User experience (UX) design is an in-demand tech field offering plenty of opportunities for career-changers and upskillers. Nicole of Designlab demystifies the UX design career path from entry-level to senior-level UX design roles, diving deep into the traits of successful UX designers and the typical responsibilities and salaries at each career level. With her many years experience as a design recruiter, Nicole illuminates how new UX designers can stand out in the field with her expert advice on UX design portfolios. Plus, learn how Designlab supports each student’s career goals through curriculum, mentorship, and personalized career coaching through their UX Academy program.
UX design is truly about the user experience. Depending on the type and size of a company, UX design can be everything from visual marketing to more specific tasks like wireframes, research, and development in the design of a product.
Successful UX designers should be able to:
What languages or tools should UX designers know?
UX designers should know how to use Figma or Sketch as they are probably the main tools in a UX designer’s toolkit. Picking up other tools in Adobe’s Creative Suite is also a plus and if you want to be competitive, you should learn to use some of those tools too!
The UX design career path can be broken down into three phases: entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level. Along the career path, UX designers typically handle projects such as:
In general, UX designers are figuring out what a product should look like and how it works to produce the final deliverable product for a launch. The final product can vary, but in most cases it’s a website or digital application.
Keep in mind that UX design titles and responsibilities can vary widely depending on the company. A skilled individual may be able to skip the entry and mid-level roles, depending on the circumstance. However, most people will follow the typical UX design career path.
UX designers may handle branding and marketing, depending on the size of the organization. Most mid- to large companies will have separate teams of designers and digital marketers to handle branding and marketing, but at a startup, these projects may fall to a UX designer.
Many tech roles have varying pay levels depending on geography, and UX design is no different. Typical UX design salaries can also vary depending on the company. For example, a UX designer for a bank will have a different salary range compared to a UX designer for a non-profit.
ENTRY-LEVEL UX DESIGN JOBS: UX DESIGN APPRENTICE
Entry-level UX design jobs can have a variety of titles and responsibilities. They will typically be listed as an apprenticeship or internship, but titles can also include UX designer, associate UX designer, and junior UX designer.
Nicole’s Expert Career Advice: Don’t discredit internships or apprenticeships. Internships and apprenticeships let you try out a company while adding work experience and case studies to your portfolio. Even if you don’t land a full-time role when the internship ends, you will find the job hunt afterwards much easier.
What does a UX Design Apprentice do?
At entry-level, there is a lot of execution. UX designers are going to be told what to do and they’re going to actually do it as well. At this level, someone will be managing the UX apprentice’s time and giving them straightforward tasks.
Entry-level UX designers are often learning new tools, skills, and design systems on the job. They’re also learning how to work in a business environment, and should be prepared to pick up responsibilities and processes that are not necessarily related to UX design. It might not sound glamorous, but it’s an important part of the process at this level since many designers are still somewhat inexperienced.
Entry-Level UX Designer Salaries
An entry-level UX designer typically makes between $65-$75K if they’re in a major market, but that rate can drop outside of well-known tech hubs.
MID-LEVEL UX DESIGN JOBS: UX DESIGNER
Mid-level roles for UX designers are much more varied than entry-level jobs. Many positions require more specialized experience and knowledge, so these positions are usually reserved for more veteran designers. Titles can include product designer, UX designer, UI designer, visual designer, and UX researcher.
Employers are looking for individuals with 3-5 years of design experience for mid-level roles, but they will certainly hire someone with less of a UX background if they have a strong portfolio.
What does a UX Designer do?
Mid-level UX designers are more likely to own projects from start to finish. They may be responsible for helping set up the roadmap for how things are going to function. They will also be presenting their own designs whereas, at the junior level, someone else might handle that responsibility. In some cases, they may be involved in hiring interns or helping to decide what the interns are working on.
UX Designer Salaries
Mid-level UX designers can anticipate a salary between $80K-$115K.
SENIOR-LEVEL UX DESIGN JOBS: SENIOR UX DESIGNER
UX designers at the senior level have much more responsibility. Lead UX designers tend to have more industry experience that goes beyond simple hard skills. Most UX designers work in mid-level roles for a few years before moving up to senior roles. A senior-level UX design role will require 5-7 years of relevant experience. Job titles for senior roles include: senior product designer, senior UX designer, senior visual designer, and lead UX designer.
What does a Senior UX Designer do?
Senior UX designers usually play the role of manager for a team. They may oversee 2-5 other designers and are responsible for things like internships, job descriptions, reviews, management, and teamwork. A senior-level UX designer is more involved in the strategy of the product, and it fits into the wider business goals.
