Degree Options for UX


#1

Hey all, I’m Jesse, new here. So I just graduated high school, and thus this past year I’ve really been trying to figure out what I want to do. I learned about UX design from my brother who is a software engineer, and it sounded very intriguing. Recently, I’ve really come to seriously consider it as a career, as I think I would really fit well in the job and it sounds like something I would enjoy doing.

So here I am. I’m currently taking online courses for UX and I plan to only keep doing more. Additionally, I plan on learning coding and practicing graphic design on my own. Down the road, once I feel I have a basic understanding and grasp of UX, I plan to volunteer for an open source project or some other project where I can get some experience and work under other UX designers hopefully, gaining some valuable experience.

However, I do plan on going to college. I know that a human-computer interaction degree would be the best route for UX, however in my current situation that just isn’t possible without moving, and I would really like to get through college without a mountain of debt…

So I have several options for degrees;

  1. Communication technology. The degree encompasses many aspects of UX, such as psycology, programming… but of course, it isn’t a perfect match. Several classes are a complete waste of time UX wise, but still it’s a viable option. Additionally, if I take this route, I can get an associates in either
    a) Graphic design
    b) Web Design
    at my community college. Then I would transfer over and get my BS in Communication technology.

  2. Graphic Design Very self-explanatory, I know many UX designers are graphic designers who then later specialize in UX.

  3. BS in Information Looks like this kind of degree would help more with the research side of things. Is this even an option?

There may be more, those are just three I have right now, but of course I will keep looking. I’m curious as to what you think the best path would be. I’m tempted to take the associates for web design, and then get the communication bachelors, but I’m not sure exactly how valuable a communications technology degree would be?

Another route would also be to take a myriad of classes, not get an associates, and then get a bachelors in some other degree. (This way I could take a mixture of programming, design, and psychology classes.)

Anyway, I’m just trying to figure it out. I really appreciate any feedback I can get!


Degree options?
#2

I can remember when I was at your stage of life. Here’s some advice based on what I’ve learnt since then. It is also broadly applicable to goals other than UX. I hope this helps you:

  • Take a degree and courses that inspire you.

    There are so many paths to getting into UX that you are very unlikely to lose out by choosing to focus on what most interests you along the way.

    The best thing that happened to me was picking up a book at 17 which made me think that “this is me” and “this is what I want to do”. I simply chose the course closest to that image/picture/dream.

  • Remember that degrees provide you with a new way to look at the world so each faculty fosters a different perspective which will impact the rest of your life.

    If you choose a course of study just to get to one end point then you can miss out on the benefits of an education that will benefit you more broadly.

    Here’s another way of explaining this. When you take an instrumental path, where everything is subservient to the goal, you make yourself a slave to that end. You should make the course of study a slave working for your benefit independent of the goal because what happens if circumstances change or you later decide you don’t want to go into UX.

  • Take a broader view of the paths to UX and don’t be limited by the paths that people have taken or are currently taking.

    If you consider why graphic designers are moving into UX then you’ll see some good reasons for not considering graphic design unless you have a particular interest in graphics. Many people became graphic designers purely because the current options didn’t exist back then. Now that UX is flavour of the day there are financial benefits and better career prospects encouraging many graphics designers to shift.

  • Be prepared to consider a broader range of disciplines to find what really interests you.

    I can give you one example which is not often mentioned but is very relevant to Human-Computer interaction. The Wikipedia article mentions the Three-Mile Island disaster and behind that there are entire branches of study related to the technology of systems and how systems work. If you have a more technical bent (i.e. enjoy maths and/or natural sciences) then your have more options than graphics, social sciences and even computer science. You could consider industrial engineering and cybernetics. The following Wikipedia articles are very good in providing you with a lot of detail on terminology and courses:


#3

Great post @Remah. I love that you have encouraged @jessebruner to expand his horizons.

@jessebruner what online courses are you taking? What do you like about UX?

