How to Become a UX DesignerOverview Training & Certification Skills, Knowledge & Attributes UX Design Methods Career Paths Work Environment Compensation F.A.Q Explore Courses
How to Become a UX Designer
By: Gary Hilson
Last updated: December 14, 2022
If you think being a User Experience (UX) Designer is about building websites, then read on – that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
“User experience” is the interaction someone has with a product or service. Today, that’s often a website or smartphone application, but it could also be the dashboard in your car with all the modern “infotainment” bells and whistles, medical diagnostic equipment or a self-checkout terminal in a grocery store. The experience of using an application or device right down to how many clicks it takes to accomplish a task is the domain of the UX designer.
It’s their job to think about the design of the product or service from a user’s point of view – ease of use, the effort necessary to complete a task, and how the process makes the user feel. A good user experience doesn’t just happen; it’s shaped by a UX designer who considers every element that might affect how someone interacts with a digital experience or a physical product. Today’s UX designers are also tasked to design for accessibility and inclusivity.
There are many things you can do as a UX designer and many ways to become one – yes, there’s traditional education and certifications specifically designed for the field, but there are ways to become a UX designer via other industries and disciplines.
Having a formal education certainly helps, and there are certifications you can get to augment your skills and give you credibility when seeking out employment and projects. But like any digital discipline, there’s a mix of hard and soft skills that are essential if you’re to be a successful UX designer.
Training & Certification
If you’ve little to no work experience and you want to become a UX designer from a completely different field, you should consider a formal degree program, top-rated UX courses or a certification. However, many UX designers come from adjacent disciplines, and it’s not mandatory to have formal training and education to become a UX designer, although there’s plenty available.
Rebekka Zorn, for example, a digital product design consultant and UX Design mentor at Springboard, studied industrial design with an emphasis on how people play and learn. “It was a lot of psychology; how do you remember stuff and how do you acquire information.”
In Canada, many universities and colleges offer programs related to User Experience and User Interface Design. (Unlike the “UX designer” whose focus can be broad, the User Interface or UI Designer works on designing actual interfaces. This often means creating high fidelity mockups and high-fidelity wireframes of the web pages that web developers will go on to code, including layout and spacing, actual fonts, colours and imagery.)
The part-time User Experience (UX) course was developed for professionals with an interest in digital design, web development, and improving the user experience of their product or digital properties. Taught by professionals currently working in the industry, the course uses … Continue reading →
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In this program you’ll learn all the job skills, tools, and processes you need to become a qualified UX designer—with a job guarantee to boot. You’ll receive individualized mentorship through CareerFoundry’s dual mentorship model that pairs you with not one … Continue reading →
The full-time UX Design program offers a learning experience unlike any other. The content is rigorous and moves at a quick pace, while the environment is fun, collaborative and supportive. Every day is different, introducing you to the latest cutting-edge … Continue reading →
Translate user wants and needs into intuitive digital experiences that power revenue, loyalty, and product success. Build confidence and credibility to tackle complex design problems on the job. UX is the future of the design discipline. A powerful complement to … Continue reading →
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This full-time UX bootcamp features expert instruction, one-on-one career coaching, and connections to top employers to get you hired. Developed with guidance from General Assembly’s User Experience Design Standards Board — a group of executives from companies like Tigerspike and … Continue reading →
Increasing digitalization has generated new employment opportunities in both the business and the IT sector. Throughout this one-year post-secondary diploma program, you will learn to design and develop user interfaces suitable for a variety of different platforms including websites, mobile … Continue reading →
In this program, you’ll learn all the job skills, tools, and processes you need to become a qualified UI designer—with a job guarantee to boot. You’ll receive individualized mentorship through CareerFoundry’s dual mentorship model that pairs you with not one … Continue reading →
Long-term business success requires the ability to develop and sustain innovations that anticipate, meet and exceed users’ current and future needs. This five-day certificate program prepares any leader to be an expert in the approach to innovation and gives them … Continue reading →
In Sprinboard’s UI/UX Design bootcamp, you’ll work on substantial design projects and complete a real world externship with an industry client. After 9 months, you’ll graduate with a UI/UX design mindset and a portfolio to show for it. Springboard’s live … Continue reading →
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Springboard’s live online UX Design bootcamp is structured to fit into your life, and guaranteed to get you a job. Learn at your own pace with 1-on-1 mentorship from industry experts and support from student advisors and career coaches. The … Continue reading →
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In addition to multi-year programs offered by colleges and universities, there are focused courses and certifications you can do, mainly online.
