How to Become a UX Designer

UX designer in pink shirt working on laptop
August 28, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 03/21/23

Are you intrigued by the field of UX design? Read on to learn how to become a UX designer. 

Imagine visiting a website with a clear intention to purchase a product. You know what you're looking for, but navigating the website is challenging and confusing. You finally find the desired item, but the checkout interface is so hard to follow that you decide to take your business elsewhere, closing the browser window out of frustration.

Unlike the other website you visited, you find the product right away, and the experience is quick, efficient, and easy to understand, making you more likely to purchase something from that same retailer in the future. The second scenario is the work of a UX designer that has done their job correctly. 

Otherwise known as user experience designers, these professionals study how consumers respond and interact with websites, apps, or other digital products, to ensure their experience is as seamless as possible. They incorporate their learnings into new workflows to enhance the user experience.

UX designer roles have been developed over the past decade to help companies better understand the relationship between consumers and digital platforms. It’s the perfect role for those who love to collaborate with others to find creative solutions to complex problems. 

If this sounds like you, continue reading to learn how to become a UX designer!

Steps to Becoming a UX Designer

There are several paths you can take to become a UX designer. Since it is a relatively new industry, many UX designers have successfully broken into the field without any specified education and experience. However, colleges have caught on to the UX trend, and some have created programs for students interested in UX design.

There are two potential routes you can take to become a UX designer: Pathway A, a traditional approach based on higher education, and Pathway B, an alternative stream that emphasizes hands-on experience and self-learning.

Pathway A: Higher Education

This pathway is ideal for UX fanatics that do best with a schedule, structure, and learning in a classroom environment. Although there is usually a hefty cost associated with this pathway, given that there is a high salary expectation for UX designers, some may say that it is money well spent. 

Another benefit of this option is that you will have a UX community available to you for support and guidance—your peers, professors, and teaching assistants. The length of time that it will take to graduate varies depending on the program you choose.

Step 1: Get Accepted to and Complete a Related Post-Secondary Program

Your journey starts with getting into an accredited college that offers a UX design program. Program lengths vary between one and four years, and range from different types of programs, including certificate programs, bachelor’s degrees, and master's degrees programs. 

These programs will give you an extensive review of the fundamental principles of UX design and teach you valuable skills that you'll need once you graduate. You’ll have the opportunity to hone your skills in conducting user research, creating innovative designs, and producing design strategies that meet user needs and business objectives. 

Unfortunately, UX design is not a very popular program among institutions. While some schools offer UX-specific programs, many of them tend to be one to two-year master's and certificate programs.

However, UX is such an all-encompassing field, so you do not need to major in user experience design to be successful. Many UX designers hold undergraduate degrees in marketing, graphic design, or related fields, which provide them with valuable transferable skills that are highly relevant to their work. 

So, don't worry if you cannot find a UX program for you; you can still make your UX dreams come true and become a UX designer!

Step 2: Build An Awesome Portfolio

Since you have completed the first step of becoming a UX designer and enrolled in an undergraduate program, it's time to start building your portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of projects you've worked on that showcase your skills as a UX designer.

If you are in a UX-specific program, you can include relevant assignments and projects completed during your studies in your portfolio. Or, you can go the extra mile by creating projects on the side to help further demonstrate your credibility as a UX designer. 

Even if you are not in a specific UX program, you can still leverage your school projects for your portfolio, provided that you tailor them to showcase your UX skills. As a web design student, for example, you can apply a UX lens to redesign a website. This will allow you to showcase how your changes improve customer interaction and conversion rates.

Step 3: Gain Experience in User Experience

Now that you have education and a great portfolio under your belt, it's time to take your learnings and put them into practice by gaining valuable working experience. This can be done in many ways—through volunteering for a company or non-profit, getting an internship or paid position, or freelancing. 

Gaining valuable experience in the UX field is something that is an immeasurable asset. You will get the opportunity to gain hands-on working experience and earn from your peers or superiors, try out new UX projects you may have yet to consider, and learn how to engage and interact with other teams and clients. 

Whatever method you choose will be a stellar option in beefing up your resume and showing future prospective employers that you are well qualified. 

Pathway B: Self Learning

You don't always have to attend a university to become a UX designer. In fact, it's possible to learn everything you need to know about the subject by teaching yourself through resources made available through the internet, textbooks, learnings from other UX designers, and more.

While this is definitely more affordable than attending college, it will require more initiative and drive, as you will be in charge of knowing what you need to learn and the responsibility of getting a firm grasp of the content lies on you. 

However, if you’re someone that prefers to learn on their own time and make their own schedule, or if you’re juggling learning how to become a UX designer with a full or part-time job, you may find this pathway easier than a post secondary program pathway. 

