Let’s get something straight. User Experience (or UX) design is not Web Design. You can slap some beans on a burrito base, but that doesn’t make it Chipotle. You can replace Jeremy Clarkson with Chris Evans, but don’t you dare call it Top Gear. Similarly, you can make a pretty little web page, but that doesn’t mean you’re a UX Designer. These guys aren’t just designers. They’re masters of the human psyche.
What is UX?
In today’s technologically driven age, it’s relatively easy to have software created – but is it aesthetically appealing? Is it accessible; easy to use? Is the layout intelligent, is it efficient? These are the types of questions UX design aims to address. It doesn’t just look at interface efficiency, but at human psychology. It aims to understand how we as humans respond to different interface designs.
Take Netflix’s landing page for example. The very foundation of all chilling. At first glance all you see is a pretty neat and slick web page, but there is actually a whole science behind what you’re seeing and when you’re seeing it.
I’ve heard of UI design. Is it different to UX design?
It’s kind of a Pepsi/Coke thing. They’re similar, but one is traditionally held in slightly higher regard than the other (to avoid multi-million defamation lawsuits, that’s as far as I’ll go). In all seriousness though, they’re both important, and overlap a bit. However, UI is a lot more specialized than UX Design, and one could even consider it a “sub-discipline” within UX.
UX revolves around designing the full product experience. It is very much a strategic process, with a heavy emphasis on human psychology and the goals of a business. UI, on the other hand, focuses on the tangible elements that a user encounters – on the layout and visual aspects of a web page. One could say that UX Design “looks at the bigger picture.”
Why is it important?
Design is central to everything we do. Research by the Digital Marketing Institute (dmi) showed that design-driven companies such as Apple, Nike, Facebook and Ford outperformed the S&P 500 by 228% over a period of 10 years. And that makes sense when you think about it. A website can have a great product to offer, but if the user experience isn’t sleek and intuitive, then you’re automatically going to be less drawn to it. In short, we associate good design with the overall value of a company. This makes it a key component when it comes to the politely razing opposition companies to the ground.
So the demand is quite high?
As far as careers in design go, you can’t do better than UX. Software firm Brazen compared 7 in-demand design jobs: in terms of job growth and annual salary, there was no better field – UX design had the joint-highest average salary, along with Mobile Design, and the second highest job growth, at 30%. Only Graphic Design had a higher job growth (61%), but with a substantially lower average salary, at $43,000 per year. As a graphic designer, you’d be hired in a heartbeat, but you wouldn’t exactly be spending your weekends having champagne breakfasts in hot air balloons. UX design still has a massive number of job openings; in 2015, leading online education company Bloc said that there were 150 000 job openings in the UX Design job market. That’s more job openings than the entire population of Nickelback’s fan club.
Jokes aside. How do I enter and move up in the field?
There are three main ways you can get into UX. Firstly, you could get a masters degree in UX, or a UX related field, such as Interaction Design. This is probably the most reliable method, but unfortunately college costs a lot of money, and tends to have adverse effects on one’s liver. Not that I would know anything about that.
Secondly, there are some really great short, intensive courses and bootcamps for UX (a perfect one for college students being iXperience’s own immersive UX course-internship that runs over the summer). And lastly, you could take the self-learning approach, by doing online courses. This is best supplemented by finding a mentor, just to help pick up the practical skills faster. However, a recent study suggests that online learning has a 90% dropout rate due to low engagement. If you can find a live course in UX, do it!
Because UX Design is a relatively new gap in the job market, very few tertiary institutions offer undergraduate programs for it. However, there are plenty of degrees which give a great foundation if you’d like to go into the field. Graphic, Interaction, Visual and Industrial Design courses are all great if you want to enter through the design side, while cognitive psychology, human factors and anthropology are ideal if you want to break into the field from a psychological perspective. Computer science and information architecture are also good starting points.
Entry-level salaries start at $68,000, but you can move up pretty quickly in the field and soon be earning a median salary of $91,800. According to CNN, top UX designers with around 6-7 years experience earn around $150,000. Your salary can depend on where you live, with New York, San Francisco and Seattle being the top three cities to work in, in terms of demand and salary. A proficiency in coding can also increase your salary by up to 5%.
The bottom line
If you’re a wild stallion that refuses to be chained down by a single field like psychology or web design, then UX Design is for you. The field is scorching hot, there’s plenty of room for growth, and salaries are undeniably competitive. For creatives who are looking to be on the front lines of digital design, UX is certainly a field worth looking into.