UX is an ever-changing, rapidly evolving field—and, although it’s come a long way since its inception back in the 90s, it is still considered to be a relatively young discipline. In many ways, the rules and tools of the trade are still being established, so it can be difficult to identify a clear route into the field. What’s more, UX is part of a tech scene that values hands-on skills over paper qualifications. So what do you actually need to get into UX? Is a UX design certification really necessary, and what kind of certification is actually worthwhile?
If you’re keen to kickstart your career as a UX designer, you may be looking to obtain a UX design certification. Perhaps you want to master some fundamental UX skills in order to apply them to your current job—and want the certification to prove it. Whatever your goals, it’s important to make sure that you get your qualification through a reputable, high-quality program.
With so many different options to choose from, we know that picking the right course can be tough. But fear not: by the end of this post, you’ll know exactly what to look for when choosing a credible UX design certification. In this guide, we’ll cover the following:
- Is a UX design certification really necessary?
- Who can get a UX design certification?
- What should you look for in a UX design certification?
- What are some of the best certification programs for UX designers?
- Key takeaways and next steps
Let’s jump in!
1. Is a UX design certification really necessary?
If you’ve been looking into UX design skills and qualifications, you’ll have noticed that there is no single, universally recognized UX design certification. While many fields and professions are governed by specific bodies—like the APA for psychologists, or the NAAB for architects—there is currently no such accreditation for UX designers. At the same time, there is no clear-cut route into UX; it’s not a case of going to university or college to study UX and graduating as a UX designer. This is partly due to the fact that UX design is a relatively young discipline; the term “user experience” was first coined in the 90s, so it’s not as well-established as some of the more traditional career paths. At the same time, UX design is an extremely hands-on field. While it is grounded in certain laws and principles, employers are much more interested in how you solve problems and come up with tangible solutions—it’s not necessarily about learning theory and passing exams.
Does this mean that a UX certification is unnecessary? Not quite. A certification in UX is a very useful piece of paper to have—especially if you’re looking to start a career in the field. Just like a college degree or diploma, a certification vouches for the fact that you’ve mastered all the main principles, skills, and techniques that are key to UX, such as user research, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, and user testing. Together with your portfolio, it verifies that you’ve not only learned about such skills, but that you’ve also put them into practice with real tasks and projects.
A UX design certification is an excellent entry point for new designers—but it can be extremely valuable for experienced designers, too. In such a multidisciplinary field as UX, it’s not unusual for UX designers to gradually move into the role over time, bringing experience from related fields such as marketing, research, graphic design, or customer service. The right certification ties all of these relevant skills together, enabling you to market yourself as a qualified and experienced UX professional.
As the UX field matures and the UX designer job title becomes increasingly well-known (and sought-after!), employers and potential clients will be looking for some kind of verification that you are the skilled UX professional you claim to be. A credible certification offers visible, tangible proof that you’re a qualified UX designer—and, as the market becomes more competitive, will set you apart from self-taught designers who don’t have a certification to their name. Given that there is currently no “gold standard” in UX design certification, it’s extremely important to make sure that your certificate comes from a reputable provider. We’ll consider what you should look out for when choosing a course or program in section three. For now, let’s take a look at who can become a certified UX designer.
2. Who can get a UX design certification?
The UX industry is booming, and the demand for UX designers continues to rise; in 2019, UX designers came second on this list of the most in-demand talent. In addition to a creative and varied career, UX designers benefit from a competitive salary; find out how much you could earn as a UX designer in this salary guide. In all, UX design is a highly appealing career path—so what background do you need in order to obtain a UX design certification and become a UX designer?
As it’s such a varied discipline, UX design is open to people with all sorts of professional, educational, and personal backgrounds; there’s no specific “type” of person who can become a UX designer. If you’re considering a career in UX, you’ll find that many of your existing skills can be transferred to the field—such as empathy, communication, research, and problem-solving. Take Kevin Rice for example, a former accountant who used his background in research and analysis to retrain as a UX designer. In a similar vein, Sagan Pope found that the empathy and people skills she developed throughout her career as a teacher set her in good stead for the UX field.
In that sense, anyone with an interest in UX and the motivation to see it through can complete a UX design certification. While some university courses require applicants to have previously studied art, design, computing, or social sciences, these tend to be the exception rather than the rule; most UX design programs have a very low barrier to entry. In fact, some of the most widely recognized UX programs are specifically built for people who want to make a career change with no prior experience, and are therefore very accessible. Of course, with so many different options on the market, it’s important to choose a credible program that will teach to a high standard. Which brings us to our next section…
3. What should you look for in a UX design certification?
If you’re looking to complete a UX design certification, you’ll find a whole range of options—from online courses and university diplomas to in-person workshops and blended programs. However, it’s important to bear in mind that not all UX design certifications are created equal. Before you part with your hard-earned money, you’ll want to make sure that your chosen program ticks all the boxes. Here’s what you should look for in a UX certification:
There’s a big difference between completing a course on your own and learning with the help of a mentor. A good program will connect you with at least one industry expert who can answer your questions, critique your work, and offer general advice and guidance. Especially in a field like UX, it’s important to learn how to take feedback on board and to iterate on your designs—this is one of the first things employers will be looking for when reviewing your certification. Not only that: learning new skills can be tough, and there are many challenges that come with being an adult learner. A mentor will help to keep you motivated and on track, even when it seems impossible! We’ve written in more detail about the importance of having a mentor here.
Practical, project-based learning
UX design is an extremely hands-on field, so any worthwhile UX design certification will combine both theory and practical work. Look for a program that teaches the key principles and techniques in a logical order, and one that includes practical exercises to test and apply what you’ve learned. If you’re learning UX in order to make a career change, you’ll also need a course that focuses on your portfolio. In fact, when it comes to landing your first job in UX, employers will be far more interested in your portfolio than the UX design certification itself. Opt for a program that will help you build your portfolio from scratch, work on dedicated portfolio projects, and polish it up ready for the job market. You can learn more about what goes into a UX design portfolio here.
Good, legitimate reviews
Aside from quality course content, you’ll also want to run some general background checks. Does your chosen provider have a good reputation? Look out for genuine reviews from previous students and see how they rate their experience with your chosen UX course. While the company website is a good place to start, you’re not likely to see the most honest reviews on their homepage, so be sure to check independent review sites such as Course Report and SwitchUp as well. A steady stream of reviews from real students suggests that the course provider has been around for a while, and that what they’re offering is genuine. Based on what other students have said, you’ll also get a feel for whether this particular certification is right for you.
If you’re trusting a course provider with your time and money, it’s important to make sure that you know exactly what you’re getting. In other words, what will your final certificate represent? When browsing their website, it should be clear what exactly the course entails, the kind of support you can expect, and how much it costs. There should also be the option to speak to an advisor (free of charge) so you can ask any questions you have about the certification and whether or not it’s the best option for you. A credible provider will be completely upfront about the work involved in getting your UX design certification, and will not try to sell you a course that doesn’t suit your needs.
A solid and credible presence
One way to judge the credibility of a UX design certification is to sound out the provider’s online presence. Ultimately, you want to make sure that you’re signing up for quality content, and this will often be reflected in the free resources they offer outside of the course. Do they have a blog where they speak knowledgeably and authoritatively about UX? Do they publish interviews with real graduates? Perhaps they even offer free video tutorials and downloadable resources. If the course provider has a solid presence within the industry, the more credible your qualification will be in the eyes of employers.
Proof that it works
In keeping with transparency and credibility, your chosen provider should be able to offer tangible proof that their course actually works—and that their certification holds weight within the industry. Are they able to provide statistics on how many students successfully find a job in the field once they have their UX certification? Is there enough anecdotal evidence, such as student success stories, to prove that the course is worthwhile? What do the majority of students go on to do with their UX design certification? A good course provider will have this information to hand, and be willing to share it with you if it’s not already visible on their website.
4. What are some of the best certification programs for UX designers?
Now you know what to look for in a UX design certification, you’re probably wondering which programs and courses are worth considering. Some of the most reputable, well-known providers offering UX design certifications include:
- General Assembly
If you’d like to learn more, you’ll find a thorough comparison in this guide to the best UX design certification programs. When doing your research, bear in mind our pointers from section three—as well as your own needs in terms of cost, flexibility, and time commitment.
5. Key takeaways and next steps
UX design isn’t a subject traditionally taught at school or college, so a UX design certification is a good way to learn the necessary skills required to become a UX designer—and to verify these skills to potential clients and employers. Once you’ve got your certification, you’ll have a solid overview of what it’s like to work as a UX designer, and you should be ready to apply what you’ve learned to real-world projects. Remember: not all UX design certifications represent the same level of mastery, so it’s important to pick a program that aligns with your goals. Above all else, do plenty of research and make sure that your certification comes from a reputable provider. If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to break into the world of UX, check out the following: