The tech industry is changing every day and in order to fulfill people’s upcoming needs from the design point of view designers need to be resourceful and learn new methodologies and tools. Formal education offers few classes and little to no career focus on UX or similar approaches. So how can designers update their skills in order to face our upcoming challenges?
Thankfully, there are tons of online articles, webinars, podcasts and vocational schools committed to digital education. There are also enthusiasts, like me, who enjoy sharing our knowledge and by teaching others we are discovering new things. This has made me realize that our current path is merely beginning!
Background of UX Design
To fully understand anything in life, you first need to know its history. In the ’80s Donald Norman started studying how humans interact with machines, environments and products giving birth to what he called User Experience – also known as UX. In the years following UX has grown and evolved into many different branches with a large number of methodologies and frameworks.
User Experience professionals come from a range of backgrounds, including industrial and graphic design, computer science, and others. The more the field grows the more other professional profiles become involved.
Current UX Education Alternatives
Vocational schools with a UX focus have since emerged, but they are not accredited or affiliated with formal educational institutions. The education provided tends to be remote and relies on self-taught methods.
The number of on-line courses, blogs and webinars at our reach is enormous. Among the most reliable references are:
- Nielsen Norman Group: A UX research and consulting firm founded by two pioneers of UX design Donald Norman and Jakob Nielsen.
- Interaction Design Foundation: A foundation whose idea is to democratize learning by providing top-quality online design courses at a fraction of the cost of traditional education.
- CareerFoundry: An online school that teaches tech skills in UI Design, Web Development and UX Design.
Formal education is beginning to take part in teaching UX by creating career paths and specialized schools, for example:
- The Austin Centre for Design: A not-for-profit corporation founded by Jon Kolko. It offers a one year program in interaction design and social entrepreneurship.
- Center Centre: Jared Spool and Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman’s vocational program that aims to create industry-ready grads.
- The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design: A practitioner-driven course in interaction design.
The Pros of Current Ways of Learning UX
An informal, self-taught and primarily online education is accessible to anyone who is interested.
- Enthusiasts are welcome. Regardless of the educational background, all designers can get familiar with design processes and methodologies. Being such a vast field, any designer can add insights from their area of expertise and also learn about others.
- Become multidisciplinary. No matter the topic or area you are interested in reinforcing or exploring there are a lot of roles to cover (UX Researcher, UX Architect, UX Visual Designer, etc). The more you understand the overall design process you will be able to gather different insights and learn to see the whole picture.
- Learn at your own pace. When it comes to self-taught education, the time it takes is one thing less to worry about. You can learn in your free time, after work, or on weekends. The speed of your process depends on your needs and commitment level.
- Embrace collaboration. Learning UX Design will push you to interact with more experienced people who can provide guidance on topics that they have experienced before.
The Cons of Current Ways of Learning UX
Standardizing, validating and measuring knowledge can be challenging.
- Lack of official validation. Yes, it’s true. Some schools are taking action by creating UX Careers, but there is still no degree or official title that guarantees that a designer covers all the necessary knowledge needed.
- Hard to standardize topics. A disadvantage of having tons of information about one topic is that (in some cases) information can be inconsistent among references. This might cause confusion and make the learning curve longer.
- Isolation. One of the best ways to reinforce knowledge is to share it with others. Sometimes learning something as complex as UX by yourself can be more challenging than when sharing the process with other people.
My Experience Learning and Teaching UX
I started my transition to UX Design almost 3 years ago. Over the last year I have had my first chance to teach others. I can say it’s been quite exciting. I find joy in sharing my knowledge and finding others who are interested in the same things that I am. Every time I teach something I get to learn it again but from another perspective. At times I’ve found myself learning even more from how others perceive a concept than I’d learned on my own. So if you’ve ever thought about teaching others, I strongly recommend it! As I encourage you to go for it, allow me to offer some advice:
- Understand who are you teaching. Every new UXer has their own motivations and background. Once you understand what skills they possess and those that they need to learn you will be able to structure a career path that will allow them to boost their current knowledge as well as build new knowledge. Of course, this can be challenging when teaching more than one person at the time but it’s your chance to work with a collaborative and multidisciplinary mindset.
- Adopt Progressive Disclosure. Having tons and tons of information to digest can be overwhelming and may slow down the learning process. Doing so may even discourage people and cause them to quit before they even get started. A good approach is to let people know that the path is long and they are going to gain knowledge a step at a time. After they’ve overcome one stage they will be able to unlock the next stage and so on.
- Become a mentor. Break the teacher-student barrier as much as possible. Ask participants for feedback and if the lessons are meeting their expectations. Encourage them to share their progress in class but be available outside of class too. Open a constant communication channel for quick questions. You will be surprised by how much this improves communication and confidence.
- Focus on value. More than likely you’re not able to provide a certification. But this doesn’t mean that your lessons are meaningless, on the contrary. Focus efforts on concrete objectives like creating projects that can be added to their portfolios or helping them get enrolled in other UX initiatives.
Last but not least
If you are on your way to become a UX Designer, I would like to share a few tips.
Continuing on the Path…
I invite you to read more about UX Team thoughts. You can find more UX material here.
Let me know what you think! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.