Getting started

How to become a UX designer in 2021 (and beyond)

Ludovic Delmas
July 13, 2021

While a decade ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone at a company with the title of UX designer, today, user experience has become an integral part of pretty much every product. So it’s no wonder that more and more people are asking:

How do you become a successful UX designer in 2021 (and beyond)?

Let’s start with a simple truth: there’s no magic bullet or ‘fast track’ to becoming a UX designer. Like any career path, mastering UX takes time, curiosity, and above all else, determination. 

Yet, the results are definitely worth the effort. 

UX designers have one of the greatest jobs in the world. Every day, you get to combine creativity and craft with the satisfaction of solving real problems for people you care about (not to mention the salary, perks, and job opportunities!)

After 10+ years of practicing and teaching UX design, we’ve heard the same questions and concerns from aspiring designers and decided to answer them all in one place.

If you’re curious about how to start your journey, learn UX, and land your first job, this guide is for you.

Here’s what you’ll learn in this guide:

  • What is UX? What does a UX designer actually do? 
  • Who can become a UX designer? What skills do you need?
  • The 3 ‘typical’ UX designer career paths
  • How to become a UX designer with no experience in 8 steps
  • Transitioning from graphic design to UX design
  • Why starting a career in UX is still a great idea in 2021 (and beyond)
  • 9 things every new UX designer should know before taking their first job
  • Next steps: The first thing to do on your journey

What is UX? What does a UX designer actually do?

UX (which stands for User Experience) is the process of making any product–digital or physical–useful, relevant, and meaningful for the people using it.

Your job as a UX designer is to deeply understand your users’ needs, motivations, and problems and then craft experiences and flows that solve them. More specifically, a high-level breakdown of the UX process would be: 

  1. Spend time deeply understanding the problem you’re trying to solve
  2. Ideate on several ways to solve the problem by creating low-fidelity wireframes
  3. Turn those wireframes into ‘user flows’–paths that take users through the entire journey
  4. Test those experiences to ensure the designs are usable, relevant, and delightful
  5. Once you’re happy with the experience, move onto making it more visually pleasing and consistent with the rest of your designs/app/site
#1 Spend time deeply understanding the problem you’re trying to solve. #2 Ideate on several ways to solve the problem by creating low-fidelity wireframes. #3 Turn those wireframes into ‘user flows’–paths that take users through the entire journey. #4 Test those experiences to ensure the designs are usable, relevant, and delightful. #5 Once you’re happy with the experience, move onto making it more visually pleasing and consistent with the rest of your designs/app/site

UX design involves technical skills like user research, sketching, prototyping, and usability testing. But just as essential are ‘soft’ skills like  communication and critical thinking.

That might sound like a relatively vague description, but that’s because UX design can apply to pretty much any product, company, or industry. 

On any given day, your job as a UX designer might involve:

  • Talking to users and customers to understand the problems they face
  • Align with your teammates on the exact problem to be solved
  • Conducting competitive research to see how other companies have approached similar problems
  • Sketching ideas (a lot of ideas!)
  • Building prototypes to test and running usability tests
  • Presenting concepts, designs, and reports to your team
  • Crafting high-fidelity visual designs 
  • Collaborate with developers to implement your designs

It’s this range of responsibilities and tasks that make UX designers love their jobs. And if you’re the type of person who’s excited about tackling new problems, talking to real people, and finding creative solutions, you’ll love it too! 

Picture for our free 7-day UX design course
Join our free 7-day UX design course for graphic designers

What about UI design?

If you’ve been curious about how to become a UX designer for a while now, you’ve no doubt also heard about UI design (or seen job descriptions looking for a ‘UX UI designer’). 

UI design (which stands for User Interface design) refers to creating interfaces that make interactions with a product usable, cohesive and delightful. 

In other words, UI designers ensure that each part of the interface supports the overarching user experience. They’re also responsible for making the interface delightful—which can be achieved through the design of visual, auditory, and/or touch elements.

There’s so much confusion between the two roles because they aren’t always treated separately. Yes, there are UI design specialists. However, in many cases, UI is simply part of the UX process. 

The main thing to know is that UX isn’t on one side with UI on the other. Both practices are intertwined.

Picture showing UI is a part of UX

Over the past few years, there have been fewer UI design roles on the market as UX designers are expected to also take care of the interface design.

Who can become a UX designer? What skills do you need?

The good news is that pretty much anyone can become a UX designer (there are stories of everyone from project managers to dentists switching careers to UX!)

You can learn the technical skills of the UX design process over time. However, what you need to ask yourself at this early stage is: What ‘soft’ skills and motivations drive your interest in UX design?

  • Empathy: Do you love talking to people and trying to understand their needs? 
  • Curiosity & critical thinking: Are you passionate about solving business problems and want a career that’s constantly changing?
  • Creativity: Are you a creative person who’s tired of overly subjective feedback? (i.e., you’re a graphic designer who’s tired of getting feedback to ‘make the blue less blueish’?) 
  • Collaboration/Communication: Do you love being in a collaborative environment and get along well with others?


These soft skills are the foundation of UX design–empathy, curiosity, creativity, and collaboration/communication. In many cases, these are skills you already possess or have picked up in your current career! 

Understanding the skills you have and the ones you need to build up is the first part of learning how to become a UX designer. So, where do you learn the skills you’re currently lacking?

The 3 ‘typical’ UX designer career path: Pros and Cons of each

There’s no single path to becoming a UX designer, which can be confusing and frustrating for anyone looking to make the leap. 

Lawyers go to law school. Business consultants get an MBA. But UX designers don’t have a clear-cut path to take. Instead, most designers follow one of three paths:

An image showing high vs low value/quality and low vs high-cost ways to get into UX.

Self-taught

There’s no shortage of resources for learning the basics of UX design on your own. From books to podcasts to YouTube channels. 

If you need a place to start, pick up Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. It might be over 20 years old, yet Krug’s advice rings true for any aspiring UX designer:

“Your objective should always be to eliminate instructions entirely by making everything self-explanatory, or as close to it as possible. When instructions are absolutely necessary, cut them back to a bare minimum.” 

Pros: 

  • Tons of free resources to choose from 
  • You can learn at your own pace
  • No restrictions on the projects you take on

Cons: 

  • Lack of mentorship and networking opportunities 
  • Conflicting resources can make it hard to know what’s right 
  • No hands-on guidance when you need it
  • Lack of structure makes it hard to stay motivated


If you want to get a taste of what UX design resources are out there, sign up for our free 7-day UX fundamentals course!

University programs

On the other end of the spectrum is taking a full-blown University program. 

You’re unlikely to find a ‘UX Design’ program at your local college (or anywhere, really). Instead, you’re more likely to see degrees in software development, computer science, human-computer interaction (HCI), web design and development, or information technology. 

While any of these degrees can help you become a UX designer, you’ll be taking the long route to get there.

Pros: 

  • A structured learning environment can make it easier to stay motivated
  • You can take advantage of other complementary courses at your school 
  • Good opportunity to network and meet interesting people

Cons: 

  • Expensive 
  • UX is an ever-changing industry, and universities are only now starting to offer dedicated programs. This means courses are often overly theoretical and can be hard to put into practice once you get a job! 
  • They can take a long time to complete
  • Hiring managers rarely care about a formal degree
  • Did we mention it’s expensive?

UX bootcamps and courses

UX bootcamps are the happy medium when it comes to learning how to become a UX designer. 

Bootcamps come in all shapes and sizes, from self-paced to months-long intensives, onsite or online, pre-recorded or mentor-led. 

The best UX bootcamps are tailored to your experiences and needs. For example, we designed our program, UX UI Expert specifically for graphic designers looking to transition to UX design.

Pros:

  • Fast-paced without being overwhelming
  • Access to industry professionals as mentors 
  • Small-to-mid-sized classes and regular feedback
  • It helps you to build your initial network 
  • You’ll finish with a unique UX portfolio and the skills you need to get hired 

Cons: 

  • Requires self-discipline to keep up with the course load 
  • Not all bootcamps are the same (and there are tons to choose from!)


The path you choose will come down to your specific situation and needs (financial, proximity to campus, availability, etc.) However, just because you started on one doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t switch. 

