With any new professional field, it’s going to take a while for formal university and college degree programs to catch up, so it’s not surprising that there are currently a limited number of graduate degrees in UX Design for prospective designers to choose from. Only the most innovative and forward-thinking computer science and engineering departments have caught on, leaving other institutions to tack on concentrations and certifications.
But there’s good news from actual UX professionals: many working designers argue that there’s not necessarily a need for a UX degree to begin working in the profession. Experts in the User Experience Professionals Association and the Interaction Design Association often agree that certification programs and even MOOCs can be just as good as formal degree programs, for those who already have a grounding in computer science or are already working in a similar profession.
For such students, moving into UX Design may be as simple as tightening up some specific skills rather than going “back to school.” At any rate, nearly everyone agrees that real-world experience is best. For working professionals, agencies such as Skillshare or Treehouse may be more cost effective and convenient than conventional classes. Since UX Design is a field that lends itself well to alternative instruction methods, Value Colleges sees a value in alerting students to the non-degree or non-traditional degree options available for user experience and human-centered design. That includes private and public colleges, online master’s programs, free MOOC courses, for-profit workshops and conferences, private consulting and training agencies, and everything in between.
The institutions on this list are not formally ranked, since a legitimate ranking would require coming up with a methodology that could put apples and oranges in the same formula, but all are researched and considered with the same attention to detail and trustworthiness that defines Value Colleges. Obviously, prospective students should consider their own needs before committing: a beginner will certainly have different requirements than a seasoned professional; a working adult will have different needs than a younger college student. There’s no wrong way to learn UX Design, but some ways may be more right for you.
Being that this list is NOT ranked, we have decided to add to our initial 50 list of Alternative UX Design programs. Please check back frequently as we continue to promote new learning opportunities.
Academy of Art University
The Academy of Art University is a highly respected, private, for-profit art and design school owned by Stephens Institute. At 18,000 students, AAU can claim the largest student body of any private art academy. With regional accreditation from the Western Association of Colleges and Schools, and a history of influential and acclaimed faculty and alumni, AAU stands head and shoulders above its competition. Academy of Art University offers a Master of Fine Art degree in Web Design and New Media that mixes art/design with technical know-how. AAU’s San Francisco location, meanwhile, puts graduates in prime employment territory for UX Design.
American Graphics Institute
Begun in 1994, the American Graphics Institute is not precisely a school; they are a group of writers and instructors who have published over fifty books on programming, design, operating systems and more under the Digital Classroom series. While AGI is headquartered in Boston, their expert instructors offer courses in UX Design at their Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia locations, as well as online. Their courses are reasonably priced, comparable to many public university tuition rates, and students need no previous experience to start.
Austin Center for Design
Located in Austin, TX, one of the fastest-growing and most exciting new tech centers, the Austin Center for Design began in 2010, founded by entrepreneur Jon Kolko to combine instruction in design and social entrepreneurship. Their education focuses on using design and technology for community building and humanitarian efforts. A one-year course is offered at $15,000, comparable to tuition rates at many private and public colleges, with 10-day courses and workshops also available. It’s a fresh model that has the potential to set a new norm for tech education.
A respected, private business, accounting, and finance university in Waltham, MA, Bentley University has kept up with the times and set a course for the future with courses that prepare students for the future of business. That includes degree programs in UX Design, such as the Masters of Human Factors in Information Design. All coursework is online, with the exception of a single week-long residency, allowing working adults flexibility and convenience to complete the program and improve their UX credentials.
Bloc is an online programming education company offering a radically different way of teaching computer engineers their trade. Designed to simulate on-the-job training, Bloc pairs students with an individual mentor who leads them through a realistic project, in a 12, 18, or 36-week online course. The UX & UI Course, for $4999, carries students through all the basics of UX and UI design, building a working portfolio of projects that can then be used in job searches. Bloc’s founders argue that their boot-camp system educates programmers and designers more effectively than classroom instruction, and represents a new way of thinking about training.
California State University - Fullerton
The largest member of the esteemed California State University system is also a Hispanic-serving and Asian America Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution, highly rated on the social mobility index for the opportunity they provide minority students. The Fullerton Extension Education/Professional Development wing offers a graduate certificate in User Experience and Customer-Centered Design, a six-course program for working adults who want to improve their credentials in UX Design. Not all states are eligible for the online program, but for those who are, it’s a reputable education from a top university.
The delightfully-named Center Centre is a brand new facility in Chattanooga, TN, dedicated specifically to relieving the UX Designer drought in the Tennessee region. The Centre Centre’s curriculum is built around the founders’ Unicorn Institute, a research project that used data and interviews from area companies to determine what skills were most needed in the UX field and how best to train professional primed to go straight into industry roles. At $60,000 for a two-year program, the Center Centre is a program like no other, promising to be a game-changer in Tennessee.
Cooper, a design and strategy company founded in 1992, publishes instructional texts on usability and interaction design, consults with companies on user-centered design projects, and offers workshops and corporate training. Cooper U holds regular UX Boot Camp sessions in San Francisco for designers and professionals who want to develop their UX skills. These four-day events pair participants with local non-profits and start-ups to develop real-world problem-solving projects for guided hands-on learning.
Quite possibly the leading source for MOOC courses, Coursera, founded in 2012, has come to dominate the MOOC market with course offerings from some of the most highly respected public and private universities and colleges, including several on this list. With thousands of courses available for free, and many reputable courses available at a fraction of their cost from their home institution, Coursera can be a convenient way for tech professionals to improve skills and practice with new technologies. Among its many design offerings is an 8-course program in Interaction Design from UC San Diego.
Design Lab is a start-up founded by Harish Venkatesan and Daniel Shapiro, two designers from UPenn and Duke University, respectively, who are attempting to reimagine how tech workers are educated and trained. Their UX Academy is an online UI/UX bootcamp designed especially for working professionals changing fields or specializations. With three different paces – Hustler, Part-Time, or Easy-going – students learn core skills, employment-market skills, and essential tools of the trade. Companies like Design Lab are set to put all but the savviest traditional computer science colleges out of business.
Founded in just 2011, General Assembly is a 21st century institution that has spread from one New York City group of entrepreneurs and tech workers into a 15-campus transformative education machine. General Assembly offers numerous UX bootcamps, courses, and workshops at their many locations, giving prospective designers all over the world an opportunity to build their skills and portfolio with real, working projects.
The Gymnasium was started by Aquent, a temporary staffing agency with locations across the US and the world, to improve the credentials of their people and more readily meet their clients’ needs for qualified tech professionals. To do so, the Gymnasium offers many free online courses in UX and UI design for working adults who sign up for an account. Of course, as a staffing agency, Aquent’s Gymnasium can also offer temporary work that could lead to a full-time job. It’s just one way companies are stepping in to close the skills gap.
Human Factors International
For new or career-changing tech professionals looking to break into UX design, Human Factors International offers two basic certification programs: Certified Usability Analyst, and Certified User Experience Analyst. HFI is promoted as one of the oldest usability agencies in the business, with over 30 years of experience, and while their certification programs may not take the place of a degree, they are a helpful entry on a resume demonstrating proficiency in UX and human factors – a little something to get your foot in the door.
Illinois Institute of Technology
The Illinois Institute of Technology – known locally as Illinois Tech – is a university ranked by the Princeton Review as one of the best in the Midwest. Illinois Tech is known as a value for the strong salary and job prospects of their graduates, and there are numerous options available for certification, undergraduate, and graduate degrees. The certificate in Web Design and Application Development is a way for prospective UX designers to get a jump start in their career without the investment of a degree program.
Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis
Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis is an unusual collaboration between two major public research universities designed to bring top-quality education to the Indianapolis area. Largely focused on adult programs and tech, engineering, and business, IUPUI has been recognized as an up-and-coming, innovative university by U.S. News & World Report. The IUPUI School of Informatics and Computing offers a graduate certificate in Human-Computer Interaction, a 15-credit program that students can take online or on-campus. It’s a reputable program from a respected university, sure to pay off.
