If you’ve ever had a frustrating experience with a poorly designed website or app, or felt a surge of joy from an interface that anticipated your needs perfectly, you have an inkling of the role user experience designers play.
These professionals, known as UX designers, help create products and services that are, simply put, a pleasure to use. Today the majority work in the technology field, focusing on what’s known as human-computer interaction — designing products with people in mind.
While good user experience design certainly benefits the user, it also benefits businesses. “No matter how sophisticated or novel the underlying technology, a product must be intuitive and support the user’s goals to succeed,” said Linda Wagner, director of academic programs for the Master of Science in Technology Innovation program and senior lecturer for the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering. “A compelling design can make the difference between soaring commercial success and an utter failure of good ideas.”
A Day in the Life of a UX Designer
UX designers are advocates for you, the user. It’s their job to consider your needs, values, abilities and limitations as they design products and services. When designing a website, for instance, UX designers make sure you can intuitively complete a task or find the information you need. Early in the planning phase, they analyze the pros and cons of competitors’ websites. To get a better understanding of your needs and goals, they partner with UX researchers or perform user research themselves. They also develop personas, or hypothetical users, to help them picture who will use a product or service and how. Later they develop and evaluate prototypes to make sure a design works as intended.
Experimentation and iteration play an important part in the UX design process, said Elizabeth Sanocki, director of the UW Master of Science in Human Centered Design & Engineering program and a former senior user experience designer at Amazon.
A compelling design can make the difference between soaring commercial success and an utter failure of good ideas.
Senior Lecturer, Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering
“In UX design, you quickly create a prototype, test it out, get some feedback and then iterate on it. You just keep trying things,” she said. With this approach, UX designers can learn from each attempt and make improvements to the usability, visual design and flow of information as they go.
For Sanocki, the most rewarding part of this work is “seeing users’ eyes light up when they discover a feature that solves a long-standing problem for them — or better yet solves a problem they didn't realize they had.”
UX Designers in Demand
The UX design field is booming. Take a glance at the dozens of UX designer positions listed on Indeed.com for the Seattle area, and you’ll get a sense of the level of demand locally.
“In Seattle, there is a high concentration of technology-focused companies and a growing focus on methods to drive differentiation and innovation — and great user experience is a core tool in that equation,” Wagner said.
CNN projects a 13 percent increase in jobs for UX designers nationally over the next 10 years, which is nearly twice the pace of average job growth. “Companies are recognizing the value we bring,” Sanocki said. “Having UX in the product development mix is great because, in the long run, it will save money. It's easier to update a prototype than to rebuild a product.”
Common Job Titles
User Experience Designer, UX Designer, User Researcher, UX Architect, Interaction Designer, User Interface Designer
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH
Get Started in UX Design
Interested in starting or advancing a career in UX design? There are a number of workshops, bootcamps and other resources that can help get you familiar with this dynamic field and its lingo. But to be competitive in UX design, academic training is essential, Wagner said.
“You’ll need in-depth knowledge in the theory and application of best practices in user experience and human-computer interaction as well as the ability to effectively adapt these tools to a wide range of scenarios,” she explained.
The University of Washington can help you learn more.
The UW offers two certificate programs related to the field. The new Certificate in UX & Visual Interface Design is designed for professionals with some basic knowledge of graphic design or front-end development who want to learn how to create rich interactive experiences. The Certificate in User-Centered Design is for mid-career professionals who have expertise in design or a related field and want UX-specific training.
For those looking for graduate-level training in UX theories and methods, there’s also the Master of Human-Computer Interaction & Design (MHCI+D) and the Master of Science in Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE). The MHCI+D is an intensive, one-year program, and the HCDE program provides flexibility for people who want to earn a degree while continuing to work full- or part-time.