Does the school you get your degree from matter in UX?

Hi guys, first time poster here.

I’m seriously considering making a career change into UX, but for the last 2 years I’ve been living as an American expat in Turkey. As of now I plan to stay here and join the Turkish workforce, but I do like to keep my options open.

So I’ve been wondering: if I ever did move back to the States, would having an MA from a Turkish university hurt me in the job market? Would it matter which university I chose (according to international rankings, etc.) or would a hiring manager just see “Turkey” and discount me?

Also, most relevant Turkish MA programs aren’t neatly labeled “Interaction Design” or “HCI.” They are designed to be more interdisciplinary with names like “Design, Technology and Society,” with large course offerings within which you can choose your own concentration in interaction design or new media technologies or what have you. I like that because ultimately I want to get into service design and the nonprofit sector, and the ability to take courses in social impact measurement, for example, alongside my design courses would be really nice. But would an MA like that put me at a disadvantage compared to people with easily recognizable HCI degrees?

(Long shot side note: If anybody has any knowledge about the Turkish UX sector, I’d be extremely grateful for your advice.)

Thanks guys.


Hi @Silver_Queen ! Congrats on your first post. =)

It’s still very early days in UX degrees (until the last few years they didn’t even exist) so the emphasis is still strongly on actual design experience and aptitude, and the job interviews (should) discuss those things rather than marking off some sort of simplistic checklist. I’d love to think that level of respect for the field will continue long into the future, but we’ll see.

Having an MA in a UX-related subject would make you stand out from the crowd now, regardless of where you got it from—in a few years time having a degree or MA will be less extraordinary and will start to become normal, but by then you’ll hopefully have several more years experience and a wider professional network.

Arguably, an interdisciplinary degree might make you more employable—especially if you can link your studies directly with the things you’d like to work on/with in future. I wouldn’t expect interviewers for social impact roles in the nonprofit sector to dismiss or deprioritise a Turkish degree, but I guess it depends. What kinds of jobs would you imagine going for?

At the end of the day it’s a piece of paper, but it’s effects on your career should be felt years down the track. So, the major criteria I’d assess any degree against would be it’s impact on you, the student:

  • Do you get a good, broad exposure and formal training in key areas that you’d find hard to give time to when actually working?
  • Does it launch you with some practical skills and good habits that stand you in good stead for the future?
  • Does it match your personal aptitude and foster passion and fluency in the topics?
  • Does it allow you access to an influential network of people you can grow with?

Are you in Istanbul? There are some professional UX groups there I can introduce you to if that’s useful. They’d be able to give you local knowledge that I don’t have.

Lukcha, thanks so much for your informative reply!

One thing that’s hugely important to me is making sure I get real-world applicable skills, not just theoretical stuff. I learned that lesson getting my BA. =) But UX seems like a field in which learning while working - through online courses, self-study, conferences etc. - is an integral part of building a career. I kind of expect to graduate with a broad base of knowledge and a solid toolkit, but beyond that a lot of work still to do. If you could elaborate a bit on what you mean by “formal training in key areas that you’d find it hard to give time to when actually working,” it would really help me know which specific questions I should be asking schools.

I’m really interested in aspects of UX that make it easier for people to get involved in social causes - whether that means volunteering, donating, joining a discussion, whatever. I’ve done a bit of work in the nonprofit sector and what I see as a huge problem (and what kind of turned me off working there for a while) is the disconnect between the organization and the average citizen. There’s a big “preaching to the choir” problem; lots of organizations rely on a model of soliciting donations from a passive audience that forgets about the cause immediately after donating, while the more think-tanky organizations spend 80% of their time chasing after grant money and 20% of their time using that money to produce talks and papers that only people who already agree with them will care about. I think UX can help a lot with this mess. Ideally I see myself designing apps and community tools for nonprofits that help them share their work with the public more easily, get people involved and keep them involved.

I’d be super grateful for an introduction to some UX people here in Istanbul. I’ve been trying to join meetups but none of them seem to be really active right now. I’d love to pick someone’s brain about the local UX scene.

This is a discussion Matt and I have had for years—whether a formal qualification is needed or not. I believe it is. The industry is continuing to mature and now starting to expect some formal education, especially when hiring new staff. As an industry, we deserve it too.

The reasons I think a formal qualification is a strong advantage in UX is related to the age-old issue with tertiary education in the fields of design and technology often being somewhat ‘out of touch’ with industry practice. While I’m not advocating for irrelevant course subjects or defending courses stuck in the dark ages, we still need to remember that ‘capital D’ design (progressive, helpful, considered design) is a sophisticated but learnable field with a long and rich history. Compare web design with a design field like industrial design—as a relatively young industry, we web designers don’t have a very good reputation for design rigour.

I would like UX design to be part of the return to ‘capital D’ design for digital, and that means that people entering the UX field should be learning some things that, arguably, have no place in day-to-day UX design:

  • design theory—a solid baseline in robust processes, visual communication skills, psychology. Industry often goes around in circles, or persists with outdated thinking because they haven’t sat down and thought about things properly.
  • space for debating design ethics
  • plenty of exposure to mentors and people whose job it is to teach you
  • being part of a generation of graduates who can grow their careers together
  • space and permission to fail at things, to teach yourself, and start good habits without any commercial pressures on you
  • a history of our field—where did UX come from? Where is it going? A lot of people don’t know, and they think UX is brand new. That hurts our ability to learn from our industry ancestors.
  • some feel for an industry ‘canon’—who are the pioneers and thought leaders? why are they worthy of respect? When practicing it’s easy to become niche and lose sight of some broader references.
  • setting an expected baseline of professional standards—things like proper certification and accreditation have an important role in holding the UX field accountable

These things get squeezed out if we only learn on-the-job, and they’re things that only designers with decades of experience manage to pick up by themselves. If we exposed this knowledge and wisdom to the upcoming generations of UX designers, they could better stand on the shoulders of their predecessors, and hopefully do some things to honestly make the world better.

I would hope that formal design education would also leverage UX out of a perceived role in using psychology to manipulate customers so we can increase commercial sales. We’re better than that, and as designers we have a moral obligation to stop filling the world with time-wasting and poorly-designed objects. My hero for this topic is Victor Papanek, and his book “Design for the Real World” which was written in 1971. It’s combative and opinionated, but says many things we seem to have forgotten about and still need to hear.

I’ll ping you an email and see if I can introduce you to someone established in Istanbul.

For the benefit of others working in Istanbul, here is a shortlist of groups you might want to connect with:

Wow, thanks for that exhaustive list. This makes me feel better about the programs I’m looking at in Turkey - they seem to cover a lot of the basics you described.

That “using psychology to manipulate customers so we can increase commercial sales” is a large part what’s kept me away from pursuing any graduate education so far. I knew I was interested in tech, media, communications - all these things that are related to UX, but when I asked myself what job I’d end up doing in those fields, it always seemed like if I wasn’t a programmer or a graphic designer, then I’d just be pushing ads on people all day. It was only when I discovered UX that I thought, “Wow - designing this stuff from the user’s perspective… This sounds like something I can actually do.”

I’ve contacted some of the groups on that list asking for a chat over coffee. I’ll contact the others as well. If only those conferences weren’t so damn expensive. =(