User experience (UX) designers create accessible, aesthetically appealing and meaningful applications and websites that people are able to use easily

As a UX designer, you'll ensure that the 'user experience' for individuals using websites or applications is as efficient and pleasurable as possible. You'll be involved in the design of digital products and services for specific target groups and end users and will need to understand motivations.

You'll work collaboratively with other members of the digital team and the wider business to ensure that products and services meet client needs.

Other roles that fall under the umbrella of UX design include information architect, interaction designer (UI), usability tester, UX researcher or analyst and visual designer.

Responsibilities

As a UX designer, you'll handle the full spectrum of users' impressions and interactions with a given brand. Your exact duties may vary depending on the type and size of company you work for. For example, you might create front-end e-commerce sites for the online retail sector or work on a government website aimed at providing information and advice to the general public.

However, whoever you work for, you'll typically need to:

  • meet with clients to gather information about their requirements
  • propose and sketch out a range of visual concepts both on paper and using software applications
  • create user personas, user journeys and site maps
  • translate concepts into wireframes, prototypes and user flows using specialist tools such as Axure, InVision, Marvel, OmniGraffle, Visio and Sketch, as well as the Adobe product suite
  • work on cross-platform applications to develop user experiences covering mobile phones, tablets and computers
  • work collaboratively with other designers, product design and development teams, business analysts, engineers and project managers
  • liaise regularly with clients to ensure that designs meet their requirements and core business objectives
  • attend meetings to discuss and review progress on the project
  • run workshops for clients and internal stakeholders
  • work with the research team to plan and conduct remote and on-site user research and usability testing with real users to ensure the end-product design provides users with the optimum experience in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and engagement
  • write reports and communicate the results of your work
  • identify areas for improvement
  • redesign websites to make them more responsive
  • redesign or create mobile apps that are easy to use and configured appropriately for smartphones and tablets
  • keep up to date with technological innovations and new tools.

In a senior role, you'll also need to:

  • ensure design standards, guidelines and best practices are adhered to
  • oversee research and insight projects to understand user needs
  • manage, mentor and support more junior members of the UX design team
  • ensure that all colleagues in the organisation have an understanding of UX design practices.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for graduate junior UX designers are typically between £19,000 and £25,000, depending on your experience and location.
  • Experienced UX designers can earn between £30,000 and £50,000.
  • Senior UX designers and consultants can earn salaries of £40,000 to £65,000 or more.

Salaries vary depending on the sector you work in, the type of employer (e.g. public or private sector), your skills and experience, and your location. Salaries in London and the surrounding areas are typically higher.

Additional benefits may include a bonus scheme, private medical insurance, pension, car allowance, gym membership and childcare vouchers.

Daily rates for freelance UX designers and consultants can vary significantly, depending on how experienced you are, the sector you're working for, your location and complexity of the project. Rates of between £200 and £600 per day are possible.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work 37 to 39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. You may need to work some evenings and occasional weekends to attend events, or when working on a special project with short deadlines.

Part-time work is possible, especially for self-employed contractors. Flexible working hours may also be available.

What to expect

  • Work is usually office based, at a desk and computer. You could also work from home or at a client's business. You may need to carry out field-based research and testing with users.
  • You'll collaborate with other designers, developers and testers, working as a team to complete a project.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK, particularly in London and the surrounding areas. Jobs are also available internationally for experienced UX designers.
  • Short-term contracts are available, often through recruitment agencies.
  • You may have to travel to meet clients and absence from home at night may be required occasionally. Some senior consultancy roles may involve international travel.

Qualifications

You'll usually need a degree, as well as a keen interest in web and applications design. Relevant degree subjects include:

  • computer science
  • digital design/media
  • digital marketing
  • graphic design
  • media technology
  • web design.

Degree subjects that include design, computing, apps development or digital media and technology options are particularly useful when looking for work. However, if you're self-taught and competent in HTML and the software used in UX work, a relevant degree may be less important.

You'll stand a better chance of getting work if you have relevant work experience or have undertaken an internship or placement.

You could also take a level 6 digital UX professional integrated degree apprenticeship, combining paid work with part-time study.

