What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a UX Designer?

Caroline White, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

UX designer is a pretty hot job title right now, and one which is set to become even more popular. CNN ranked it fourteenth in their top 100 jobs list, stating that the number of UX design positions is likely to rise by 18% by 2028.

Indeed named the role of “User Experience designer” as one of the top 25 jobs for work-life balance and a recent study by the Nielsen Norman Group found that UX designers love their work! Respondents rated their career satisfaction as 5.4 on a scale of 1-7. It’s no surprise many people are wondering how to become a UX designer.

As a dynamic and creative discipline that continues to grow and change, there is no clear consensus on which qualifications are required to work in the field. Before I looked into a career in UX design, I assumed that anyone with the word ‘designer’ in their job title must have a degree from an art school.

However, that is simply not the case. I’d argue that very few UX designers studied UX at university. We come from a wide range of different backgrounds, from psychology and marketing to project management and finance. I escaped the hospitality industry and moved into a career in tech after getting tired of the unsociable hours and low pay.

In this blog post, we’ll unpack what qualifications you’ll need to become a UX designer. Here’s what we’ll cover: 

  1. Do I need a degree to become a UX designer?
  2. How do I get into UX design?
  3. How do I know if I have the skills to make a good UX designer?
  4. How will studying for a UX design qualification help me?
  5. What will a UX qualification not help with?
  6. How do I find out if UX design is right for me? 
  7. Final thoughts 

Ready? Let’s dive right in!

ux design qualifications degree

1. Do I need a degree to become a UX designer?

It’s a common misconception that technology-related qualifications—or at least a solid background in tech—are prerequisites for landing a job in the field. You might even be thinking that employers won’t give the time of day to a candidate without a relevant college degree.

The truth is, you don’t need a college degree to break into the world of tech. in fact many career-changers have found that UX bootcamps are an effective and worthwhile means of kickstarting a new career.

2. How do I get into UX design?

If you are a really determined, you could teach yourself UX design by reading blogs and books about UX, listening to podcasts, or learning on the job. It really depends how much relevant experience you have and whether you would be able to demonstrate your ability in an interview without having a qualification to back you up.

In the following video, professional UX designer Maureen Herben outlines the steps you should follow to get into UX design, based on her own career-change experience:

You can also take a free UX short course, or find a UX certification program that will immerse you fully in the world of UX. However, if you are the average person prone to procrastination (like me), you will be likely to benefit from a course with a structured learning environment, where you have an allotted amount of time to complete it and, importantly, regular contact with a mentor or tutor.

Having a mentor doesn’t only afford you the insights and expertise of a seasoned professional—it also helps keep you motivated and accountable in those inevitable moments when you question or doubt yourself and the decision to become a UX designer.

In terms of which structured course to take, again, there are lots of different options. General Assembly is probably the most famous. Providers such as Akendi offer classroom-based week-long short courses—although it is pretty tricky to learn everything there is to know about UX in one week.

Then, of course, there’s the CareerFoundry UX Design Program, which gives you the best of both worlds – you have the convenience of studying at home as well as the frequent catch-up video calls with a mentor. For a deeper dive into the many options you have for how to get structured training in UX design, have a look at these articles:

3. How do I know if I have the skills to make a good UX designer?

Some of the soft, industry, and crossover skills common to the UX designer's skillset.

The skills needed for UX are really varied. Most people are surprised that user experience design is less about being a stereotypically creative type and much more about soft skills like communication, organization, and critical thinking.

Obviously, you need to be comfortable conducting user research, visualizing user journeys, and wireframing (and more UX-specific processes and technical skills), but it is more important to have skills like empathy, enthusiasm, time management, and the ability to negotiate. A strong awareness of how businesses work is critical too, especially being able to ask the right questions to elicit answers around what the client is trying to achieve.

But the most important character trait of all is a keen interest in problem solving.

CareerFoundry was created in order to solve a problem that the founder, Raffaela Rein, had experienced. She wanted to move out of banking and into tech but couldn’t find a course which suited her needs. UX guru Sarah Doody also recommends looking for problems in your everyday life to help hone your problem solving skills.

4. How will studying for a UX design qualification help me?

There are many benefits to a UX design degree or other advanced qualification, such as:

  • Learning the core concepts and elements of the UX design process. You don’t know what you don’t know—so a structured training program provides instruction and guidance from people who have years of UX experience and a good understanding of what you need to know as a UX beginner.
  • A UX design program will give you a great network of people to surround yourself with—your mentor, tutor, and fellow students and career-changers, for example. I’m still in contact with Sophie, my mentor from CareerFoundry, who has been fantastic at introducing me to other people in the UX industry. She put me in touch with her old boss when I moved to New Zealand and also keeps me informed on interesting UX reading. CareerFoundry also have a Slack channel which all students are added to—this is a great way of finding out about jobs and bouncing ideas off each other.
  • A good UX design program will help you build a strong professional portfolio. Portfolios are a requirement for most UX job interviews, so a project-based program will give you time and guidance as you build and refine your UX portfolio.
  • A program will also help you get your first interview if you don’t have any prior UX job experience. Especially if you don’t have much prior experience in UX (or a related field), hiring managers will want to know you have completed some kind of training to equip you for the job. Once you have a couple of  years UX experience under your belt, you’ll find people aren’t really concerned about your qualification anymore and are much more interested in your work experience.

5. What will a UX design qualification not help with?

The one main thing that a UX design qualification won’t help you with is feeling like you know it all. You won’t wake up the day after completing the course and suddenly feel like you know everything—a UX designer will never know everything, and imposter syndrome is a common reality among new UXers.

Remember that the role of a UX designer is constantly evolving, and it really comes down to how you keep up to date with new technologies and trends, and continuously study UX advances. Think of the qualification as the starting point of an exciting journey of UX discovery and as you get more experienced, you will become more and more confident. A lot of your skill will come with experience, but that’s not to say you can’t speed up the process by learning from the experience of others.

If you want to know more about what it means in practice to be a UX designer, check out my blog post on what a UX designer actually does.

6. How do I find out if UX design is right for me?

It’s a common theme in UX design, but before making any decisions, do your research! This will help you to decide if it is definitely the career for you.

Here are some good ways to test the water before you make your decision:

  • Join CareerFoundry’s free six-day email short course: get a handy introduction to UX and a flavor of what the full UX Design Program is like.
  • Start (or keep on) reading: there is a wealth of knowledge on career change and UX here on the CareerFoundry blog.
  • Check out social media: Twitter and Medium are both great for finding the latest UX articles and UX experts such as Nick Babich and Sarah Doody have great weekly newsletters with handpicked articles. Sarah’s newsletters also have handy trigger questions to help you start thinking like a UX designer.
  • Speak to people in the UX industry and go to networking events. Check out this blog post on networking in UX design for more tips.

It can also help to talk to other designers! If you don’t already have some in your network, reach out to UX designers on LinkedIn and find out the lessons they learned after they broke into the field. And if you’re an aspiring UXer in your 40s, 50s, 60s, or wiser, and you’re concerned about age being a problem, here’s one for you: Are you too old to start a career in UX? (spoiler alert: the answer is no).

7. Final thoughts

To conclude, UX design is an exciting and rewarding career path and a formal qualification can be a great way of starting you on that journey – what do you think? Are you debating studying to be a UX designer? Say hello in the comments below or join our UX community on Facebook!

If you’d like to learn more about breaking into a career in UX design, check out these articles:

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