How to Become a UX/UI Designer

Behind every excellent product, is a world class designer. We have professionals in the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) world to thank for the website, apps and devices we know and love. 

UX Designers take a human-first approach in shaping how users interact with products and services. UI designers craft the visual elements of a digital product. While the two roles differ (more on that below), they work in tandem to create flawless digital products and experiences. 

Demand for these positions has greatly increased in the past several years across the industry. As one of the most creatively fulfilling positions in tech, these roles encompass elements of psychology, business, research, graphic design and tech, making them highly attractive to all types of individuals.

In this article, we’re breaking down the skills, qualifications, salaries, career paths and more of UX/UI Designers. Plus, we’ve identified six concrete steps you can take to move towards becoming a professional UX/UI Designer:

  1. Study the Tools and the Trade 
  2. Explore Educational Opportunities
  3. Chart a Professional Path 
  4. Craft a Winning Portfolio
  5. Tackle the Technical Interview 
  6. Find (and Become) a Mentor

Read on to learn everything you need to know about this lucrative and fulfilling career path! 

What is the Job Description for a UX/UI Designer?

UX Designers bring together market research and strategy, product development and design principles to craft the perfect physical and digital products. They conduct both quantitative and qualitative research, running focus groups and surveys, in order to create personas and understand consumer needs. This data is translated by the UX professional into actionable insights and use design thinking to put them into action. Products come to life in their hands through the prototyping process, which is often done with industry tools like Figma and Sketch. Throughout this process, they coordinate testing and iteration phases alongside product managers, graphic designers, UI designers and developers.

UI Designers come into play in a critical way when it becomes time to craft the interface of a product. Working exclusively in the digital realm, they are responsible for all user inputs, including touchscreens, buttons, typography and more. They work closely with a design team to seamlessly incorporate branding and graphic development and ensure modern responsive design and animation elements work flawlessly across all devices.

What is the Difference Between UX and UI?

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, we want to start by noting the differences between the UX Designer and UI Designer roles. UX design is about the overall feel of an experience, while UI is primarily focused on how a product’s interface looks and functions. A product starts with the UX Designer; they conduct research on a potential user’s wants, needs and pain points. They map out user journeys and play a leading role in the wireframing and prototyping process.

Then, the UI Designer brings that vision to life, considering all the visual and interactive elements of the product in question, like buttons and icons. If UX’s role is to delight users with a product’s effectiveness, then UI’s is to delight users with a product’s aesthetic sensibilities. Here’s a summary of the primary differences between the two:

 
User Experience (UX) DesignUser Interface (UI) Design
ApplicationPhysical and Digital ProductsDigital Products
FocusAll-encompassing experience: from user’s first to last contactVisual Touchpoints that user interacts with
CreatesStructural design solutions removes barriers to pain pointsVisual interactive elements: buttons, icons, typography, responsive design and more
Overall GoalAnticipate Users NeedsAnticipate Users Needs
ResultsProducts that delight users with their effectivenessProducts that delight users aesthetically

And here’s a summary of some key differences between UX and UI:

 
User Experience (UX) DesignUser Interface (UI) Design
Product Structure and StrategyDesign Research
Content DevelopmentBranding and Graphic Development
Prototyping and WireframingUser Guides and Storylines
Testing and IterationUI Prototyping
Coordinates with UI Designers and DevelopersInteractivity and Animation Adaptable to all Screens

Given that information, why have we lumped the two careers together here? Well, you simply can’t have UX without UI, and vice versa. The educational paths, skills and qualifications for both roles overlap significantly, especially for an entry-level position. Smaller companies and startups might even collapse the two sets of responsibilities into one position. This is excellent news for those interested in exploring the professional space, as you’ll gain the flexibility to test out multiple subject areas before diving into a specialization.

