckily, there are many common majors that can help prepare you for a career as a UX designer. You may already have a degree in one of these fields, and if not, these are good majors to consider:
In UX design, you’ll be a champion of the user by understanding what they want and need. You’ll also need to understand the technical side of building apps or websites. No matter what degree program you choose (should you decide to pursue a degree), try to balance your coursework between a study of people (psychology, anthropology, sociology) and technology (computer science, programming, graphic design).
While you might not find many degrees specific to UX, consider a degree that offers a concentration in UX. With the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree from the University of London, for example, you can register as a specialist in user experience to focus your studies.
Many UX designers do not have a degree in UX or a UX related field. In fact, it’s possible to start a career in UX without a degree at all. Having said that, some employers may prefer candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree. You may find that having a degree opens up new job opportunities.
Eighty-two percent of UX designers surveyed by Nielsen Norman Group, a leading UX design consulting firm, have at least a bachelor’s degree. Thirty-one percent have or are pursuing a master’s degree .
Luckily, getting a degree doesn’t mean you have to drop everything to go back to school full time. With many top universities offering online degree programs, you can often complete coursework at your own pace while working, raising a family, or keeping up with your other life obligations.
Thinking about going back to school? Learn more about seven things you should consider.
A degree is only one of several paths you can take toward becoming a UX designer. Relevant experience and transferable skills, certification, and self-guided learning can all help you prepare yourself for a new career in UX. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Earning a credential from a UX industry leader can be an excellent way to show recruiters and hiring managers that you have the necessary skills for the job. Unlike more established fields, like information technology or cybersecurity, there are not many industry-recognized UX certifications.
You’re more likely to find certificate programs and bootcamps, where you can learn critical UX skills, complete UX case studies for your portfolio, and earn a credential to share on your resume. You can find a guide to the top UX bootcamps and certificates here.
With the Google UX Design Professional Certificate, available on Coursera, you can build the job-ready skills you need to get hired in less than six months—no degree required. By completing the program, you’ll also have three end-to-end projects—a mobile app, responsive website, and a cross-platform experience—to include in your portfolio.
Many people approach UX design assuming they have no relevant experience and have to start from the beginning. This may not be the case. Depending on your previous jobs, you may very well have experience that translates to UX (and that you should include on your resume).
In addition to soft skills, like empathy, critical thinking, collaboration, and time management, here are some examples of how more technical, job-specific skills could translate into UX:
Customer service > user empathy
Quality assurance (QA) > usability testing
Academic research > user research
Copywriting > UX writing
Graphic design > user interface design (UI)
Technical drawing > wireframing
The internet is teeming with resources for learning the art and science of UX. If you’re a self-directed learner with good time management skills, you could design your own UX design program to develop the most important UX skills. Take advantage of UX books, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and UX communities. When it comes time to prepare a portfolio, there are several types of projects you can do that don’t depend on having a job in UX.
While it’s possible to learn UX design on your own, you may find several benefits to a more structured learning environment, like a degree or certificate program. We’ll look at a few of them.
Some jobs require it: Companies list a degree or certification as a requirement in their job description.
Structured learning: You don’t know what you don’t know. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify the gaps in our own knowledge, and a certificate program or degree can provide a structured, methodical approach to ensure you learn all the key skills and concepts.
Networking opportunities: Learning as part of a structured program gives you the opportunity to start building a professional network of other UX designers at various stages of their careers. It’s typically much easier to apply for jobs if you have a connection. UX courses are an excellent place to start making those connections.
Projects: You can complete UX projects and case studies on your own, but when you’re a part of a UX program, you gain the benefit of collaborating with others and getting feedback on your work.
Job search resources: Many UX programs offer job search resources as part of the package. This might include job interview practice, hiring consortiums, or resume reviews.
The UX field is buzzing right now, and that means you’ll find a huge range of courses, bootcamps, certifications, and certificate programs geared toward aspiring UX designers. Not all of these programs are created equal. As you evaluate where to invest your time and money, here are some things to look for in a program:
Project-based learning: Having a portfolio is practically a must when applying for UX design jobs. Choose a program that includes hands-on projects that you can use to build your own portfolio. Plus, we learn better by doing than simply by reading or watching videos.
Taught by UX experts: As you research programs, look at who’s teaching the course or courses. What UX experience do they bring? Do they actively practice UX design in addition to teaching? Who have they worked for? Does the organization providing the program have a credible presence in the UX world?
Positive career outcomes: Does the program work? Look for programs that offer statistics that show positive career outcomes as a result of completing the training or coursework.
Matches your learning style: Depending on your unique situation, you may be able to study full time, or you might require flexible learning that you can build into your busy life. Some bootcamps and degree programs require a hefty time commitment. Others let you learn at your own pace. Think about how you want your UX learning to fit into your life.
Hands-on experience with design tools: UX designers use a range of software during the design process. You’ll want to get some hands-on experience with common design tools, such as Figma, Adobe XD, or Sketch.
Launch your career in UX by learning job-ready skills from user experience experts at Google with the Google UX Design Professional Certificate. Learn at your own pace as you build a professional UX portfolio. Get started for free.
The exact skills covered will vary from program to program, but a typical UX course should cover:
Empathy maps, personas, and user stories
Wireframing and prototyping
Visual design elements
According to a survey by UX consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group, 50 percent of surveyed UX designers can write some HTML and CSS . While you don’t need to know how to program to succeed in UX, having some foundational knowledge can help you collaborate with developers and give you a competitive edge in your job search.
The average base salary for UX designers in the US as of June 2021 is $113,982, according to Glassdoor. Learn more about how much you can make as a UX designer, and what might influence your salary.
There were UX designers working remotely even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced design teams to work from home. While some companies are returning to in-person work, others are embracing a work-from-home or hybrid environment. If you’re looking for remote work as a UX designer, consider these tips:
Familiarize yourself with remote collaboration tools, like Figma, Slack, Google Docs, InVision, and Trello.
Look for jobs in or near your time zone. This will make it easier to sync up with your team for Zoom calls and other online collaboration sessions.
Expand your job search to include both traditional and remote-only job boards. Some examples of the latter include We Work Remotely, Remote.co, and Remotive.
1. Nielsen Norman Group. "User Experience Careers, https://www.nngroup.com/reports/user-experience-careers/." Accessed June 24, 2021.