Illustration by Rouba Shabou
The world of UX/UI design is constantly evolving, even (or perhaps especially), during a global pandemic. The need for skilled UX designers has only increased since the start of the pandemic and the world of alternative and online education has grown to keep up with demand. Now, more than ever, it is essential for new and seasoned designers to keep their learner’s mindset and continually grow their skillset.
Choosing the course that’s right for you
There are a wide variety of learning options available from short, skill-specific courses to immersive bootcamps, each with their own benefits. When choosing a course, it is important to understand your personal needs as a learner so that you can find the right course for you.
Ask yourself: How much time do you have to commit to the course? Do you want to learn a specific skill or a suite of skills? How much of a financial investment can you afford? Do you prefer guided or self-paced programs? Do you want a certification? Once you have the answer to these questions, you can begin your course search in earnest.
Short, skill-specific online courses are one of the most popular forms of upskilling. These are best for you if you have limited time or money to invest or simply have a specific skill you want to learn.
Most of these courses tend to be incredibly affordable and often have self-paced modules that make it easy for you to fold learning into a busy lifestyle. Here are a few of the best skill-specific course providers:
Interaction Design Foundation (paid)
The Interaction Design Foundation, or IDF, has been a leader in UX/UI education since 2002. While they do not sell their courses individually, their annual membership gives you unlimited access to all of their courses, masterclasses, and their design library. IDF has designed each of their courses to suit the needs of busy professionals and they even offer learning paths curated for advancing your skills in a specific branch of UX/UI.
They offer 29 courses ranging from beginner to advanced subjects, each packed with valuable knowledge from world-renowned industry professionals. An added benefit of taking any IDF course is that you can earn industry-recognized certificates for each subject by answering questions throughout the course. IDF offers one of the most comprehensive suite of courses in the industry for less than the cost of most single-courses in the market and it is one of the only platforms offering industry-recognized certification. If you are interested in trying them out, you can use this link to get 2 months free in your first year with IDF.
Coursera (free & paid)
Another top source for skill-specific courses is Coursera. Though the platform access is largely subscription-based and the courses are individually priced, Coursera offers free sign-up and has hundreds of free courses available to get you started. One of the advantages of Coursera is that the courses are taught by instructors from top universities and leading tech companies. In addition, you can add a certificate to nearly every course for a small fee.
Coursera is also one of the most dynamic online learning platforms as it offers courses, specialization tracks, and even online degrees. Their UX/UI design courses are convenient and prestigious with offerings from top universities like Georgia Tech’s Introduction to User Experience Design, and University of Michigan’s Introduction to User Experience Principles and Processes. If you already have some foundations in UX/UI design and want to dive deeper into understanding the discipline, consider the four-month UI/UX Specialization from California Institute of the Arts. The specialization comprises four courses, that cover UX fundamentals, UI elements, and Web Design from strategy to prototyping.
Bootcamp certification programs have gained prominence over the last several years as an affordable alternative to traditional degree programs. These are best for those who are ready to make a career change and have both time and money to commit to their education.
Self-paced UX/UI bootcamps are a great way to go if you need something that can adapt to your schedule.
CareerFoundry is a well-known name in the UX/UI education sphere. Their free short courses are an excellent introduction to the field and I highly recommend them for anyone who wants to learn more about UX/UI in a low-risk scenario and their full courses come with a job guarantee. While the job guarantee is a big selling point for their course, there is some fine print that should be taken into consideration. CareerFoundry programs take between 6-10 months depending on the amount of time you can devote to them and are quite affordable at $6,555 per course. Something notable about the UX and UI courses offered by CareerFoundry is that they aren’t a combo course. Many UX bootcamps have UI modules, but they tend to be less robust than the UX modules. CareerFoundry solves this issue by breaking these into separate courses so that each subject gets the attention it deserves.
Remember the Interaction Design Foundation? They recently rolled out an 8-week, self-paced bootcamp that brings all of their expertise to one program. Priced at $1,182 (less for members), this is one of the most affordable UX certifications on the market. Don’t let the low price tag fool you, what you get with this program is a competitive UX/UI education with mentorship, guidance, and career assistance. This program is best for those who have existing, foundational knowledge in UX/UI and are looking to take their education to the next level. My recommendation? Get the annual membership and start with one of their learning paths. Once you have completed that, consider investing in their full course.
Guided bootcamps are best if you need help staying accountable or just prefer a more rigorous learning style. While any bootcamp is going to be intensive, most institutions give you the option of choosing an immersive program, usually between 9-12 weeks, or a part-time program, usually 5-7 months.
