Despite recent massive layoffs in tech, I believe this industry remains one of the most future-proof, hottest, best paid, with the most benefits out there. And with a possible recession coming up next year, more individuals are likely to be looking to acquire new skills and change their jobs and careers in 2023.
UX/UI Design is a core competency within the tech industry, and the need for it has been growing exponentially since 1970. Today, almost any company that hopes to create a competitive product, either physical or digital, must have great design and, therefore, great designers. Jakob Nielsen, one of the fathers of UX Design, predicted that we'll need 100 Million UX professionals by 2050.
And yes, that's a hundred million with a big M.
However, I don't want to sugarcoat this. The journey ahead is long, with some people taking as long as a year or more to make this switch. It's not a two months or sixteen weeks thing. And that's normal. Other professionals have to train for up to five years or more to enter the job market.
Now, for my story.
A year ago, I had a job I felt stuck in and didn't feel like I belonged. I was ready to finally take that step toward Product Design. The story of how I got interested in UX is for another time. For today let me walk you on the path I followed in my quest for the ultimate UX education.
For the first few months, I decided to take the self-study route. I bought all the books I could and leveraged the world wide web for the best materials and courses available.
I know the more options you have, the harder it is to choose. It can be daunting and sometimes nerve-wracking, especially concerning significant life decisions like a career switch or learning a new skill.
In my view, to be ready for a role in Product Design, you need to gain proficiency in three areas: UX Research, Interaction Design, and Visual (or UI) Design, while making sure you get Mentorship and Career Support. All of these can be either paid for or piecemealed together.
On top of this, you can really set yourself apart by understanding and practicing critical soft skills such as the abilities to articulate your design decisions, give great presentations about your work, or manage stakeholders.
We live in a world where we moved from a paradigm of information scarcity to information overload. Often it takes more work to tell what is valuable and relevant and what is not. It is also important to note that it doesn't really matter which route you take as long as you end up with a solid portfolio and foundational knowledge.
I found a plethora of UX/UI courses and dived head-first into a handful of them. During my search, I noticed a few patterns and identified several categories. I'll explore each of them to save you some time.
The DIY Approach
The most affordable option of them all involves sourcing yourself all I mentioned above: knowledge of UX Research, Interaction Design, UI Design, Mentorship, Feedback, Portfolio, and Career Support.
You could do this by reading and curating books, articles, videos, and podcasts about UX design. A great choice if you have no deadlines and all the time in the world to make this career transition. There's no support or guidance, but then there's no cost or pressure.
Here are some resources that I put together when I first started. I hope they will be useful to you as well.
📚 Books to read
- Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
- Just Enough Research by Erika Hall
- About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Dave Cronin, Robert Reimann, and Christopher Noessel
- Laws of UX: Using Psychology to Design Better Products & Services by Jon Yablonski
✍️ Companies Design Blogs
🔎 Case Studies
🌆 Instagram Accounts to Follow:
🎥 YouTube Creators to Watch:
🎙️ Podcasts to Listen to:
🤝 Free Mentoring:
💼 Career Support:
- Career Strategy Lab by Sarah Doody
Pro's of this approach
✅ Cost - Close to being completely free.
✅ Commitment - Great if you're not yet sure you want a career in design.
✅ Speed - Set your own pace. Invest as much or as little time as you want.
❌ Community - Can feel lonely at times as you're not part of a community with a shared goal.
❌ Feedback and Guidance - You won't always know what to do next or if what you're doing makes sense.
The Low-Cost Self-Study Courses
If you're just looking to get acquainted with design, low-cost courses are a great option to dip your toes in the water. They are generally priced at a maximum of $100/month and offer loads of information in the form of written articles, recorded videos, or podcasts.
It's really up to you how much you make use of your subscription, as once you stop paying for it, you lose access to the materials, so you might consider this when choosing them over other options. The upside is that you can study whenever you have time.
Some examples of where you can find awesome courses are Udemy, Coursera, and Interaction Design Foundation, also known shortly as IdF. Most of them offer a certificate upon completion, with IdF's being one that holds more weight.
One of the most well-known courses in this bracket is the Google UX Course, with over half a million students to date.
They are all great picks, especially for the price you're paying. Here are some pro's and con's.
✅ Cost - Affordable one-time cost or monthly subscriptions in the range of $10 to $100.
✅ Content - Lots of information available, usually at a high quality.
✅ Time - You have full flexibility when it comes to the time you spend learning and practicing.
❌ No Portfolio - With the price being so low, these programs are focused on educating the masses. You pay the subscription, you get the information, and that's it. No practice, no assignments, and no real-world application. The exception to the rule is the Google UX course, where everyone works on the same project brief.
❌ No Feedback - At this price point, there is no expert or mentor review, unfortunately. Most of these courses rely on peer review, meaning inexperienced students who are in the same boat as you review your work. The exception to the rule is IdF, where an expert reviews your answers to quizzes and grades them based on your performance.
❌ No Career Support - As mentioned, when you're done, that's it. Most of these options won't train you in interviewing, career strategy, or salary negotiation, or offer support as you start looking for a role.
❌ No Community - Yes, there are some student comment areas, but you won't really belong to a community that's there to help you grow.
The Live In-Person or Online Bootcamps
There is a lot to be said of bootcamps. Some are praised, and some are dismissed. There are a few variations of the bootcamp formula, one of which is the live, in-person, or online bootcamp.
Bootcamps tend to offer an all-in-one recipe. They give you curated information, guided mentorship, and career support. You will have access to a community, teaching assistants, student groups, and sometimes individual mentorship.
A bootcamp aims to arm you with everything needed to secure your first role, so unlike Coursera or Udemy courses, these companies offer more than just readily available information about design.
Based on whether the classes are held in-person or online, the cost of these programs can vary wildly, ranging from very affordable, like Memorisely or Dribbble ($1000-$1500/month), to extremely expensive, like General Assembly ($4000/month).
With these programs, you will have to join a live session with other students, during which an instructor or mentor will either deliver the lessons or answer questions about the assignments. Due to the nature of the class, generally you'll be working on the same project as everyone else.
Whether you choose or not this type of educational program is really up to your personal style and context, as there are advantages and disadvantages of being part of a class rather than working individually.
✅ Feedback - A mentor will be reviewing your work, and you'll get expert feedback and advice.
✅ Portfolio - You'll get to apply the knowledge acquired on a capstone project that you can include in your portfolio.
✅ Career Support - Some of these programs offer support in finding a job.
✅ Community - You'll have a community you belong to, especially within your own group/cohort.
❌ The Cost - Considerably more expensive than simple courses, but I guess you get a lot more value.
❌ Live Classes - This wasn't feasible for me as I couldn't join a live class at a particular hour during the week. I needed to be able to study in my own time, usually at night after work or during weekends.
❌ Limited Mentor Time - As you'll be joining the live sessions alongside a group of students, you'll get a very small amount of time from your mentor to ask questions and get clarity on the things that matter to you.
❌ Lack of Personalisation - Due to the class format, everyone is treated equally and has to have the same pace. This could be actually great for you if you need to be pushed, but it might backfire if you can't keep up with everyone else.
❌ Same Portfolio Project - Because you're part of a group, everyone has to work on the same project. This could turn into an issue if too many people end up working on the same project and it gets noticed by the company you're interviewing with.
❌ Short Duration - I found some of these programs to claim they can train you in a very short time, which I came to find is unrealistic for everyone.
The Self-Paced Individually Mentored Bootcamps
One of the bootcamp formulas that appealed to me, in the end, was the self-paced type. I still had a job to go to daily, with little flexibility during the day and the usual human engagements everyone has, like friends and family, during evenings and weekends.
This type of bootcamp offers everything I mentioned above but proposes a flexible approach to learning and mentoring. Materials are available online whenever I'm ready to study, and I can revisit them anytime I need to.
Mentorship sessions happen individually, so I get the full attention of my mentor, and I can ask as many questions as I want without being interrupted by other students or having someone dominate the session. I also don't have to feel embarrassed about asking "stupid questions" in front of other students.
While researching this prospect, I found many popular options, such as Springboard, DesignLab, Thinkful, CareerFoundry, and Avocademy.
While they are all great on their own, several things came up in my research that I wasn't pleased about.
✅ Individual Mentorship - You'll get to spend time individually with a mentor and ask all the questions you have.
✅ Self-Paced - The curriculum is available 24/7, so you can go through it at your own pace.
❌ High Cost - When considering the monthly cost, these programs are still in the range of $1000 to $2000 / month.
❌ Cookie Cutter Portfolios - These programs still had all students work on the same project brief, which was a no-go for me. And some programs even had students work on fictitious prompts like "Design a website for a time-travel agency".
❌ No Real Curriculum - With some of these programs, it seems most of their curriculum is a collection of online articles, and it's rarely updated. While the curation is okay, the high cost doesn't really justify it.
My Choice of Bootcamp
Through my research, I also found a small, newly-founded boutique bootcamp back in 2020. Two highly skilled designers with over two decades of experience decided to fix the UX education and launched their own program.
It had almost no reviews at that time, the website was lackluster, and the proposed model seemed unfeasible.
Mento Design Academy, by their name, claimed they had an entirely customized approach for each student, individually customized portfolio projects, a fully designed curriculum, and all the benefits of more prominent brands, like a Curated Community, Job Guarantee, Career Support, individual mentorship by experts, and more.
I have to admit it felt a bit like a gamble at first, but looking back now, it was the best bet I've ever placed because they delivered on everything promised and more. I even got a job well before completing the program.
And the best part? Considering the monthly cost, they were (and still are) one of the most affordable programs out there, at $800 to $949 / month, while having complete flexibility to finish the program in as little time as you wish or take longer if you need to.
✅ Individual Mentorship - You get expert feedback and reviews on your assignments.
✅ High-Quality Curriculum - The quality of the materials is really great and gets updated regularly.
✅ Self-Paced - One of the few bootcamps that is really flexible with the duration so you can reach your goals. I avoided fixed-duration programs because I was afraid I might rush things.
✅ Unique Projects - You work on projects that make sense for you, creating a unique portfolio.
✅ Solf-skills - Design is not only about creating pretty screens or interviewing people; it's also how you showcase your work that makes a difference. Through the assignments and tips they offered, I turned from someone who hated presentations to someone who could not wait to talk about her work.
❌ Not For Everyone - You must be highly motivated to reach your goals. They provide many resources, but it's up to you if you take advantage of them. There are student group sessions, expert sessions, a curated Slack community, and many other learning opportunities.
❌ Flexibility is Great - However, again, it is not for everyone. Sure, other programs force you to go at the same pace as everyone, which is difficult, but so is being 100% in charge of your own pace. You need to be disciplined and diligent and make full use of the mentorship sessions available to you.
If you found this guide useful, feel free to share it with others. And whatever path you take, remember that you're switching to new career, and this will take time. The bootcamp or courses you're going to take are only a step on this path.
If I missed anything or any of the information presented is not accurate, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.