What does it take to be a UX designer in today’s world? Should you know how to code? Should you be able to create interactive prototypes? And when it comes down to it, what makes someone not just a good UX designer, but a great one?

Here at CareerFoundry, we’ve investigated these questions tirelessly in order to understand how to create a relevant and future-proofed UX design course that gives our students everything they need to begin their career as UX designers.

Our team has researched the tech industry in great depth, including reviewing thousands of job ads in order to really understand what employers are looking for in a UX designer. This was key in answering the questions above because it offered invaluable insight into the world of professional UX design and allowed us to build the most up-to-date, industry-relevant, and streamlined UX design course on the market.

So what have we learned throughout this process? I’m glad you asked! Below we’ll be digging into the specific skills you should be learning in a UX course in order to be ready for your career.

Coding should be optional

Let’s dive head first into one of the most controversial topics when it comes to becoming a well-rounded UX designer. Do you need to know how to code to become a UX designer?

Many beginner UX designers are concerned that they’ll need to know how to code in order to be effective in their field, which is a valid concern considering how tightly coupled user experience and development are. But it’s important to remember, design and development are different fields! Would you expect a programmer to conduct user research and create wireframes? Probably not, and this works the other way around as well!

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Of course, there is a caveat. While it’s not necessary to know how to code in order to be a great UX designer, it sure does help! For example, if you’re an architect and you design a building, you probably won’t actually build it yourself. But it helps to understand the job of the engineers and the general construction because it ensures you’ll be able to have a conversation with the builders and be able to understand potential implementation problems and craft new solutions.

The same is true for UX designers. Think of yourself as the architect. You don’t actually build the software, but the more you understand about the building process, the better.

I personally recommend UX design students take at least a basic coding course in order to better understand how code works. This will help you understand the job of the engineer and will enable you to have a more competent conversation because you can speak at least a little bit of their language.

Luckily there are plenty of free coding courses and basic tutorials online, but if you’re looking to really learn the ins and outs of code, you can sign up for a structured program. When taking the Certified UX Designer course, you’ll be given the option to take a Frontend Basics specialization module if you’re interested in learning some code.

You should spend time with UX designers

Another extremely important part of a UX design course is teaching students what the day to day life of a UX designer is actually like. This can actually be a bit of a mystery when you’re a prospective UX design student and can be a point of stress. After all, if you’re not sure what the specific day-to-day activities are going to be, it can be pretty nerve wracking starting your first job as a UX designer!

We’ve built a great solution for this here at CareerFoundry. When you become a student, you are matched up with a Mentor who has spent years in the UX design field. Your Mentor is there to guide you through the world of UX design. You get tons of 1-on-1 time with them where you can pick their brain about all of the day-to-day activities of a UX designer, not to mention questions about the design industry, the best design tools and anything else you’d find helpful!

Bottom line is by the end of a UX design course, you should have a solid handle on what your daily activities will be. Ultimately, this will give you a huge leg up when starting your UX design career, because you’ll be able to hit the ground running with less surprises on your first day.

You should learn how to create interactive prototypes

This is an area that can easily confuse most beginner UX designers. If you don’t know how to code, how do you create an interactive prototype? Well believe it or not, you don’t have to write a single line of code to create an interactive prototype! With the right software, you can create a prototype that feels almost indistinguishable from a coded app.

The goal of a detailed prototype is to be able to show off your user experience to others without having to actually code an entire app. Prototyping tools are often drag-and-drop, meaning it’s easy to make changes quickly and to get everyone on board before time and money is sunk into the actual programming.

Here at CareerFoundry, we focus heavily on the prototyping phase of UX design because we believe it’s extremely important part of a UX designers skillset. There are tons of prototyping tools out there and each has it’s own learning curve, so we focus on one specifically, but make sure to give you the pros and cons of the others so that you can experiment with them and find the one that works the best for you.

You should get to grips with the most common UX design tools

There are tons of UX design tools out there, some good, some great, and some that just aren’t worth your time. A good UX design course will teach you how to use the best of these tools.

Keep in mind though, tools aren’t everything! More important than learning how to use each of the different tools is learning a specific tool for each job. Many UX designers have their go-to software for wireframing, flow charts and design. A good UX design course shows you the most important tools and recommends which you should use, but ultimately it’s up to you to find the tools that resonate with you the most!

Below is a list of some of the most popular UX design tools. A UX design course should discuss these tools in detail and provide pros and cons so that you can understand which one might be the best for you:

InVision - Great for creating interactive prototypes that can be shared with others.

Sketch App - Industry standard interface design tool.

Adobe Experience Design - A tool by Adobe that’s specifically for UX designers. It’s still in beta, but this one will likely grow very popular once it’s officially released.

Omnigraffle - Industry standard tool for creating detailed flow charts and wireframes.

UserTesting - This site allows you to test your prototypes on real live users.

UXPin - A well-rounded UX design platform complete with wireframing and prototyping tools as well as built in collaboration.

Optimizely - Easily conduct A/B tests on web based apps and landing pages.

Balsamiq - Industry standard tool for creating quick, interactive wireframes.

You should do real user testing and research

One of the most important parts of a UX designer’s job is user testing and user research. This is basically the art of figuring out how to solve a user’s problem. UX designers do this by testing prototypes on potential or existing users and seeing how they resonate. Where do they get caught up? Where do they get confused? How quickly do they accomplish key tasks? These are the sort of questions testing and research can help to answer.

Once you’ve found stumbling blocks in your design, you can come up with solutions, test them, and keep going - rinse and repeat - until you’ve got something much closer to perfect than what you started out with!

If you’re thinking about switching to a career in UX design, it can be tough deciding between the different options out there.

My hope is that this can serve as a bit of a guide for what to look for when finding the right course for you and help give you an idea of what to look out for!

If you want to get started today, check out our free week-long UX Design Short Course.

Happy designing!