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Want to become a UX designer? Here’s what you need to know

Written by Kate Lopaze

We’ve all seen websites and apps where the design is so clunky, you regret having wasted your time. That pain is real. So, if you’ve ever thought, “I could do a better job than that,” then you might be interested in a career as a UX (user experience) designer.

What is UX and what does a UX designer do?

When someone interacts with a site or app, that’s the user experience (or UX). It’s like when you go into a store and walk around: are things laid out well? Can you find what you’re looking for? Are there signs to get you where you want to go? Are you stuck waiting around just to check out? Just like in a brick-and-mortar store, most sites want you to get what you need, and go happily on your way, satisfied with the experience. If you’re spending your time on a site clicking around, frustrated, or digging for some contact info so you can get some help, that’s not ideal for anyone.

That’s where the UX designer comes in. The designer makes sure the product is straightforward to use, and that it’s a seamless experience for the consumer. A UX designer is different from a web designer (who’s responsible for the bones of the website) and a graphic designer (who makes sure it looks good). The UX designer is tasked with optimizing how the site functions, and the flow of the user experience. The UX designer is also a crucial member of the marketing team—because nothing translates into bad press faster than a cranky user with a social media account.

No UX designer does their job in a vacuum, and they often work extensively with other teams, clients, and customers. The designer’s day-to-day work may include:

  • Analyzing marketing data about customers.
  • Conducting surveys, focus groups, or other research to see how people use the site/app, and what they think.
  • Acting as customers to test the UX in real time.
  • Creating information architecture (maps or other organizational graphics) that shows how the site is laid out, and how the user moves through it.
  • Working with other design teams to make the website a cohesive, functional, and visually appealing experience.

UX designers are the unseen hands smoothing the user’s way from one end of the interaction to the other.

What does UX design pay and what’s the career outlook?

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for Web Developers and Digital Interface Designers is $77,200. (Though of course, this can vary by level of experience and geographic location.) Unsurprisingly, this is a field that is expected to grow significantly in our digital-centric world. The BLS projects that demand for UX designers will grow by at least 8% (much faster than average) by 2029.

What do I need to become a UX designer?

While there are very few undergrad degree programs devoted to UX design, there are many online boot camps, training programs, and certification programs that can teach you the skills necessary to become a UX designer. A college degree in software development or graphic design can provide a good basis, but the most essential skills are computer skills, data analysis, project management, and UX-design-specific training. Communication skills are also a major asset, given how much time UX designers spend collaborating with others.

If you’re looking for a digital-focused career with good growth potential, and you appreciate the zen of a quality user experience, then UX design just might be the new career path for you.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.