This is something that calls my attention, specially here at SO UX: I'm seeing more and more questions (and answers) about marketing than any other thing, including the usability aspects of a site or app. Just to be clear, I have a degree in marketing, so I can see the obvious relations between marketing and UX.

However, I always thought the usability part was more related to design or even computer disciplines, yet more questions are on how to sell, how to convert, ROI, and other typical marketing areas. This is obvious as well, because most sites are being built to make money, but maybe because it's natural in me, the marketing part takes me like 2% of the time, while design and coding takes 98%. Of course I'm not considering research and testing, just the initial deployment of a site.

So, my daughter and a friend, both design students, were talking about their future as designers, and we started talking about UX. They were really interested and asked me what career should they study to pursue a career in UX (UX doesn't exist as a career here). I automatically answered "computer sciences", but it got me thinking, because I personally perceive that as most important, yet it looks to me marketing takes the lion's part nowadays.

In short: which is the closest discipline to UX assuming that UX doesn't exist as an university degree? Marketing? Design? Programming? Something else? Is there some kind of documentation that supports any of these options?

  • Edit this question to the question at the bottom. As it stands this will be pretty opinionated and hard to answer. Listing some actual degree options at your school of choice and asking which is closest to a career in UX and why would be better. Ultimately UX is making things better for people and hopefully any of those degrees listed are focused on that
    – DaveAlger
    Feb 14 '15 at 4:08

UX as a term and discipline is somewhat new. Prior to it being called UX it was often call HCI (Human Computer Interaction).

Today, now, aside from recent grads, most UX professionals do not have a User Experience Degree. The degrees and experience they do have can very wildly.

  • Graphic Design (maybe lean towards UI Design)
  • Industrial Design (also UI Design)
  • Marketing (May lean towards research)
  • Computer Science (May lean towards UI Engineering)
  • Library Sciences (May lean toward Information Architecture)
  • English (May lean towards content design)
  • Psychology (May lean towards cognitive psychology and understanding 'mental models'
  • as well as many others.

So I can't say any one field is any closer to UX than any other. They all have their pros and cons. And a good UX team will have diversity of skills and experience and pick from all of these backgrounds.

  • industrial design can also lean to product design that is responsible from the product itself.
    – Abektes
    Feb 14 '15 at 8:03
  • In my country, we always had something "UX-y" which is called "Systems Analyst" and it's a mid-term degree in the Computer Sciences career. As the name implies, it analyzes systems (computational, educational, corporate or whatever system) in order to provide a "proper UX". Hence why to me Computer Sciences is the obvious choice, but I agree with your list in general
    – Devin
    Feb 14 '15 at 17:37
  • The most obvious difference betwen Systems Analysis and User Experience is starting points, and you can see it in the names they use. Systems analysis looks at matters from the context of the system (which the user is a part of); user expreince looks at matters from the context of the user (of which your system is just one of SO many a human will interact with in the course of their day). Good systems analysis will take user experience into consideration when building requirements, constraints, etc., but in terms of disciplines they have different focuses, goals and outcomes. Feb 14 '15 at 18:20
  • 1
    There's a big gap on that list: Psychology and specifically Cognitive Psychology (and related: Cognitive Science): That's the background of Don Norman of Nielsen Norman Group who I'd argue is the founder of the whole industry. Don published "User Centered System Design: New Perspectives on Human-computer Interaction" back in 1986. It was based on his earlier cognitive psychology research. HCI grew out of psychologists and CogSci people getting their hands on the early computers.
    – PhillipW
    Feb 14 '15 at 19:03
  • @phillipw feel free to add it!
    – DA01
    Feb 15 '15 at 1:16

As a UX professional, I talked recently with a New Media director and we discovered with pleasure how our skills actually complemented each other, and to me I see a whole new breed of designers and concepts coming to light.

Whike there are some gaps in understanding fully what each does, I'm noticing many marketing people are now looking at the discipline of UX to help them, and not relying on the old "web designer" unicorn to build their sites.

One of the things that has become interesting to me is the training and vocabulary of early web marketers, which is wrapped around the "New Media" degree. In some ways, key media / marketese principles are close cousins to UX. For example "telling stories" came from them, is akin to "storyboarding" and "use case scenarios". Of course there are slight differences, in that "telling stories" involves the combination of content and graphics intended to pull the user through an interesting story - utilizing what we might call "emotional design." Like any design for others, knowing who users are and what they are looking for is just what UX does - using contextual inquiry and user testing methods common to what we might call "use case scenarios" are the "stories" (though they have mostly been used to determine the functions users need in business applications.)

Both marketers and UX designers need to know what the intuitive flow should be based on user data. This is where HCI training and marketing meet - and I see it as a whole new cross breed of customer experience designers of the future.


UX as a discipline is about anticipating and influencing people's behavior. You can come at that from just about any angle. Most commonly, you're either a designer, developer, researcher, or occasionally marketer.

Wherever you come from, you'll be called on to impact business and marketing goals. That's the clear and present danger activities. Branding is a longer-term area UX needs to impact, but few organizations realize it.

  • Sadly, I'd say few organizations even realize UX is there to impact business and marketing goals. Often UX is simply 'that group that draws pictures to show the developers over seas where I want them to put the button'. :)
    – DA01
    May 3 '15 at 19:44

Some good answers here, but my experience gives me a different one: no, marketing is not the closest. The closest is product management, at least how it's defined today.

That said, a little background. I started as a tech journalist, moved into QA, then PM and UX work. Today I'm a PM/UX Designer. I got into UX out of necessity, but also because all UX really is is delivering the path for users to reach the goals which you set. If that's the case, it doesn't really matter where you come from. To learn UX, you need to study...well, how people interact with things.

As someone who never cared for school, I can tell you that means psychology, sociology, and maybe design-oriented classes will help, but really UX is in everything we do. We just don't always notice. The guy who makes the door for your car is directly involved in UX, even if he didn't architect it, design it, or do anything outside of assembled the pieces. That's why my education in UX came from product testing and QA: the goal was not to deliver whatever the engineering team had built because they were told to, it was to deliver the best product possible. So if I tested something and it wasn't as good as it could be, and not just for myself but for anyone else, then we had a problem.

Marketing has some of the same challenges as product design, so that's true. Much of marketing is understanding the customer wants/needs and focusing on what the product/service offers, and delivering that message to potential customers. Meaning UX. It's indirect; there's limited user experience when you're reading a pamphlet or website compared to using a new app or a new computer. But it's certainly there, and the value is just as important.

TL;DR - marketing isn't the closest, everything has UX in it. For your daughter to learn about UX, psychology+sociology would be the best to study in school. To get a job in the tech industry doing UX though, best focus would be on UI design, graphic art, project management, and marketing last. The others are much easier, more direct routes to the field.

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