Posted 14 February 2024
Mention ustwo
Written by Yvonne Romano
Written by Carol Liao

What is UX design and how do you get into it?

Whether you realise it or not, most of us benefit from the carefully considered work of a user experience (UX) designer on a daily basis – from scrolling through social media to finding drivers on your ride-sharing app. But what exactly is UX design and how do you get into it? We put these questions to Yvonne Romano and Carol Liao of ustwo, the award-winning studio behind digital products like The Body Coach app and Peloton Lanebreak experience. Here, they shed some light about the field, the core skills required and their tips on getting started.

🤔 What is UX design?

User experience, or UX, design is about creating products, services, systems, or experiences with the end user in mind. Whether it’s a flight-booking app, a shopping site, or even a remote control, most things are designed from the very first interaction to the last – and even something that seems automatic is often carefully thought-out.

The focus in UX design is on making the user’s journey seamless, intuitive and even delightful. It’s about whether a product feels usable, if it feels like it’s been made for you and if it helps you achieve something.

📂 What kinds of projects do UX designers work on?

UX designers work on a huge range of projects, spanning anything and everything you can think of – there is a lot of diversity the type of work they do, which is what makes it exciting!

They might work on something very broad, like a ‘vision’ project that involves designing the whole experience of a product or service, such as thinking about how an airline app experience would work. Or they could focus on implementing a specific interaction or feature in a product, such as helping users find flight booking information easily.

👀 Where have I seen it before?

Here are some of our favourite examples of digital products where the UX design has had a big influence on the world:

  • Duolingo, for the way you can learn a language
  • Snapchat AR filters, for the way you can express yourself in real time
  • Discord and Twitch, for the way communities connect and communicate
  • Clubhouse, as an audio-only social media platform
  • Be-real or Beme apostle norm, as ‘anti-social media’ platforms
  • Dating apps such as Tinder or Bumble
  • Adobe Firefly, in wake of generative AI chatbots
  • Mental health and wellness apps such as Headspace

In terms of ustwo’s design work, here are two key UX projects:

The Pineapp for Helios Health
This is a digital companion app for fertility treatments. It’s a great example of how user research shapes successful UX design. We used insights such as the emotional aspects of these experiences to determine what features would be most helpful, relevant and able to create a feeling of comfort and support for users with a human tone (see more here)., an EdTech platform
We used ustwo’s Play Thinking design approach to create a platform that helps make STEM learning less daunting. It’s a great example of the ‘test early, test often’ approach, which involves making low-fi prototypes and testing out multiple ideas with potential users early in the process (see more here).

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The Pineapp for Helios Health, created by ustwo

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ustwo’s user research work for the Pineapp for Helios Health

🔨 What skills or traits are required?

Some great traits to have are:

  • Being naturally empathetic and able to put yourself in others’ shoes as well as ask questions. At the end of the day, you’re not designing for yourself (unless you are the target audience), so the more you can understand your audience, the better.
  • Communication and storytelling, both visually and through words – UX designers collaborate with other disciplines, so it’s important to be able to communicate with those who may not speak your industry ‘language’ or be thinking about the audience
  • Visual skills
  • Collaboration because creating experiences is a team effort, so the ability to work closely with developers, product managers, researchers and more is important.
  • Adaptability is crucial as very rarely is an experience defined and then finalised. Instead, it’s usually a labour of effort, learning and iteration.
  • Industry-specific knowledge – for example, if you want to work in fintech, having a knowledge of finance; if you want to work in ed tech, a knowledge of education. And if you don’t have that knowledge, have the curiosity to seek it out.

💼 What tasks does it involve?