Many people get an undergraduate degree, decide it isn’t right for them, and then take a UX bootcamp to break into the industry. It’s that range of experiences that will make you a more well-rounded designer!

Picture for our free 7-day UX design course
Join our free 7-day UX design course for graphic designers

How to become a UX designer with no experience in 8 steps

Learning how to become a UX designer takes time. But every great designer starts from the same place. Even if you’re coming into this monumental career shift with little-to-no knowledge, there’s a well-worn path you can follow. 

After a decade of practicing and teaching UX design, this is how we would approach becoming a UX designer in 2021 and beyond.

Step 1: Get immersed in the world of UX design. Step 2: Master your understanding of the UX process. Step 3: Learn the most common UX methods and tools. Step 4: Pick your path: Bootcamp, self-taught, or university. Step 5: Build a UX portfolio full of projects you actually care about. Step 6: Learn to communicate your designs. Step 7: Network with other designers. Step 8: Write your narrative to find your dream UX job.

1. Get immersed in the world of UX design (through podcasts, videos, books, and blogs)

Think of your UX education as painting a picture. You start with an idea, paint some broad strokes and background colors, and then add more and more detail until you’re ready to sell it for $1 million. (Ok, maybe not that much!)

Start by immersing yourself in content designed for beginners (like this guide!) and anything that can help explain the UX process and what it’s like to work in the industry. 

The goal here is to enjoy your time learning about UX. So be sure to pick the medium you find most comfortable.


Along the way, you’ll most likely come across a lot of terms and methodologies you don’t understand. But don’t worry! The key to learning UX (and everything else in life from cooking to carpentry) is to believe you can figure it out as you go along. 

Too many people get overwhelmed early in the process and give up. But if you keep reading, watching, listening, and learning, you’ll start to see the outline of a UX career take shape.

2. Master your understanding of the UX process (and find which parts of it excite you the most)

Next, it’s time to take those broad strokes and add some more detail. 

UX is a discipline that’s still evolving, which means different people and companies have different ways of describing it. This can be incredibly frustrating for UX beginners as you’re never sure who to listen to or if you’re learning UX the ‘right’ way. 

Over our time in the industry, we’ve found the easiest way to understand the UX process is to break it up into four steps: 

  1. Research & understanding: This is where you learn about your users, their issues, and then ‘frame the problem’ you’re going to try and solve.
  2. Information architecture & wireframing: Next, you use your research to plan your designs and develop a ton of solutions you can test.
  3. Prototyping & usability testing: With a few good potential solutions, it’s time to build a prototype, come up with a test plan, and see how your users interact with your solution.
  4. Visual design & handoff: Finally, based on everything you’ve learned, it’s time to bring your designs to life with fonts, images, and graphics. 


This is just a quick breakdown. But the goal at this stage is to start to understand which parts of the process you’re most excited by, as these can change the path you eventually decide to take.

If you love talking to customers and finding problems, you might want to become a UX researcher.

If you’re more into visual design, you could specialize as a UI designer

Or, if you’re more interested in helping users through your words, you can even become a UX writer.

3. Learn the most common UX methods and tools

Now that the picture is starting to take shape, it’s time to switch things up.

At this point, you should have an understanding of UX as a career and the process most UX projects go through. However, actually going through that process requires a few more tools.

The core fundamental of all UX design is the idea of user-centricity. Your job is to design meaningful and useful experiences for users while also keeping business stakeholders happy

This balance isn’t always easy. But over the years, UX designers have come up with a number of fundamental skills and methods to help you. 

The best place to start learning these is with our free 7-day beginner UX design course for graphic/visual designers. This series includes in-depth videos on the UX fundamentals to help you understand them (and see if UX is right for you!)

The fundamental skills you’ll be learning as a UX designer are:

  1. User research: This includes interviews, surveys, and analysis.
  2. Business analysis: Understanding your business goals and how changes in user behavior will help you achieve them.
  3. Information architecture: Organizing and structuring content in a way that’s intuitive and enjoyable.
  4. Content strategy: Coming up with the best copy and page structure to help guide users through the experience you’re crafting. 
  5. Interaction design: Creating wireframes and interactions that users love.
  6. Visual design: Making your experiences beautiful. While you don’t have to be a talented artist or visual designer to get into UX, some basic sketching and design skills will give you a huge advantage. (We’re also firm believers that graphic designers make great UX designers and even built a specialized course just for them!)


Finally, you’ll also want to start to grasp the tools you’ll use daily, such as Sketch, Figma (current industry leader), Adobe XD, and Protopie

One skill you won’t see on this list is coding. 

A big debate in the UX world is around if UX designers need to know how to code. The answer is… no (at least not at first). Getting your first job in UX won’t require you to learn how to code. So don’t let that hold you back.

4. Pick your path: Bootcamp, self-taught, or university

Now, it’s time to get serious about your UX education.

As we wrote above, there are three typical career paths for new UX designers: self-taught, UX design bootcamps, and University degrees. 

We’re big believers in the bootcamp model as it gives you more structure and guidance than being self-taught while providing the depth of a University degree without the insane costs and time commitment. 

However, one inconvenient truth that most UX courses want you to ignore is that no bootcamp or university course can guarantee you a job as a UX designer. 

Even the bootcamps that offer “Job Guarantees” use legal language so loaded with requirements that 99% of people are ineligible for them. 

Instead of baseless guarantees, look for a bootcamp that matches your experience level, background, and needs. 

If you’re considering a few options, here are our must-haves for a successful UX bootcamp experience:

  1. In-depth education on all UX and UI principles (many courses gloss over UI design or don’t go deep enough to help you in the real world)
  2. Industry professional mentors giving you regular feedback (at least weekly, but ideally more)
  3. Small class sizes (15-20 students max)
  4. The chance to build a unique UX portfolio made up of your own case studies (not just pre-canned projects that everyone in the cohort works on.)


Tailored to your background and unique skills (if you’re currently a graphic or visual designer, we built the UX UI expert bootcamp just for you!)

5. Build a UX portfolio full of projects you actually care about

Your UX portfolio is your personal expression of why UX matters to you

It’s also the best (and usually only) way to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other aspiring UX designers going after their first job.

Image of Tammy Taabassum's portfolio
https://taamannae.dev/

So how do you build a UX portfolio that stands out above the rest? 

It comes down to three factors:

  1. Treat your UX portfolio like a UX project: Follow the process you’ve just learned. Conduct research with your target market of hiring managers and recruiters. Come up with a ton of ideas and explore how other people are showing their work. Create a prototype and test it with friends and mentors. And then only start building when you’re confident about your choices!
  2. Showcase projects you actually give a sh*t about: Your UX portfolio should show both your skills and your personality. If you can’t describe why you think the work you’re doing is essential, it’s going to be hard to get a hiring manager excited about it. 
  3. Help hiring managers understand your process: A UX portfolio must clearly communicate your thought process and how you went from problem to solution. This also means it’s essential to show what went wrong. All hiring managers know that the UX process is a bumpy ride. Just showing what worked will come off as artificial and surface-level.

6. Learn to communicate your designs

One of the missing skills in most UX education and portfolios is learning to communicate your design choices, research, and process properly. 

But with tens of thousands of people coming out of UX programs with similar portfolios, how you tell your story can be the difference between an interview and being just another resume in the pile. 

Because in the end, UX design is all about communication. You need to show how you can articulate your decisions, present work with clarity and conviction, and handle challenging questions with tack and thoughtfulness.

Example from Tammy's portfolio
https://taamannae.dev/projects/potluck

Not to mention all the user surveys, feedback docs, reports, and even copywriting you’ll do as a UX designer!

In every UX case study you present either on your portfolio or during an interview, make sure you answer:

  1. The problem you solved
  2. Your role in the project (as well as anyone else you worked with)
  3. Your process from research to learnings, wireframing, ideation, and testing
  4. Your final solution
  5. What you would do differently next time


Communicating UX designs is one of the things that sets UX/UI Expert apart from other UX Bootcamps. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the course page here or reach out directly to us!

7.  Network with other designers

Whether on Twitter, Slack communities, or through your bootcamp brethren, your designer network will help you when you need it most. 

Maybe it’ll be a referral. Or a connection at a company you’d love to work for. Or even just encouragement when the going gets tough. 

Networking can also help build your confidence. No matter how many articles you read, UX courses you take, or portfolio projects you work on, you’ll never feel like you ‘know it all.’ But here’s the truth: we all feel this way! 

UX design is a field that is constantly changing and growing. 

By being an active part of the community, you’ll start to feel like you’re progressing and learning whether you’ve landed your first job or not.

8. Write your narrative to find your dream UX job

The path to a career in UX design is never a straight line. In most cases, people come to UX later in their career after working other jobs in tech or elsewhere! 

It’s this vast and broad appeal that makes UX design such an exciting career. However, it’s also what makes it so competitive to land your dream job.

With so many different people coming into the industry, the key to getting hired is in writing your own narrative:

  • Who are you? What products do you love to use? Why?
  • What path did you take to get to this point? 
  • How does your previous career inform your approach to UX?
  • What problems did you notice that led you to explore UX design? 
  • What problems or industries are you genuinely passionate about? 


For example, maybe you were in sales and learned how to interview leads and learn about people’s motivations. Or perhaps you’re a graphic designer with great visual chops, but you wanted to get over the subjectivity of design feedback!

An example from "Our story" page where we talk about our backgrounds.


All these stories help hiring managers understand and empathize with you. 

Showing your work through a UX portfolio will get you noticed. But telling your story is what will make you stand out. 

So, where are the jobs?

Your first UX job can come from several places: referrals from your network or bootcamp mentor, UX Slack communities, LinkedIn connections, Twitter, or job boards like Dribbble and AngelList. Get comfortable with all of them.

Bonus: Transitioning from graphic design to UX design

While anyone can learn the fundamentals of UX design, we genuinely believe that graphic designers are incredibly well-equipped to make the transition. 

That’s because graphic designers already go through several steps in the UX process.

Graphic vs UX vs UI design processes

You understand the business needs of your designs, structure content in the most intuitive way, and then create awesome visual designs, just like the best UX/UI designers. 

So why make the switch? 

  1. More control over the product. Instead of just working on visuals, you get a seat at the table and can influence critical parts of the product strategy. You’ll become a decision-maker, not just a pixel-pusher.
  2. More ways to counter stakeholder subjectivity! You get to take advantage of your visual design skills and creativity and use data and tools to defend your decisions.
  3. A larger purpose at work. You get to take on more responsibilities, make real decisions, and talk to the people using your design.
  4. More career options (that you’re uniquely suited for). Graphic designers have a natural advantage over the thousands of other aspiring UX designers. You already understand what makes a ‘visually appealing’ design. 


Ready to switch careers? Applications are now open for UX/UI Expert–the only UX design bootcamp explicitly created for graphic designers. You’ll come out of it with a unique UX portfolio and the skills and confidence to get hired in just 7 months.

Why starting a career in UX is a great idea in 2021 (and beyond!)

At this point, you might be thinking: “Becoming a UX designer is a lot of work! Is it really worth it?”

We think so. 

But beyond our opinions, there are some hard facts about why UX design is a great career choice for the future:

  • Salary: UX designers in the US are some of the highest-paid professionals, with salaries starting well above the national average and going up to mid-six figures!
  • Job opportunities: UX designers can work in almost any field, from digital to physical products. This means you can apply your skills to an industry you care about.
  • Career progression: Many companies have clear structures and support to help you progress from junior to senior/lead UX designer.
  • Creative freedom: UX design is a creative career without the typical constraints of ‘being a creative.’ Because you’re following a clear process and using user research and data to inform your decisions, you won’t be stuck getting overly subjective feedback.
  • UX is only getting more important: The number of apps, sites, tools, and products launched every year has skyrocketed. UX design is one of the only ways to differentiate a company and can only grow from here.

9 things every new UX designer should know before taking their first job

While learning the fundamentals of the UX process and creating a portfolio of awesome projects will get you your first job, that’s only the beginning. 

The real education starts when you start designing experiences. But those first few months as a UX designer can be stressful. 