UX/UI Designer Qualifications

Having a compelling eye for great design or overflowing creativity and passion for inventing the world’s next great products are excellent precursors for entering the UX/UI field. But unfortunately, they’re not quite enough. Here are some of the most vital hard and soft skills any professional in these roles should have:

  • Mastery of the principles of Design Thinking
  • Understanding of wireframing, prototyping and user and usability testing
  • Knowledge of responsive design and interactivity
  • Ability to conduct user research and comfort working with qualitative and quantitative data
  • Familiarity with design and wireframing tools and software like Sketch, Invision, Adobe XD and Figma
  • Presentation and Communication skills, including the ability to transform data into actionable insights and share out information to cross-functional stakeholders
  • General business acumen, strong project management skills and ability to lead and work with teams

UX/UI Designer Education Requirements

Because UX and UI design are relatively new career paths that require a versatile skill set, you’ll find that people in these positions do not come from a uniform background. Many will possess bachelor’s degrees in related fields such as design and graphic design, computer science or cognitive sciences.

If you’re interested in focusing specifically and intensely on the UX/UI field, a bootcamp might be your best bet. Programs typically take 8 weeks to six months to complete and offer a career-focused curriculum in industry tools, foundational design thinking and real-world tasks. Students often leave these courses with a portfolio of projects and career services like resume review and mock interviews that leave them ready to tackle the job market.

Outside of bootcamps, there are a number of certification courses you can take to prove your industry knowledge, which might be especially helpful for those taking the freelance route. These include Google’s UX Design Professional CertificateNN/g UX Certification and Human Factor International’s Usability or  User Experience Analyst Certificate.

 

How Long Does it Take to Become a UX/UI Designer?

Well, the answer can vary. It is absolutely possible to go from beginner to job offer through a six-month intensive bootcamp program. On the other hand, some budding professionals might prefer to learn all the fundamentals over a four-year degree program. Both ways can lead to an entry level UX or UI job offer. Regardless, there are always opportunities to continue your education and set off on this lucrative and rewarding career path. Who knows? You might find yourself serving as the Chief Design Officer one day!

How to Become a UX/UI Designer

Study the Tools and the Trade – Before you invest any serious time into learning, dive into the design and UX/UI world. Do you find yourself often paying attention to and pondering the design and interface choices of websites and apps? Then you’re off to a great start! Read up on the responsibilities of roles like Graphic Designer and Product Manager to get a sense of exactly where you’d like to take your career, so you can scale up the right skillset. Read up on the subject area, starting with free blogs and resources like NN Group or UX Collective, then move into tools like Sketch and Adobe XD. You’ll find that these softwares offer free trials, providing you with enough time to get a hang of the interface and decide if this is something you can see yourself doing on a daily basis.

 

Explore Educational Opportunities – A bachelor’s degree in a relevant field might have been a traditional prerequisite, especially for jobs in tech, but that’s far from the case these days. You’ll definitely find UX/UI designers with degrees in subjects like Graphic Design, Psychology or Behavioral Science, Applied Statistics, Computer science and more, but you’ll also find a solid cohort of individuals who are self-taught or bootcamp grads. An increasingly popular option, UX/UI bootcamps focus on career preparedness and allow students to master applied skills in information architecture, wireframing and prototyping and visual communication. Access to industry professionals and career services are additional perks these programs often offer. If you’re not ready to dive into what can be an up to six-month commitment, explore the wide variety of free courses and video tutorials available online to beginners.

 

Chart a Professional Path – As you strengthen your industry knowledge, now is the time to begin to think about choosing the UX or UI route. Compile a list of what aspects of the job seem most compelling to you. Is it conducting research and running focus groups? Or would you rather be hands-deep in tinkering with your designs in Adobe XD? You might consider pursuing freelance opportunities or internships that allow you to get a sense of these roles, without the long-term commitment. At the same time, begin to imagine what your ideal work environment looks like. A large corporation provides a steady paycheck and the ability to work collaboratively, but you could become siloed towards one distinct set of tasks. On the other hand, startups or freelance work can be risky, but also provides the opportunity to work across multiple skill sets or be your own boss. It all comes down to personal preference.