Day-to-day tasks can include:

  • User research: Conducting user research helps give a better understanding of the user’s needs and motivations, creating a foundation for user-centred design decisions.
  • Concepting and sketching: Developing initial ideas in sketches or wireframes allows designers to quickly explore a range of ideas for how a feature could look and function.
  • Visual design and/or prototyping: Creating key screens or prototypes not only helps communicate the idea but is also a crucial part of helping designers think through the problem.
  • Accessibility: Considering ways that a product can be designed to be usable for people with various abilities, such as a colour palette that’s friendly for users with colourblindness.
  • Journey mapping: Mapping out every interaction a user will have with a product or service, like signing up, logging in or making a purchase.
  • Usability and concept testing: Conducting research sessions in order to evaluate the value of your concepts, learn new things, or assess how real users use and experience your product.

🗺️ What kinds of companies hire UX designers?

  • Tech, product and software companies that are building digital products like websites and apps. These are the most obvious companies hiring UX designers and they’re where you’ll find some great UX work.
  • Design studios and specialised agencies that provide UX design for their clients, to companies who have internal design teams.

However, UX is everywhere, including less obvious types of workplaces or industries such as banks, educational institutions, healthcare companies, car manufacturers and public services.

In our minds, UX is most needed in ‘high impact’ and ‘high touch’ spaces. High impact spaces are where small changes can have huge impacts on society, like immigration and government processes or healthcare services. High touch spaces include public transportation apps and organisational onboarding.

If you’re embarking on a career in UX, here are some the questions to help you consider where you might want to work are:

  • Do I want to work as a solo designer or within a design team?
  • What size team am I most comfortable working with?
  • What kind of sector or industry do I want to work in?
  • Which kinds of clients do I want to work with?
  • Do I want to work at a studio or agency, or would I rather work in-house with a specific brand or product?
  • How niche do I want my work to be?

All these questions determine the kind of work you produce, as well as the way you make it.

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The EdTech platform

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❇️ What jobs sit within UX design?

A UX designer will usually start out at a junior level before progression to middleweight and senior positions.

However, other types of designers also bring aspects of UX design into their work or overlap with UX design, even if they don’t have the term UX in their job title. These include:

  • Product designers
  • Service designers
  • Interaction designers
  • Digital designers
  • Experience designers

Bigger companies tend to have a greater amount of titles on project design teams, but all of these roles are interconnected. Ideally, they shouldn’t work separately as that might result in a disjointed user experience.

Also, not all workplaces use the name “UX” in a design position. At ustwo, they use titles such as ‘product designer’ or ‘service designer’ since their focus is on digital products and all elements of an experience are important to understand, from the research, visuals, motion, to the human-computer interaction (HCI).

💰 What can I expect to be paid?

In the UK:

  • Junior UX designers can expect an average base salary of £29,357
  • UX designers across all levels earn an average salary of £47,884 (£58,126 in London)
  • Senior UX designers can expect an average salary of £65,000

In the US:

  • Junior UX designers can expect an average base salary of $56,500 ($61,176 in New York City)
  • UX Designers across all levels earn an average salary of $106,096 ($144,806 in New York City)
  • Senior UX designer can expect an average salary of $155,560

Many workplaces also have potential for bonuses on top of salary.

🧫 What are the culture and hours like?

From our understanding, UX designers typically work regular working hours, leaning more on the flexible side, as long as you hit your deadlines. However, this can vary based on workplace. Depending on whether you’re working at an agency, in-house at a company, a startup, or a more traditional corporate setting, your hours and culture will differ. Plus, since UX can sit across various industries, hours might also be dependent on the subject matter.

Many UX designers work remotely, especially since the pandemic, so learning to be flexible and accommodate hybrid (in-person and remote) techniques is crucial. Given that the work is digital in nature, it’s not crucial to be in-person for every meeting and it can be more productive at times to focus when working from home. Even for training and workshops, it’s likely that some team members will be on other continents or unable to make it.

💬 Any last words of advice?

Remember that true UX is when you can step into someone else’s shoes and not just wear your own. Understanding your audience’s emotions is not just important – it’s essential in designing good experiences.

