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what’s the best education for a ux designer?

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UX is a profession that has increased in popularity in the last few years. As a result you have an overwhelming offer of UX related courses, and it’s hard to choose which one to go for. Some options are pricey, others inexpensive, some are credited, others are like bootcamps. In any case you’ll be making an investment, whether time or money, with no guarantees that it will pay off.

If you are on a path to becoming a UX designer but are new to the field, you may go for the reviews in forums, the prestige of the institutions, or the certificates they provide. If you are changing careers and going into UX later in life, you may go for the specific skills that you need to get better at.

Either way, here are the four main fields of UX! Drum roll... Design, Psychology, Development and Usability! Don’t worry you don’t have to hold a degree in each to properly do UX work. Just the basics. Look at them as the prerequisites for the job.

Depending on your background, you may have one or more of these boxes ticked. If that’s the case, good for you. This being said, how can you find an education to cover all these topics? The answer is, most likely nowhere.

I think it’s hard to be prepared for this job with a single course or program. There isn’t a perfect option but rather semi-perfect ones that you can combine. I can tell you this because I’ve been an instructor at General Assembly, and it is super hard to condense all these fields into one course. You need to cover the basics well. Everything after that will be so much easier. Let me walk you inside these fields.

The knowledge you should seek

I would say that most courses emphasize one field over the others. Guess which? Design. It’s true that Design plays a huge role in it, but it doesn’t paint the full picture. Ultimately you need to decide how much you want to invest in each field.

Design

If you are not a Designer, you should look for the fundamentals. The roots of Design go back to the German Bauhaus school, where principles like “form follows function” were introduced. Don’t get lost in the topic, the idea is to grasp what’s the purpose of design - to make artifacts that enhance people’s lives - and to learn how to achieve it.

If you are a Designer, you should look for specific design methods used in UX, like storyboarding, flow mapping, wireframing and prototyping.

Psychology

If you are not a psychologist, I encourage you to dig into cognitive psychology. It sounds more complicated than it is. It will enable you to understand what happens in your brain when it gets new information. You’d be surprised how limited your working memory is, and how selective your attention is to the world around you. You’ll sympathise with the user you once called “lazy”.

If you are a psychologist, you need to look at conducting research for UX. There are several methods you can learn. The most important thing is to prompt users to tell you or show you what you need to find out, with as little interference from you as possible.

Development

If you are not a developer or computer scientist, I encourage you to learn how basic programming works. Programming is a way to communicate with computers, and tell them what to do. This will help you understand how to use technology to develop your products, to have a better sense of the possibilities as well as the limitations. Going through the process of implementing a simple application can be a good place to start.

If you are a developer, I would suggest you look into merging great design with great technology. Learning how to build applications that look and feel great can be a valuable skill to have.

Usability

Usability is probably the field that is the most specific to UX, from all four. It goes back to Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen who introduced heuristics like affordances, visibility and feedback. It will give you the tools to design experiences that feel natural and easy, and attract people to use technology instead of running away from it - we’ve all seen people running away from it. You’ll also find methods to test products with users to improve usability.

If you are familiar with Usability, my advice would be to look at case studies. This field is ever evolving with great products that come up, defying the limits of intuitiveness and convenience. For almost all digital products massively used there are a few remarkable Usability aspects to learn from.

The perfect option for you

I hope after reading this article you have a broader overview of what UX education looks like depending on where you stand. Let me remind you once again that you don’t have to be an expert in each field, just know the basics. A lot of what I know now was learned on the job, and that is expected. However, you’ll be glad to know your stuff when you’re starting out. Above all, it helps with your credibility and self-confidence.

Be strategic about it. Look at topics in each course’s curriculum. Rather than targeting the one perfect option, pick and choose what you know you need to learn. If it’s truly what you need to learn, then it’s worth the investment.

author
Katia Serralheiro
date
January 2, 2021

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