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.
Known as UX designers, these professionals are interested in the intersection of technology and human use. They are responsible for creating human-focused products and services that are intuitive, appealing and pleasurable to use.
While good user experience design certainly benefits the user, it also benefits businesses. “A compelling design can make the difference between soaring commercial success and an utter failure of good ideas," says Linda Wagner, director of academic programs for the Global Innovation Exchnage program and a teaching associate professor for the UW Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering.
WHAT UX DESIGNERS DO
UX designers are advocates on behalf of you, the user. It’s their job to consider your needs, values, abilities and limitations as they design products and services. They also must ensure that the products being designed align with their company’s or organizations’ objectives and messaging.
UX designers begin by researching what users might want and need from the proposed product. They analyze the results of their research and incorporate the data into the product’s design. Throughout the design and implementation processes, UX designers run tests and usability studies on prototypes to ensure the product works as intended. If any changes or adjustments are needed, they run more tests and design additional prototypes until the product achieves its goals.
UX DESIGNERS ARE INCREASINGLY IN DEMAND
The UX design field is booming. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 13% increase in jobs for UX designers in the United States through 2030, which is nearly twice the pace of average job growth.
There is even more significant demand for UX designers in the Seattle area. “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.
U.S. (2020-30): 13%
Median Annual salary
U.S. (2020): $77,220
Washington state (2020): $139,620
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET
Typically, UX designers have been associated with big tech firms. But according to Tyler Fox, an associate teaching professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, that’s changing. “Increasingly, UX practitioners are being incorporated into areas beyond big tech,” he says. “We’re seeing human-centered design principles being implemented throughout civic government, across the health care industry and in many education settings.”
This new attention to human-centered design is driving demand for UX designers. “Everyone is waking up not only to the ubiquity of technology, but the fact that those technologies must be designed with people in mind,” Fox says.
HOW TO GET STARTED IN UX DESIGN
Because of the complexity of UX design, formal academic training is essential to succeed in the field. The University of Washington provides several options for those who are interested in beginning or advancing their UX design careers.
Professionals with experience in design or a related field who want UX-specific training should consider the Certificate in User-Centered Design. This four-course certificate program offers a thorough foundation in UX research and usability studies/testing, as well as a choice of design electives.
Students work with industry partners on real-life projects and apply their learning in a hands-on, studio-model setting. “It’s one of the strengths of our program that our curriculum maps to what UX practitioners will be doing in their daily roles,” Fox says.
The certificate program is well known in Seattle and carries significant cache with many local employers, Fox adds. What’s more, students may be able to apply credits earned in this certificate toward additional graduate study at the UW.
In addition to the HCDE program, those who are interested in a deeper dive should consider the Master of Human-Computer Interaction & Design (MHCI+D) or 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.
For those who want to get started in UX design, the UW also offers the Certificate in UX & Visual Interface Design. This three-course certificate program is designed for professionals with some basic knowledge of graphic design or front-end development.