Aside from training and certifications, there are many online communities you can join to connect with other UX/UI designers to learn and get inspired, including:
One the most established communities for designers in any field, this community allows you to showcase your work and get feedback from peers.
A dedicated community for UX designers and researchers for discussing trends, sharing ideas and stories, giving advice and finding career opportunities, many members of the community are actual design professionals, but also students, too, discussing and learning about different design topics.
A platform created for designers around the world, many members of the community are actual design professionals, but also students, too, discussing and learning about different design topics.
Both a social networking platform for designers and a lively community, Dribbble’s main goal is to help designers form teams and collaborate with each other.
UX Stack Exchange
A reservoir of valuable advice, lessons, inspiration, and ideas where you can peruse forums and ask other designers questions and answer questions too.
There are many more, and they complement your formal training and certifications and support continuous learning and development to help you advance your UX design career.
Skills, Knowledge & Attributes
As with any digital discipline, there are technical, “hard” skills and knowledge that are required to get things done, such as graphic design knowledge and specific software tools.
Among the tools you might want to learn are those for wireframing, including InVision Studio, Illustrator, Sketch and Figma. Interface design tools include Adobe Photoshop, while Sketch and InVision are preferred for prototyping. You might want to get comfortable with project management tools – there are many out there – and learn to code, although it’s not necessary. At the vary least, it’s helpful to understand coding concepts so you can collaborate with developers.
Other hard skills you should invest in:
- Information Architecture
- Visual Communication
- Project management
- Team / stakeholder management
- Coding concepts
Zorn says many UX designers come out of graphic design, but what surprises them is how much user research needs to be done as well as the information architecture required to achieve the right behaviour. “The systematic approach is often very new to them.”
But like any job that involves working with others, many “soft” skills come into play, too. Among them:
- Communication / Presentation
- Flexibility / Adaptability
- Active listening
- Open mindedness
“Many people don’t even know what kind of skills they already have that apply,” says Zorn. Graduates from psychology fields contribute to UX design because they are people who know how people work. “Those people have skills that are highly needed.” A big part of UX design is conducting interviews and creating surveys, so being able to properly compose a questionnaire is an excellent skill to have, she says. “At the beginning, you really need to understand the user. What are their real needs?”
People who come from a pure UX design don’t always have that ability. Zorn says her partner, who’s also a UX designer, taps into his behavioral economics education to help parse available research and truly find out what users need. She also has a colleague with a psychology background and sees many students transition from disciplines such as architecture, “from creating real spaces to creating virtual spaces.”
You’ll also need to educate yourself about the industry you end up designing for, including the technical aspects. It’s not that you need to know how to write code, but you need to have a basic of understanding how those things work. For a gardening automation project leveraging the internet of things (IoT), Zorn had to spend a lot of time talking to developed of embedded devices and systems, particularly about sensors, how data is sent and received, and what can go wrong. “This needed to be communicated to the user in a structured way that they actually understand it.” And that meant she had to understand those concepts to design something that made sense.
Aside from research skills, you also need to be able to plan and manage projects and communicate with different stakeholders, she says. An actual design combines communications and visual aesthetics. “There are so many layers to this. Some people are a jack of all trades, a master of none, and some are specialists.”
Information architecture is a key element of UX design – you’re not just designing the visual interface by shaping the structural design of information and content, you’re creating a structure for the experience, whether it’s an app, website, or other product. Wireframing is an important skill because it allows an UX designer to build a blueprint to help optimize the user experience as they interact with the product.
As a UX designer, you’re not solely responsible for the experience of a product – there’s a product manager who decides on features and developers who help build it, among others. “All of them actually are working on the user experience, not just user experience designer,” says Zorn. The technology chosen to power a product also affects the experience – the chosen database and how quickly retrieves information is part of the experience, for example.
More importantly, you’re not building a product and tacking on the user experience after the fact. “The whole product is already an experience.” She says people who get into UX design want to create beautiful apps, but then realize there’s more than visual aspect of the interface. “There are also very logical parts to it. It is a technical job, and you are working in an IT environment.” For Zorn, that means more than simply telling developers how the final user interface (UI) will look, but how the system works on the inside.
UX Design Methods
As much as being a UX designer can draw from different disciplines and requires a mix of hard and soft skills, there are UX design methods and “deliverables” (work products) that are commonly used across different industries that UX designers will need to know.
Among the most common:
A persona is relatable snapshot that makes it easier to for designers to align and empathize with consumers – a persona encompasses the target audience, highlighting demographics, behaviors, needs, and motivations through the creation of a fictional character.
