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What is the best UX design program (master's or certificate)?

One of the websites I’ve become almost addicted to lately is Quora. I read and post there on a nearly daily basis. Its blend of discussion forum and question/answer website isn’t just entertaining, but educational and inspirational. This is one of the answers I’ve written on Quora.

These are my two cents, from someone who holds a bachelor in media technology and has studied cognitive science and UX. Those studies and my later career (co-founding a high growth digital agency) and the experience that brought me has strengthened my view that UX has little to do with technology. You can be a master JavaScript dev but have no clue about how the human psyche is wired or what makes a design intuitive or obvious in its use. UX finds its roots in human endeavors that predate semiconductors by millennia.

But in today's Internet startup world, the terms really tend to overlap. People asking for a UX'er think they want a programmer who makes stuff that works. In reality though, I think it's hard to be really good at both of those. There are those that are but they have generally gone from one to the other. Not aimed at getting great at both, at once. My recommendation to you is that you specialize in either, nurture an interest in the other, but don't go after both at once.

In my opinion, UX requires a certain perspective or mindset, a set of values of what's important. Standing up for the "idiot" user, admire the inconsistencies and limitations of human psychology and being a humanist who works with and not against our biological shortcomings. Understanding and gaining those values takes practice and studying.

Development of software relies on other values of practice and they're not always compatible with the former. UX designers don't come up with great designs through logical analysis. There's room for spontaneity and lateral thinking. Why it's wise to take UX out of the context of libraries, frameworks, widgets and preprogrammed controls and design on a bigger canvas. The iPhone was not born in an IDE.

The courses I look back at now as being most useful to me didn't concern programming but the scientific method and being able to critically analyze your own thought processes. Learning to interview people and write field notes as a way to observe what they did, rather than what they said, form the foundation in how I strive to design for what people need. Not what they say they need ("faster horses").

So I recommend you choose what school your heart tells you that you belong to. Start from there. Then find the bridges to the other side and don't let conventional thinking in either camp hold you back in regards to what you choose to do.


Big Quora fan here too!

I like your focus on changing ones mindset. It's so incredibly easy when you have all the insight in the technical workings, to blame interaction problems on the user.

For me, the most powerful transformation in this regard happened when I was working in a team where we took turns doing support. Getting to know the actual people behind the screen names was a game changer! It went from stupid user123 not understanding what order to click buttons, to us developers failing at creating something that would actually help Sarah perform her tasks.

For this reason I'll suggest considering rotating support between *everyone* in your organisation.

Hi Tobias,

That's a fantastic idea. Unfortunately there's often resistance to letting developers and end-users interact. There's this ages old idea that the project manager should be the only channel between the actual users and buyers and the team building something. It's incredibly harmful.

This article was updated on 2020-03-02

Jakob Persson

Your host. A founder and entrepreneur since 20 years. Having worked as a freelancer, consultant and co-founder of a successful digital agency has shaped his skills in and insights into business. Jakob blogs at, speaks at events and consults with agencies and freelancers in growing and developing their companies. He holds degrees in media technology and cognitive science.