Ideally, when you’re starting out, you want to be building up real experience with clients, stakeholders, users and engineers, as well as practising cross-discipline collaboration.

When we’re looking at the portfolios of entry-level and junior designers, we know the work won’t always be ‘perfect’ or have the ‘right’ amount of relevant experience. But we always look for someone who:

  • Is curious
  • Wants to understand people
  • Shows how they connect ideas with what people need
  • Demonstrates industry-specific knowledge, especially if they lack UX experience

Sometimes, it’s less about having specific types of projects to show and more about how you demonstrate your approach, thinking and storytelling. This is why many places use design tests for junior roles, instead of just reviewing portfolios.

Resources for budding UX designers

🤝 Networking and events

Professional events are a great way to network and get advice, and many organisations – especially non-profits – frequently host them.

At ustwo’s London, New York and Malmö studios, we hold free portfolio reviews, talks and professional meetups, along with events that we co-host with non-profit advocacy group Where Are the Black Designers? So keep an eye on our Eventbrite page for future events!

Here are some other great places for networking:

A free mentorship platform. We collaborated with them for a portfolio review and Carol did mentoring through their website during the pandemic.

Out 4 Undergrad
A series of annual conferences for LGBTQ+ college students in the US. Every September, they hold a Digital Conference that’s free to attend, with travel and accommodation also covered (see here for the application process).

Where Are the Black Designers?
A nonprofit advocacy group of designers and allies helping to make the industry more diverse. We’ve done free portfolio reviews with them in New York and London, and we’ve also hosted networking meet-ups together.

📚 Books and reference points

Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell
A comprehensive encyclopaedia of design principles, Yvonne says that “this book blew my mind when I first learned of it, and I still use it as a resource to this day.

Design awards
Check out the winners and finalists of awards such as the Apple Design Awards – it’s great way to see what kind of digital products and services are being honoured for their innovation.

Design studio case studies
Read case studies to understand the processes behind them and to get inspiration. Have a browse through some of ustwo’s case studies, including our work for brands and businesses like Peloton, The Body Coach and LEGO.

Nielsen Norman Group
This UX research and consulting firm is a wealth of knowledge for UX designers, with articles covering a whole range of UX topics and reports containing best practices, case studies, and more.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
Written in the 1980s, this foundational text has since been updated and remains a crucial source for understanding general design principles – plus, it’s written in a really engaging and accessible tone.

Inclusive Design for a Digital World by Reginé M. Gilbert
This book is a thorough overview of accessibility, which is such an important consideration in UX design.

🧑‍🏫 Training

There are lots of resources and training courses across different types of organisations and a range of budgets, from scrappier workshops to established academic institutions.

This is a paid, 12-week, industry-led programme in the UK that helps young people break into design careers. It includes bootcamps, teaching modules and internships at its partner studios – one of which is ustwo. ustwo has welcomed four cohorts of fledgling designers since 2020, with a fifth cohort starting in January 2024. What’s so great about this opportunity is that the education phase of it is also paid.

Online workshops
You can find lots of professional training events on Eventbrite. The online workshops by Bitesize UX, led by US-based UX designer Joe Formica, are only a few hours and require no UX experience at all, although active designers can also use them to brush up on specific areas. Some of their sessions focus on topics like accessibility or UX writing, but they also host longer workshops with advice on building your portfolio.

Online and in-person learning
Tech-focused professional education companies operating across the UK, US and Canada like Brainstation and General Assembly also offer a range of UX workshops – including full-time bootcamps and professional certification courses, both in-person and online.

Accelerator/certificate programmes
Academic institutions like King’s College London and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York offer UX Design career accelerators and certificate programmes.


ustwo is a Creative Lives in Progress brand partner. Every year, we partner with like-minded brands and agencies to support our initiative and keep Creative Lives a free resource for emerging creatives. To find out more about how you can work with us, email [email protected]

Mention ustwo
Written by Yvonne Romano
Written by Carol Liao