How To Become a UX Designer Without a Degree: Where to Start
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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?
No. It is possible for UX designers today to land jobs even at big companies without an undergraduate degree in the field. You will come across job descriptions that explicitly say that a degree is not a deal-breaker.
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 the knowledge of how to use basic design tools. The way you show companies that you have those things is through your UX design portfolio.
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?
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 without too much hassle.
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 use 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.
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
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. Designing the wireframe gives you the chance to create a viable blueprint instead of making costly mistakes with the actual design.
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.
What Qualifications Do I Need to Be a UX Designer?
Get To Know Other UX Design Students
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Here’s how you can go about charting your journey.
Use Free Resources To Build Your Foundation
You don’t need to dive straight into a 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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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 learning path today.