Interaction Design Foundation
The Interaction Design Foundation is a bold corporation from Denmark that offers world-class design education for a reasonable price. Basing their program on the Scandinavian public-education system, IDF seeks to keep costs down and quality up by prioritizing smart business over profit. Offering many free, online, self-paced User Experience courses, IDF’s ambition and transformative vision has gotten them the attention of Forbes, Wired, MSNBC, and more.
Iowa State University
Iowa State University, the preeminent research institution in Iowa, offers a fully-online Master of Science degree in Human Computer Interaction. As a land-grant university, originally coeducational in an era when that was a rarity, Iowa State has always emphasized access, and their online MS degree makes education accessible to anyone with a web connection. This is a full master’s degree program, 30 credit hours, and can be earned completely online. Best of all, wherever you are, you pay Iowa State’s low in-state tuition, only $452 per credit.
Kent State University
One of the most prestigious research institutions in Ohio, Kent State University has made some of the region’s most significant discoveries and developments in engineering, technology, and aeronautics. They also offer a fully-online master’s degree in User Experience Design from the School of Library and Information Science. Like Iowa State, Kent State’s online program is charged at the same rate as on-campus students, whether Ohio residents or not, and the program can be completed in less that two years for a complete master’s degree.
Lindsey Wilson College
Lindsey Wilson College, a private Methodist college in Columbia, KY, operates the Louisville Center for Design (LC4D), a state-of-the-art design program offering online degrees and courses. Working professionals can earn a Master of Arts in Interactive Design fully online through the LC4D, focusing on Visual Design, Programming, and User Experience. For a private college Lindsey Wilson keeps costs low at $475 per credit, and the LC4D also offers free online courses in the MOOC format.
The Luma Institute is a Pittsburgh, PA-based company offering UX Design instruction in a variety of formats around the world. The Luma System of instruction is built on 36 points, emphasizing the power of human-centered design for changing the world and innovating how business is done. Luma offers public workshops, private workshops, certification programs, and more for individuals and businesses. Their slogan, “Make Things Better,” could stand in as a motto for UX Design in general.
One of the best-known online education providers for tech and programming instruction, Lynda was founded in 1995 by digital animator and professor Lynda Weinman as experiment in providing online video-based education for programmers and designers. Today, owned by LinkedIn, Lynda is a billion-dollar business that offers courses in tech and business, including numerous courses in UX Design. The Lynda model is unusual in education, giving students access to courses through a monthly subscription of only $25, allowing students to learn at their own pace. It’s an innovative way to learn an innovative skill set.
Missouri University of Science & Technology
The foremost engineering and technology-centered research university in Missouri, Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T) has one of U.S. News & World Report’s top 10 engineering schools and some of the most respected computer science programs in the region. S&T’s Distance and Continuing Education offers an excellent four-course graduate certificate program in Human Systems Integration that has been developed in collaboration by the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, and the Department of Business and Information Technology. The certificate can be earned online, and high-performing students may be admitted to the full MS program.
Neilson Norman Group
The Neilson Norman Group is a consulting and training agency founded in 1998 to increase the quality of user experience practice and instruction. In addition to consulting and corporate training, NN/g offers two UX certification programs: the UX Certificate (for around $3500) and the UX Master Certificate (for around $10,500). Neilson Norman’s certifications are not available online, but their UX Conferences are held in multiple locations around the world, including San Francisco, New York City, Washington DC, and more. NN/g certifications are highly respected and never expire.
One of the world’s most respected institutions for architecture, design, and fine arts, Brooklyn, NY’s Pratt Institute has influenced these fields since 1887 with a long line of world-changing faculty and alumni. Students can benefit from the Pratt reputation with the UX Advanced Certificate program. A four-course certification, the UX Advanced Certificate is open to students who already have a master’s degree or who are part of the Library and Information Science or Museums and Digital Culture master degree programs. Pratt’s new MS in Information Experience Design (IXD) program combines elements of Information Science (IS), Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), and User Experience (UX) into a pace-setting graduate degree.
