User Experience Design Certification -- worth it?
August 21, 2014 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Are UX design certification programs seen as worthwhile by employers? Worthwhile enough to spend $4,000 and a year of my life to try to transition from content strategist/editor/creator to UX design work?

I'm a content editor/creator and social media manager who is heading into more of a strategist role, and I have a strong interest in organizing web content -- navigation, site structure, etc. My strong point is words, not visual design. I have some past work experience doing a bit of UX and have been exposed to this world through consultants working with my places of employments, but not enough to make an actual transition into a user experience design role.

At this point, a master's program is too much money and time. (I have a Bachelor's in English.) The transition would be incredibly slow. But I did find a UX Design certificate program (Cal State Fullerton, and I know there are others), that costs about $4,000 and would take a year. I see this as adding a really big new skill to my bag of other tricks.

Are these certificate programs worthwhile? Do employers see them as professionals taking the initiative to learn extra skills, or are they the equivalent of wasting your time at a nonimpressive trade school instead of getting a bachelor's or master's? I can't seem to find an answer either way. Thank you for any info.
posted by faunafrailty to Education (11 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
That's an excellent question. As an IT project manager, I know that a good UX can make or break a software project, and I look for people with the kind of skills necessary to make that happen...but I'm not entirely sure what that looks like. Graphic design? Experience as an educator? Read a lot of Jakob Neilsen?
posted by Mogur at 11:11 AM on August 21, 2014

My husband is finding that UX positions these days want front-end developers who know UX. He hasn't found much of anything lately that's design/prototyping-only. (This has basically ended his career. He does a little content strategy but that work is largely being replaced by software.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Employers just want to see a portfolio, and they want you to demonstrate that you can think through UX problems and come up with solutions with clear UX rationale. If the certificate program can provide that then it will definitely be better than rolling up to an interview going "I want to do UX" but having nothing to demonstrate that you know what that means. You want the program to provide you with UX problems, show you the process for solving them, and then give you assignments that you can use to demonstrate that you know what you're doing. Any program that gives out busywork, essays, and middle school-style worksheets (like they did at mine!) is going to be a waste. Hands-on experience conducting and analyzing UX research will also be useful.

Also try to see if the program will provide you with any kind of career assistance, mentoring, or general contacts that you can use later. That's also really important.
posted by bleep at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Front-end development with UX would probably be a more sure-fire investment though, like Lyn Never says.
posted by bleep at 11:23 AM on August 21, 2014

I've co-hired UX designers at multiple jobs/companies. We never ever look at certifications or education - it's all about portfolio and experience with specific javascript/css frameworks.

My advice is, do NOT pay for a structured program. Do this instead:

1. Spend a couple months on for $25/month. Start with UX and follow up a few foundational courses on core technologies (HTML/HTML5, CSS, Javascript). Make sure you are not getting too far into design theory - if you are not coding/prototyping by lesson two, find another course. Also, make sure your skills are in line with what the market demands - look for actual UX jobs in your area to see which keywords/skills are mentioned over and over and focus on those skills (example).

2. With your new skills, create and publish a couple original UI elements (example) and a couple responsive templates (example). Look at sites like Sortfolio to see what others do.

3. Using these as your starting portfolio, get some real-world experience. If you are willing to pay $4k for classes then you can afford to work for free so this should be easy enough... one idea could be to blast a bunch of local companies whose websites suck and offer to do spec design that they are free to reject if they don't like it - either way, you are free to use those "jobs" on your resume. What better way to impress employers than striking before & after's!
posted by rada at 12:15 PM on August 21, 2014 [16 favorites]

Yeah, my partner has a Master's in UX and it was not a good investment for him. (He wrote this book that's a good resource for learning UX principles).

To add to rada's recommendation: do some LinkedIn searching for pro bono UX assignments for nonprofits. I know the Taproot Foundation does some of this, and I've heard it's a good way to build not just a portfolio but also a professional network while you're developing new skills. Good luck!
posted by torridly at 12:47 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Aforementioned partner just told me a couple more book recommendations:
Don't Make Me Think and About Face.

Rosenfeld Media and A Book Apart also have some good resources that go into more detail on specific topics.
posted by torridly at 12:51 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a UX researcher and I am actively involved in hiring for my company's UX Design team. The #1 thing we look at when a candidate applies is their portfolio - so do whatever it takes to get the knowledge you need for a kickass portfolio. That does NOT have to be a certificate program, as others have mentioned here. The suggestion to start out on is a really good one!
posted by joan_holloway at 1:57 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd stay away from any jobs that treat UX as a developer function.

I think it is useful to learn how to prototype in HTML and other ways (like using Balsamiq + InVisionApp).

I'm seeing more UX Design + UX Reaearch positions. And as a Ux Manager currently, that's a winning combination.

When hiring, I look for a strong portfolio and the ability to discuss the thought (research + design) process that went into each project.

And the worth of the certificate will all depend on who it's from.
posted by reddot at 2:49 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just build a kickass portfolio. Sit down with one of your UX friends and determine what you'll need. I simply show wireframes in various stages of development, some sample usability tests and reports, some sample requirements documentation. When I interview, I orient the entire interview around my work samples to explain what I do.

A great way to build a portfolio is to do some sample projects. Better than school would be to offer to do some free work for clients.

I agree that I would stay away from any UX jobs that require you know coding or do end graphic design. Most of my sample prototypes were made in Visio.

Another good piece of advice is to approach your resume as yet another example of your ability to organize information. I clearly organize my skills and deliverables in a table at the top of my resume. I've often been told I got a job interview just for this reason.
posted by xammerboy at 4:08 PM on August 21, 2014

I work with and interview UX designers at a very well known company and only pay attention to their portfolio. Once their portfolio gets them in the door during the interview process we access their thought process and problem solving skills. Have never once hired anyone with some sort of dubious expensive certificate that I can remember.
posted by raw sugar at 9:56 PM on August 21, 2014

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