User experience designer

 13 March 2013

User experience (UX) is design that focuses on the relationship people have with technology. UX designers ensure products and systems are as accessible as possible.

User experience design covers many kinds of technology and user journeys. Image: Multiadaptor
User experience design covers many kinds of technology and user journeys. Image: Multiadaptor

What do user experience designers do?

User experience (UX) involves the interface between the user and technology. It is concerned with how we use technology and how the technology is presented to us as users.

A user experience designer makes sure that systems are as accessible as possible and meet the needs of both clients and users. They use design and IT skills to work on websites, e-commerce (online sales) sites, apps and mobile phone systems.

What is the job like?

Many clients are looking for brand consistency across all their platforms. The client expects a user experience designer to make their systems as attractive as possible to customers in this competitive and rapidly-expanding field.

They do this by:

  • researching how we use technology
  • finding out as much as possible about users
  • understanding the client’s business model and business aims
  • presenting a range of solutions to the client
  • providing estimates of costs and timings
  • planning the project
  • testing systems on users
  • making modifications where necessary
  • delivering the project to the client on time and within budget.

In smaller agencies, the user experience designer may work directly with the client, talking to them about their requirements and managing the work of the project. In a larger agency, account managers may do much of the client-facing work and project managers may lead the fulfilment of the contract.

Some UX designers work on freelance basis, offering design and/or computing services to agencies.

How do I become a user experience designer?

As well as being creative with an interest in design, you need to have a profound interest in technology and how people use it. Employers expect UX designers to combine IT with design.

You will also need:

  • good listening and communication skills
  • excellent IT skills
  • attention to detail
  • determination to see a project through
  • problem-solving skills
  • the ability to explain technical issues to non-technical staff and clients
  • to be able to design to clients’ requirements
  • to work to deadlines and budgets
  • to keep up-to-date with (or ahead of) the latest trends in technology.

It helps to have good business skills and an understanding of how different businesses operate.

What training and qualifications do I need?

There is no set entry route. As a new job area, people have entered from different directions. You can enter through design or through computing.

Although it is not a requirement, many people who work in user experience have a degree. This allows them to develop the necessary skills and build up a portfolio of work.

Relevant subjects include:

  • Graphic Design
  • Interactive Design
  • Visual Communications
  • IT and Computing
  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Psychology
  • Ergonomics.

You need to look carefully at the course content and module options to decide which course will suit you best. Courses are listed on the UCAS website. D&AD also has information about design courses.

As well as an interest in design, you need an interest in technology and how people use it.

For a degree, you usually need at least two A levels (or equivalent).

You can prepare for a design degree by studying design at different levels. As well as GCSEs and A levels in art and design, you could take:

  • Awards, Certificates and Diplomas, including a Foundation Diploma
  • HNC or HND.

Other useful subjects include IT and Business, Business Administration or Enterprise.

You may be able to enter through an apprenticeship in IT or Design at level 2 or 3. Employers will expect GCSEs, usually in English and Maths. They may want Art and Design or IT. Some may ask for one or more A levels (for level 3 apprenticeships).

After your degree, you may want to continue your studies to widen your skills with a Masters degree in, for example:

Some of these courses can be studied from either the computing or the design perspective, allowing you to choose which aspect interests you more.

You may be able to study during a career break or by part-time or distance learning.

There are also computing courses, such as those from CompTIA.

What can I earn?

A UX designer could start earning around £23,000 per year, rising to £30,000 with experience. A senior user experience designer can earn from £45,000 to £60,000.

A freelance UX designer is paid on a daily rate (for the days they work). They could earn up to £400 a day.

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