Quinnipiac University, a private institution in Hamden, CT, has a well-known business program ranked as one of the best in the nation, but they’ve become especially prominent as online educators in recent years. Quinnipiac offers a fully online Master of Science degree in Interactive Media with a UX Design concentration. For a private university, Quinnipiac keeps their online tuition rates fairly reasonable, especially compared to some for-profits, at $895 per credit. It’s a respected degree from a university named as one of the most innovative in their class.
Rochester Institute of Technology
A top-ranked polytechnic institute in suburban Rochester, NY, the Rochester Institute of Technology has been a pioneer in software engineering, video game design, and other computing and tech fields. RIT’s online Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction has been ranked as a top 25 degree program by U.S. News & World Report, allowing distance-education students to earn the RIT reputation from wherever they live. At $954 per credit, it’s a proven success, with over 95% of graduates finding a place.
One of the nine colleges founded before the Revolutionary War (the Colonial Colleges), Rutgers University has not let its illustrious history make it complacent or keep from modernizing, and even driving research and development. Rutgers has a highly developed online education system that includes a fully online Masters of Information degree program ranked in the top 10 of online programs by U.S. News & World Report. With the Rutgers name, an online degree is capable of increasing your job market potential considerably.
San Francisco State University
There are a few obvious destinations if you’re interested in a computing career – Silicon Valley, Seattle, Austin, and, of course, San Francisco, top the list. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that San Francisco State University, a public research institution, would have plenty of choices for alternative computer science degrees and certifications, such as the 30-hour, 3-weekend Mobile UX/UI Design Intensive Certificate. Students learn hands-on design research, designing, and testing of iOS and Android mobile apps over the course of three weekend courses. It’s a quick, reputable way into a new field for those with computing experience.
Savannah College of Art and Design
The Savannah College of Art and Design – SCAD to just about everyone – was always intended to be different. Founded in 1978, it’s a young college that has kept its original boldness, when it was created to fill gaps in art and design education in the south. Always ahead of bigger, slower universities, and closer to the small, innovative firms and agencies, SCAD offers unusual degrees such as the online Master of Arts in Interactive Design and Game Development, a 45-credit program that was one of the first of its kind in the south. It’s a convenient way to get a degree from a name that says “quality.”
School of Visual Arts
The School of Visual Arts, in Manhattan, New York City, is one of the most respected and famed visual arts graduate programs in the world, with a long legacy of well-known alumni. A private, for-profit institution, SVA has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top 20 art and design graduate school, and graduates have an exceptionally high average salary rate for arts schools thanks to the SVA reputation on the job market. SVA offers a summer intensive program in Interactive Design, with students taking a set of four evening courses. The summer program emphasizes collaborative exploration and gives students a valuable credential from a world-renowned institution. In addition to the summer program, the school offers a full two year degree program in Interaction Design.
Sitepoint is another example of programmers and designers doing it for themselves. Originally a message board, Sitepoint has branched out into publishing, releasing books on the newest developments in tech way before any formal college or university can catch up, and of video tutorials by creators, for creators. Like Lynda, Sitepoint works on a subscription model, with subscribers getting full access to enough content to learn anything they want, including a full slate of UX Design information.
Skillshare is called a “global learning community for creators,” offering thousands of video tutorials and courses in topics from Design and Photography to Technology and Gaming. In short, if it can be taught in an online video, Skillshare has it, from experienced professionals and creators who practice what they teach. Much like Sitepoint and Lynda, Skillshare works on a monthly subscription plan of only $10 a month. While it will not culminate in a degree or certification, Skillshare allows working professionals an opportunity to increase their knowledge and skills easily and cheaply.
Southern Methodist University
Southern Methodist University, a private research university in Dallas, TX, has a high national reputation, consistently coming close to the top 50 in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, with many programs in the top 10. Southern Methodist’s reputation in business and technology has led to many connections in the vibrant business world of Dallas. SMU offers a graduate certificate program in User Experience Design. It’s shorter and less costly than a degree, making it a solid value with great potential.
