Here's what it takes to become a UX designer and land your first job in the field.
Looking for a creative career that combines problem-solving and human empathy with an upper level salary?
Consistently rated among the top 25 careers by Glassdoor, user experience (UX) design is a rapidly-growing field, with an estimated global value of $180 billion. The best part? It's only getting bigger, as technology continues to evolve and becomes increasingly user-centric.
In this article, we'll talk about how to become a UX designer without a degree (or any prior experience), how long it might take before you can expect to land your first job, as well as some tips and insights into crafting a portfolio that will help you stand out from other candidates.
Given the challenges of inflation, an uncertain global economy, and the continued disruption and challenges of a post-COVID world, you might be wondering whether now is a good time to move into a new career.
Fortunately, for UX designers at least, the outlook continues to be extremely positive. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has observed and predicted that the demand for UX designers would grow by 27% from 2021 through 2023.
The career path of a UX designer often begins with a UX/UI design generalist role, where your work touches multiple aspects of the product design process. As a new UX designer, you might work on anything from user research to information architecture; visual design to interaction design.
If you enjoy this generalist role, good news: it's one that can easily age with you as you gain years of experience. However, you can also opt for a path to becoming a specialist, whether that's in user research, UX writing, interaction design, or leading a team of designers.
What Skills Do You Need To Become a UX Designer?
If you're interested in becoming a UX designer, the first step is to get familiar with the basics of user interface (UI) design, user experience design, and user research. These are the three core areas of expertise that you'll need to begin your career in UX design.
As a UX designer, you should also understand how the UX design process works as a whole, so that each “piece” of the puzzle makes sense contextually.
But there is a certain learning sequence—from general to chronologically significant—that can expedite your learning journey.
Here’s a step-by-step that can lead to a new job in UX/UI design in as little as 3-6 months:
Step-By-Step: How to Become a UX Designer
Step 1: Become Familiar With UX Design
One of the best ways to get started on the path to becoming a UX designer is by compiling a list of resources that you can turn to for insights and inspiration along the way.
One of the first books that's often recommended is The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman.
But there are also a wealth of blogs that can provide insights into the world of UX design, from an explanation of the basic concepts to thought-provoking opinion pieces from expert designers.
At the heart of UX design is the need to solve problems for users. UX designers are user advocates, always working to ensure that the products they design are accessible, effective, and enjoyable to use. Data plays a large role in this effort—through user research and analysis—but its implementation depends on how well you're able to create an effective visual solution.
Because of this, learning the fundamentals of UI and visual design, which include elements like typography, spacing, and grid layouts, is a necessary first step in your UX technical skills training.
Visual design skills allow you to take all of the conceptual knowledge of UX design, and spin it into an effective, usable interface. And, for many jobs in UX, UI design comes as a part of the job description.
UX Academy Foundations is an online course that teaches the fundamentals of visual and UI design in just 4 weeks. This course includes 1:1 mentorship with an experienced designer—and an automatic $500 credit towards our UX Academy bootcamp.
Step 3: Learn UX Tools
User experience design comes with its own suite of tools. There are apps specifically designed for wireframing, prototyping, usability testing, and creating polished, hi-fidelity mockups...as well as all-in-one UX/UI apps that will be your best friend once you start designing.
Rather than allow yourself to be overwhelmed by trying to "learn them all," it's a good idea to start with a popular, industry standard app like Figma (which was recently acquired by Adobe).
By familiarizing yourself with UX tools early on in your education, you’ll be able to practice each technique and establish good design habits early on.
Ready to get started? Check out our free email course: Figma 101.
Step 4: Commit to Your UX Education
Rapidly gaining new skills and switching careers can be challenging, and often requires long hours and an extensive amount of self-motivation and discipline. All of these obstacles can be overcome so long as you’re inwardly committed to success.
Before taking the next steps, reflect on whether you’re truly ready to commit.
If you are, you might find it helpful to find an accountability partner, UX mentor, or simply writing out an affirmation and sticking it on your office wall:
I, [Your Name], commit to gaining new skills in UX design, building my portfolio, and landing my first design job. It won’t be easy, but I will do it.
You could expand on this affirmation by writing out the reasons why you’re making this change. When you’re feeling stressed, it can be easy to lose sight of your original motivations, and having these recorded somewhere means they can become a helpful “reset” button for your mind.
