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How to Become a UX Designer without a Degree: Where to StartHow to Become a UX Designer without a Degree
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How To Become a UX Designer Without a Degree: Where to Start

13 minute read | December 22, 2023
Meg Clayton

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Meg Clayton

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User experience (UX) design is increasingly defining how we interact with the world. And it isn’t hard to see why UX design has become all the rage in the design field when you look at how technology is evolving. Most devices today rely on human-computer interaction rather than a mechanical input and output dynamic. Even toasters and doorbells have screens these days. 

And if you’re looking to join this exciting field, then you’re in luck. You don’t need a formal degree to land a job as a user experience designer—most potential employers these days just want to know that you either have previous work experience or a strong portfolio that illustrates your skills. Read on to find out how you can become a UX designer without a college degree. 

Do You Need a Degree To Be a UX Designer?

Do you need a degree to become a great UX/UI designer? The answer is a resounding no! It is possible for UX designers today to land jobs even at big companies without an undergraduate degree in the field. What companies want instead of institutional validation is to ensure that you have the necessary UI/UX design skills. That includes some technical skills, soft skills, and knowledge of how to use design tools. The way you show companies that you have those things is through your UX design portfolio.You will come across job descriptions that explicitly say that a degree is not a deal-breaker. While a design degree can be a valuable asset, your talent, dedication, and the right skillset can pave the way for a fulfilling career, even without formal education.

Benefits of the Non-Traditional Path

  • Freedom and Flexibility: Learn at your own pace, through online courses, bootcamps, or self-directed study. This allows you to tailor your learning to your specific interests and goals.
  • Cost-Effective: Avoid the hefty price tag of a design degree and invest in resources that directly equip you with industry-relevant skills.
  • Real-World Focus: Focus on practical experience by building personal projects, taking on freelance gigs, or participating in design communities. This builds a strong portfolio showcasing your abilities.

Steps to Success

  1. Build Your Foundation: Ground yourself in design principles, including colour theory, typography, and visual hierarchy. Online courses, YouTube tutorials, and books can be your guides.
  2. Master the Toolset: Learn essential UX/UI design software like Figma, Sketch, and Adobe XD. Online tutorials and hands-on projects will help you become proficient.
  3. Embrace the Design Process: Understand the UX/UI workflow, from user research and information architecture to prototyping and testing. Take short-term courses or dive into online resources to grasp each stage.
  4. Develop Necessary Skills: Hone your hard skills (technical) like coding basics and soft skills (communication, empathy, problem-solving) crucial for collaboration and user-centric design.
  5. Craft Your Portfolio: Showcase your best work, real-world projects, and personal experiments. Highlight your process and the impact of your designs.
  6. Launch Your Job Search: Network with UX/UI professionals, attend industry events, and leverage online platforms like LinkedIn. Tailor your resume and portfolio to each position, and practice your interview skills.

Remember:

  • Self-motivation: Be your own driving force. Set goals, seek feedback, and constantly learn and iterate.
  • Community: Don’t go it alone! Join online forums, attend meetups, and connect with other aspiring designers.
  • Keep Learning: Stay updated with the latest trends and tools. Embrace ongoing learning as a core part of your journey.

While a design degree might open doors faster in some cases, it’s not a golden ticket. Focus on building a well-rounded skillset, a compelling portfolio, and a strong understanding of UX/UI principles. With dedication and passion, you can break into the field and become a great UX/UI designer, crafting impactful experiences that users love.

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About UX Design

Before you can get a job as a UX designer, you need to know what working in that capacity involves. Let’s find out. 

What Does a UX Designer Do?

how to become a ux designer without a degree - Why, what and how of UX Design

The broad goal of the field of UX design is to study how to create smooth and intuitive experiences for people who use a product or service. It is up to UX designers to make sure that the app, website, or device a company releases is easy to use and helps users achieve their core goals.

Let’s take a look at a few phrases you’ll come across in UX designer job descriptions that will give us hints about what the responsibilities of the job are. 

Conduct User Research and Develop Requirements Specifications

You’ve probably figured out by now that user experience design puts the experience of users from and center. So before you can make any design decisions or unleash your visual design skills, you need to take some time to understand your users. 

How do you research your users? You can conduct user interviews, online surveys, and even guerilla UX testing as part of your research. With each method, you need to make sure that you ask the right kinds of questions and include the right group of people so they are representative of your audience. 

Develop User Personas 

Now that you’ve completed your research, it’s time to collate everything you know about your user. And that’s what a user persona essentially is: a description of your ideal customer based on what you know about them from your research. 

Not every company relies on user personas. Some prefer other methodologies, such as jobs to be done.

A persona achieves a few very important things when you’re working on UX design projects. First, it helps you turn cold, hard data points and qualitative feedback from your research into something a little more personable. Instead of those things just being facts on paper, they transform into an understanding of the human being who you’re designing for. 

