The UX Designer Career Path: 4 Routes For Taking The Next Step In Your Design Career

From junior UX positions to becoming a UX Researcher or Content Designer, here are a few of the career paths available to you.

Maria Myre
Maria Myre
Jan 31, 2023
Min Read

You’ve decided to take the plunge and switch careers into UX Design, and now it's time to apply for a job. Whatever your skills, experience level or career aspirations, there are many different career paths for UX designers to choose from.

But the variety and quantity of UX design career paths available to you can be overwhelming and confusing.

For instance, what's the difference between a UX Designer and a Product Designer? If a Content Designer is expected to understand user flows and interfaces, should you apply to those roles, too? And is a UX Engineer a designer, a developer, or both?

While there's no definitive taxonomy of UX roles and responsibilities, there are broad categories that will help you figure out where you might fit. From junior UX design positions to becoming a User Researcher or Content Designer, here are a few of the UX career paths available to you.


Career Path 1: Management

As you gain expertise in your craft and experience in the product design cycle as a whole, one of the most common routes is to move into a design lead or management role. With this path, you'll often find yourself putting on a variety of hats outside of design work, from people skills (like hiring, mentoring, and performance evaluation) to project management tasks (like budgets and project timelines).

Role titles on this path often include the word "Manager" or "Lead" to indicate your leadership responsibilities.

Career Path 2: Individual Contributor

If managing people, budgets, and projects isn't something that you want incorporated in your work life, you can continue to hone your design skills and focus on the craft itself. With this route, you might find yourself focusing on elevating the design work and process of your team as a whole—and likely mentoring junior designers, as well.

Role titles on this path often include the word "Senior" to indicate a heightened level of job ability and expertise.

Career Path 3: Freelancer or Consultant

Not everyone wants to work within a company or an established team. That's why freelance UX roles are often a great choice for entrepreneurial self-starters who enjoy working for themselves. Freelance UX designer positions also offer fantastic flexibility, but require networking skills, organization, and tenacity since you'll need to reach out to form connections and pitch for new work.

As you gain more experience, you may also be able to provide freelance UX consulting services, where you offer companies advice on strategy, often in relation to broader business or marketing strategies. It's not uncommon for UX designers to first gain experience working for different companies, before using that experience to help other companies in a freelance role.

Learn more: A Day in the Life of a Freelance Product Designer

Career Path 4: Specialization Within the Field of Product Design

Last (but not least!) you also have an opportunity to specialize your work and become an expert on a more niche part of the product design process. 

Here are just a few of the more common routes of specialization that you can take:

UX Designer

If you truly love the work of user experience design, and enjoy each part of the design process from initial research to creating user flows and mockups, you may choose to align your career path entirely with the UX Designer job description.

When you start looking for your first position as an aspiring UX designer, you might focus on landing a junior or mid-level position. However, depending on your background and experience, there are many more senior UX designer positions that place an emphasis on leadership and project management.

UX/UI Designer

UX/UI Designers are typically generalists who are involved in all aspects of the design process with a particular focus on usability.

Granted, this depends in a large part on the particular company and team that you end up working for. In a large company, design roles tend to be more siloed, so you may have UX/UI Designers, Visual Designers, UX Researchers, and more. In a small company or startup, the UX/UI Designer may be the sole person responsible for all design decisions across those roles, and therefore be a true generalist.

Associate to mid-level UX/UI Designers will generally be handling execution rather than strategy. Expect to be exposed to the entire design process, but not necessarily asked to shape strategy or present to clients or senior management on a regular basis.

For those less keen on UX manager roles, it is also possible to work your way up to advanced UX roles, such as a lead designer role, as you expand your capabilities and take on more complex work.

However, as UX designers gain experience and more responsibilities, they can also progress to managerial positions in UX including Director level positions. As well as great technical and strategic level knowledge in the field of UX design, you'd be expected to have plenty of UX experience and solid soft skills including in interpersonal communication, leadership, and management.

Product Designer

The title of Product Designer is often synonymous with UX/UI Designer, and many of the responsibilities are the same. You'll conduct research, come up with user personas, wireframe, and prototype. But on top of that, many Product Designers have an added layer of responsibility for the business goals of the product they work on. 

Product Designers often contribute to the overall roadmap and vision of the product or feature, and help plan the path to success. They may have a better understanding of the necessary steps and iteration between designers, developers, and marketing teams to ensure that the product launches on time and is successful. While UX/UI and Product Design are in many ways interchangeable, it's worth a close reading of a job description to really understand if it's a good fit for your skills. 

Visual Designer

If you find yourself obsessing over fonts and color palettes, nudging elements pixel by pixel to the left or right, and enjoy creating your own personal logo and branding, a Visual Designer role might be the right fit for you.

While User Experience Design pertains more to user flows and functionality, many UX/UI designers find that their roles inadvertently include aspects that are more properly under the categorization of visual design. If you enjoy this side of your work, there's plenty of room for growth.

A Visual Designer is often part of a larger team, and primary responsibilities revolve around prototypes and screens. Here, there's a noted departure from the UX wireframing and information architecture tasks that you might be familiar with. Instead, most of your time will likely be spent on hi-fidelity prototypes, UI kits and style guides, and design specs for the development team.

You may also be the connection to the marketing department, collaborating on the look and feel of advertising and promotional elements. In a smaller company or startup, all design assignments might come to you, including presentations, social media, and product-related UI.

UX Researcher

UX Research is often considered more of an advanced branch of UX, because of the sheer number of methodologies, techniques, approaches, and deliverables required of a UX Researcher.

UX Research can be an attractive option for career switchers who have degrees or backgrounds in areas like Human-Computer Interaction, Library Science, or even traditional scientific or academic research backgrounds.

If you'd really like to move into UX Research as a career path, start where you can in UX (likely as a UX/UI Designer), continue to advocate for research in all of your projects, talk to the researchers on your team, and continue to learn about the practice as much as possible. One thing to note is that UX Research typically requires a lot of writing and data analysis, rather than designing or wireframing.

UI Designer

Often confused with UX Designers, the role of UI Designer is frequently misunderstood. While there is a bit of overlap that exists between UX and UI design, a UI Designer tends to be responsible for the interface–the point where a user meets with a product or website. This could be a touchscreen, keyword board, button or audio output, for example. Meanwhile a UX Designer will usually work on the product or website's overall look and feel.

A UI Designer will often be tasked with creating an interface that is easy to use, for example in an app or on a website. Many who end up as UI designers find their calling through exposure to the discipline, either as part of study or while working in a related UX role. Often, UI and UX roles are combined, however UI specialist roles do exist and can be an excellent route for some.

Content Designer or UX Writer

Even more so than UX Researchers, Content Designers and UX Writers are responsible for making sense of designs to both internal team members and users. Larger companies will often have a UX-specific writer on board since their products and offerings are complex in a variety of ways.

A Content Designer might map out information architecture, work on taxonomy, and decide on content hierarchy, while a UX Writer might and the UX Writer would narrate those concepts to internal employees, and work with designers to come up with a brand voice and guidelines. Depending on the company, there may be some crossover with the UX Design team, UX Research, and other areas of experience design, but these roles generally do little actual designing.

Although Content Designers often have an understanding and respect for the designs that their copy will appear in, design is not their main focus.

Learn how this UX Academy graduate landed a job as a UX Content Writer

UX Engineer

UX Designers who also have front-end coding skills are often called UX Engineers, and can handle the entire UX process, then translate that into a workable site or product by handling the front end development. 

Startups are often looking for this type of person to launch an idea or product, and will hire more specialist roles down the line. If you fall into this category, you're in a highly marketable position. There aren't as many UX Engineer roles about, however, simply because of the sheer number of technical skills candidates need to be able to excel in their work. Many UX Designers find it helpful to learn the basics of CSS and HTML to make their designs stronger, but aren't interested (or don't have the time) to really learn how to be a developer.

Key Takeaways

  • As a UX designer, your career growth might take one of four major routes: management, individual contributor, freelancer, or a specialized role within the field of UX design.
  • Each career path route comes with its own set of skills requirements and area of expertise.
  • As you advance in your career, you’ll find that you might need to utilize skills outside of product design, from people management to networking and project management.

To learn more about landing your first job in the UX/UI design industry from design career pros, explore UX Academy—which includes up to 6 months of Career Services. You’ll be paired with a Career Coach to identify the right job opportunities, add extra polish to your portfolio, work on your interview skills together, and launch your new career!

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

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Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.