For example, lots of people train in design because they want to do more creative work each day, or because they enjoy helping people and solving problems. Whatever your motivation is, make a note and keep it somewhere visible as you study.
Step 5: Take a UX Design Course or Bootcamp
There are a number of paths you can take to get trained in UX design skills.
While many of us might automatically think of formal education degrees from a college or university, a traditional degree often comes with a plethora of course requirements outside of UX design. Historically, these degrees are strong on theoretical knowledge, but often lack the practical, hands-on experience and portfolio building aspects that some other options provide.
Fortunately, as more programs and courses become available online, there are many UX bootcamps that offer intensive programs to help you maximize your time and energy. These bootcamps and UX courses stand out, not only in the effective way they help you learn UX design, but also because they are focused on helping you land a career in the industry.
Here are a few education options currently available for you:
Self-study online courses, where you learn UX design at your own pace.
Online UX bootcamp program, which covers a wider range of topics than the average course. Some can be taken at your own pace, while others include more accountability to ensure that you not only graduate the program within a specified amount of time, but also have the skills and portfolio you need to land your first design job.
Offline bootcamp, which requires you to attend courses in a physical location, similar to a college or university.
Traditional university programs, which provide a degree related to your course of study as an experience designer.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. We created UX Academy, our online UX bootcamp, as a middle ground between the high cost of university courses, and the lack of accountability in self-study and passive online video courses.
As you decide which route you want to take, keep in mind that many companies and businesses in the industry do not require a specific UX design degree. There are many successful designers who have degrees in another field (or no degree at all), and have successfully landed UX design jobs at top companies, thanks to the work they put into attending an intensive bootcamp and building their portfolio.
Step 6: Connect with a UX Mentor for Feedback
It is possible to be a self-taught UX designer and land a job in the field. However, it's extremely challenging to do this without any feedback or guidance from somebody who has already been successful in the industry.
This is where a UX mentor comes in. A UX mentor can provide you with honest, actionable feedback about your designs, and help you avoid some of the common mistakes that are made by beginners.
A good UX mentor will also be able to give you insights into the UX industry, and help you understand what it takes to be successful.
If you don't have any friends or contacts who work in UX design, there are a number of ways to find a mentor, such as:
Asking your network of friends and family if they know anyone who works in UX design.
Attending local UX meetups, and getting to know people there.
Reaching out to designers on social media, and asking if they would be willing to chat with you for 30 minutes about their experiences in the industry.
This is another great benefit to taking advantage of online bootcamps like UX Academy, since it includes mentorship with an experienced designer, who will share their expertise, provide constructive criticism and critiques on your projects, and hold weekly 1:1s to answer your questions and support you in your new career.
Speaking of portfolios, your UX design portfolio will be one of the primary elements that hiring managers consider as they review your application.
This is an extremely important thing to keep in mind: abstract skills and an understanding of UX design principles won’t be enough to land you a full time or part time job. You’ll also need project work that demonstrates those skills and problem-solving processes.
Many online courses are built around the concept of a design portfolio, and will offer a variety of projects that you can use to visually demonstrate your understanding of user research, layout, information architecture, design process, and even the visual and graphic design skills required to deliver a polished project.
As you create your portfolio, keep in mind that hiring managers aren’t just looking for a pretty interface.
They are also interested in seeing how you analyze and define a problem, engage in research and idea generation, and develop a viable solution.
At this point, you’re nearly at the end of your journey to become a UX designer. All that’s left is … landing a job.
Unfortunately, this is often dependent on many variable factors, from company and culture fit to the projects you’ve included in your portfolio and the soft skills you advertise and demonstrate in your interviews.
That’s why UX Academy graduates gain access to our Career Services program, which allows you to connect with a UX career coach, receive feedback on your resume, cover letters, and even offer insights into how you might better prepare for interviews and portfolio presentations during your job search.
This stage of your search can be incredibly short (some UX Academy students have landed a job in UX even before they graduated from the course, although most take an average of 14 weeks to hire after completing the program), or take weeks to find a job that aligns with your skills and the career you envisioned.
Are You Ready to Become a UX Designer?
Are you ready to step into a career as a UX designer? Here are a few ways to get started: