UX is a diverse field which combines many different disciplines. You’ll be expected to be a guru on visual ascetics, front-end development, human computer interaction, psychology, usability, human behavior, data analysis, information architecture, performance marketing, among others.
If that’s not enough, you’ll get into a project with a client and have to learn the industry, terms, and context for the system you’re designing. In order to survive, you have to be a learner and really enjoy the process of learning on the job. Otherwise, you’ll be pretty unhappy in the long run.
For the UX beginners, it can really be overwhelming… where do you even start? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. In this post, I’ll outline several options for getting up and running in UX.
1. Traditional Education: The degree route
Some may disagree with the relevance of higher education for UX designers… or IT professionals in general for that matter. But you shouldn’t let that deter you if it’s a fit for you. Traditional education has it’s place in the world, but I’ll agree that it’s definitely not for everyone.
For UX, there are a lot of different academic paths to the knowledge and skills you need. UX professionals pretty much come from every academic field. Making things worse, there aren’t many programs meant to be all inclusive for UXD. You can get a degree in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Computer Science, Web Design & Development, Interaction Design, Information Technology, New Media, the list of options is seemingly endless. You’ll need to look at the curriculum and possibly even go into each courses syllabus to see if it’s really what you’re looking.
Some examples of programs worth looking into:
1. MHCI+D at the University of Washington
2. The University of Texas at Austin iSchool
3. BDW at the University of Colorado at Boulder
4. Denver University
There are many others. For interaction design specifically, there is a massive list of Interaction Design degrees at Wikipedia.
If you already have a degree in a different field, definitely look into continuing or professional education options at the bigger schools. They’re typically cheaper and more focused on mid-career professionals and career changers.
Alternatively, you don’t have to get a degree. There are certificate programs available or you can just take a class or two. These days there are online or in-person opportunities all over the place.
2. Bootcamps: The crash course
Development bootcamps are definitely hot right now and don’t seem to be slowing down. You may not be aware but there are also design/UX bootcamps that are very similar. These are typically part time and utilize apprenticeship in addition to coursework and projects. This is a big difference with the dev camps which are typically full time and require people to quit their day jobs. A few of them are listed below for convenience:
3. Online Courses, Workshops & eBooks: The digital path
There’s been a lot of disruption in non-traditional education over the last decade. Many startups are tackling education and they’re hitting it from all sides. Luckily for us, many have courses and tracks relevant to our field.
Here’s some of the big ones:
- DesignLab (They were created specifically for teaching UX & Design)
- UDemy and SkillShare – Just do a search for UX Design and plenty of courses come up.
There are plenty of courses and ebooks from individuals as well, some worth exploring:
- Nathan Barry’s Photoshop for Interface Design
- Sacha Greif’s Step by Step UI Design
- Meng To’s Design + Code
Another I’d recommend for any one is Hack Design’s email course. It’s a great collection from a variety of instructors.
4. Apprenticeship: The guided path
I’m a huge fan of mentorship and apprenticeship especially because of the diversity in skills needed to be successful in UX. There’s a lot of different forms apprenticeship can take. You can get a formal coach or mentor (preferably some one that is actively working in the industry), casually learn from thought leaders in the industry, become a faculty aid, volunteer at a usability lab or get an internship.
Note: If reaching out to people for this type of help isn’t your thing, there are online courses that include a mentorship component, such as DesignLab.
At the agency I work at, we have UX interns and the experience they get is second to none. They get to work on client work (usually in the background but invaluable nonetheless) and have open access to professional designers and developers all over the office. If you do go this route, don’t be shy… no wallflowers allowed. Meet everyone, offer to help constantly, volunteer for everything and speak up early and often.
5. Teach Yourself: The self-taught course
There are a lot of resources for teaching yourself UX skills online, many are free and plenty that are not. Front-end development especially, I couldn’t possibly list all of those. While I believe very strongly in the power of mentorship from experienced professionals, there are definitely a lot of people capable of learning UX skills on their own. The vast majority of what I’ve learned when it comes to graphic design was self-taught (the development side I learned more from taking classes but that’s just me).
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To get started in the self-taught route, your first step is to plug in to the community. Check out the industry leading publications: Smashing Magazine, Designer News, UX Magazine, IXDA, User Interface Engineering, UX Booth, and google around for others. Follow other designers on twitter and dribbble. Then, read and watch everything you can get your hands on! I’ll have another post dedicated to books to read… there’s a lot. But for now, get searching on Amazon and read through reviews before buying.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links. I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase but at no additional cost to you.