As a graduate of Ironhack’s UX/UI immersive bootcamp, I am a huge advocate of their program and can attest to the quality of the education. While traditionally offering in-person only bootcamps at their 9 global campuses, Ironhack tackled the pandemic head-on and shifted to a live-virtual teaching model that has had brilliant results. That adaptability is one of Ironhack’s greatest strengths and something that makes their bootcamps stand out. They offer part-time 6-month programs and immersive 9-week programs at each campus. The cost of this bootcamp is highest at their U.S. location ringing in at $12,500 for the immersive program. While Ironhack does have a hefty price-tag, they often partner with businesses to provide scholarship opportunities to qualified students. In recent years, they have raised over $700,000 in scholarship funding from partners that have included Adobe, Uber, Facebook, and OfferUp.
Ironhack’s courses are taught by incredibly talented instructors who focus on teaching the hands-on practical skills that will make you successful in your career. Each campus teaches the same curriculum with a focus on foundational knowledge and the most in-demand skill sets in the industry. Ironhack’s methodology is very much about adaptation and teachers have the flexibility to adjust the program to the needs of each cohort making it one of the most dynamic programs available. After graduation, the robust alumni network and dedicated outcomes team are powerful tools for getting hired in the field. Should your interests reach beyond UX/UI, grads get a hefty discount on the 3 other certification courses offered through Ironhack. To get a better understanding of Ironhack’s student impact, you can read their latest student outcomes report here.
General Assembly is another amazing bootcamp provider. They have one of the widest reaches with 32 global locations, 23 of which are in the U.S. In addition to their 10-week bootcamp programs, they offer a plethora of workshops and events including free workshops every Friday. General Assembly has one of the highest placement rates of UX/UI bootcamps thanks to the strength of their curriculum and the vastness of their global network. They also have one of the highest costs of any UX/UI bootcamp at $14,950 for their 10-week immersive course.
There are many other great bootcamp providers to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Other notable bootcamps include Springboard, Flatiron, Designlab, SuperHi, and Wyncode.
3 pro tips for choosing a UX bootcamp
- Before starting an immersive UX bootcamp, take some short courses on UI to give yourself a strong base. Familiarizing yourself with the different tools and software that UX/UI designers use will help you hit the ground running.
- Choosing the right program length for you is essential. While immersive bootcamps are the fastest way to go from a complete novice to a practicing UX designer with a portfolio of work, they can be brutal. Think of it as 9-12 weeks of working a full-time job with a full-time side gig. Be prepared to dedicate a minimum of 20 hours a week outside of the classroom to learning, practice, and project work.
- Do your research, read the syllabus, and manage your expectations. It is important to know what you will actually learn in these courses. The focus of most bootcamps tends to be more on the UX than the UI side. You will be learning foundations to become a trained practitioner, but you should not expect to become an expert overnight.
Other resources for learning UX/UI
If you aren’t yet ready to dive into the world of UX bootcamps or expensive certifications, there are a variety of other short courses, classes, and how-to videos that can help you learn the foundational skills you need to start transitioning into the world of user experience design.
Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning)
Lynda.com has a vast library of training and tutorials, most two hours or less, that are excellent introductions to the concepts and foundational skills you will need for a transition into UX/UI. I recommend starting with the Foundations of User Experience playlist to get an introduction to the design-thinking methods used by UX designers. For those looking to learn UI design skills, start by learning about the tools that you will be using. Most UI designers have foundations in graphic design and frequently use the suite of Adobe tools to take their work to the next level. Lynda’s Creative Cloud Crash Course is an excellent way to gain familiarity with these softwares so that you can begin folding them into your design process.
For those looking to start learning UI skills, Adobe’s Let’s XD is a great, free resource. These short tutorials teach you step-by-step how to use Adobe XD to advance your UI designs. XD is one of the leading design tools on the market and it is completely free for personal use, so you can start learning, designing, and prototyping today at no cost!
In addition to those listed above, there are a wide variety of other platforms to choose from when it comes to upskilling. Udemy, Udacity, Skillshare, YouTube, and even Patreon are all fantastic sources for learning UX/UI design skills. Finding the platform that’s right for you is a matter of knowing yourself and how you learn.
More pro tips for jumpstarting your UX education
- Before subscribing to any learning platform, check with your local public library to see what they can offer you. Many public libraries throughout the U.S. and Canada have partnered with learning platforms like Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning) to grant 100% free access library cardholders. To find out what your local library offers, visit their site, speak to a librarian, or simply run a search using the name of your library and the name of the learning platform.
- Many platforms offer special pricing for students. This can often save you upwards of 30% on plan prices, so whip out that student email and do a bit of research before paying full price for your courses, tools, or software.
- Enroll in one course at a time. Unless you are a pro-learner or a master scheduler, the likelihood is that you will only be able to take one course at a time. This helps keep you focused and increases the likelihood of success.
There is a plethora of online UX and UI courses available, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Do your research and be realistic about what you can and cannot do. If you aren’t 100% certain that you are ready to make the jump into UX/UI design, stick to short courses and build up your skills until you are ready for a full-blown bootcamp.
Some great short-courses and free resources:
Top bootcamps to consider: