How to Become a UX Designer - A Step-by-Step Guide

A step-by-step guide on becoming a UX designer
April 26, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

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 who 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 join the growing UX field: a traditional approach based on higher education and an alternative stream that emphasizes hands-on experience and self-learning. Both UX design career pathways involve similar steps:

Step 1: Start by Reading About UX

Before getting into the field of UX design, it's crucial to develop a comprehensive understanding of what User Experience truly entails. Unlike many roles in the tech industry that primarily focus on coding and computer science, UX is a dynamic blend of design, psychology, and research. 

It goes beyond simple programming and delves into the intricacies of human behavior, visual aesthetics, and systematic problem-solving.

Step 2: Understand the Basic UX Principles

When it comes to UX design, the proactive approach is to 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 to solidify your learning. 

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 fundamentals. 

Step 3: Learn About the Main UX Design Methods and Steps

If you’re leaning more toward the self-study pathway, you’ll have to deepen your knowledge through workshops, further research, and practical experience. 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 through these assignments and building your portfolio (which we’ll touch on later in this guide).

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 4: Take a Reliable UX Course to Structure Your Learning

For those interested in the higher education route, you’ll want to gain the necessary experience and knowledge by 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 you'll need once you graduate. You’ll be given 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. 

Step 5: Practice as Much as You Can to Improve

Regardless of the pathway you choose, practice makes perfect and makes you a more attractive applicant! Many employers favor those with extensive experience over extensive education. Pick up as many projects as you can to continue improving your skills and building your resume.

Step 6: Get To Know the Tools Used in UX Design

Part of practicing is gaining experience with different types of tools that are used in UX design.

Some of the most common tools UX designers use are Figma, Adobe XD and Creative Cloud, Sketch, Zeplin, InVision, and Google Analytics. Learn how to use as many of these tools as possible to stand out to employers. 

Step 7: Create a Portfolio Showcasing Your UX Work

As you complete projects and put in the work to expand your skills, make a digital portfolio of all of your work. This can begin with projects you completed in your post-secondary program or the side projects that ignited your passion for UX design. 

These portfolios are especially useful for self-taught designers, as employers may feel that they are taking a chance on someone who does not have a traditional UX or UX-adjacent education. 

Step 8: Connect With Other Designers Through Networking

Joining an engaging community to expand your knowledge of UX design is crucial in this evolving field. You can find such communities through your post-secondary institution, 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 9: Gain Experience in a Designing Firm

Once you’ve got the experience, education, and portfolio to back it up, try to join a design firm. Consider starting as an intern or freelancer, progressively working your way up. Explore part-time or full-time entry-level positions by leveraging networking connections to open doors in the industry. 

This will provide you with excellent experience and be a great stepping stone into the UX profession! 

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 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 join this profession 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 use 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, digital 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. 

Depending on the industry and the seniority level, UX designers typically make between anywhere $77,908 and  $96,184 per year. That's an exceptional return on investment, especially for those who 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

Still wondering how to join the UX design field? 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, digital 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 join the UX design field. 

3. Do UX Designers Get Paid Well?

The salary range for a UX designer is $77,908 and  $96,184 per year, depending on experience and industry.

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

Yes, you can join the UX design profession 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 of design, marketing, and psychology and being committed to continuous 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 who 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!

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