Second, developing a user persona also helps you chart your ideal customer’s journey through your application. Since you have one prototypical user, you can determine what kind of interactions they need to have with the product and how you can make design decisions that help their cause. 

Develop Information Architecture 

Ultimately, the job of a UX designer is to provide their users with the information they need in different ways. That includes communicating what the app does, how to navigate it, what the different buttons do, where to find different pages, and so on. All of these are small pieces of information that you slowly provide users. 

Information architecture deals with structuring how you provide this information to your users. When they begin work on this phase, designers determine how to drip-feed information to users so they aren’t overwhelmed by it and what the logical flow of the information should be. 

This is how the screens of an app or pages of a website slowly begin to take shape. The information architecture determines which chunks of information are grouped together and which ones are placed on separate pages. 

Build Wireframes and Create Designs

UX Design Wireframe

This is where you finally get to unleash your design skills on the project. Things start, of course, with the wireframe, which is the skeleton of your app or website. Wireframes are a helpful tool in ensuring you get early stakeholder alignment, work through hierarchy and navigation issues, and even conduct early user testing.

You then move on to actually fleshing out the design. The work that you do in this stage will vary, depending on the design skills you have. A UX design project can involve one or more of these types of designers. They often work in collaboration to produce the final product. 

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What Qualifications Do I Need to Be a UX Designer?

If you do want to go down the college degree route, there are many ways that you can work your way up to being a UX designer. There aren’t a lot of college programs in just UX design so most who end up in UX transition from graphic design

The degree that you choose will come down to what your interests are. You can do an undergraduate program in graphic design, human-computer interaction, industrial design, visual design, and product design to name a few. These are all valid degrees if you want to work in UX design. But remember, you don’t need a degree in any of these disciplines to land a job in the field. 

What Does an Entry-Level UX Designer Get Paid?

how to become a UX designer without a degree - UX Designer salary

The average annual salary of entry-level UX designers is $100,500

What Would I Do as a New Designer?

New designers are usually eased into their work in user experience design. That means that you probably won’t be working on areas like user research or information architecture, which require a bit more experience. 

You’re a lot more likely to work in wireframing or prototyping and core design in an entry-level position. That means that you will be tasked with building the blueprint for projects and then assigned specific elements that you can work on. 

Source: Just In Mind

You Don’t Need a Degree To Get Into UX Design

If you’ve been dreaming of a career in UX design, you should probably hold off on applying to universities that offer related degrees. There are more affordable ways to make yourself job-ready in this industry. Here are a few options. 

Courses and Bootcamps

how to become a ux designer without a degree - Springboard UX design bootcamp

UX design bootcamps can be a great way to fast-track your learning in the area. The advantage of doing a bootcamp is that you get guided instruction by mentors and are in a community of your peers. Both create accountability and can help you accelerate the learning process. 

The bootcamp path is perfect if you always enjoyed the classroom environment but don’t want to spend four years in it to gain UX design skills. It’s basically college condensed into a much shorter period where the focus is on getting your job-ready. 

Self-Learning

how to become a ux designer without a degree - Udemy courses

The Internet is your oyster if you’re somebody who likes to pick up UX design skills on your own. There are a slew of YouTube playlists and self-paced courses that you can take advantage of towards that end. 

The advantage of learning on your own is that you can decide how fast you go and pay special attention to the topics that you like. But the lack of support can mean that you take longer to complete your learning journey than you would have liked. 

Non-Design Degrees

If you are set on getting a college degree that can catapult you towards a career in UX design, then you have several options. College degrees in areas like product design, industrial design, and visual design are all relevant and will look good on your resume. 

College degrees are a great way to gain an understanding of a broad set of topics and engage with fellow learners in an in-depth manner. That said, you will have to spend several years getting that degree and it’s not always the most economic option out there. 

Become a UX Designer Without a Degree: Where To Start

  1. Start with a Prep Course

  2. Use Free Resources To Build Your Foundation

  3. Work on Personal Projects As Soon as Possible

  4. Build Your Portfolio As You Go

  5. Network Regularly

  6. Consider a Course To Refine Your Skills

  7. Look for an Entry-Level, Agency, or Related Position To Get Your Foot in the Door

Here’s how you can go about charting your journey.

Start with a Prep Course

You don’t need a formal education to get into design, but prospective employers are going to ask a lot of questions about the fundamentals. Start by completing an Introduction to Design Course to get a handle on the basics of design. It will teach you a lot about the industry, and prep you for your career.

Use Free Resources To Build Your Foundation

You can opt for a free UX design bootcamp to get started in UX design. There are several newsletters, podcasts, and YouTube channels out there that you can use to learn the very basics of the discipline. For more on this, check out our list of UX design resources

Work on Personal Projects As Soon as Possible

UX design is a field where theory and practice go hand in hand. The best way to ensure that you really understand every new theoretical concept you learn is by building a project using it. 