This early-stage process aims to boil down what the product is going to be, who it’s for, and how it will be used so that there’s agreement as to what the product is going to be.
By looking at what others are doing in the market you can figure out what’s already working for other companies in your industries to improve on them and distinguish your own product in the market.
Stakeholder and user interviews
These are an excellent example where soft skills come into play, as conversations with customers, bosses, subordinates, or peers both within and outside the organization allows you as the UX designer to put yourself in the shoes of these stakeholders so you can prioritize features and define key performance indicators (KPIs). User interviews allow you to get qualitative information from existing users and better understand them.
Whether’ it’s spreadsheet, diagram or a series of sticky notes, a product roadmap lays out the evolution of the product over time and prioritizes features.
There are many types of testing; guerrilla testing involves going into a public place such as a coffee shop to ask people there about your product or prototype (it’s simple and cheap); A/B testing offers alternative versions of a product to different users and compares the results see which one performs better; concept testing is where a UX designer shares an approximation of the product to see if it meets the needs of a target audience; usability testing observes users trying to carry out tasks with a product.
There are many others, if you’re interested in learning more.
Despite studying industrial design, Zorn ended up joining the games industry as a designer where she would work alongside an artist who take of the graphics. She took care of the typical tasks associated with UX design, such as information architecture, interaction design via framing, usability testing, and even UX writing. “As a game designer you’re creating experiences, the interface and how you interact with the interface, what information is displayed, and how people can interact with it.” All these tasks including the writing are just part and parcel of how the game works.
And because you can be a generalist or a specialist, there’s a lot of options when it comes to your UX design career path, she says. Whether you want to be part of the whole process or if you want to specialize in something is an important choice.
Because there’s so many ways to participate in UX design, the job descriptions you’ll see for open positions will vary. Among them:
- UX designer
- Experience designer
- Visual designer
- Interaction designer
- UX engineer
- UX architect
- Information architect
- UX researcher
- UX writer
Many different industries employ UX designers, including but not limited to:
Aerospace and automotive
The evolution of car means they are computers on wheels, replete with digital cockpits that include Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and infotainment systems. The cockpits of a typical airplane are evolving too as well as the inflight entertainment experiences.
Computing, IT and Software
As a UX designer you’ll create websites and applications for desktop computers, tablets, and smartphones.
Even before the pandemic, online education was a growing market, and UX designers are involved in creating platforms video classes, test deliver, and studying / tutoring.
Finance and insurance
The growth of online banking use including payment apps and other financial services means there’s a lot of opportunity in this sector for UX designers to help make user experiences easy when they want to move money or by financial products such as insurance.
UX design is important for creating information systems that relay patient data clearly and accurately for desktop computer and mobile device applications, including medical records, as well as scheduling applications and telemedicine platforms. Diagnostic equipment and medical devices such heart monitors need interfaces that leverage UX design expertise.
While online e-commerce is what probably comes to mind first – websites and mobile apps to allow for frictionless shopping – bricks and mortar retail is also looking to improve the in-store experiences with interactive information kiosks, streamlined Point of Sale (PoS) devices, fast and simple self-checkout capabilities, and even augmented reality (AR).
Because the roles and industries vary, so can the work environments, especially in the era of increased remote work. If you work full-time in an enterprise environment or an agency offering UX design services, you’ll likely be in an office every day working with developers, content creators and other designers. Given the collaborative nature of UX design, there will be hands-on meetings with different groups. Large companies usually employ UX designers to help improve existing products, and you’ll likely be part multi-disciplined design department with a specific focus on UX design and one product at a time.
If you end doing UX design as an independent freelancer, you’re going to be working remotely, although you may find yourself visiting a client site if they’re local. Your work will be more varied with different products while doing as many aspects of UX design you want.
According to Indeed Salaries, the average salary for a UX Designer in Canada is $82,046 per year. Salaries vary depending on the location, company, and the candidate’s experience.
|Role||Average Salary in Canada|
|User Experience Director||$100,436|
|Product Design Lead||$85,664|
|User Experience Researcher||$83,365|
|User Experience Designer||$82,046|
|User Interface Designer||$65,961|
|User Experience Design Intern||$41,628|
Gary Hilson has written and edited thousands of words for print and pixel over the past 20 years, primarily as a journalist covering technology across North America. His specialties include enterprise and networking technology, sustainable vehicles, green technology, B2B content, education and research, community news, and entertainment, with work appearing in EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Network Computing and InformationWeek, as well as The Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Business Times, Strategy Magazine, Canadian Woodworking and the Winchester Press.