If you're interested in web design and improving the user experience of websites and apps than a career as a UX designer may be for you

UX designers are involved in designing sites and software for specific target groups and end users. The purpose of your role is to ensure that the 'user experience' for individuals using websites or applications is as efficient as possible and makes sense to people, who are often from non-technical backgrounds.

In practice this means using a range of specialist software tools to create applications and sites that are usable, easy to navigate, aesthetically appealing and engaging, to the extent that the user wishes to repeat the experience by re-visiting the website.

Types of work

Roles that fall under the umbrella of UX designer include:

  • information architect (IA)
  • interaction designer (UI designer)
  • usability tester
  • UX researcher or analyst
  • visual designer.

User experience (UX) designers handle the full spectrum of users' impressions and interactions with a given brand. You could be involved in creating novel and engaging experiences using advanced design solutions appropriate to the unique branding or identity of the client company. For example, you might create front-end e-commerce sites for the online retail sector.

An information architect (IA) tends to have a narrower focus on the usability aspects of a design, emphasising presentation of the correct information and functionality, ensuring correct placing at the right time, in the most appropriate way possible.

UX analysts or researchers conduct research into how humans interact with websites by, for example, collecting data on how sites are navigated and recommending improvements to the development team.

Responsibilities

As a UX designer, you'll need to:

  • understand how to use specialist software such as Axure and OmniGraffle to enable you to design front-end experiences for potential users
  • sketch out visual concepts both on paper and using software applications
  • work on cross-platform applications to develop user experiences covering mobile phones, tablets and computers
  • re-design websites to make them more responsive, for example, you could be involved with those aimed at the general public from both government and commercial service industries
  • re-design or create mobile apps that are easy to use and are configured appropriately for smartphones and tablets
  • ensure that an end-product design meets the core business objectives required by the client company, while providing users with the optimum experience in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and engagement. Online retail is a significant user of UX designers.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for a graduate junior UX designer are between £20,000 and £25,000 in London. Regional salaries vary, starting at around £19,000.
  • Experienced UX designers can earn between £30,000 and £50,000.
  • Senior UX designers and consultants earn salaries of £40,000 to £60,000 or more.
  • Freelance UX designers and consultants can command daily rates of between £250 to £600 per day.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 9am to 5.30pm or 6pm, sometimes going beyond these core hours. You may need to work some evenings and occasional weekends to attend events, or when working on a special project with short deadlines. Paid overtime is rare, although some organisations will offer time off in lieu.

Part-time work is possible, especially for self-employed contractors. Short-term contracts are also available, often through recruitment agencies.

What to expect

  • You will usually be office based, working at a desk and computer.
  • You will undertake a variety of tasks and will be involved in team discussions to work out approaches to given projects.
  • Informal dress code is the norm in this industry, although you may be expected to dress smartly for client meetings.
  • 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 will usually need a degree, as well as a keen interest in web and applications design. You will stand a better chance of obtaining work if you have relevant work experience or have undertaken an internship or placement.

Graduates entering this work come from a range of disciplines including:

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

Your chance of work will increase with a relevant discipline that includes design, computing, apps development or digital media and technology. However, if you are self-taught and competent in HTML and software used in UX work, a relevant degree is less of an asset.

If your undergraduate degree does not include computing, digital technology or design and you're interested in this field of work, you could undertake postgraduate study. Search for postgraduate courses in user experience design.

Skills

You will need:

  • an interest in problem solving
  • a keen visual awareness
  • a 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
  • excellent written communication skills coupled 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 mind-set 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

UX design is a competitive industry to get into, so previous work experience is desirable.

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, who may offer work experience on LinkedIn and make speculative applications.

Employers

As a UX designer, you could work across all sectors of industry including private companies, public bodies like government, not-for-profit organisations and charities. These can range from large multi-national companies to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). You could be based in digital media consultancies, financial services, web development agencies, telecoms and retail.

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

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

You will find most of the training in this field is through self-study, online learning and via conferences, workshops and other UX industry events. You should be prepared to learn or update your skills in specialist software, such as Axure, Sketch and OmniGraffle, through practice on the job and self-study.

Career prospects

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

A number of graduates enter this work as consultants, where they are self-employed contractors. You may be able to develop your career as a consultant 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 will be enhanced if you are willing to relocate. UX work is an international career with opportunities to work overseas.