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Career Guide

UX Designer

BrainStation's UX Designer career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in UX design. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the design skills you should learn, the best available UX design training options, career paths in UX design, how to become a UX Designer, and more.

UX Designer
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What Is a UX Designer?

A User Experience (UX) Designer is a Designer who focuses on the user during the development process, looking to make a product or service – typically online, but not always – as intuitive and accessible as possible along every stage of the entire user journey.

It’s the job of a User Experience (UX) Designer to thoroughly conduct user research and use that user data to inform every decision made along the life of a project, from ideation to development. A User Experience Designer will typically work in close collaboration with a wide range of other job titles, including web development teams business analysts, and visual design experts to create a product or service that offers a user-friendly experience.

User Experience (UX) Designers seek to make everyday products, services, and technology as user-friendly and accessible as possible along the entire user journey. They do this by focusing on every aspect of a product’s development from ideation to the final product, including design, usability testing, and function. From the very first interaction, a user has with a product to their last, their user experience is in some way affected by the work of a UX Designer.

UX Designers work to make products and services usable, enjoyable, and accessible. Usually, the user experience design team works as part of a wider product team, and will often act as the bridge between the user, the development team, and key business stakeholders. UX design is all about advocating for the end-user or customer while also juggling broader business goals and using their user research to identify new opportunities for the product and business.

Whether creating a brand new product, dreaming up a new feature, or improving an existing product or service — the UX Designer is expected to be the professional at the table who is always considering what’s best for the user and the overall user experience. At the same time, UX Designers are also responsible for making sure that the product or service meets the needs of the business. Does it align with the vision of key stakeholders? Will it make a measurable impact on revenue, brand awareness, or customer retention?

What Is the History of UX design?

The history of the term User Experience Design dates back to the late 19th century when industrialists like Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford first integrated simple user experience design principles into their production processes. Taylor conducted extensive research into the way his workers interacted with their tools, hoping to make the process more efficient.

Roughly a century later, cognitive scientist Don Norman came onboard at Apple as their User Experience Architect, making history as the first person to have UX in his job title. He created the term “user experience design” because he wanted to “cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.” Don Norman was certainly prescient; now, each part of that sentence is its own niche within user experience design, and larger companies will hire specialists who focus on research, graphic design, usability testing, and interaction design to ensure there are no blind spots in their user experience.

Although UX design principles can be applied to virtually any product or service that is used by people, the term has evolved to have digital connotations, often referring to human-computer interaction and the way people use apps, websites, software, gadgets, technology, or a given device.

Where Do UX Designers Come From?

In the decades since Don Norman was the first to give himself a UX job title, there are now many pathways to becoming a UX Designer.

A Bachelor’s degree in UX design doesn’t exist, so most come to the UX design field from another angle. Anyone with a background in visual design, web development, product development, or even graphic design might be a natural candidate to apply for UX design positions, so long as you can prove you have the right mix of skills necessary.

Beginners can find lots of free resources to help you begin to build your UX skills in places like YouTube or Udemy. If you’re looking to change your career, UX Design bootcamp or other certification courses or online courses are a great option for those who have time to enroll in either a full-time or part-time course, with the best programs boasting amazing outcome rates when it comes to placing graduates in jobs in the UX field. A good bootcamp will allow you to help you build a standout portfolio while completely mastering design tools like Sketch and InVision and also teaching you the fundamentals of user research, user interface design, usability testing, information architecture, and responsive design.

It’s essential for those working in UX design to possess a varied set of skills because the work that UX Designers can be asked to do can vary wildly from company to company and even from project to project. In other words, you’ll want to be ready for anything.

User Experience (UX) Design vs. User Interface (UI) Design

The User Experience (UX) Design and User Interface (UI) Design fields share enough in common that outsiders often struggle to understand the differences, and the jobs are in fact similar in some ways and different in others. Both UX/UI jobs do affect what the end-user will see and do on a company website, but UX/UI jobs differ in other key ways.

  • UI Designer: A UI Designer will share something in common with an expert in graphic design or visual design in the sense that their job involves maintaining visual consistency (often with help of a company style guide) and managing the user interface interaction points (interaction design) on every page or screen of a company website. design of each component of a company website.

  • User Experience (UX) Designer: With a broader focus than THE user interface, a UX Designer's outlook on design must be more holistic and user-centric. Through a process of user research, prototyping and testing, a User Experience Designer must consider broader business goals and many other considerations that might not come into play when considering user interface design.

Read more about the differences between UI and UX design.

What Does a UX Designer Do?

A UX Designer conducts user research and testing, creates personas, wireframes, and prototypes, and creates and implements user-centric design, development, and business solutions with the goal of ultimately creating a better user experience.

