I have questions!

I am currently a recent graduate in a media arts and animation program but thinking of going in a different direction, I am looking for someone who would be willing to answer some questions I have about what it is actually like to be a UX designer and what type of education/ skills you need to have. I’d love to pick someone’s brain on the subject!


Hi Sam1024! I’m from a media arts background too. =)

Happy to help with your questions. Fire away when you have something more specific.

What it’s actually like will very much depend on your background and strengths and the workplace culture you’re working within. Those things will define what type of tasks you’ll enjoy doing and what will be uphill. There is also a broad spectrum of roles within UX; for example a UX researcher will be quite different to someone specialising in Information Architecture.

The type of education/skills you need has a similar answer - I believe different people bring different things to the role, so having an ‘aptitude’ for UX is very important (skills can be picked up, but it’s hard to re-program your natural ability or passion). There are some really excellent UX specific degrees available, but they are not always the best way to get a job.

  • In terms of “need to have” it really depends on the job being advertised. Some parts of the industry still have misunderstandings about what UX actually is, and other places are looking for something fairly particular that most UXers won’t be suited to.
  • If you have a suitable aptitude and solid experience (and can prove both of these) you may very well beat more formally qualified jobhunters without them. For the moment at least.
  • A good model is to try and develop a reasonable range of skills across the breadth of UX, and go deep on one area you want to make your speciality. Some people call this the “T-Shaped Professional” approach. You can read more here: http://uxmastery.com/should-you-become-a-ux-generalist-or-a-ux-specialist/
  • I personally think that getting a UX-specific (or UX-related degree in interaction design, industrial design or cognitive psychology, etc) is well worthwhile - once you start your career it is unlikely you’ll ever study with the same amount of rigour or breadth and depth, and I’d argue that in the long term this breadth and depth will set you up to be a better UXer later on. Learning on the job is certainly possible and very fulfilling (and most UXers I know, including myself, are self-taught like this) and will give you access to your career right now. BUT… what happens later on when you’re up against someone else who has the same aptitude and experience, but also a learned framework, a breadth of knowledge about design history, examples from related sciences, etc? There is plenty enough reading on the job that there just isn’t the time or inclination to follow the rabbit hole on this deeper stuff and I think we’re poorer for it.

So, some questions for you:

  • What is it about your background and experience in media arts that may have influence or crossover with UX?
  • Why does UX appeal to you? Do you have a particular area of interest within it? (See the Self-Assessment Sundial: http://uxmastery.com/ux-self-assessment-sundial/)
  • Do you want to invest in getting formal skills and a degree (possibly in design or psychology or interaction, etc), or do you jump right in and learn with experience? Your media arts background may be plenty enough to work with.
  • What part of the world are you in? Opportunities and expectations vary widely by country and city.

Matt and I wrote our first ebook ‘Everyday UX’ to help share what a day in the life of a UX professional actually looks like: http://uxmastery.com/everyday-ux/ and our second ebook ‘Get Started in UX’ contains a lot more detail about our thoughts on formal study versus just getting on with it (as well as a tonne of advice for establishing a UX career): http://uxmastery.com/get-started-in-ux/

Thanks for the response, i guess my biggest question is if i get some supplemental training would employers respect that? Or do most employers want you to have a specific degree in UX or web design ect. I read a few lists of degrees that are easily transferable and animation wasn’t one of them. You kind of answered this question in the response, I’m just wondering if an online class here and there will be enough to prove I have the skills needed. Or is UX, like media arts a portfolio driven thing where it doesn’t really matter if you have a degree if you can show that you can do the job. It seems like UX would be different because there is an aspect of psychology behind it.

I would also like to know if this is a pretty steady job, unlike animation where a lot of it is contract work or short time employment?

To answer your questions

  • I think that the design skills I learned in the media arts program will transfer well, I think i need to build on the base of skills that i have. I also think the fact that i am familiar with a lot of different design software and have the ability to see things graphically will help too. I think where I am lacking the most is in the web side of things, I have read that you need to learn HTML and how to code ect.
  • I was first drawn to this by the abundance of jobs I kept seeing that were available in my area, so i began to research what it was and it intrigued me because it seems to have some parts of marketing, graphic design and psychology in it and these are all things that interest me.
  • I don’t really want to go back to school since I am already massively in debt from my animation degree, i would just like to take some classes or certificate programs to help me fill in the pieces that I’m missing. I feel like i have a good base to work with.
  • I am located in Seattle Wa, and there are a ton of jobs for UX designers up here, I’m wondering why that is? Is it just a really high demand job or do people hate doing it?

It’s both. Having a strong portfolio is definitely a benefit, but I think that flexibility, willingness to learn, creative thinking, and a design/art or technical background are all just as beneficial. Bottom line, IMO, is passion. If you love the idea of creating amazing experiences, and you think in a people centric way, then you’ll make it work. If you want to get into UX because you’ve heard about it and it’s popular, then you need to examine your motives carefully – but that goes for any career.

It swings both ways. There are people that work steady, full time jobs, and there are others that contract/write/freelance etc. Like most emerging careers, people tend to make them fit around their lifestyles.

If you use the supplemental training for learning, then you’ll get the practical benefit of it. Doing a supplemental course in something closely related to UX may give your potential employers some confidence that you have a real interest in the field, but I wouldn’t rely on the qualifications for this.

As Hawk says, it’s very much a personal network and portfolio-driven thing. Just as you’d have a showreel for animation of media, UX has a kind of portfolio. It’s fundamentally different from a typical graphic design portfolio though - it focusses on showing process, research findings and design thinking rather than just the pretty end result. A massive part of it is proving that you can do the job - backed by skills, experience and aptitude. Here’s an article I wrote about UX portfolios: http://uxmastery.com/10-steps-to-a-perfect-ux-portfolio/

Most experienced UX designers won’t have done a UX degree as they’ve only been available recently. As a result, many employers (not all) don’t necessarily look for the qualifications first.

Because I’m self-employed, most of my UX gigs are project-based and contracted. I’ve also worked in-house across multiple projects. Some people work as part of a UX agency, employed full-time but across multiple projects. Others work in-house on a single massive project for years. As Hawk says, it’s really up to you what kind of role you’d like to go for.