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Do You Even Need a UX Design Degree To Be Successful
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Do You Even Need a UX Design Degree To Be Successful?

10 minute read | September 18, 2023
Monica J. White

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Monica J. White

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It may sound like an overstatement, but it’s true that every single digital product that you use on a daily basis was built by a UX designer. Whether it’s an app on your phone, or the screen for a smart appliance, a UX designer built the backend of that system. And because just about everyone in the world is a user of digital products and services, UX design is an increasingly sought-after career path.

UX design degrees are one way of breaking into the industry, but they aren’t the only way—many aspiring UX designers are asking themselves whether a UX design degree is actually worth it and whether you actually need one. If you’ve found yourself asking this question, then you’re in the right place. Below, outline the benefits of degrees and show you exactly what you need to do to succeed without one.

Do You Need a Degree To Be a Successful UX Designer?

No, a degree is not a requirement to be a successful UX designer. While a college degree can provide valuable knowledge and opportunities, practical design skills, a strong portfolio, and industry experience are more critical factors for success in this field. And a college degree is by no means the only way to get that. 

Different Learning Paths to Becoming a UX Designer

Here are the three main learning paths to becoming a UX designer. You can choose one of these paths or use a mixture of elements. 

Formal Education / University Degree

Pursuing a university degree program provides a structured, comprehensive education in UX design principles, theory, and research. It also offers access to faculty, resources, and internships, bolstering your career prospects. However, this route is also the most time-consuming and the most expensive, meaning that it’s not necessarily the best value.

UX Design Bootcamp

UX design bootcamps are intensive, focused training programs that offer practical, industry-relevant skills in a short time frame. They often include mentorship, portfolio-building, and industry connections. While more cost-effective and efficient than formal education, they may not delve deeply into theory and research.

Self-Taught Route

Self-taught UX interaction designers learn independently through online resources and practice. It offers flexibility and affordability but requires self-motivation and discipline. Gaining a well-rounded skill set may take longer, and portfolio-building can be challenging without formal training or bootcamp support.

Why Pursue a UX Design Degree?

A college degree in UX design offers you a structured education in fundamental principles, including user-centered design, psychology, and interaction. Most UX design degrees are two-year master’s programs, but there are an increasing number of four-year undergraduate programs too. Either experience will help you develop a solid foundation to tackle complex design challenges and enhance your critical thinking skills. You’ll also receive opportunities for networking, internships, and mentorship, giving you a competitive edge in the UX design field, as well as a whole multiple years to create the perfect portfolio.

How To Stand Out Without a UX Design Degree

Degrees are no longer a standard requirement for being hired. Still, there are some things you’ll need to do to stand out without having a UX design degree.

  1. Your Skillset Matters

  2. Identify Your Niche

  3. Build Your Experience and Expertise

  4. Find a Mentor

  5. Build a Strong Portfolio

  6. Get Involved in the UX Community

  7. Consider an Internship That Can Lead to a Full-Time Role

Your Skillset Matters

Without a four-year-long predetermined college curriculum, you have more time and freedom to build a skill set that suits the exact kind of role you want to pursue. Take the time to research your interests and related job posts to find out exactly what skills you need to succeed and build your education around them.

Identify Your Niche

There are so many different niches you lean into as a user experience designer to help you stand out and increase your value as a prospective employee. Here are just a few examples:

  • Mobile app user experience design
  • Web design and graphic design
  • E-commerce user experience design 
  • Healthcare UX
  • Gaming UX
  • Voice User Interface (VUI) design
  • AR/VR UX
  • Enterprise UX
  • Accessibility and inclusive design
  • User research and usability testing
  • Data visualization
  • UX writing
  • IoT (Internet of Things) UX
  • Educational Technology (EdTech) UX
  • Financial and fintech UX
  • Automotive UX
  • Travel and hospitality user experience design
  • Social media UX

Build Your Experience and Expertise

Without a college degree, it’s essential that you develop as much experience as possible to validate your skills and competency. You might think work is the only way to gain experience, but that is not the case. Even if no one uses what you design or you don’t get paid for the work, any UX design projects you take on count as experience. Here are some examples. 

Pursue Freelance Work

Take on freelance UX design projects for clients or small businesses. This allows you to gain real-world experience and build a client base.

Collaborate on a Project With Other UX Designers

Collaborate with developers, graphic designers, or other UX professionals on projects that require UX design input. Cross-disciplinary collaboration can provide valuable experience.

Participate in UX Design Competitions

Participate in design competitions and challenges, such as those on platforms like Behance or Dribbble. Winning or even participating can enhance your portfolio.

Find a Mentor

Finding an experienced UX designer to learn from can help your education and job search in a variety of ways. They can teach you where to look for jobs, what skills companies care about most, how to ace interviews, how to navigate professional environments, how to improve your work, and how to approach complex problems—the list is endless. 

Build a Strong Portfolio

As a primarily creative role, UX design is extremely portfolio-dependent. No matter how you learned UX design, you’ll need to impress recruiters with a strong UX portfolio of hands-on projects that cover every skill and tool required to do the job. 

Get Involved in the UX Community

Inserting yourself into the UX community as a newcomer can be scary, but it’s one of the most important things you need to work on alongside your study. The people you meet can lead you toward all sorts of opportunities, from hackathons and mentorships to internships and full-time work.

Consider an Internship That Can Lead to a Full-Time Role

Internships are invaluable experiences for new UX designers, as they prepare you for the day-to-day realities of being a UX designer, and can also lead to full-time roles. You can find internship opportunities on a range of websites such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Internships.com, Dice, and more.

Get To Know Other Design Students

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General Prerequisites to Becoming a UX Designer

From foundational knowledge to design tools and skills, there’s a lot you need to learn before you’re ready to start applying for UX design jobs. Here’s a fairly comprehensive list.

Foundational Knowledge

These foundational concepts are key to becoming a UX designer:

  • User-centered design (UCD) principles: Understand the core principles of UCD and design thinking, which prioritize designing products and systems around the needs and preferences of users.
  • Human-computer interaction (HCI) principles: Study HCI principles to learn how humans interact with technology and how to design interfaces that are intuitive and user-friendly.
  • Psychology and user behavior: Gain insight into user behavior by studying psychology, cognitive science, and behavioral economics to understand how users think and make decisions.
  • Information architecture: Learn how to organize and structure information effectively within digital products, websites, and applications.
  • Usability principles: Familiarize yourself with usability principles such as learnability, efficiency, memorability, error recovery, and satisfaction (LEMMES).
  • Visual design elements: Learn the basics of color theory, typography, and visual hierarchy to create visually appealing and consistent designs.

Education and Learning

Here are some ways to learn about UX design:

Skills

These skills are imperative for a UX designer to know: 

  • Wireframing and prototyping: Master tools like Sketch, Adobe XD, Figma, or similar software to create wireframes and prototypes to visualize your design concepts.
  • User research: Develop skills in conducting user interviews, surveys, and usability testing to gather insights into user needs and behaviors.
  • Persona development: Create user stories and personas that represent different user groups to guide your design decisions.
  • User flows and journey mapping: Understand how to create user flows and journey maps to visualize the user’s experience through a product or system.
  • Accessibility: Familiarize yourself with accessibility standards (e.g., WCAG) to ensure your designs are inclusive and usable by people with disabilities.
  • Responsive design: Learn how to design for multiple screen sizes and devices, including mobile devices, tablets, and desktops.
  • Interaction design: Understand the principles of interaction design, including the design of buttons, forms, navigation, and user interactions.
  • Prototyping tools: Master tools like InVision, Axure RP, or similar software to create interactive prototypes for user testing and stakeholder feedback.
  • User interface (UI) design: Develop skills in creating aesthetically pleasing UI elements, including buttons, icons, and graphics.
  • Project management: Familiarize yourself with project management methodologies to effectively plan and execute UX projects.
  • Coding basics: While not always required, having a basic understanding of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript can be valuable for user experience designers, especially for prototyping and collaboration with developers.

Tools

Here are some of the tools that UX designers use to do their work:

Experience

UX experience can take many forms, including the following:

  • Personal projects
  • Freelance work
  • Internships
  • Volunteer work
  • Design competitions
  • Personal blog or website
  • Collaborative projects
  • Open source contributions
  • Online design courses and certifications
  • Design challenges
  • Mentorship
  • Networking
  • Apprenticeships
  • User testing
  • Academic projects

Other Requirements

  • Portfolio development: Building a robust and well-organized portfolio is crucial. Your portfolio should showcase your best work, provide context for each project, and demonstrate your problem-solving abilities and design process.
  • Soft skills: In addition to technical skills, soft skills like communication, empathy, teamwork, continuous learning, and problem-solving are vital for a UX designer. You’ll often collaborate with cross-functional teams and need to convey your design ideas effectively.
  • Business acumen: Understanding business goals and the impact of design decisions on key performance indicators (KPIs) is important, as UX designers often need to align design objectives with business objectives.

UX Design Salaries: By Education Level

UX design degree, salaries by education level
Source: Zippia.com

Your education level can affect the amount you get paid in your UX design job. Let’s have a look at the average difference.

UX Designer Average Salary – With a Master’s Degree

UX designers with a master’s degree earn an average salary of $107,201 in the United States. This is a reflection of their expertise as someone who has spent multiple years studying the subject at a high level. 

UX Designer Average Salary – With a Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor’s degree holders earn an average salary of around $98,573 in the United States. Some companies consider this the minimum education requirement, so the pay can reflect that of an entry-level role. 

UX Designer Average Salary – Without a Degree

UX designers without a degree rely on their skills and experience to negotiate a salary, moreso than those with a degree. If you can demonstrate that your skills and experience are at the level of someone with a degree, then you can expect a comparable salary.  

Becoming a UX Designer Without a Degree: Real-Life Examples To Learn From

When you’re at the beginning of your design career transition journey, the end can seem impossible to imagine. Help yourself build a more concrete vision of your success by listening to stories about real people who landed UX design roles without graduating from a college design program. 

Mimi Michi – The Bootcamp Route

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Mimi used intensive study and an online bootcamp to land a UX Designer role within one year. You can hear about her methods, struggles, tips, and insights in this video.

Rachel How – The Self-Taught Route

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Rachel quit her job and became a UI/UX designer in just three months. She used free online resources to learn the skills and took part in hackathons to get some hands-on experience and start inserting herself into the industry. 

UX Design Degrees FAQs

Here are some of the top things people want to know when considering a new career in UX design.

Is a UX Design Degree Worth It?

A UX design degree can be worth it for some people, but it’s not essential for everyone. The value depends on individual circumstances and career goals. While a degree provides a structured education and credibility, many successful UX designers have gained expertise through bootcamps, self-study, or on-the-job experience.

Is It Hard To Get a Job as a UX Designer?

Becoming a UX designer can be competitive, but it’s certainly achievable. The demand for UX designers continues to grow, with various industries seeking their expertise. Building a strong portfolio, networking, and staying current in the field will help you land the job you want.

Will AI Replace UX Design?

AI probably won’t replace UX design done by humans. While AI can assist with tasks like data analysis, it can’t replace the human elements of empathy, creativity, and understanding user behavior, which are crucial in UX design.

What Are Some Free Resources To Learn UX Design?

Great free resources to learn UX design include websites like Coursera, edX, and Interaction Design Foundation, which offer free design courses and articles. Additionally, platforms like Medium, YouTube, and UX community forums provide valuable insights and tutorials.

Since you’re here…
Are you a future UX designer? Enroll in our UI/UX Bootcamp and join over 10,000 students who have successfully changed careers with us. Want to get wireframing right this second? Check out our free UX design course today.

About Monica J. White

Monica is a journalist with a lifelong interest in technology, from PC hardware to software and programming. She first started writing over ten years ago and has made a career out of it. Now, her focus is centered around technology and explaining complex concepts to a broader audience.