With the diversity of job titles and job responsibilities within UX design, there are many different job duties that might fall to UX Designers. Generally, a UX Designer is responsible for all of the following:

  • User Research. UX Designers must understand the user inside-out, and you can’t get to know users without conducting extensive, thorough, and constant user research. Some of the common user research methods UX Designers employ include data collection, surveys, user interviews, developing personas, and focus groups.

  • Information Architecture. When UX Designers consider how a user will navigate information, they’re thinking about information architecture. Optimizing how a user moves through an online product means a UX Designer must get information architecture exactly right.

  • Wireframing and Prototyping. Early in a project, UX Designers create wireframes, or low-fidelity design sketches representing simple user interface design elements, before advancing to the creation of prototypes, which are a higher-fidelity design of the product.

  • Usability Testing. A UX Designer can test products in many ways, with user testing and usability testing standing as most common. Ultimately, this is a crucial opportunity for a UX Designer to listen to the user and make changes to their project during any stage of life or development. Usability also has SEO consequences, another important concern for business.

Read more about what a UX Designer does.

What Are the Characteristics of a Successful UX Designer?

To become a UX Designer, there are a number of hard skills you’ll need to acquire including user research and persona development, information architecture, wireframing and prototyping, and user testing, among others, as well as just possessing design skills and sense. But there’s a lot more to being a successful UX Designer than just possessing that skill set.

In fact, successful UX Designers seem to share all the following characteristics:

  • Problem-solving. UX Designers aren’t just good at creatively solving problems – they enjoy it. The nature of the job is finding issues with a product and conjuring solutions or workarounds so that the user experience remains consistently excellent. You must not just be good at solving problems, but also anticipating and unearthing pain points. For that reason, attention to detail is another important quality for a UX Designer, particularly when it comes to usability, interaction design, or even graphic design.

  • Passionate about learning. Good UX Designers know that the tools and methods related to user experience design are constantly evolving, updating, and changing, and to be that great problem-solver with a creative answer to everything, you will need to be on top of all the latest trends in the design field. This is a broad, cross-disciplinary field that incorporates pretty much every design discipline, and to master everything you’ll need to master, you should have a genuine curiosity and love of learning.

BrainStation’s Digital Skills Training Survey showed that 80 percent of UX Designers polled wanted to enroll in more digital skills training courses, so it’s clearly a widespread attitude in the industry.

  • Analytical mind. Data-driven decision-making is a term we are rightfully hearing more and more each year. A UX Designer with an analytic mind will put all that great user research to good use by making design decisions based on best practices and data. This also means being able to spot trends and insights in qualitative user feedback. Quantitative and qualitative data is increasingly becoming a key ingredient in usability and user experience work.

  • Top communicator. Communicating effectively is crucial in nearly every aspect of a UX Designer’s job. In user testing, one needs to be an effective listener and also possess the ability to make participants feel at ease so they are more willing to share their feedback. In a team, one needs the ability to work with people of all different backgrounds, convey your ideas persuasively, and diplomatically deal with internal politics. And UX Designers also have to be able to explain the rationale for their design strategy clearly with clients. And good listening, in general, means fewer hiccups and better product results.

  • Ability to think big picture. UX Designers don’t have the luxury of looking at things in a vacuum. UX Designers must have a holistic understanding of overall business strategy and goals, the needs of the end-user, and project timelines and deadlines. How does your project influence the company’s bottom line? Is the user experience for a single project aligned with the overall user experience?

  • Empathy. Another intangible but crucial quality is empathy. You must be adept at understanding people, putting yourself in another person’s shoes, and trying to consider the world -- and your product or service – from the perspective of other people.

A UX design professional with a real understanding of user needs will be well-positioned to excel and create a great, easy-to-use product. Remember: you’re the advocate for your customers or users when the rest of the team forgets them.

Types of UX Design Research Methods

Here are some examples of the types of UX design research methods:

  • Focus Groups. Moderated or unmoderated discussion with a group of users, allowing insight into user attitudes, ideas, and desires.

  • Interviews. One-on-one discussions that allow a UX Designer to learn more about user attitudes, desires, and experiences.

  • Card Sorting. Ensure that site structure aligns with how users want to use it by asking them to sort its information into a logical structure.

  • First Click Testing. This navigation-focused testing method can be performed on a functioning website, a prototype, or a wireframe.

  • Expert Review. A group of usability experts evaluate a project.

  • Prototyping. Ranging from a paper mock-up to interactive HTML pages, prototyping allows the design team to explore ideas before implementing them by creating a mock-up of the site.

  • System Usability Scale (SUS). A technology-independent 10-item scale for subjective evaluation of the usability.

  • **Surveys*8. By asking a series of questions to multiple website users, you'll gather meaningful and relevant data about your site visitors and overall business opportunities.

  • **Task Analysis*8. To help you understand the tasks users will perform on your site, task analysis involves learning about user goals, including what users want to do on your website.

  • Usability Testing. Identifies user frustrations and problems with a site through one-on-one sessions where a “real-life” user performs tasks on the site being studied.

  • Use Cases. Provide a description of how users use a particular feature of your website. They provide a detailed look at how users interact with the site, including the steps users take to accomplish each task.

Benefits of UX Design

Companies who invest significantly in UX Design are seeing strong ROI for their efforts, and it’s because user experience design brings an array of benefits:

  • Retain and acquire new customers. Good UX design will help ensure that every customer is a repeat customer. Ensuring that users enjoy a seamless, pleasant, and intuitive user experience means they’ll be more likely to return – and tell their friends. Companies know their online and mobile app presences must be optimal for users to return, and that means nailing UX design.

  • Cuts development time and cost. Users hate mobile apps that crash or feature ugly designs, just as users will navigate away from confusing-to-navigate websites. Rather than scrambling to fix those issues once users inevitably bring them up later, companies who invest in UX design will discover these pain points earlier in the development process when they’re much easier and cheaper to fix.

  • Engage users. The term user experience really refers to a user’s feelings while they browse your product, and good UX design will create an increase in a user’s engagement level. UX Designers with well-developed design skills – think interaction design, visual design, and graphic design – will be well-positioned to keep a user immersed in their experience.

UX Designer Salaries

The average salary for a UX Designer job title is generally around $85,000, though that salary can climb as high as $130,000 in a senior role.

These salary ranges can vary greatly depending on your location, experience level, and other skills -- the average salary is certainly higher in New York, for example. Still, the salary of a UX Designer tends to be higher than the salary of other designers on the same team, even across other job titles in tech.

Read more about how much a UX Designer makes.

Demand for UX Designers

Yes, UX Designers are in high demand across virtually every industry. Recent studies have shown that nearly 90 percent of managers – from industry to industry – have made hiring UX Designers a top priority for their companies, creating a huge gap between supply and demand.

According to LinkedIn research, UX design is one of the top five most in-demand skills on average. UX design skills will be even more sought-after now as user experience becomes a difference-maker in Google rankings, LinkedIn’s research showed.

Read more about the demand for UX Designers.

What Tools Do UX Designers Use?

UX Designers use a range of tools that varies with the specific responsibilities of a certain job, but there are some tools all UX Designers seem to have in common. For instance, nearly 90 percent of UX Designers begin with pen and paper.

The other top tools for UX Designers tend to be employed for two main purposes:

  • Wireframing tools. The top choice here is Sketch, used by two-thirds of UX Designers. Meanwhile, Illustrator, InVision Studio, Adobe XD, Axure, Figma, and Marvel are also popular choices.

  • Prototyping tools. More than half of UX Designers in our pool report using InVision, and Sketch is popular too. Other popular alternatives include Principle, Flinto, Framer, and ProtoPie.

Read more about the tools used by UX Designers.

What Skills Do UX Designers Need?

To become a UX Designer, you will need to have a number of crucial technical skills, including:

  • UX design research. You’ll need serious skills in user experience design research if you want to thrive as a UX designer. This type of research doesn’t have to be limited to the user experiences of people interacting with your site – UX design is such a broad field that even courses you’ve taken in computer science or psychology could be viewed as relevant skills.

  • Wireframing and prototyping. Good UX Designers will have mastered the wireframing and prototyping tools so they can properly communicate their design ideas at various stages of the development process.

  • Visual communication. Every good UX Designer should have top-notch visual design skills. The same is true for interaction design, another area with a lot of crossover with UX design. An understanding of interaction design will be important when a UX Designer creates assets, icons, presentations, interactive prototypes, and mockups.

  • User empathy. Putting yourself in the user’s shoes is a valuable skill for any UX Designer. If you can’t understand your user’s needs, you’ll have no luck creating user experiences that resonate.

  • Data analytics. To really understand user flows not to mention opportunities for improvement across the board, UX Designers need to become well-versed in unlocking insights housed in data. Data is a huge part of the research process, too.

  • Problem-solving skills. Not only should UX Designers have problem-solving skills, they should also have problem-finding skills. UX Designers should make scouring a project for potential problems a part of their design process, then use their problem-solving skills to mitigate any issues.

Read more about the skills UX Designers need.

UX Designer Career Paths

The most common career paths for UX Designers could be divided into the technical track or the managerial track.

Along the technical track are jobs that require expertise in specific domains of UX design, including interaction design or user research, or people who specialize in applying UX design principles to a specific industry, such as software development or digital marketing.

