On UX Certificates in the US

I answer questions about UX, Information Architecture and other topics on Quora. A selection of these answers will be reposted on Medium with occasional, minor editing for clarity. Following are selected questions I answered in May.

Is it helpful to get a UX certificate or go to a UX conference as a starting point for a college undergraduate who wants to work on UX later but has no experience yet?

May 26, 2018

I am going on be the contrarian and say absolutely go to a conference or a meetup that is aligned with your UX interest. A certificate program will probably get you some basic skills, but so would reading books and working on pro bono projects on your own. (See one of my previous answers on certificates). For someone just starting out, it’s the interaction with other attendees as much as the talks and workshops that help build your knowledge of what and who you need to know to get a job in the field. And most conferences offer student discounts or lower-cost workshops so you don’t necessarily have to pay full price to get a benefit. Depending on where you live, Meetups can be plentiful and free or cheap. Online interest groups like Designers Guild on Facebook or UX Mastery on Slack are also good ways to find a community. UX Mastery even has a mentoring program.

Keep in mind that the most valuable UX design skills are soft skills like communication, presentation and ability to make insights. Design tools are always evolving so what you learn at a boot camp may not be marketable in a few years.

Some positive things about taking a certificate course. You meet your competition and potential future coworkers. A formal program may be confidence-building if you fear you don’t have basic understanding of what UX designers do and how they do it and aren’t comfortable picking up these skills on your own. But do some research. Not all certificates or boot camps have a good reputation. Meetups and other UX events are good places to ask about programs in your area.

Even better if your university offers design courses that you can take as part of your degree. Also, look for intro level cognitive psychology and ethnography courses (typically anthropology classes that cover interviewing skills). If your school has business or entrepreneur programs, ask if they offer any design or customer discovery workshops. Sometimes these programs are open to students schoolwide.

Is it useful/worth getting an MFA in Communication Design to become a UX designer in the USA after years of internet industry experience in China?

In the USA, a MFA is often a minimum requirement for teaching the arts full time in higher education. Many programs require a PhD. There are many successful UX designers with master level degrees in film, psychology, media/communications, digital design, business, library science and other disciplines. Salary surveys do show greater earning power for those with masters level education. But I would agree with the other answers here that experience outweighs the degree, particularly for entering the field.

If you do choose to pursue masters level education, look for a program that provides hands on project work or practicum training. Many boot camp programs specialize in helping students develop a portfolio, but you should have a clear understanding of the reputation of the program in the city where you want to work as they vary greatly and can be expensive.

Update (05/27/2018): Another consideration to think about is that, as a foreign national, having a degree from a known US institution could be an advantage. But because it is such a large investment, it would make sense to do research to see if it makes a huge difference in salary and employability.

Is the BCS Foundation Certificate in user experience recognised in the USA?

I had never heard of this certificate either, but it doesn’t mean that it has no value. There are numerous certification programs in the US and throughout the world. Some have more name recognition than others and depending on the reputation could be a plus. It could be of interest to a hiring manager if you are transitioning from another field, because it would demonstrate a commitment to learning the basics. It can also give you confidence in understanding the tools and practices of the field. If you are considering a certicate in lieu of a degree that would be another story. Many if not most junior level UX positions require at least an undergraduate degree and some work experience.

Here’s where it gets kind of fun. Really, there is no UX certificate that is a definitive, required program in the US. While there are competing programs out there, many are expensive, meant for higher level employees or are competitive and have very limited seating and availability. There are tons of other programs at universities, boot camps, conferences, one day workshops and even books, online classes, videos and tutorials.

Pick what works best for you:

Do you like a classroom where you can meet with a real instructor and other students to work on group projects?

Would a virtual setting with a real instructor and real student partners be OK?

Or are you fine with picking up a book or watching video tutorials by yourself? If so, pick a tool that looks fun and do their tutorials.

Either way, read books and blogs to get familiar with UX concepts and strategies. Medium has a lot of good UX content. Also check out the content libraries at User Interface Engineering, Interaction Design Foundation or UXMatters.com. Rosenfeld Media is a good source of UX books. New Riders from Peachpit Press also has many good titles like Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. Be sure to join a meetup or Slack group that discusses UX or the tools you like and see what people are doing with it. Look at people’s portfolios and read their stories.

Then write your story. A good UX Designer is a good story teller. Think about why you want to be in this field. What have you observed in your life that could be part of that story? What is your own user journey like? What have you noticed that could be designed better? What pain points do you wish you could fix? Show through these stories how you think through these problems from the user perspective.

Co-Founder @DecisionFish, Advisor @Mucktracker, Researcher @Me2BAlliance and @KantaraFIRE, Adjunct Lecturer @CityTechCOMD, IA/UX/Researcher, MSLIS