Careers in UX Design

Considering a career in User Experience (UX) Design?

UX Designers craft interactions between users and digital interfaces like websites, apps, or other platforms, or services. Their primary focus lies in enhancing the overall user experience of the technology or service, ensuring that users can navigate and accomplish their goals (and the organization’s business goals) with ease.

A UX Designer helps to understand and shape the complete experience of the user. They might be streamlining the process of ordering pizza through a delivery app or ensuring user-friendly features for discovering timely meditations on a website. UX designers can engage in research, ideation, strategy, design and more.

If the research component of the work intrigues you, you might do this work as a UX Researcher. The focus of this role is to provide deeper understanding and broader insight into the behavior, needs and motivations of the users that can be translated into effective design of products and services – with quantitative and qualitative research. UX researchers might use ethnographies, mixed method research, interviews, and surveys in their work.

Because research and testing can pertain to all phases of a design process, this role focuses on foundational research, preliminary market and user research, user testing, usability testing, and evaluative research that will identify opportunities to improve user experiences. This can involve conducting user interviews, researching market data, conducting analysis, gathering findings and completing testing to identify the best design options to satisfy user needs.

While a smaller company might have a UX Designer that also conducts research, larger companies with bigger teams and budgets might have a dedicated researcher, focused on leveraging data and statistically significant conclusions to drive decisions.

Other roles that exist in the field that might be of interest include:

  • UX Writers – specialists that work across user experience design, copy writing, marketing and branding, and
  • UX Analysts – who specifically focus on assessing a product’s or service’s usability

UX Designers often work with engineers (who develop/code the product), UX engineers (who work at the intersection of design and coding), data scientists, UI designers (who create the visual look and feel of the product), interaction designers, product designers, product managers, information architects, business teams, and others.

To learn more, listen to two Alumni Aloud podcasts featuring GC PhDs who moved into UX after graduation:

  • Evan Dawson received a PhD in Psychology with a concentration in Experimental Psychology and Law from the Graduate Center, and speaks about their work as a Senior UX Researcher at Robinhood.
  • Anders Wallace graduated from the Anthropology program with a PhD in 2019, and speaks about their work as a team lead for design research with Rocket Mortgage.

And, for further insights and exploration into specific positions, visit: InVision’s guide to UX specialties and Fast Company’s guide to UI/UX roles.

Below are the general responsibilities of a UX Designer, which can vary depending on the organization:

  1. User Research:
    • Conducting research to understand the target audience, their needs, preferences, and behaviors.
    • Analyzing user feedback and data to inform design decisions.
    • Presenting on planning, research, findings, and outcomes.
  1. Wireframing and Prototyping:
    • Creating wireframes and prototypes to visualize and test the structure and functionality of a product.
    • Iterating on designs based on feedback and testing results.
  1. Information Architecture:
    • Organizing and structuring information in a way that is intuitive for users to navigate.
  1. Interaction Design:
    • Designing the interactions users have with a product, ensuring they are seamless and user-friendly.
  1. Usability Testing:
    • Conducting usability tests to identify areas for improvement and validate design decisions.
  1. Collaboration:
    • Working closely with cross-functional teams, including developers, product managers, and other stakeholders, to ensure alignment on product goals.
  1. Visual Design:
    • Collaborating with visual designers to ensure that the visual elements align with the overall user experience.
  1. Accessibility:
    • Ensuring that designs are accessible to users with disabilities, adhering to accessibility standards.

Career Growth & Salaries

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of web developers and digital designers is expected to grow 16% from 2022-2032, much faster than average for other occupations. General demand for UX jobs is driven by growth in web sites, apps, wearables, VR, and other emerging tech.

BuiltIn provides a detailed overview of salaries by major city as well as skills that impact salaries.

 As of Jan 2024:

  • Glassdoor reports that the estimated yearly pay of a UX designer in the United States is $88,205 per year.
  • reports that hourly rates for contract/freelance roles average $44-58.

UX designer roles exist in startups, small, mid-sized and large organizations. Industries that hire designers can include those as diverse as software, e-commerce, banking, insurance, healthcare, government, media, marketing/advertising, consulting, and education.

Necessary Skills

There are number of essential skills for UX Design. These can be broken down into transferable skills and role-specific skills.

Transferable skills – many of which are developed as a graduate student  – include planning, communication, persuasion, collaboration, analysis, critical thinking, rigorous skills in scientific methods, problem-solving, research, teaching/presenting, storytelling, time management, reporting, and project management. Deep curiosity and empathy for the user experience are valuable, as is the ability to take a vague research question and operationalize it.

Understanding business and products is also important. Industry-specific skills for UX can include UX research, user testing, prototyping, user flows, information architecture, wireframes, Sketch, Invision, and Figma.

Gaining Experience

There are many ways to gain knowledge of and experience in the field.

There are introductory courses online through organizations like Google, Coursera, and Khan Academy. These can help with industry terminology and concepts, as well as a chance to work on sample projects or case studies to build a portfolio. For many roles, a UX portfolio (or website) of sample/project work will be expected. You can work on independent or volunteer projects to build out your samples of work.

Volunteering is a way to gain experience and further knowledge. You can approach departments or organizations to improve their websites to build your own case study. Larger volunteer organizations include:

  • UX Rescue – Connecting across the globe organizations in need of UX services with UX volunteering practitioners.
  • Catchafire – Build your resume and portfolio while directly supporting the causes and nonprofits you care about.
  • Design to Combat Covid 19 – Over 2000 creatives working to virtually support communities affected by COVID-19.

Participating in hackathons, one or multi-day events to solve a problem or challenge, sponsored by companies and organizations, is a great way to build new skills and experiences. As are completing daily online design challenges, many of which are free.

Internships are also a solid way to build experience, skills, and a network in the field and are a helpful way for career changers to grow their resumes.


Networking with professionals in the UX field is essential. Through one-to-one informational interviews, panels, networking events, and professional association participation, you will gain a fuller picture of the field and start to build a network that will be able to help point you in the right direction. Resources include:

  • ADP List – hold one-to-one and group mentorship conversations with experienced UX designers.
  • AIGA – a professional association for design, where you can find events, resources, and a job board. It offers student rates for memberships.
  • UXPA – supports people who research, design, and evaluate the user experience (UX) of products and services.
  • Creative Mornings – a free monthly breakfast series for creatives.
  • Hexagon UX – non-profit aimed to empower and support womxn and non-binary folx in UX through community, events, and mentorship.
  • LinkedIn – join UX online groups including User Experience Design and User Experience Professionals Association International.
  • Meetups – find groups like the Action Design Network, a gathering for behavioral science enthusiasts.
  • UX Coffee Hours – schedule informational calls with designers, researchers, and writers.

Job Search Web Sites

While networking is the best way to land a role, job boards are a helpful way to learn about different positions in the field and prospective employers and to use as a learning tool in terms of the skills, qualities, and experiences employers seek. They can help you find positions to apply to and identify trends for your own growth and development. In addition to Handshake and the boards below, you will find positions on general sites like LinkedIn, Zip Recruiter, Indeed, Career Builder, and Monster.

Job Boards for Design Opportunities

Freelance Job Boards

GC students are invited to meet with a career advisor at the center to talk more about their interest in the UX space and learn about ways to break into the field.