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What is UX design? Here’s everything you need to know

What is UX design? Here’s everything you need to know

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Our feelings about products and services change every day—and oftentimes subconsciously.

From a design standpoint, the decisions we make about what aisle we go wander down in the grocery story, which TikTok videos we spend a few extra seconds watching, or which food we order from a menu all center around one person: the user.

Whether you believe it or not, the look and functionality of practically every product and service on the market has been carefully developed by a team of user experience (UX) designers. And, with the world increasingly revolving around consumer and digital interactions, UX is becoming more popular—and important. Fortune has you covered about what exactly the UX industry is and how it could boost your career.

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What is user experience (UX) design?

UX design is the entire journey an individual has with a product and service. It includes the look, functionality, usability, and branding of an experience—with the user at the core of everything.

User-catered design is around us everyday, from the mapping of the end-to-end operations of grocery store self-checkout to the words, buttons, and outcomes of digital marketing campaign from an e-commerce sale.

The best UX design is intuitive, accessible, and enjoyable, and it should meet the users’ needs and leave them wanting more, according to David Phelps, head of the display division at Samsung Electronics America.

What do UX designers do?

UX designers research, map out, and help design a user’s entire experience with a product or service. They work cross functionally with fellow designers, product managers, writers, and researchers to plan out how to create the best user experience that meets the appropriate needs and goals.

UX designers often utilize programs like Figma as well as Adobe’s Photoshop, Illustrator, and Adobe XD to create prototypes, design interfaces, and create broad user-centered experiences. For positions especially in tech, the relevant programs may differ depending on the company.

It may also be important to know basic web development programming languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to code and troubleshoot experiences.

What much do UX designers make?

The average total pay of a UX designer in 2023 was about $95,000, according to Glassdoor.

Depending on the type of industry a UX designer is working within, pay may fluctuate up or down. Designers in the information technology space, for example, earn about $98,000, the job review website estimates.

Some entry-level UX designer positions even start out with six-figure salaries, at companies like IBM for example. So, explore various job postings—especially those that publish salary amounts—to see what best fits your career objectives. And with demand for UX continuing to grow, pay for more senior designers is likely to be greater than $100,000. Above all, keep in mind that salary may depend on your experience level—and possibly educational background.

How can you become a UX designer?

Becoming a UX designer is easier said than done since it requires of research, skill learning and practice, as well as job hunting. However, for those with a passion for design, it can be an effective way to have a lifelong career. Here are some short steps to get you started (though, keep in mind it may be a good idea to work on several steps at the same time):

1. Find out what interests you

Because UX designers can be found in a variety of settings—not just as tech companies—it is important to have at least some sort of idea of where you’d like to end up by the end of your educational journey. And like any career, finding out what most interests you is what is most important.

The easiest way to learn more about specific roles is to search for, and make a list of, open job positions. Use online platforms like LinkedIn and Indeed to read up on the opportunities’ expectations and qualifications. This way, you know how to best enhance your skillset to the role of your dreams and not waste any time in preparing for a career in UX design. Once you have a few roles and/or companies in mind, try to find someone to have a coffee chat or networking call with—just to pick their brain on the industry; they’ll probably have the best advice!

2. Educate yourself via a degree, bootcamp, or certification program—or by yourself

Dozens of bootcamp companies, the likes of Springboard, General Assembly, and the Flatiron School, offer programs in UX or UI/UX design. They all generally allow you to gain real-world experience with the flexibility of working on your own time online. Plus, they may still provide tutoring, mentoring, and networking opportunities. The pricing of these programs varies anywhere from around $8,000 to $17,000 depending on the way you pay. 

A number of tech companies and universities offer their own take on learning UX. Google, for example, offers a UX Design certification through Coursera. edX also hosts a number of UX/UI bootcamps through partnerships with over a dozen schools, including Columbia, UC Berkeley, and Rice. 

It can also be a good idea to just start working on UX design at home. One way is simply by watch YouTube tutorials on best UX practices, how to use the relevant software, and how to code. Then, start building our your portfolio. Having hands-on experience that can show, rather than tell, your skillset will go a long way.

3. Network, search for jobs, and land a role

This step is a doozy—but is arguably the most important because it is putting into practice all of your hard work. From that list of jobs and companies you initially made, lean on any connections you have, including previous networking acquaintances, school alumni, or even family friends. Ask them to check out your resume, cover letter, and portfolio. Once you get to the interview stage, make sure you are well equipped to answer questions about skills and software but also be aware of UX projects the company has been involved in. Most importantly, put in the extra mile to show that you care and are passionate about UX design.

4. Stay up-to-date with the latest trends

Like other tech-adjacent careers, things are changing all the time, and the half-life of skills—meaning the time it takes for half the the knowledge associated with skills to become irrelevant—is decreasing, and in some cases is less than five years. UX design is no exception.

With AI impacting the day-to-day life of designers for the better, it is important than ever for you to know how to best use AI and ML powered technology to make it easier and faster to complete tasks. For this reason, it may be a good idea to give a second thought to a bootcamp or certificate, even for those already mid-career. Having the most relevant and effective skills will help you stick out when it comes to hiring and promotions.

Is it worth becoming a UX designer?

The good news is that as the world continues to become digitized, the need for UX designers is not going anywhere. In fact, the demand for web developers and digital designers—which most closely encapsulates the role of UX designers—is growing faster than the national average; over the next decade, the positions are expected to grow by 16%, notes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But what may be even greater news is that UX designers are perfect examples of how skills-based hiring is making less traditional educational pathways more feasible ways toward obtaining a career. Look no where else than the job postings themselves. 

At Amazon, for example, some UX Designer positions do not require a college degree. Instead, candidates are asked to have just two years of experience, including with design tools like Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator as well as an online portfolio showcasing one’s design work. Dozens of jobs share similar expectations. 

So, for those looking to gain the appropriate skills, participating in a UX bootcamp or other certification-type program may be right for you. These programs are likely to be cheaper and allow greater flexibility versus enrolling in a four-year or graduate degree program.

Though, it is important for you to research which job positions you are most interested in. Some still require at least a bachelor’s degree—with computer science or human-computer interaction majors being among the most relevant. The soft skills provided by these opportunities may be key to professional development; having effective communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills—in addition to business acumen—can be important to a future career, Phelps says.

And like other careers in tech, lifelong learning is increasingly crucial in the world of UX design. 

“Continuous education and maintaining a sense of curiosity are equally important as mastering the software and tools of the trade,” Phelps tells Fortune. “After all, UI and UX are constantly evolving, so staying updated with the latest trends is crucial.”

So, with a growing industry, high paying salaries, and skill-learning opportunities in various flexible and affordable ways—it is clear than UX design has the potential to be an excellent career opportunity. No matter if are looking for a career start or pivot, UX design may be right for someone interested in working as part of a team to create seamless, effective, and interactive experiences for individuals.

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