After Flatiron School acquired the Chicago User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) digital design program, Designation, the team is bringing their curriculum and expertise to New York City. We asked Designation Master Teacher Megan Mueller about how she is collaborating with her new Flatiron colleagues to make the Flatiron School UX/UI Design Immersive accessible to more students, provide additional career services, and maintain the supportive, holistic, and successful culture of Designation. Find out how students work with real clients during the program, and what sort of jobs they are landing when they graduate!
How did you come to work at Designation and now Flatiron School, and what is your role?
I’m a Master Teacher on the Teacher Training Team for Designation and Flatiron School, working in instructional and service design and supporting the teaching staff in the UX and UI design program. We want to understand the best ways to deliver the curriculum and content to students, train our instructors to ensure quality is being delivered, and expand our educational offerings around the world.
I attended Designation in its early days, so it’s been really great to have that context as a Master Teacher. When I graduated, I worked on initiatives with cross-disciplinary, global teams and different point people and learned to understand the different perspectives within the process. I eventually returned to Designation as an instructor and I was teaching for about three years before becoming a Master Teacher when we were acquired by Flatiron.
What technologies are taught in the UX/UI Design bootcamp and how will the new Flatiron course differ from the Designation curriculum?
The curriculum is focused on both UX and UI design disciplines.
We teach various tools between the two design tracks. Our UI design students focus primarily on learning Sketch and InVision, while also dabbling in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Our UX design students focus primarily on learning Axure, Sketch, and InVision. We also encourage opportunities for our designers to discover and learn new tools as they work on projects so that they’re also developing habits of keeping up to date on emerging software.
Since the Flatiron acquisition, we’ve been working to make the program more accessible for more people. Not everyone could move to Chicago or uproot their lives for the in-person portion of the course. Now, with Flatiron, we can have different locations closer to more people. Our main focus right now is to continue to grow our community while maintaining the same quality and rigor that our program is known for.
Must students choose either the UX or UI track or can they do both?
We encourage students to choose either UX or UI design so that they can work to properly nurture a set of skills. We found that having students choose a focus allowed them to dive deeper into the tools, methodologies, and process. We also found that our students felt better prepared after having had more time to iterate and grow their new skill set. Our program is project-based so students can practice methods and tools in different contexts to refine their skills. Designers learn both UX and UI design in the initial six week Design Essentials course, allowing them to understand the basics of each discipline, and giving them context to choose the one they feel more passionate to pursue a career in.
What is the learning style at the UX/UI Design bootcamp?
The program asks students to unlearn a lot of things they may have learned in traditional education. In traditional education, there’s a lot of emphasis and reliance on instructors to give you the right answer through arbitrary structures that don’t translate when you get a job. The remote part of the course recalls traditional education structures – there is a grading system and students get background information for deliverables, but it still focuses more on qualitative, contextual feedback. In design, everything is situational and contextual so there’s typically not a right or wrong answer. It’s more about choosing the best solution based on research. We want our students to be comfortable with ambiguity, to feel empowered to make decisions, and to do their due diligence of understanding a problem versus expecting someone to give them the right answer.
The in-person part of the program functions a lot more like on-the-job training where students are only receiving qualitative feedback, like a review with your boss or a check-in with a creative or art director at work. Each cohort will work with an Instructor who will be delivering lectures and workshops and a Design Coaching Fellow who will be supporting the instructor and giving feedback to students. There’s an emphasis on getting away from the classroom mentality where they’re looking for answers and grades, as opposed to what they’re learning.
What is the time commitment for the UX/UI Design bootcamp?
In the first foundational six weeks of the program, students learn both UX and UI and have more context to choose a focus. This portion is part time and remote because we recognize many people can’t afford to not work for the full 24 weeks of the program, plus we wanted to make it a nice way to ease everyone in.
We highly recommend that the remaining 18 weeks be a fully immersive experience because the workload can be demanding – upwards of 60 hours per week in reading material, lectures and workshops, deliverables, and dedicated time working with your team in real-time collaborative environments. The more time and attention you put into it, the more you’ll get out of the program. We also provide community events to encourage people to take breaks and maintain balance while they go through this intensive program.
As you prepare to launch the program in New York City, are there any curriculum adjustments you’ve had to make to align with the market needs?
We’re trying to understand what New York companies are looking for in candidates so our designers can apply their knowledge when they’re building their resumes, portfolios, and case studies. We also want to understand what to look for in clients for the client phase projects portion of the program. We want to build client relationships where not only are our students are walking away with amazing work experience and case studies, our clients are getting a lot of value for their business.
What types of projects do students work on and how does the client phase work?
Students work on projects throughout the program to learn about the different deliverables, tools, and approaches to their chosen design discipline. In the immersion phase (weeks 13-17) students work on client projects but the primary client touch points happen at the beginning and end of the project. This eases our students into the process of learning how to build client relationships and effectively communicate design decisions to stakeholders. Along the way, students get feedback from their instructors like they would from a director or manager. At the end of the project, they present their final product and their journey to a panel of professionals and the client team.
When students move on to the client phase (weeks 18 to 21), the training wheels come off and students build towards becoming more autonomous. Students have dedicated meetings with clients and are the primary touchpoint after the project kicks off. Instructors are available in a support role – we attend client meetings, but the students lead them. The instructor’s role becomes mentorship. Instructors provide feedback and support to get students to think critically about their process. The students are responsible for deliverables, running client meetings, doing interviews, testing the product with users, and sending the product to the client for further development.
What types of companies have students worked with?
We do this work for clients in exchange for our students being able to use the projects for their portfolios, job interviews, case studies, and professional growth. So we really like working with small businesses and organizations that may not otherwise have the resources for or access to quality design work. We really love working with nonprofits and charities that have social impact. We’ve had UX teams who have developed start-to-finish projects for clients that had never existed before and then passed it to our UI team to build a prototype to be tested with users.
In the past we have worked with companies in many industries: financial services, education, hospitality, food and beverage, etc. Our students have worked on products ranging from retirement planning to finding reliable pet services to monitoring a newborns’ vital signs. We get some really interesting projects!
In New York, we’re currently exploring the startup and business community as well as the benefits of partnering with larger companies where we can work on internal products and with larger teams. We want to understand if the same values that we find working with startups will transfer and what new values we can provide for our students.
How important are these real-world client projects for students’ future careers?
They’re incredibly valuable. It makes a big difference for companies to have designers who not only understand the tools, but are adaptable, because tools are always changing. Additionally, while we focus on technical skills, the biggest value-add we hear from hiring partners is our focus on soft skills – how important it is for students to know how to build and manage relationships, communicate their work and journey, research the impact of their design vision, and collaborate with a team to produce something great. Those are not only a value-add but also a differentiator from other job candidates.
These skills are honed during the client phase work because students are going beyond just working in a team of peers. Students hear new perspectives from people from the business, development, and legal sides of the client company, and learn how to include those considerations into what they’re designing.
Has the application process changed since Flatiron School acquired Designation?
We now have an admissions team and not just one person! We have the capacity to take more interviews with people in New York and Chicago and we’re identifying what makes a successful student in our program. Some students have a transferable background like design, teaching, or psychology and some come from other industries like service and hospitality. We’re really trying to identify traits that make great program candidates outside of what’s on their resume.
What’s the biggest lesson that you and the Designation team are bringing to Flatiron School?
I think it’s our focus on honing emotional intelligence and the importance we place on students being not just good designers but also good team members. They know how to work with others, build relationships, communicate more effectively, and be empathetic. They’re working in a high-stress environment and sometimes working on social impact projects with high stakes, so we really value the importance of emotional support and community in peer-to-peer relationships and instructor-to-student relationships. We’re making sure that we’re all conscious of our impact on the working environment as well as on other people.
How will career services work now that you’re integrated with Flatiron School?
We’re looking at the best way to grow our career services. Our instructors will still be delivering career content and mentoring the students, but we’re looking into the best way to leverage Flatiron’s amazing career services team.
Flatiron currently offers a job-guarantee, will there be one for this program as well?
Flatiron School’s UX/UI Immersive includes a money-back guarantee: if you haven’t gotten a job offer after six months of working with your 1:1 career coach, they’ll refund your full tuition. See full eligibility at flatironschool.com/terms.
What types of jobs do you expect New York UX/UI Design graduates to land?
We’ve seen our alumni go to a variety of companies, jobs, and industries. We’ve even had some alumni who start their own businesses and freelance careers. From Google and Capital One to local startups and agencies, our alumni are all over and we expect that to be the case in New York, especially as a larger marketplace.
We have had a number of students from New York who took the Chicago program and they have gone back to New York and landed a job right away. We have grads working at Sullivan, Ollie, United Technologies, Stack Overflow, LearnVest, R/GA, and Planned Parenthood.
What’s your vision for the future for this UX/UI Design course?
It’s been a really collaborative process with our internal team and with the Flatiron folks to determine the best ways to scale the special elements of our program, and how we can produce quality experiences for our students as it continues to grow. I think our shared mission is to successfully grow our program while still maintaining the same quality.
What’s your advice for students embarking on a UX/UI Design bootcamp?
I think it’s really easy to get imposter syndrome. It’s something we hear a lot from our students. You’re making a huge change, putting your life on hold. It can be really stressful, and you can feel insecure in this decision. My biggest tip is to not downplay your work experience and life perspective that you’re already bringing with you. I think that’s one of the best things about design as an industry – the strongest designs are a result of varying perspectives and voices coming together.