 

Craft a Winning Portfolio – Before you speak to a single recruiter or initiate contact with any freelance client, you need to have a stellar portfolio ready to go. Imagine a website, but the product it’s selling is YOU. Housed within, are your personal details and contact information and a small sampling of your absolute best work. Your portfolio is the opportunity to demonstrate your ability to put the skills on your resume in action and differentiate yourself from other professionals in the field. UX professionals will present case studies that show off their thinking process and ability to turn research into outcomes and UX Designers will show off their ability to design intuitive and stunning products. This step couldn’t be more important, but can also be time-consuming and confusing. Luckily, we created a complete guide to getting started with Portfolios specifically geared towards UX and UI professionals. Check it out to learn more!

 

Tackle the Technical Interview – Sure you’re prepared for “tell me about yourself” or “why do you want to work here?” but have you mastered the specifics? Applying for designer roles might require answering technical and skills-based questions, so be prepared to discuss your work and your knowledge of design principles. Questions might include asking you to talk through your process, give your opinion on industry trends or even ask you to provide feedback on how you would improve a company’s own products. We’ve written a guide on everything you need to know to prepare for technical interviews. And while you’re at it, you can also take a look at our guide for formatting your technical resume as well.

 

Find (and Become) a Mentor – There’s no one better to learn from than those who walked the path before you. Set aside time throughout your educational and professional journey to reach out to mentors who can offer you guidance on your skillset, portfolio and projects. Finding these people might be easier said than done at the beginning of your career journey, but don’t fret. Online communities for design professionals are a great place to gain inspiration and grow your network.  Start with major sites like Behance and Dribble and don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals on LinkedIn, forums or Slack channels. You never know where your next job opportunity might come from!

Explore schools offering UX/UI Designer Bootcamps.

Job Outlook for a UX/UI Designer

The UX/UI profession has experienced solid growth and is only expected to increase as more organizations recognize the importance of a user-centered approach to designing products. Demand for the role is expected to grow by 18 percent by 2025, according to CNNMoney.

In addition, the ratio of coders to designers has also decreased, to 5:1, indicating that companies have rapidly scaled up their design teams. Overall, UX Design has been listed as a top 5 most in-demand skill by LinkedIn and ranked in the top 50 best jobs to have in 2021 by Glassdoor, so all signs point to this role maintaining its popularity and necessity.

Best jobs for a UX/UI Designer

UX and UI Designers both have ample opportunities to ladder up the career chain or choose different areas of expertise to specialize in. At most corporations UX/UI designers can advance to a senior designer level within three to five years, with the ability to manage and train others. From there, some will become product managers, overseeing the entire development lifecycle or even become directors, VPs or the Chief Design Officer (CDO).

On the UX side, individuals can become specialists in UX Writing, dedicating their time to the copy of a site or UX Researchers, with a heavy focus on collecting data. For the creative-minded, adjacent roles to UI positions include Motion Designer, Visual Designer or Illustrator and Interaction Designer.

UX/UI Designer Salary

Using data from Indeed.com, we’ve broken down the typical salary of UX and UI Designers within the industry in the United States. As you can see, these in-demand and highly skilled positions typically command six-figure salaries. Many institutions offer additional on the job perks and benefits for top performers.

 
CityAverage UX Designer SalaryAverage UI Designer Salary
New York City$105,931$82,739
Austin$102,698$84,372
San Francisco$140,914$101,456
Chicago$118,927$69,975
Boston$96,723$74,683
U.S. Average$90,961$78,658

Ready to kickstart your UX or UI Designer career? Take a moment to browse our bootcamps below that offer Graphic Design and/or UX/UI curriculums!

Browse bootcamps for UX/UI Designer.

Explore some of the top schools offering UX/UI Designer bootcamps and find the right fit for your needs and schedule.