In the technical career path, jobs might include Principal UX Designer or Senior Interaction Designer.

The managerial UX design career track would find a UX Designer overseeing a team with a growing number of key employees. Here, your job title might transition from UX Designer to Senior UX Designer then UX Manager, UX Director, Director of User Experience or Chief Experience Officer.

Along either career track, you would have the opportunity to earn a high salary and work in virtually any industry, though day-to-day tasks would vary greatly.

What Are Some Jobs in UX Design?

With the growth of the user experience design field, there are now many job titles with drastically different responsibilities all encompassed by UX Design.

Here are some of the top job titles you’re likely to see:

  • User Experience (UX) Designer. UX Designers are jacks of all trades in the UX field. They’re comfortable participating in every stage of the UX process, but don’t deeply specialize in any one niche. If you’re a freelancer in UX or working at a smaller company that doesn’t have a UX department, you might find yourself in a UX Designer role.

  • User Interface (UI) Designer. UX and UI design are often confused and often talked about interchangeably -- and it drives UI Designers crazy. The difference between UX and UI design is that user interface design applies UX principles to a product’s interface (for example a screen layout, sitemap, or a website’s menu). In general, it might be helpful to think of user interface design as having more in common with traditional web design or graphic design jobs. Another way to look at it is that UX design is all about the overall feel of the experience, while UI design is all about how the product’s interfaces look and function.

A UX Designer considers the user’s entire journey to solve a particular problem; what path do they travel and what problems do they encounter along the way? With the skeleton of the product mapped out, the UI designer considers all the visual aspects of the user’s journey, including all the individual screens and touchpoints that the user might encounter; think tapping a button, scrolling down a page, or swiping through an image gallery. UI design isn’t just about visual design – it’s also about making sure the product is accessible and inclusive.

  • Interaction Designer. Interaction Designers also work on the user interface, they approach it differently than User Interface Designers. Interaction design can be understood as the design of the interaction between end-users and products or services. Most often when people talk about interaction design, the product tends to be a software product like an app or website. The goal of interaction design is to create a product that enables the user to achieve their objective(s) in the best possible way.

Interaction Designers are specifically focused on the user’s interaction with the interface — how do the menus unfold? What is the response time when a user clicks a button? An Interaction Designer would rely on user research to design and test the interaction elements of a product.

  • Visual Designer. Experts in visual design focus on, well, the visual design of the experience. A Visual Designer will create a guide to define the aesthetics of all the buttons, icons, and backgrounds that a user sees with a focus on color, typography, and layout. They’ll also be responsible for resizing assets for different devices and sometimes they’ll be involved in creating email marketing items, presentation materials, and interactive event materials.

  • UX Researcher. There is no UX without user research. Understanding user experience means getting to know your users or customers and making user needs a huge consideration in your design process. Every decision a UX Designer makes to build or improve a product should be based on insights gleaned from user research. UX Researchers specialize and focus on that research phase, interviewing people, finding out what they look for in a product, and using those insights to propose product solutions. UX Researchers are also responsible for conducting competitive analyses and market research.

  • Information Architect. Information architecture is the process of organizing and arranging apps, websites, and even physical spaces in ways that makes them easy to use and intuitive to navigate for your users or customers. Often, good information architecture is invisible – you’ll fly through menus and find what you’re looking for so fast, you likely won’t stop to notice that a web product has been impeccably arranged.

  • UX Engineer. Think of a UX Engineer as straddling the worlds of design and development. Basically, a UX Engineer is a Front-End Engineer or Front-End Developer who facilitates effective collaboration between the design and engineering teams. Unlike some of the other roles on this list, UX Engineers should have strong coding skills.

Who Do UX Designers Work With?

UX Designers is one of those "glue" positions that seem to be so important, collaboration with many other departments and stakeholders within a company is inevitable.

UX Designers will work closely with Web Developers, Software Engineers, Product Managers, sales and marketing teams, quality assurance teams, visual design teams, as well as executive-level decision-makers.

Reasons to Become a UX Designer

Being in a role where you get real input into major decisions about a company or the design of the product is one reason why UX Designer is an appealing career. Another is the booming job market. UX Designers are crucial in pretty much every stage of a product’s lifecycle, and companies are realizing that leveraging the insights gleaned from thorough and smart user research is crucial to putting forth the best possible product and creating strong customer loyalty.

LinkedIn cited UX design as one of the top skills to learn in 2020 and a report from InVision found that 70 percent of hiring managers increased the headcount of their design team over the preceding year. The survey also found that respondents expected their design teams to grow by an average of 21 percent in 2020.

Because of that demand, UX Designers are both well-paid – they make $89,000 on average, according to Indeed – and well-treated. Forbes says it’s the second-best job you can have in terms of work-life balance.

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