Springboard is an online tech education company with an international team and student body that, like Bloc, Design Lab, and others, is seeking to make programming and design education easily accessible to their clientele. Springboard offers a 100-hour course in UX Design that is designed for 8 weeks, but can be completed at the student’s own pace, thanks to their monthly pricing model, which charges $299 per month. Students work through 7 projects and 100 hours of courses to begin building a portfolio and get an entry into a UX career.
Stanford University d.school
Everyone knows Stanford University – one of the most prestigious private research universities in the world, the name “Stanford” is short for genius in technology, engineering, and science. But you don’t need to enroll as a student at Stanford to access Stanford’s educational excellence. The d.school (not to be confused with the Design Program at Stanford) is a non-traditional network of classes, workshops, and labs attended by students from across Stanford. The d.school also offers an Executive Education Bootcamp for professionals in executive positions to learn methods for applying design thinking to increase productivity and efficiency in their own businesses.
The Team W
The Team W is a consulting firm based in Edgar, WI. Founded by Susan Weinschenk, a behavior psychologist, the Team W provides consulting for corporations, non-profits, educational institutions, and more in using behavioral psychology to improve business and customer relations. The Team W also offers in-person workshops on user design, as well as online tutorials and courses at varying prices. For corporate creative teams, a consulting agency like the Team W can be revolutionary.
An Orlando, FL based tech education group, Treehouse offers courses, workshops, and conferences in all things computing, from HTML to iOS and Android apps, including, of course, design. Members can choose from a Basic Plan ($25 month) or Pro Plan ($49 month), with the Pro Plan offering bonus content and the ability to download materials for offline use. Both plans have access to instructional content and message boards for discussion and questions to the community.
image source by Steve Eliopoulos
One of U.S. News & World Report’s top 20 research universities, Tufts has been at the forefront of scientific study and research since its founding. Not an official member of the Ivy League, Tufts (located in Medford, MA) has long been considered a younger sibling of sorts, with comparable reputation and ROI. Tufts offers a graduate certificate in Human Computer Interaction that has been developed in collaboration between the Department of Psychology, School of Engineering, and Department of Occupational Therapy. Like Southern Methodist, this is a certification rather than a degree program and can be used by professionals for a leg up in the job market.
Called the “Netflix of Education” by the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco-based Udemy has done more than nearly any other competitor to make non-traditional online education a viable investment. With more than 35,000 courses in over 80 languages, Udemy is creating a broad and thorough slate of opportunities for working professional to learn new skills in everything from business and music to teaching and tech. Many courses in UX design can get aspiring designers’ skill level up for a reasonable price, though rates vary considerably.
University of Baltimore
An urban public school in Baltimore, MD, the University of Baltimore is best known as a professional university specializing in applied sciences, business, and law. The Graduate Program at the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences offers a graduate certificate in UX Design that can be completed fully online. The 12-credit hour program can also be a start to the full M.S. in Interaction Design and Information Architecture.
University of California - San Diego
The University of California system is one of the most respected and high-ranked public higher education systems in the US, even the world. The UC system schools excel in tech and engineering, and UC San Diego in particular is rated a Public Ivy and a U.S. News & World Report top 10 public university. That reputation is serious on the job market, and UC San Diego’s online UX Design certificate offers students the opportunity to earn a credential from a renowned institution in a convenient format.
University of Kentucky
The University of Kentucky’s Computer Science Department, part of the highly-ranked College of Engineering, is home to the Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments, an interdisciplinary research center focusing on human-computer interaction and user experience. The Vis Center is a not a degree-granting department, but students can earn a graduate certificate in Human-Technology Interaction, a 15-credit program including a research or internship assignment and coursework taught by faculty from psychology, computer science, and more.
University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth
Part of the reputed University of Massachusetts system, UMass Dartmouth is ranked as one of the best public institutions in New England by U.S. News & World Report, and their online degree programs are ranked in the top 100 nationally. UMass Dartmouth’s Online & Continuing Education offers a fully online Master of Science in Computer Science, and an online graduate certification in Computer Science. Both of these programs allow students to choose a set of courses to focus on design and usability, making them convenient ways to earn a highly respected UMass credential from home.