We might be getting ahead of ourselves here, but if you’ve been lucky enough to land a junior UX designer job, keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Pick and choose your battles. You won’t always agree with every decision. But collaboration and teamwork are keys to a successful UX career.
  2. Learn to really listen. To users. To stakeholders. To your team.
  3. Get a second (or third) opinion. A team lead might say something can’t be built, while a developer thinks it can. There’s no universal truth. Ask for different opinions.
  4. Always be learning. About your company, your team, and UX as a discipline. 
  5. You don’t have to code, but you should understand the limitations of coding. Get a feel for what’s possible in both backend and frontend development.
  6. Find someone you can ask ‘dumb’ questions. You want to look good, but you’re also still learning. Find your confidante! 
  7. Don’t jump to a solution before you understand the problem. Stakeholders might try to give you a solution rather than a problem. Always stick to the UX process you’ve learned.
  8. Do speak up when you think something critical is being overlooked. Your opinions matter. Make sure you’re heard when you feel it’s vital.
  9. Learn to take feedback early and often. Don’t wait until it’s ‘perfect’ to get feedback (it never is). And try not to get too attached to your designs (it’s hard not to). 

The easiest first step to learning how to become a UX designer

There are so many different paths and approaches to becoming a UX designer. But the best thing you can do on your journey is to just start

Browse some blogs. Listen to a podcast or two. Take a free course (like our 7-day UX fundamentals!) And start to understand if this is the right career for you. 

Once you’re ready to go, this guide will take you through everything you need to master the fundamentals, learn UX, and land your dream job.

Back to library
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Back to library
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UX Design Bootcamp vs. Degree vs. Self-taught: How to choose?
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Getting started
The UX process for absolute beginners (with free cheatsheet!)
1
Getting started
How to become a UX designer in 2021 (and beyond)
2
Getting started
UX vs UI
7
Getting started
Do UX designers need to know how to code?
8
Getting started
Recommended UX books
9
Getting started
6 brutal truths aspiring UX designers don't want to hear
14
Getting started
Difference Between Graphic Designer vs UX Designer vs UI Designer
15
Getting started
How to deal with design clients from hell 👹
16
Getting started
Introduction to UX research
20
Research & understanding
Finding a problem to solve
102
Research & understanding
SWOT analysis
103
Research & understanding
Competitive analysis
104
Research & understanding
Heuristic evaluation (usability evaluation)
105
Research & understanding
Task analysis
106
Research & understanding
Stakeholder interview
107
Research & understanding
Survey
110
Research & understanding
User interview
111
Research & understanding
Card sorting
112
Research & understanding
Customer journey map
113
Research & understanding
Empathy map
114
Research & understanding
Affinity diagram
115
Research & understanding
Personas
116
Research & understanding
Contextual inquiry
117
Research & understanding
Diary study
120
Research & understanding
Eye tracking
121
Research & understanding
Intro to IA
201
IA & wireframing
Layout + CRAP
203
IA & wireframing
Site map
204
IA & wireframing
Scenarios
205
IA & wireframing
Storyboards
206
IA & wireframing
Low vs high-fidelity
207
IA & wireframing
Sketching
208
IA & wireframing
Wireframes
209
IA & wireframing
User flows
210
IA & wireframing
Intro to usability testing
301
Prototyping & usability testing
Usability testing plan
302
Prototyping & usability testing
Prototypes
304
Prototyping & usability testing
Research report
305
Prototyping & usability testing
Typography basics
401
Visual design & handoff
Color basics
402
Visual design & handoff
Color accessibility
403
Visual design & handoff
Pixels vs points
404
Visual design & handoff
Layout + 8pt grid system
405
Visual design & handoff
Design system
406
Visual design & handoff
UX writing
408
Visual design & handoff
"Final" usability test
409
Visual design & handoff
UX portfolio basics
501
UX portfolio
Your portfolio is just another UX project
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UX portfolio
Choosing a site builder for your UX portfolio
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UX portfolio
UX portfolio inspiration
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UX portfolio
5 tips for junior UXers asking for portfolio feedback
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UX portfolio

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