UX design is an in-demand, creative tech field that is a part of every business, from web and app design to product development. What kinds of jobs can you expect to apply for and work in throughout your UX design career? From entry-level to senior roles, Thinkful Senior Career Coach Elyse Yarnell is breaking down the typical UX designer career path, including the skills you need to land the job and the UX designer salaries you can expect at each stage. Plus, learn how Thinkful’s curriculum and career support teaches students the sought-after technical and soft skills and effective job search strategies to land a UX designer role right out of bootcamp graduation.
“UX” stands for user experience, and a UX designer focuses on the overall experience of a person using a product or service. For a UX Designer, the goal is to make products with the user in mind. Sometimes you’ll hear UX design called “user-centered design” because the first step every UX designer takes is empathy and understanding towards the challenges that users face. At Thinkful, our curriculum focuses on websites and apps, but even something like a mug can have a user experience!
Does a UX designer need to know how to code?
UX designers depend on prototyping tools. Thinkful teaches students prototyping tools, such as Figma. If you know and understand the functionality of one of these tools, then it’s easy to pick up the others.
Technical skills are important, but managers all agree that soft skills matter the most when hiring UX designers. These 3 soft skills are essential for anyone looking to become a UX design professional:
Do UX designers come from a certain background?
Design professionals come from many different backgrounds, such as psychology, education, and healthcare. There are also folks in UX design with visual design backgrounds like graphic design or fine arts. To pivot into a UX design career, find transferable skills between your background and design, so that you can articulate them to an employer. No one in Thinkful’s program has worked as a UX Designer before, so all of our students are coming in with a different background, just like everyone else.
While UX design is continuing to expand and develop as a field, these five UX roles are the standard job titles a designer can land as they rise up in their career. Keep in mind that salaries are typically higher in coastal cities.
This is an entry-level role that is typically paid at an hourly rate. Internship and apprenticeship roles are great for bootcamp students — students receive the experience and mentorship they need to move into full-time UX roles.
UI stands for user interface, and this role focuses on the visual or graphic design components of a project. The UI designer role is different from other UX design jobs, which include work with research and user personas. UI designers generally have a background in visual or graphic design.
The UX designer role incorporates both the visual and research elements of a project, and they will work on a project from research to discovery phase. UX designers work with prototyping, wireframing, user personas, user research, design thinking, and visual design.
A UX product designer also works with the entire process of a project, from research to discovery phase. A UX product designer will be focused on product flow to ensure a product is useful to consumers.
The UX researcher is a senior-level position that works with all facets of a team to make sure a product meets the needs of consumers. The UX researcher position requires at least 5 years, and a UX designer understands all levels of UX processes and how to manage a team. This senior role can also be listed as Senior UX Designer and Team Manager.
Bootcamp graduates often weigh the differences between freelancing or taking a job at a startup company or a larger, more established company. There are pros and cons to working in any of these spheres, so let’s break them down!
After bootcamp graduation, taking on side gigs or freelancing work can be a great way to build your portfolio and add experience to your resume. Some designers enjoy the freedom of freelance work, and decide to focus solely on building their own freelancing.
A Startup Company
Many recent Thinkful grads will land jobs at smaller companies or startups before moving to larger companies. At a startup, you may be the only UX designer at a company of 10, which means you’ll gain a lot of on-the-job experience!
A Larger Corporation
Working as a UX designer at a larger, more established company often means there are more mentorship opportunities. Larger companies also typically offer the ability to move up the career ladder within their organization.
In addition to giving UX design bootcamp students the hard skills expected by today’s employers, Thinkful also provides students with the career services and support they need for about 6 months. In Thinkful’s career services, we cover:
We also cover topics like imposter syndrome, goal setting, and motivation.
How important is a portfolio to a UX Designer?
The UX design portfolio is an important piece for our students because it’s an employer’s first way of seeing your user design skills. By pulling together a portfolio, students are getting the project design experience they need and presenting their rationale for the project, which demonstrates the critical thinking behind their decisions. At Thinkful, we have students go through two portfolio reviews with a design mentor so they can receive feedback.
A Thinkful student’s UX design portfolio often contains:
A recent UX design grad that I worked with was a professional violinist, and he did an excellent job of articulating the overlap between music and design. I don’t think many people typically think about how playing violin in an orchestra translates to becoming a UX designer, but he was able to articulate to an interviewer why they might want a musician as a UX designer and convince them that this might be something they want to look for from now on.
Another thing this student did well was to get involved and stay curious. Even when he was on the search for a job, he would do UI challenges and design activities to keep his skills up. He always joined Thinkful’s career development sessions, and he kept networking and attending informational interviews. He would have job rejections just like everyone else, but he kept going. He landed a job at a startup and is still learning there and loves it. There are so many ups and downs during the job search, but he kept with it, had a growth mindset, stayed curious, and honed in on his professional narrative. All this led to his realization that the startup he now works for was a perfect fit for him.
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