Learning is a process. To gain new skills, you have to invest time and effort into study and practice. But how much time and effort does it take to become a UX designer?
It depends on your approach. In this article, we’ll walk you through the three main pathways to becoming a UX designer:
Whether you prefer learning in the fast lane or taking it slow and steady, all of these pathways will help you find a rewarding UX/UI career.
Grab some chips and let’s dig in!
There is no one “right” way to start a career in UX/UI. UX designers come from many different backgrounds, and there is no specific college degree requirement to land an entry-level UX role. As a result, many companies have started their own educational courses to help newcomers learn the trade.
A quick google search of “UX design bootcamps” will yield dozens of options—no two bootcamps are exactly alike. UX Bootcamps can take anywhere between 2 to 10 months to complete.
In general, UX bootcamps introduce students to basic UX concepts and guide them through projects so they can begin building a portfolio. Some programs also include career mentorship and the chance to work with real clients.
Taking a UX bootcamp is generally the fastest way to start a UX career. Instead of investing two years or more into obtaining a master’s degree, most bootcamps allow students to learn UX design in less than 12 months.
So, what are the other benefits of choosing the bootcamp path? For starters, students who elect to start a UX bootcamp enjoy a practical, technique-focused environment. UX design is best learned by doing, and most bootcamps emphasize project-based study that builds your portfolio.
Due to their short-term, career focused nature, UX bootcamps tend to have very flexible coursework. The UX mentors can adopt new tools, tech, and trends almost immediately into their curricula. As a result, UX/UI bootcamp students are prepared to hit the ground running when they enter the field.
Despite these benefits, UX bootcamps or UX mentorship programs have a few downsides. Bootcamps may not be ideal for learners on a tight budget, as only a handful of formal bootcamps cost less than $2,500. Some bootcamps, like Avocademy, offer payment plans, and other bootcamps offer scholarships for underrepresented communities. Be sure to choose a program that works for your budget.
Another drawback to choosing a bootcamp is the time investment. Although this path is the fastest of the three we’ll discuss, most programs still require at least two months of part-time study. Students with jam-packed schedules may struggle to keep up with the coursework.
Additionally, not all bootcamps are created equally. Some courses, like Google’s impressively affordable UX certificate program, only provide feedback from other students. Peer feedback is always useful, but it’s important for new UX students to get their work critiqued by experienced UX/UI designers.
Finally, UX bootcamps also vary in the quality and scope of the career guidance they provide. Some courses provide unlimited mentorship, dedicated career guidance, and even guaranteed job placements, while other courses do not.
Before spending money on a UX bootcamp or mentorship program, make sure you research the course specifics to ensure it meets your needs. Check out this article from The Guac to see our breakdown of top UX design bootcamps!
Length: 6 weeks to 10 months
Cost: $1,200 - $15,000
If you’re looking for a more formal learning experience, pursuing a degree could be a great option. Obtaining a master’s degree takes about 1-3 years. The length will vary by program and by whether you enroll as a full-time or part-time student.
Some people get a jump start on their UX career by pursuing a tech-related associate’s or bachelor’s degree right out of high school. However, others decide to change careers later on, after they already have an undergraduate degree.
Luckily, many UX-related master’s programs do not require a specific bachelor’s background for acceptance. In other words, you can have a bachelor’s in history or philosophy and still get accepted to a UX master’s program!
At the moment, UX design bachelors and master’s programs go by many names. To give you an idea of the variety of programs available, here is a quick list of degree titles that could lead to a career in UX/UI design:
An MS/MA or BS/BA in:
As you can see, there is no one set academic program that UX designers need to join the field. Take time to research the differences in these programs to choose the best one for you.
If your goal is to dig deeper into UX/UI design theory, a master’s degree is a great choice. This pathway gives learners the chance to explore topics, like information architecture and psychology, more thoroughly than they could in a fast-paced bootcamp. As such, one of the biggest benefits of choosing a master’s program is the chance to master (pun intended) the material from an academic point of view.
Another perk of a UX master’s degree is the chance to work closely with professors over a long period of time. While some bootcamps, like Avocademy, provide unlimited mentorship, other bootcamps lack one-on-one guidance. A good master’s program will facilitate mentor relationships between students and professors. If you value learning from experts and thrive in an academic setting, this pathway could be a great option.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that some employers value advanced degrees. Most UX roles do not require any specific education beyond a general bachelor’s degree, but having an additional accolade never hurts! For hiring managers unfamiliar with the UX career paths, a master’s degree quickly signals that a candidate knows their stuff, which can help your application get to the next round.
Choosing to pursue a master’s degree comes with a few downsides. The first stumbling block for many students is the hefty price tag.
In the United States, master’s degrees can cost between $30,000 and $120,000, depending on the school and program. For most people, choosing this path requires student loans that may take years to pay off.
Another downside to choosing this path is the considerable time investment. Taking a few years to start a UX career is not unreasonable, but this path is still much slower than a bootcamp. If you’re hoping to jump into a UX role ASAP, consider a bootcamp instead.
Finally, like bootcamps, not all master’s degree programs are created equally. Some programs may focus more on theory than practice, leaving students with limited opportunities to complete real-world projects and build their portfolios.
Additionally, there is some ambiguity surrounding what courses should be included for academic programs in the amorphous world of UX. Before selecting a UX master’s program, make sure it covers all the essential skills UX designers need, including prototyping, wireframing, and user research.
Length: 1-3 years
Cost: $30,000 - $100,000
One of the beautiful things about the UX field is the committed, innovative professional community. Over the last decade or so, many UX designers have begun sharing their knowledge online. As a result, anyone can start learning UX design through free or low-cost online coursework and videos.
The free (or almost free) content available online is nearly endless. You could try informal sites like YouTube for tips and tricks, or you could start with a more organized tutorial series from Skillshare or Coursera. There are honestly too many options for self-directed learning to list here!
It’s difficult to determine how long it takes to become a UX designer through self-directed learning. However, we consider this method to be the slowest option because students have to sift through vast quantities of content on their own. With dedication, self-directed learners could land a UX job in a year or two. However, it could take much longer, as independent students must refine their technique and create projects without a mentor’s guidance.
The best thing about self-directed learning? The price! With patience, you could teach yourself UX design without spending a cent.
If you’re willing to spend just a little bit more cash, you can find many slightly more organized courses for under $100, such as Google’s UX certificate program or LinkedIn Learning. This option is an excellent way for cash-strapped students to dip their toes into the field and start learning before committing to a longer, pricier program.
Self-directed learning is also flexible. Without the time-sensitive pressure of an academic program or bootcamp, you can learn at your own pace and spend more time on topics of interest. Self-directed students never have to worry about missing a class or losing their tuition if life interrupts their learning process. For busy parents and stressed professionals, this option provides peace of mind.
Finally, self-directed learning is a great way to engage with the online UX community. By exploring the vast amount of content available, you’ll be exposed to new trends and professional networks. You can even follow UX influencers to gain insider knowledge about life in the world of UX/UI.
Unfortunately, this method is not perfect. One of the biggest flaws of self-directed learning is the lack of professional guidance. To learn UX/UI design, students should complete realistic design projects and ideally receive feedback. Without professional criticism, it’s hard for a student to know if their work is up to scratch. The mentor figures found in bootcamps and master’s programs also provide career guidance that self-directed learners can’t utilize.
Without a mentor or paced program, some students also struggle to stay accountable. It takes a lot of dedication to push yourself and keep learning week after week—deadlines, grades, and cohorts are great motivators. Even if you rarely procrastinate, you may find it challenging to stay on track when life offers so many distractions!
Finally, it’s hard to put self-directed learning on a resume. Many free resources do not provide certificates of completion, and some employers may doubt the coursework. If you choose this route, consider having your portfolio evaluated by a professional so that your application materials are not at a disadvantage.
Length: 1 year - indefinite
Cost: Free to about $100
Ultimately, the best path will depend on your own needs and goals. If you want to start your UX career as soon as possible, bootcamps are a great option.
However, there are other factors to consider when selecting your program. Is affordability most important to you? Or do you care most about career guidance and real-world projects? Evaluate your priorities and research options to find the best learning environment for you.
At Avocademy, we strive to create a UX mentorship program that meets everyone’s needs. Our course is affordable, flexible, personal, and shorter than many UX bootcamps. If you’re looking for something in between these three pathways, check out Avocademy!
Still not sure which pathway you should take? Schedule a free mentorship session today!