Senior UX Designer Salaries
Senior-level UX designers can expect a salary of between $100K-$150K. In some markets, senior-level UX designers may earn as much as $200k.
There are two things to consider when looking for a UX design job:
The UX Design Portfolio
Make sure you have a solid UX design portfolio. A good portfolio is what lands a UX designer a job, so design work included in your portfolio must be able to catch a recruiter’s eye.
At Designlab, we coach students to include 4 different projects in their portfolios to show employers. These projects should demonstrate a range of skills. If you include three apps in your portfolio that look the same, your portfolio will not be as strong as having a variety of different projects that showcase your other talents. We encourage people to have working prototypes in each case study and to have responsive design to mobile, desktop, and tablet if possible. It’s a good idea to include a re-designed feature because that’s something UX designers are often doing for companies. Re-designs mean that you’re not starting from scratch and reinventing the brand, but you will be addressing a specific part of that process.
When it comes to entry-level roles, your portfolio is even more critical. A well-rounded portfolio shows an employer that even as you start your UX design career, you have the design skills to do a variety of things. Graphic designers, academic researchers, and people with psychology backgrounds are all able to translate those skills to UX design. Regardless of your career background, it’s important that you know how to explain your story and what inspired you to do UX design.
Nicole’s Expert Career Advice: A portfolio can also include sketches, lo-fi wireframes, and all of the ideation behind your work. Don’t just include a list of your deliverables and show the final screens because that doesn’t show a hiring manager that you understand that user experience design is a process.
The UX Design Challenge
The design challenge portion of a UX design interview will vary depending on the company, but it can be something like a live whiteboard challenge with a team. This sort of challenge assesses how you would work on a team and what your thought process is. A company may also give you a take-home challenge, where you have a certain amount of time to come up with an idea, feature, or redesign. You would then present it to a panel.
Nicole’s Expert Career Advice: Hiring managers are often busy people. They want to hire you, so follow up with them in a direct and respectful manner to remind them of your interest in the position.
3 Ways to Stand out in the UX Interview Process
Nicole’s Expert Career Advice: Once you land that job, be open to criticism and feedback. Ask for help if you need it and volunteer for experiences, projects, and anything else you can get your hands on. Show up in the company by letting people know what you can do. You want to make yourself as vocal as possible and to get to know more than just your team and manager.
Designlab’s structured online coursework and mentorship are designed to support students wherever they are. Our program is fairly self-paced, which means that if you’re working a full-time job, you could also complete our UX Academy bootcamp on the part-time track. Our robust Slack community brings together a UX design community so students don’t feel like they’re the only person making a career change or upskilling.
Designlab also provides expert mentorship. We have over 500 mentors across the globe and they are all working UX design professionals. They have gone through the process of becoming a UX designer themselves so they can give our students valuable feedback on their projects, tools, concepts, and the career path.
Is there an ideal student for Designlab?
Designlab students should be passionate about design. Some Designlab students have previous experience in architecture, graphic design, publishing, or videography, and they do extra well in the bootcamp because they already understand elements of the material. However, the ideal student is someone who is truly dedicated to switching their career in UX/UI design regardless of their background, and who understands that the transition is going to take time and practice. The majority of our students have no background in design at all, and therefore take our UX Academy Foundations course first!
What kinds of UX design jobs do Designlab students land?
The bulk of our students start at an entry-level UX design role, something like an associate UX designer, UX designer, and product designer. For students who have management or previous design experience, there is the potential to land a senior-level UX job straight out of the program.
How does Designlab support new UX design students in their career journey?
We have our students assemble a portfolio and then it’s reviewed by our team. Once a student passes the portfolio review, they are launched into the career services portion of the program and we match them with a personal career coach. Their career coach is someone who has worked for at least seven years and has past management and hiring experience. A Designlab career coach can also be like another design mentor for the student.
Students are matched with their career coach for up to six months, during which time they have weekly calls with them and gather other feedback and advice. Students learn how to prepare a resume, cover letter, and network as well as complete small UI projects and do live interview practice. We also set students up with a job tracking tool, and we also have a community channel that’s constantly posting jobs at every level globally.
Designlab now offers community meetups for career searchers, too. We know it can be isolating to search for a job when you’re getting nothing but rejections week after week, so these meetups allow students to connect with each other and the Designlab staff for support. We love to see students posting their own job search advice and the strategies that worked for them.
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