For example, let’s say you’ve just studied a module on responsive web design. You should immediately build a single-pager mobile website and apply everything that you learned in the module. In case you want some inspiration, here’s a list of UX projects that you can work on independently. 

Build Your Portfolio As You Go

You absolutely need a strong portfolio if you want to make it into the advanced rounds of interviews at the big companies. They show recruiters what kind of skills you’ve got and your areas of interest. So make sure that you enter your projects into your UX design portfolio as you build them. 

Network Regularly

You might not enjoy networking but it is a skill that you should develop. Often, having the ability to contact a recruiter or have a friend refer you is the difference between landing an interview and not. 

Your networking should include people across the UX industry. That means regularly interacting with other UX designers, but also product designers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and recruiters. 

Related Read: How To Become a Product Design Engineer

Consider a Course To Refine Your Skills

Doing a UX design course or certification can be a great way to build your skills in a particular area within the discipline. Courses give you structured learning paths and the ability to access experienced instructors. You should take advantage of them whenever you feel like you’ve reached a plateau in your learning journey. 

Look for an Entry-Level, Agency, or Related Position To Get Your Foot in the Door

You’re not going to land a lead UX designer job right out of a bootcamp or college. If you’re just starting out, then you need to look out for entry-level UX jobs that are in areas that interest you. 

Agencies are known to hire UX designers in large numbers. They are often your best bet for a first UX design job. Once you gain some experience, you can make the shift to more advanced roles at tech companies and large brands. 

Related Read: How To Become a UX Designer with No Experience

Getting Into UX Design Without a Degree: Examples To Follow

Rachel How

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Rachel How is a UX designer who made the transition to the role with a background as a digital marketing manager. She shares her experiences on how she went about learning the basics, getting familiar with Adobe XD, and entering a hackathon as a way to test her skills. 

Audrey Charneux

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Audrey Charneux had an educational background as a therapist and went on to land a job in UX design. She breaks her entire journey down into three steps: research, education, and marketing. Watching her content can give you an idea of how you can go about getting a lay of the UX land, learning key skills, and then marketing yourself so that you can land your dream UX job. 

Sharon Onyinye

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Sharon Onyinye is a fully self-taught UX designer. She talks about how she went from being someone with a casual interest in art to learning Adobe Illustrator and then transitioning to a core UX design role. She’s an inspiration, especially to those who want to use self-learning to launch a career in UX design.

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Do You Need a Degree to Have a Career in UX?

You can gain a specific degree to help you work in UX design, but it’s not strictly necessary. Many UX designers enter the field without a degree whatsoever. However, you will a professional portfolio, knowledge of UX principles as well as the fundamentals of web development and graphic design, and other important skills. Hands-on experience will count in your favor. You’ll also need a combination of hard skills (e.g. knowledge of design principles and tools) and soft skills (e.g. problem-solving capabilities) to succeed.

What Kind of Education Do UX Designers Need?

You don’t need a specific degree but you will need a well-rounded education. If you are self-motivated and disciplined, you can learn UX design at your own pace through online courses, YouTube videos, or by completing real-world projects. A design degree may be an advantage but it’s not a requirement. Try to gain practical experience to hone the specific skills you need through online courses to improve your chances of getting noticed during your job search. You should also subscribe to forums so you can keep abreast of new information in the field.

What Is UI UX?

UI/ UX are related, but not the same. UI design is concerned with the user interface, which is the visual and interactive elements of a digital product. UX stands for user experience or interaction design, which is the overall feeling a user has when interacting with a product. UI / UX are important for creating a product that is easy to use and enjoyable to interact with. The UI / UX design process is important for web development and product design. An experienced designer is usually familiar with UI / UX processes.

What Are the Benefits of an Online Course?

Short-term courses can teach you the fundamentals of the design process, from colour theory to design tools. You’ll gain the necessary skills to succeed and become a great UX designer, including the hard and soft skills UX designers need. You can study full-time or part-time, at your own pace.

Are UI / UX Designers In High Demand?

Yes, UX / UI designers are always in demand – both in full-time roles and part-time roles.

Do You Need to Know Graphic Design to Become a UX Designer?

You do not need to be a graphic designer to work in UX design, but it is helpful to have some knowledge of graphic design principles. This is because UX designers need to be able to create visually appealing and user-friendly interfaces.

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 Meg Clayton

Meg Clayton is a UX/UI Designer specializing in smart-home experiences, connected consumer products, and mobile applications. She is with Keurig Dr Pepper, leading the IOT UX/UI design strategy for connected coffee makers and mobile apps. She previously was with Whirlpool Corporation, where she worked on brands such as KitchenAid, Maytag, Whirlpool, JennAir, Amana, and more. She has experience working cross-functionally with engineers and software developers, marketing teams, and global product teams to deliver experiences to the market.