If your undergraduate degree doesn't include computing, digital technology or design, you could take a short course in UX to build your knowledge. Relevant courses are run by organisations such as:

You could also consider taking a Masters degree in UX design or a related area such as human computer design. Search postgraduate courses in user experience design and human computer interaction.

Do your research before undertaking a course to make sure it meets your career aims and needs. You could speak to UX designers to find out how they got into UX design and what training they have.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent problem-solving skills
  • to be a concept thinker with a keen visual awareness and willingness to learn specialist programmes
  • an interest in, and knowledge of, coding and design principles
  • effective communication skills to liaise with team members and clients to ensure that high quality end-user designs meet customer requirements
  • empathy with the customer so that you can understand what they want from the website/app
  • excellent written communication skills, with an eye for detail
  • design and spatial skills to gauge the usability of the website or application
  • an aptitude for using a logical, step-by-step approach to ensure designs are user friendly and simple for end users
  • a high level of concentration and resilience to stay focused on a project to the end and meet client deadlines
  • an open, flexible and adaptable mindset to cope with a rapidly changing set of tasks in an area of emerging, new technologies
  • the ability to relate well to other professionals and work in a specialist team
  • a willingness to keep up to date with software applications and new techniques in a rapidly changing profession.

Work experience

Relevant work experience is vital to get into this competitive industry and you'll need to develop a portfolio of digital design work which can include sketches, wireframes, user journeys, use cases and prototypes.

Use work placements to work on relevant projects and develop a network of contacts.

Many UX designers start out as graduate trainees, juniors or information architects and build up a solid background using the software and techniques to create user-friendly websites.

This will give you first-hand knowledge of the industry and prove to employers that you can thrive in a creative and pressured environment. Getting involved in web design and learning HTML code is a good starting point, as well as taking an interest in the design and usability of websites.

Search for employers offering work experience on LinkedIn and make speculative applications. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and showcases your range of skills.

Employers

As a UX designer, you could work across all sectors of industry including private companies, public bodies like central and local government, not-for-profit organisations and charities. These can range from large multinational companies to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

You could work in-house for a company in a range of sectors, including:

  • education
  • banking and financial services
  • health
  • manufacturing
  • public
  • publishing, media and broadcasting
  • retail and sales
  • telecommunications.

Alternatively, you could be based in a digital media, software development or web development agency, working for a range of clients on different projects.

You could also become self-employed. While freelance roles are common and daily rates of pay are usually attractive, this type of work can be unpredictable without a guaranteed income or job security.

Look for job vacancies at:

Jobs are also advertised in the national press and on LinkedIn.

Find out more about opportunities through social media. Follow thought leaders on Twitter and identify people working in the UX field through LinkedIn.

Professional development

Training is typically done on the job and you'll need to be willing to learn how to use specialist software and keep your knowledge and skills up to date in this rapidly changing industry.

Most training is done through self-study, learning on the job from more experienced colleagues, online learning and via conferences, workshops and other UX industry events.

Areas of learning may include:

  • analysis frameworks
  • concept development
  • human computer interaction
  • interaction design
  • product prototyping
  • project management
  • qualitative and quantitative user research methods
  • usability testing.

It's vital to keep an eye on emerging trends so that you're always one step ahead in terms of design practice and the user's experience.

Employers may pay for training and attending conferences and may also hold their own team events such as technology hack days.

Career prospects

You'll normally start as a junior, trainee or graduate UX designer, information architect or researcher/analyst, expecting to gain promotion to UX designer roles within two years.

After around five years' experience you could gain a role as a senior UX designer or head of user experience. Other roles include content strategist, creative director and UX design manager. As a manager, you'll have responsibility for a team of UX designers and analysts, and will lead on business development, working with clients to obtain and manage contracts with customers.

There are also opportunities to work as a consultant on a self-employed basis. It's possible to progress your career as a consultant by developing specialist expertise across a range of platforms. Generally, consultants will earn as much or more than those entering more senior management roles.

Your prospects may be enhanced if you're willing to relocate. UX work is an international career with opportunities to work overseas.

Find out how Stephen became a UX/UI designer at BBC Bitesize.

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