University of Massachusetts - Lowell
UMass Lowell is a university on the rise, quickly catching up to UMass flagship Amherst in enrollment and reputation, and widely considered an underrated value. Part of Lowell’s strategy has been upping the ante on online education, including a graduate certificate in Human-Computer Interaction. It’s a four-course, 12-credit program that can also be applied to the full MS in Computer Science. Lowell’s tuition rates are reasonable, giving it the reputation of a smart investment.
University of Washington
The Seattle, WA tech business scene is as well known as Seattle’s other biggest name, Starbuck’s, and the city owes a lot of that fame to the University of Washington, which has provided a steady supply of highly-qualified graduates to the field. Working adults who want to increase their skill level in UX can choose the User Centered Design graduate certificate from the Human Centered Design and Engineering department. The four-course evening program can also be applied to the MS in Human-Centered Design & Engineering.
University of Wisconsin - Stout
Menomonie, Wisconsin’s University of Wisconsin – Stout is Wisconsin’s designated public polytechnic university, focused on applied sciences, industrial engineering, and technology. The Stout Technology and Research Park houses numerous labs, research centers, and businesses, making Stout one of the centers of technology research in Wisconsin. Stout offers a fully online, six credit certification program in Improving the User Experience, which can also be incorporated into the Master of Science degree in Technical and Professional Communication for a UX specialization.
User Interface Engineering
One of the founders of the Center Centre, Jared M. Spool, is also the founder of User Interface Engineering, a consulting and training company started in 1988, at the forefront of user design. UIE offers the All You Can Learn Library, a database of 245 seminars by UX experts that students can access for a monthly subscription fee of $23 per month, or $16 for a single seminar. Hours of instructional content from a pioneer in UX design is a low-risk way to beef up your skill set.
UX Design Edge
UX Design Edge is a consulting and training firm founded by Everett McKay, a UX Design expert formerly with Microsoft, who has conducted workshops in user experience around the world. In addition to consulting with companies as varied as US Bank, Discover, and CVS, UX Design Edge offers UX training in five different formats and settings, including virtual and on-demand online classes, “virtual onsite” workshops, two and three-day workshops, and a three day UX Design Essential course.
UX Week by Adaptive Path
Adaptive Path, a San Francisco-based consultancy group, was founded in 2001 as one of the first UX-centered communities. While Adaptive Path partners with Capital One, they also provide pro-bono consultations with charities, activists, and world-changers, and host the globally-known UX Week, a major four-day UX conference for seminars, workshops, and networking. UX Week is the most significant UX event of the year, and a prime site for designers and prospective designers to make connections and find opportunities.
Westchester Community College
Community college is usually thought of as a place for beginning an education, but Westchester Community College, in Peekskill, NY, is a little different. Associated with the State University of New York system, one of the premier university systems in the US, Westchester Community College has more means and opportunities than many four-year colleges and universities, including graduate certificate programs and non-credit professional courses. The Center for the Digital Arts offers a 48-hour, non-credit graduate certificate program in User Experience that can prepare computing professionals for a career in UX design and interactive technologies through a rigorous, experiential, low-cost program.
Reliably ranked among the top 20 universities in the world, and the top 5 in the US, UCLA has been a leader in higher education from the very beginning. Significantly, UCLA was one of the most important pioneers in computer science, along with MIT and Stanford. For designers and programmers who want to up their credentials in UX Design, UCLA offers several fully online certificate programs and courses, including an Advanced Web and Interaction Design certificate, a Design Communication Arts certificate, and a User Experience Design course. They are a convenient way to earn credentials while working around your current schedule, from an institution with an unquestioned reputation.
Rhode Island School of Design
One of the most acclaimed art and design schools in the world – first on the U.S. News & World Report ranking – the Rhode Island School of Design is renowned for cultivating unique perspectives, rewarding innovation, and fusing the arts with technology. RISD offers a Interactive Design certificate that brings students’ art and design talents into conversation with strong digital technology skills to prepare them for UX Design work in many possible fields.