Thinking about starting out or switching to a new career in the field of design — or as a UX designer? Or maybe you are simply exploring career options in the product design industry?
Whatever your motivation for being here, the important thing to note is that there are many routes available to becoming a UX designer without a degree in design or a design-related field. In fact, many UX/UI designers start their careers working in a completely different field (our UX Academy graduates have come from a variety of backgrounds like teaching , architecture , and clinical therapy .)
But before we delve into the actions you might want to take to become a UX designer, you will first want to first consider the field of design more broadly and whether it is right for you.
What is UX Design?
User Experience (UX) design is the practice of improving the overall user experience when it comes to using or interacting with a product or service.
While it can be applicable in physical products (like the design of a desktop computer, mobile device, or ATM), UX design is most often used in conjunction with digital product design — websites, mobile apps, and other digital products.
What Does a UX Designer Do?
A UX designer must ensure that the product is fully aligned with user requirements from its earliest stages, and that it delivers the intended experience from start to finish.
Because of this, the day-to-day tasks of a UX designer often cover a wide range of the overall design process, from user experience research and wireframing to presenting UX research data and analysis to the team or company that you work with.
These hard skills are a required part of UX design work, and will have to become a part of your arsenal before you start applying for your first user experience role.
Is UX Design For You?
Design is not a profession but an attitude.
— László Moholy-Nagy
While it’s true that UX design comes with a higher than average paycheck (Glassdoor currently estimates that UX designers make an average of $75K/year), a successful career in the field requires more than a learned set of hard skills.
UX designers also need an array of soft skills, including a high level of empathy for users, deep engagement in the process of concept development, prototyping, and testing. This career path also demands open-mindedness and humility, since your best work only happens when you analyze and adhere to research data that might not align with your own hypothesis or preferences.
The most successful UX designers have a firm belief and commitment to creating product experiences that enhance people’s lives.
Why You Don’t Need a Degree From a Traditional Art or Design School to Become a UX Designer
Traditional design degrees are often compiled into a 4-year liberal arts program, where you study a variety of topics for a well-rounded education. Private and public schools, online or in person.
While traditional colleges and universities have, in recent history, become the norm, they do not always lead directly into a career that aligns with your course of study. In fact, many career switchers tend to shy away from taking this route, for a few different reasons:
- Extremely expensive (tuition can range from $20,000-$100,000 per year of study)
- Long and slow, taking you out of the job market for several years
- Skills taught can be out of step with the job market, and often require additional internships in order to gain necessary relevant experience
How to Become a UX Designer Without A Degree
So, how do you become a UX designer without a degree in design or a design-related field? It’s actually far more straightforward than you might think.
1. Self-Study: Become Familiar With the Fundamentals of UX Design
There are an assortment of technical knowledge and skills that underpin many UX designer roles. This includes everything from learning about how to carry out research and the principles of UX strategy to reading about what goes into creating prototypes, wireframes, and understanding the principles of user interface design and website design.
As part of any design learning journey, you will also need to make sure to cover the fundamentals of design, including (but not limited to) these:
- Principles of visual organization — like layout, hierarchy, contrast, and balance.
- Color theory — how to build color palettes and use them sensitively and effectively.
- Typography — the difference between different typefaces (fonts), and how to choose and combine them.
- Design thinking — how to empathize with the user, and think from their perspective to solve problems with visuals and products.
It is also important to do some reading about the field of design at large if you are not already familiar. We would suggest checking out this list of the best UX design blogs to follow.
2. Self-Study: Learn How to Use UX Design Tools
There are several tools and software applications that UX designers use on a day-to-day basis. Many of these, like Figma or Adobe XD , are industry standard UX design tools that can be used from the initial design sketches (known as wireframes) to full product mockups called prototypes.
There are many free resources, like the email course Figma 101, that will guide you through learning the basics of these programs.
As you become immersed in the UX design process, you’ll also eventually come across UX testing tools , which are used in conjunction with research and real product design testing projects.
People can often feel overwhelmed at first when it comes to learning about the software used by UX designers. The main thing to remember is that software is only a tool. Your priority should be to learn the design principles themselves — the technical stuff will follow.
3. Upleveling Your UX Design Skillset
As we previously mentioned, there are many different routes to working in UX design. However, whether you are looking to start out in the field for the first time, or change career from a similar role, it can be difficult to identify what, exactly, you have to know before applying for design roles, versus what you can learn on the job.
One of the most challenging areas of growth is finding a way to move from understanding the basics of user experience design to actually practicing it. In this stage, many
One-Off Courses: Focused Education on a Single Topic
There are many online course websites (Lynda, Alison, Creativelive, Coursera, Udemy, to name a few) that offer one-off courses where you can learn from an industry expert (or self-proclaimed expert).
One-off courses can be a great way to gain more training and education on a specific topic or foundational understanding of what UX design is, and what you might expect from a career in the field.
They can also be a great way to supplement your UX design hard skillset by teaching complementary topics like visual design or software development and coding.
UX Design Bootcamps: An Intensive Education to Kickstart Your Career
If you’re serious about landing a new, creative career in UX design, and want to make the shift as soon as possible, you might be drawn towards one of the top UX bootcamps.
A UX bootcamp is designed to be an intense, focused training experience that teaches you the fundamentals of UX design, guides you through the design process, and helps you build your design portfolio with case studies that will help you land your first job as a UX designer.
Your UX Design Career Begins Now
UX Academy Foundations is a 4–8 week online course that gives you a strong foundation on which to build your UX design training. Learn more about how you can sign up for the next cohort today.