If you know that this is the option for you, here's an example of steps that you can take to become a UX designer.

Step 1: Start Learning 

When it comes to UX design, you must educate yourself on the basics, including design principles and the psychology behind them. Start by acquiring textbooks and becoming an expert in self-study. Sometimes, certain textbooks may have assignments or learning activities you can take advantage of as if you were in a regular class.

If you're not interested in learning via textbooks, see if there are any online classes you can enroll in or use free education services like Khan Academy or videos on YouTube. You may even find UX blogs or forums with beginner guides. Nevertheless, dedicate the time necessary to learn the field as if you were enrolled in a UX program.

Step 2: Build Projects 

One of the best ways to learn is by doing. To become a UX designer, you'll need to put your knowledge to the test and supplement your school assignments by seeking out your own projects. 

The impact of this is twofold; you'll be demonstrating your knowledge and learning throughout completing these assignments, and they can also be included in your portfolio as an example of your work (we'll touch on your portfolio as a self-learning student more below).

As mentioned above, you can look for existing assignments and project prompts created in textbooks and online resources, or even create your own. Whatever you do, make sure you put in the work needed to help strengthen your learning and illustrate your competency as a successful UX designer—every project counts!

Step 3: Use Your Projects to Build a Strong Portfolio

As a self-taught UX designer, your portfolio is of the utmost importance. Future employers may feel that they are taking a chance on someone that does not have a traditional UX or UX-adjacent education, but a stellar portfolio will be the first thing to make them change their minds and reconsider their way of thinking.

It’s a good idea to include any side projects that you’ve completed that demonstrate a strong solution to a user experience problem. 

When searching for ways to build your portfolio, consider looking at websites and apps that you may already be familiar with, and ask yourself: “how could I make this more user-friendly?” The goal is to showcase your creativity, critical thinking skills, and expertise in UX design. 

Step 4: Network With the UX Community

One aspect of learning that is missing when you are an upcoming self-taught UX designer is a lack of community. If you attend an accredited program, your UX community consists of your classmates and professors—but when you're learning by yourself, you're on your own. 

When you're self-taught, having an engaging community to fill the knowledge gap is crucial. You can find such communities on UX message boards, forums, or other websites. Attending meeting groups or events is also a great way to meet fellow designers and learn more about the industry. 

You can also contact UX designers directly to ask questions, learn more about the role, or even get a portfolio review. You may even want to find a mentor that you can check in with throughout your journey of becoming a UX designer. They can provide guidance and advice on job hunting, UX best practices, and more. 

Step 5: Gain Experience

Now that you have a stellar portfolio and built a relationship with a UX community and mentor, it's time to start applying for jobs and preparing for interviews. Ensure everything about your resume and portfolio is perfect, as it is the first thing that you will get questioned on if you get selected for an interview!

What Does a UX Designer Do?

A UX Designer is responsible for creating end-to-end experiences for users of their digital product. The goal is to have a user experience on a website, app, or other digital product that is memorable, easy to use, and will ultimately keep them coming back. 

To make sure the user has a positive experience, a UX designer may have to complete tasks such as: 

  • Meet with stakeholders to define business goals and determine how your UX strategy can help support the business goal
  • Conduct research to better understand what users want from your product and the problems they may face when interacting with your product
  • Based on your findings, define one problem that you will attempt to solve. 
  • Create user personas, flows, and other user documentation
  • Produce wireframes of the overall layout and information and low-fidelity prototypes to help further illustrate the solution
  • Work with designers, developers and other members of the product team to help bring the prototype to life
  • Develop and show the finished prototype to stakeholders and work to implement it if stakeholders are aligned

Of course, only some of these tasks can be completed in one day! The entire UX process usually takes place over the span of several weeks or months.

Can I Become a UX Designer With No Experience?

UX design is still a relatively new field of work, and the parameters and qualifications you'll need to become a UX designer are evolving. Fortunately, it's not a firm requirement for UX designers to have a traditional post-secondary education in UX or another related principle.

While it's still possible to become a UX designer with no post-secondary education, you must supplement that with your own education and learning (i.e., online certificates or other learning platforms) alongside a strong portfolio and exceptional networking skills.

Essentially, you'll need to prove to a hiring manager that you are an impressive UX designer. Graduates from UX programs have the advantage of using projects they may have completed throughout their studies, so as an upcoming UX designer with no experience, you will have to go one step further by finding projects to complete on your own.

If you can take the initiative and possess the drive to complete these projects and successfully demonstrate your UX expertise and design thinking, there will be no stopping you!

What Skills Do You Need to Be a UX Designer?

