Guide to UX Certifications

UX Certifications have been a ‘hot topic’ in the field. As rapidly changing and growing field UX has been a bit of a wild west up to this point. Whether we like it or not standardized UX certifications will likely be the next natural evolution.

While the discussion is ongoing, two popular UX industry certifications already exist, including Human Factors International Certification, and Nielson Norman Group.

In this article, we are going to look at why this is and also explore the following (click to jump to section):

What is A UX Certification?

A UX certification can be achieved through taking an exam, course, or university diploma that covers a variety of UX topics. It’s important to understand that certification does not equal licensing.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences:


  • Voluntary on part of the practitioner
  • Done by a non-government agency
  • Shows subject knowledge 
  • Establishes credibility with employers


  • Mandatory 
  • Regulated by Government 
  • Establishes regulation of the industry 
  • Testing is required along with proof of academic credentials, or experience

Source: https://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/september-october-2014/professional-ux-credentials-are-they-worth-the-paper-theyre-printed-on#R1

Let’s look at how certification and licensing works in the medical field.  An undergraduate nurse completes her Bachelors of Nursing at an accredited university.  She is considered to have finished her educational requirements or in a UX equivalent, her certification. To become a licensed BN, she would then need to take a state/provincial issued exam which is usually issued by a government-accredited organization.

Will UX Certification Become The Norm?

In April 2018, Jared Spool tweeted that he believed it was only a matter of time before organizations started hiring certified UX designers.

Tweet source – https://twitter.com/jmspool/status/986968553764081665

He always went on to say that he believes this will happen because essentially governments will require it.

Tweet source – https://twitter.com/jmspool/status/986968553764081665

David Travis of user-focused discusses how he changed his mind about the necessity of UX certification. He says his stance has changed due to working with a government agency who asked for his certifications. Second, he worries without an industry-standard certification that UX will become the ‘elite society’ of designers who are already in the industry, making it difficult for new designers to break in. Third, organizations and new designers have already begun asking where they can find the certification for the field. Finally, he believes that standard certification will bring about consistency on what core UX is.

So then is standardized certification a good or bad thing…… Let’s discuss this next.

Pros + Cons of UX Certifications

Here’s a quick overview of potential pros and cons of getting a UX Certification.

– Establishes credibility when applying for new jobs
– Increases confidence for new UX designers in their skills
– Digtuishes expert level UX practitioners from entry-level when an advanced level certification is taken
– The high cost of certifications exams and programs
– No real increase in salary for more experienced workers
– Travel and in-person attendance is required for current industry certifications (NN and HCI)

It appears those who get the most benefit for UX Certification are career changers and those getting started in UX.

While Measuring U does seem to agree that certifications can be beneficial to those starting in the field. They reported that they didn’t see significant growth in salary from having a certification:

“Of the 1,355 survey responses, 324 (24%) had some type of UX certification, either from a private company (like HFI or Nielsen Norman group) or an academic affiliation. Of the 1,355 responses, 1,226 had some usable salary data and 292 of these had some type of certification (7 respondents had more than one certification).

I found no statistical difference between the mean (log-transformed) salaries of respondents with certifications and those without. In fact, the nominal salary is actually 4% lower for those with certifications in general.”

…In fact, under most circumstances, certifications are associated with lower salaries (especially for respondents with advanced degrees). However, the lower salaries are most likely from the confounding effects of years of experience. Older certification programs tend to have respondents with more years of experience; newer certification programs are associated with less experience.”

Which ‘Type’ of Certification Is Right For You?

After making the case that UX certifications will likely be the future of UX that doesn’t mean that you should jump right into finding a certification.

You can get started in UX with no professional experience.

Industry Standard UX Design Certifications

Nielsen Norman

Nielsen Norman Group: are exam-based certifications, you can receive beginner and expert-level certification. Qualifying to take the exams, you will need to attend the UX conferences in person.

NN Group Certifications
  • UX Certification: Entry-level UX Designers need to take up to 5 courses to qualify for the exam.
  • UX Master Certification: Expert-level UX Designers can use this certification to expand and show proof of their advanced industry knowledge.

Indeed.com has rated this certification at 4.8.

UX School has written a review about whether or not the Nielson Norman Certification was worth having or not.

Human Factors International

Human Factors Certification: offers two certifications tracks, beginner level and advanced, you can choose the option based on what stage you are in UX career journey.

  • Certified Usability Analyst (CUA): This certification is for the beginning UX designer who is a career transition or wants level up their skills.
  • Certified User Experience Analyst (CXA): This certification is for the advanced UX designer who wants to set themselves apart as having expert level skills in the field.

If you are looking to take the HCI exam, you can read this in-depth guide on how to prepare to pass your exam.

University Degrees

University degrees will be the most costly way to gain ‘UX Certification’. It does, however, give you an advantage in the job search market as a new UX designer. Many organizations are more likely to hire a candidate with a UX degree or diploma. Of course, not having a UX degree doesn’t automatically put you out of the running in the job market, this article on Prototyr makes a great case on how to find a job without a degree.

UX mastery has put together a huge list of UX degrees from all around the world. If you are looking to go down the university path, this article gives a great breakdown of what to do before you sign up for a degree program.

Online + Offline Bootcamps

UX Bootcamps have become a quite popular way of getting a UX certification. Course report has an extensive list of reviews of several online and offline bootcamps. Switchup also has a list of what they believe are the best tech bootcamps in 2020.

Here are links to UX beginners favorite bootcamps:

So which UX Certification route will you pick?


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