Have you thought about taking a UX bootcamp, perhaps finding a UX job and then using that money to fund further study?


#4

Thanks a lot @Remah, that helps a little. I’ll look into those!

@talkinghead Currently I am taking a couple EDX courses on UX and design. Right now I’m going through an University of Michigan program on UX, plus a couple others; like one on Ergonomics. But once I finish these courses I will continue to take more.

What I like about UX? A few things drew me into it,

  1. I’m a people person, I like communicating with others, and between conducting user studies, working with the other teams and such, -I think I would really enjoy that aspect of it.

  2. I’m also a pretty creative individual, so UX design is also something that interests me.

  3. I’ve always been a little fascinated with design. Nothing serious, I’ve just been the kind of person who notices when something is hard to use, and I like to find an alternative to it.

  4. I’ve wanted to get into tech industry, but I’m not mathematically inclined. I’m an A student, except for math, which is where I struggle. So engineering where I am required to go through much higher math is a huge turn off. But with UX, the fact that I get to be creative, work with others, and have a good bit of technical side to it sounds like a good fit. And thus a way to get into working in the industry.

  5. I can’t lie, the pay isn’t that important to me, it does play a role. Compared to other careers I’ve been looking into, UX is one of the higher paying ones foresure.

No I haven’t. Sounds interesting. Did you take one? Was it worth the investment? Would I get more out of it than going through online courses?


#5

If you do a quick search on ‘bootcamp’ here you’ll find quite a few discussions sharing experiences with the different options. We also have a review of the main ones here.

My very brief summary of thoughts about bootcamps:

Pros

  • They offer good support and structure if you’re not great with self directed learning
  • You end up with a well documented case study for your portfolio
  • You have the support of a mentor throughout the course
  • Some offer post course support in finding a job

Cons

  • They are costly
  • Most bootcamps recycle the projects so the new graduate market is a bit flooded with portfolios featuring the same project

@jdebari mentors for several different organisations/bootcamps if you have specific questions about them.


#6

@jessebruner
Adding on to what others said. You can take a degree online. Bentley University offers an HCI degree online. So do a few other schools. UX Mastery has a great list. You can do either an online or in-person UX bootcamp, which is a shorter amount of time. You mention learning coding and graphic design. My advice is to not focus on those until you fully grasp UX. Those are niches in UX, but also full-time career paths.

Where are you located?

Best regards,
Julia


#7

@HAWK Thanks!

And I live in the metro-detroit area.


#8

You may also consider reviewing human factors / applied psychology, as this is where UX has folded out of.

The Human Factors & Ergonomics Society has a listing of human factors focused undergrad programs. It seems like those included are not located in your state, however:
https://hfes.org//Web/Students/undergradprograms.html

I highly recommend getting at least a bachelor’s degree. An applied psychology or human factors focused undergrad program will help lay the foundation for good research methodologies and statistics handling. This will help you conduct your own research as it relates to UX and evaluate other research to know what you’re getting is methodologically sound, which I see as a big weakness in UX today with the large boom in demand and a supply of folks who don’t come from a strong research background.


#9

@jessebruner, no I haven’t but I was just thinking of what kind of options you could take that wouldn’t get you in to too much debt. However, it sounds like design is something that you should explore further. I know you say you aren’t mathematically inclined but perhaps it’s because it hasn’t been explained to you in a way that is understandable.

ETA: I was just looking at one of the slides for the Design in Tech 2017 presentation and he lists the following schools as paid options:

SCAD
Center Centre - co-founded by Jared Spool
MFA Interaction Design

He also mentions MIT Media Lab as a free option. Although, I think the free option might not be for undergraduates. I’m not entirely sure.


#10

Center Centre and SCAD are horrendously expensive. Like @stephaniempratt said, a degree in psychology can be really helpful and would be a good undergraduate degree to get into UX. Also, look into cognitive science and related degrees.