The UX Career Path

1 Apr

What are the career path options for UX designers? I’ve been debating where my career is headed lately. Currently I’m the Senior User Experience Designer for a midsize interactive marketing agency in San Francisco. I really like my job, but I’m always debating what’s next (as everyone should). The options for mainstream disciplines in the design industry are a bit more straightforward than the specialist roles like UX. They generally hope to become a Creative Director or move into a C level position. UX folks have many of these same avenues open to them but they’re not so set in stone.

Below I’ll give a rundown of some of the options I see for myself and the UX community at large. I also noted approximate San Francisco salaries for each that are pulled from tons of different sources. I tried to average data from Salary.com, Indeed.com, the UPA’s 2009 Salary Survey, AIGA 2010 Salary Survey, and job postings when available (very general):

Creative Director ($104k – $260k)
More and more design studios and agencies are starting to see the value in promoting UX designers into the role of Creative Director. Since the web has made the entire industry so much more complex, it now takes someone who can understand both the creative and technical aspects of projects. The fact that we, as UXsters, are so multi-disciplinarian and on a daily basis have to understand all aspects of a project from business requirements to user psychology to graphic design to backend development puts us in a great position to orchestrate multi-discipline teams on large and complex projects.

Director of User Experience ($100k – $190k)
The Director of User Experience (or it’s variations) is becoming more prominent in larger agencies. When a company has multiple offices and several UX teams, they need someone to drive the overall strategy and vision of the department. This is often a high-level managerial role like a regular Creative Director where you make sure projects are on track and your team is happy and performing 100%.  This is a sweet gig because you’re still immersed in UX most of the time. In other career paths, you eventually grow out of a “pure” UX position.

Consultant ($100hr. – ?)
The Consultant gig is popular with seasoned UX folks. In SF, an experienced UX Consultant can easily work at $100 hourly rates or more depending on their experience and the project type. Often Consultants supplement their projects with speaking gigs and I really have no idea if those actually pay anything or if they’re more self-promotional in nature. Consulting is a great route to take since you get to be your own boss and do your own thing. Not sure what the upper earning limit is on full-time Consulting but it’s for sure dependent on a million variables. I know one UX Consultant who is consistently booked and charges a $1.5k day rate. She works only about half the year.

Entrepreneur ($0 – $1,000,000,000,000)
Creating your own startup as a UX Designer is a great idea for a few reasons. One, you are able to understand the process that goes into building a great product. Two, you can probably do a huge amount of the work yourself. At least enough to get a proof of concept to shop around for VC money. This is often the hardest part in startups because the initial designs and product strategy cost a fortune. The amount you can make in the startup world is a lot like gambling. However, you’re not coming into the arena unarmed without applicable skills so you’re likely to fare better than the average startup. Also, there’s a definite chance that you’ll lose more money than you started out with.

What other career options are there for a UX designer these days?

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