Two UX designers chatting in the office

What Is The Typical UX Designer Career Path? Advice From A Senior UX Designer

Terri Rodriguez-Hong

If you’re an aspiring UX designer, you might be wondering if there’s a specific career path you need to follow. What does it take to become a UX designer? Is there a hard-and-fast formula for success in this field?

Having gone through this journey myself, it is hard to say that one single path is the right way to start your new career in UX. I believe everyone has that special sauce to bring to the UX industry. I get this question all the time: “How did you get started in UX?”

I can’t give you a set path to follow in order to break into the industry. However, I can show you how to forge your own pathway into the world of UX!

Connect the dots between your “then”, your “now”, and your future as a UX designer

Let’s start by looking at where you are coming from—meaning, what is your background? Perhaps you’ve been working in customer service, fine art, working at the Apple store, as a history teacher,  in a bank, or in an administrative role.

When it comes to forging your UX design career path, it helps to think about your “then” or “now” in relation to where you want to be: working as a UX designer. What aspects of your previous experience can you bring with you to the UX field? If you’ve worked in a customer-facing or caregiving environment, you’ll already be familiar with that all-important UX skill, empathy, for example.

Regardless of what experience you have so far, it all begins with believing in yourself that you can do it. I hear so many excuses about not having the right education or skills, or coming from a seemingly unrelated field. My rebuttal to that is always: “And?” So many people started from another place. Let’s look at acting; some of the greatest actors and actresses did odd jobs before breaking into the industry. The UX industry is not much different. There are so many opportunities to do this gig; this is what makes it so exciting. Our industry is growing, and our skills will always be developing and changing.

Stop procrastinating, start doing!

In my opinion, there is no such thing as a typical UX designer career path. The only way to begin is to, well, begin! This means mastering the right practical skills and getting to grips with the most important UX principles, such as putting the user first and employing a Design Thinking approach. Find a program that works for you, and if you’re undecided, try a free taster course to really make sure. Remember, this is your path and no one else’s, so find a course that suits your individual needs.

Once you’ve decided to take a course in UX, have an open mind! Ask lots of questions. It’s not going to come to you overnight. It will take some time and patience to go through the lessons. Look at the lessons and consider how you can bring your background into UX. It is all about the user experience and how can you help that process.  

UX has a lot of different methods, and a huge part of the process is learning when to use what. Along the way,  you will also learn how to utilize all tools related to UX, including usability testing. This is what I like to call magic: when you’re testing with real users and you either see their face light up or turn to a frown. My favourite part is when they make a funny face or a frown, because I know I’ve hit a pain point. So my next question is, how can I make it better? That’s the best win ever, and this process just keeps on going!

Look to other designers for inspiration and guidance

As you continue along your UX design career path, keep on looking at other UX designers and considering what you like about them. Start reading articles to get a better sense of what is going on in the UX world. Start looking at different portfolios and resumes. These are two things that will open the door for any UX job. Yes, these two go hand in hand. Don’t be afraid if you have to redo your portfolio over five times, or if your resume needs a tweak here and there. Applying for a UX design job is like any UX project. Some things will work, some things won’t. So don’t sweat it. Keep on pushing your work, reiterating and making changes. Ask for feedback, implement it, then ask for more feedback. This is an excellent process for you to tighten up your portfolio and your resume.

Once you have everything set, it’s time to send out your resume and portfolio. This is a big moment, and I have heard some people read the job description and say “Well I don’t have three years’ experience” etc…

Don’t talk yourself out of it before you’ve even applied. Remember what you can bring to the company; what can you bring with you from your previous experience? You have a unique skill set that you combine with UX. So go ahead and press that apply button. You won’t be sorry. Keep asking, and keep tweaking your resume and portfolio. You can learn more about UX designer job descriptions and what they mean here.

…And embrace the interview process!

Now the fun part is coming: interviewing in my case is another beast. Yes, I said beast. This is one of my favorite questions I get asked: “How can I prep for a UX design interview?” All I can say is practice makes perfect. As babies, we don’t know how to walk; we just practice. Well, it’s the same with interviewing. Find out about the company and what they have been doing, and practice going through some common UX design interview questions. Write everything down and practice. Once you think you’ve got it, practice again. So now you are in the role of being an actor!

Once your interview day comes, get a good night’s sleep and make sure you arrive 15 minutes early. Always smile and don’t forget to have some questions ready for when they ask you, “Do you have any questions for me?” Have them written down on a separate piece of paper and keep them on you throughout the interview.

During your interview, they might ask you a difficult question, and sometimes you might not see the answer. It happens. This is part of the process. If you did not answer the question correctly, that is okay; remember the problem and write it down. After the interview, find the answer and include this next time you’re preparing for an interview.

 Going to interviews is not an easy thing to do; some might even say it’s the hardest part of breaking into a new field. How you embrace the interview process shows how you’ll handle yourself while working for this company. Remember, it’s also your opportunity to learn about the company, too. Interviewing will give you great insight into how they treat you and what type of questions you will get. You will see what sort of people represent the company. Be mindful of what they ask and how they ask you, and always go with your gut feeling.  You can learn more about preparing for your first UX design interview in this guide.

Your UX design career path: Landing your first job and beyond

After you land and accept your first UX design job, the hard work begins. Your first job in the industry will have a big impact on your UX design career path, determining  how far and how fast you will go in your first year as a UX designer. Remember that all companies are different and have different views on what the tasks and duties of the UX designer should be.

Your first year in UX will be so much fun, and scary at the same time. The first rule of thumb: know your development team, and know your product team. These two superpowers will help you to understand the product and how it works. They go hand in hand.  Just as you seek to understand your users, seek to understand where the business side is coming from and what technology they will be using. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to sit back and listen and learn from the best from both worlds.

During your first year, learn what you can about the job and your tasks. Challenge yourself with your projects. Remember to continuously ask questions. Volunteer for work that might be out of your comfort zone; that is okay! Get out there and do it. This will help you set a tone for you; people will see you putting yourself out there and starting to help out with things. This way, you will begin learning and networking with your co-workers. Grab a notebook and keep a journal of what you do each month and each quarter. This will help you when your yearly review comes. Trust me, the year will go by super fast.

The key to a successful UX design career path? Never stop learning!

Now you have one year under your belt, don’t forget: your job is still not done yet! Your second year is something to celebrate, and now you have one solid year as a UX designer behind you. That is a great achievement! However, there’s still plenty to learn. By now, you will have some sense of what your product does and how the company works between each team. I would still do the same as you did in that first year; keep asking questions, and volunteer for different roles; ask if your product or technology team needs help with anything. Knowledge is power, meaning you will learn what they know while further developing your UX skills.

As you continue to progress along your own UX design career path, you will learn more and more, and it will become ever clearer as to what your next step will be. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. No one is perfect; a career in UX design is a constant learning curve.

While forging your own UX design career path, don’t forget to help those who are even newer to the industry than yourself; someone that is a new hire, perhaps. Help them by sharing what you have learned on your journey so far. This way you will help to bridge the gap. 

As you continue in your new role, the experience you gather along the way will be essential. Keep asking questions and learning from others, no matter if they are seasoned or an intern. Get out there, and a make a mark!

Further Reading

What You Should Do Now

  1. If you’d like a step-by-step intro to find out if UX design is right for you - sign up here for our free 7-day UX short course.
  2. If you are interested in becoming a UX Designer check out our UX design course (you'll learn the essential skills employers need).
  3. Find out more about our graduates: their journeys, portfolio projects, and salary increases.

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Terri Rodriguez-Hong

Terri Rodriguez-Hong

Contributer to the CareerFoundry Blog

Terri is a volleyball fan with a Polynesian soul, a Muay Thai boxing addict, and a holistic designer. She is a UI/UX designer, who began her education at Sonoma State University where she earned a BA. Later, she earned an MFA from the University of Hawaii. Though a California Bay Area native, she is a kama’aina at heart (kama means ‘child’ and ‘aina’ means ‘land’). She truly grew up with the spirit of Hawaii, with a culture of respecting and nurturing the land so that, in turn, it will take care of you. She believes that exact thing should apply to anyone or anything.