A recruitment consultant reached out to me for a casual chat to get some insight on how job-seeking UX designers can upskill to have better chances of landing their dream job. And this later made me think about a simple question “What really separates good product designers from great product designers”. What really makes some designers stand out against others.
I started to look back at all the design mentorship sessions I do over the weekends, and the very noticeable pattern is that most of these UX Designers come from a bootcamp or a 6 months UX Design course and yet have no clue what to do in the real life field. They started with a Google search “How to become a UX Designer” found a UX Guru selling a course and they got on with it. If they’re lucky they land a job and stay there for years but a lot of them don’t (as the competition is tough). So what is really going wrong there I thought, what is really missing in these year long and expensive training sessions that most of these designers are finding it difficult to even land their first job. And after more Q/A sessions, deeper research and buying some of these courses myself (to spy on what’s happening) I drafted the following breakdown.
To my surprise, when I shared this with other experienced product designers, and design leaders, they raised the same concerns about what really is wrong with this ‘Bootcamps and $29.99 course industry’.
Robots and hamsters running in product cycles
Most of the bootcamps and $29.99 courses are ill-equiped to train the future designers on what actually is required in the real-life field. They’ll teach you the tools, Card sorting, User Journeys and Personas, Diary studies, Wire-framing, User testing, Synthesise the results of your user testing and what not.
What they’ll almost never teach you is WHEN to use what and WHEN to skip all of those, all-together. Surprising yeah? but it’s true, in field, you don’t always require to use those learnings. An experienced designer is exactly that, they know WHEN to use WHICH tool instead of following a templated process.
This is why most of the best designers are self-taught as they spent many years on many projects through many product cycles and learnt WHEN to use which method.
While in bootcamps the teaching is a text-book styled, templated teaching. Far from what happens in the field, especially in a product-focussed company. Instead making robots to follow the same cycle each and every time, without asking the question about, will this method actually help me with something that can make the product better?
A successful product is not about how many users answered your survey, but it’s based on a simple question, Did it ACTUALLY make a positive change in peoples’ lives or not? It’s very little about your Diary study, Card sorting and all the other walls full of sticky notes.
Lack of visual psychology
Digital product is not Graphic design, these are two different species, yes, BUT! A basic understand of shapes, colour theory, negative space space, and how they all come together to create a visually pleasing digital experience is extremely important and this is the craft that can make or break digital products.
Bootcamps which are entirely focussed on talking about the UX design principles and theories, often forget to talk about the visual psychology. Simple things like how according to Gestalt psychology, as humans we try and like to group items together. Similar to that, a very important basic principle to understand is the direction of reading. Understanding that if a user comes from a country where languages are read Left to right, they’ll scan through your product left to right, and vice versa for (example) Arabic reading and speaking countries.
These are some of the very basic principles, and as much as I hate saying this, I have seen multiple junior designers, again and again, ignoring the basic human psychology principles and obsessing over their card sorting and A/B testing.
Curiosity, the forgotten super power
You won’t hear this stuff in your 6 months bootcamp probably. But here’s the thing, the best way to learn about how people perceive information or use our products is not by running an automated user test. It is by being curious and actually giving a sh*t. Go out and talk to people. Watch them use your or your competitors’ product. Ask questions. Ask a lot of questions. Obsess over details where needed, debate them and be madly curious to understand the ‘Why’. The most successful designers are simply the ones who actually care.
The power of team work
When in a guided course, we work in those silos or zoom meeting rooms, which are very different to how a product team environment really looks like. A product team is all about cross collaboration, working with a team and playing to our and our team mates’ strength.
This can only be learnt in field unfortunately. There’s no guidebook for it, there can’t be.
Even when you work on many product cycles, and sprints and marathons. If you are still solving the same kind of problem repeatedly, you’ll not become an experienced designer.
Problem variation exercise however, that trains you to solve multiple problem types is what makes you a quick thinker, problem solver and naturally a better designer too. Problem variation exercise could include designing for various customer types, from consumer, to enterprise to B2B. Each would require a different UX method and problem solving approach. This is where the training happens.
A UX problem variation exercise could also be something when you are brought in at different stages of a product cycle. In some scenarios you started the ideation from scratch and in others, you played a part in solving a piece of the larger problem.
So are all courses and bootcamps just a waste of time? No! Absolutely not. But pick wisely and don’t rely solely on this $29 investment. Instead try to get some in-field experience. Get a mentor, a real UX design mentor not Jack from accounts. Someone who has upscaled other UX or Visual Designers before.
If you are curious, if i will ever launch a different or advanced product and UX design course? Maybe, who knows. But not anytime soon. I am busy learning on how to propagate my Monstera.