A UX designer is responsible for many tasks throughout their workday. When it comes to skill sets, you'll need to be a jack of all trades, with several adaptable soft and hard skills. We'll list them below.

Design Skills

One of the main skills necessary to become a UX designer is a strong aptitude for design, whether it be graphic design, web design, or any other facet.

To best determine how a user will interact successfully with an app or website, a UX designer must have a strong understanding of the layout, colors, typography, and overall design theory of an interface. Why? They must be able to pinpoint if something related to the design needs to change based on user interaction and user interviews.

You will also be using your design skills when drafting prototypes and mockups of your user journey. Granted, you don’t have to be the next Picasso, but you should still have a strong understanding of effective layouts and information architecture. 

Your design expertise may also come in handy when having discussions with stakeholders or other team members, as you may be familiar with their line of work and can contribute to brainstorming sessions. 

Marketing Skills

A strong UX designer will strategically navigate the interactivity between user and product to help meet the company's goals. Suppose you are a UX designer working for a massive online retailer. The goal of the company is to increase its returning customer base, leading to a surplus in revenue.

To help make this goal a reality, your role as a UX designer would be to make the online purchasing experience as quick, smooth, and easy as possible so customers will return to buy more products in the future. You may also use a marketing strategy intertwined with the UX strategy to help entice consumers to purchase additional items. 

Psychology Skills

At its core, UX is all about the psychology of why and how a user interacts with a product, whether a website, app or another digital interface. 

As such, a successful UX designer will need to have an innate curiosity to learn more about why users respond the way they do. They then use these findings to help support their current UX strategy or to work against it to try something new. 

This requires a sense of understanding and empathy towards the user. A UX designer will try their best to understand why a user interacts the way they do, and tailor the website interaction to work with their findings. 

Teamwork and Collaboration Skills

As a UX designer, you won't be working alone for most of the time. Instead, you'll spend the majority of your workday collaborating with multidisciplinary teams, including development, graphic design, marketing, communications, and other business stakeholders. 

It's crucial to be a team player and work smoothly with others to succeed in this role.

UX Designer Salary & Job Outlook

For a role and industry that has just been developed in the past decade or so, UX designers are paid considerably well. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, UX designers make $101,740 on average per year. Depending on the industry and the seniority level, UX designers can make $166,180 or more. That's an exceptional return on investment, especially for those that undergo the self-learning route of UX design!

As companies continue to prioritize creating better products and services, UX designers can expect job security and plenty of opportunities for growth!

FAQs: Becoming a UX Designer

Are you still wondering how to become a UX designer? We've listed some answers to questions that you may have below. 

1. What Degree Do I Need to Become a UX Designer?

There are different pathways to becoming a UX Designer, some that don’t involve post-secondary education, but if you'd like to go the degree route, it's best to earn your degree in UX design, marketing, web or graphic design, or psychology.

2. How Many Years Does It Take to Become a UX Designer?

Depending on the route you take to become a UX designer, and whether it includes a program at a post-secondary institution or not, it can take between one and four years to become a UX designer.

3. Do UX Designers Get Paid Well?

A UX designer’s average annual salary is $101,740, but wages can vary depending on a person’s industry and seniority level.

4. Can I Become a UX Designer Without a Degree?

You can absolutely become a UX designer without a degree. However, it will require a lot of self-study and initiative to ensure that you have the same comprehension of the subject and fundamental skills as those who have graduated from a UX or UX-adjacent program. 

5. How Can I Become a Successful User Experience Designer

You can become a successful user experience designer by learning everything there is to know about the key principles in design, marketing, and psychology and making a commitment to never stop learning. 

Successful UX designers also work with the consumer in mind; they must have strong empathy and advocate for the user while they are creating their UX strategy.

Final Thoughts

UX design can be a very rewarding career for those that choose to pursue the route of becoming a UX designer. It's a role that attracts natural problem solvers and individuals who consider themselves a “jack of all trades,” because of all the different roles that you will undergo in a day’s work.

Regardless of the route or type of education that you take to get there, following the path to becoming a user experience designer can have a great return on investment. We wish you the best of luck!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Thanks ! You're now subscribed!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Get A Free Consultation

Speak to a college admissions expert about how we can help you get into your dream school
Schedule a Call

You May Also Like

Before you go, here are a few facts about us!
The Quad Factor: Working with us can increase your chances of admission by 7x!

The Best of the Best: Our team comprises of only 99th percentile tutors and admissions counselors from top-ranking universities, meaning you work with only the most experienced, talented experts.

The Free Consultation: Our experts would love to get to know you, your background, goals, and needs. From there, they match you with a best-fit consultant who will create a detailed project plan and application strategy focused on your success.