Want to learn UX design but don’t know where to start? Mento Design Academy offers a six-month, self-paced intensive bootcamp that offers all the skills, projects, and mentorship you need to become a UX designer from scratch. But what will you actually learn in the bootcamp? Radu Vucea, Founder and Mentor at Mento Design Academy shares what students can get from this design program, and how to set yourself up for success to finish the program and land a dream job in UI/UX.
Students can expect to learn all of the required skills to be able to design a digital product from scratch! This includes UX research, interaction design (UX), and visual design (UI), which they apply as they learn. By the end of the program, students will have built a strong portfolio of up to three case studies of digital products that solve a real world problem. Throughout the program, students will learn to use in-demand digital tools that designers currently use on the job, such as Figma, Sketch, Notion, Confluence, Lookback, Optimal Workshop, Overflow, Protopie, Dovetail, and more.
Does the bootcamp mimic what it's like to actually work in tech today?
Mento Design Academy is fundamentally built on mimicking modern tech jobs. We use Slack, which a lot of companies use to structure their work, and our mentorship framework emulates the experience of how a junior would work with a senior designer. We also support students in organizing their Confluence, Notion, or other project management tools so they learn how to document their work and collaborate with others, just like working for a real company.
What does a typical day look like at Mento?
Learning happens asynchronously, and each student creates a study schedule that works for them. The expectation is that if you put in 20 hours per week, you should be able to complete the two practice projects and three portfolio projects in six months. Results vary wildly because everybody's different. For example, a native English speaker is going to complete the program faster than someone who doesn’t speak English as fluently.
That said, our program has a flexible duration, which means you’re able to put in more time if you have more relevant skills.
Does your team ever iterate on the curriculum?
We spent a year writing our own curriculum – roughly 750 pages long – and when it was written two years ago, it was up-to-date to the skills product designers were using in their day-to-day work. Since then, we change the curriculum every time we find an error or whenever we feel like we need to update to stay current.
We found that many programs produced portfolios that looked alike and it was hard for designers to stand out. We created a framework for the portfolio projects, which aligns with the student’s background or interests so that no two portfolios are the same. For example: If someone is interested in cars, it makes sense to apply to roles at a car company so they can keep learning and apply that knowledge to what they’re passionate about.
We teach students how to use a series of tools rather than trying to sell a linear process. Design is actually quite messy, so it’s important to work on practice projects, which we call burner projects because everyone wants to set it on fire by the time they’re done with it! For the first project, we go through all of the tools that are at your disposal as a designer, then on the portfolio projects you only apply what makes sense.
Each student's portfolio is highly relevant to who they are as people. Our framework consists of completing worksheets then consulting with a mentor to determine a good portfolio project because we want to make sure the problem they’re trying to solve will showcase the critical design skills we know companies are looking at. This process offers a highly customized portfolio strategy for each student.
Are there any group projects?
Since the program is self-paced, it’s difficult to work in a group project, however, we do have design challenges that can be done as a group and we award prizes for the top-voted designers.
We mainly don’t do group projects because as a junior it may be hard to articulate the work you’ve done on a project and the impact it had on the team when doing different parts of a project.
Do students present their projects to employers or to their classmates?
At Mento Design Academy, students have many opportunities to present their work. Each student has their own dedicated mentor that they meet with weekly to present their work and get feedback. Some key points in the curriculum include putting together a research presentation and presenting it to their mentor as they would to a team. Students can also volunteer to come into our student community meetings and present their work to a mentor other than their own, which offers a fresh perspective. At the end of the program, we do simulated interviews with a portfolio walkthrough, a design exercise, and personalized feedback.
Since we want to emulate the real world collaboration between senior and junior designers, our mentors are not teachers — they're not meant to educate you; they're meant to guide you. The teaching is done through the curriculum and the mentors are there to guide our students, offer feedback on their work, and answer any questions.
Are the mentors at Mento Design Academy professional designers?
We don’t hire mentors from our alumni like other bootcamps do. All of our mentors are working professionals with at least five years of experience. We validate every mentor and they need to be at least a Lead Designer because they need to have experience guiding other designers. Since they use these tools and practice every day in their job, they have enough experience to guide and offer areas to reconsider that a student might have missed.
How does your team help students who are falling behind and need extra support?
We don't really believe in failing behind. We acknowledge every student is unique, and comes from a different background. We have students from across the globe, from Singapore to Chicago, so I don't think it's realistic to expect everyone to be able to acquire the same knowledge and results in six months. Your mentor is always there to support you and hold you accountable to the path you set for yourself.
Students have weekly calls with their mentors, who are also available generally on Slack to answer questions between the sessions. Students also have access to teaching assistants throughout the week, as well as our Student Success Managers. There are many people you can turn to if you need help.
Since this is an online bootcamp, are students able to interact with other students or alumni?
We want to help students have support beyond their mentors, student success managers, and the community. We strongly encourage our students to opt in for our bootcamp buddy system, which pairs you up with someone in the same cohort so you have the camaraderie that someone else is going through the same challenges. We recommend these bootcamp buddies meet every week and share their experiences.
Our students can be total beginners, but if you want to be successful in this industry, you first have to be curious about everything — a quality that can help you as a designer — as well as being comfortable with ambiguity. Often students struggle because they expect to come into an educational program and be given exact steps to do something, but unfortunately, tech in general and especially design is anything but specific because it will change based on the context you’re in.
Ideal students are those that are comfortable with ambiguity, curious, and disciplined because it's a lot of work in a six-month intensive program. These students dedicate the time to reading, understanding their assignments, completing them, and asking questions rather than waiting for someone to ask. Being diligent with your work means having to prioritize learning over going out on a Friday night.
What kinds of tech roles will bootcamp graduates be eligible for?
Our students land jobs in design, such as product designer, UX designer, UI designer, UX researcher, or even UX writer. We prepare people for any tech design role that deals with building a digital product.
How does Mento Design Academy support its students’ career goals?
The first two assignments in the program are reflective written pieces that help you and your mentor understand your motivations and backgrounds. We have students ask themselves:
Every student will need to have internal motivation to stay on track! Students receive six months of career support, mock interviews, and career chapters in the curriculum.
Do you see a lot of career changers or is it more people who are upskilling and want to add design skills?
We see roughly three categories:
Around 80% of our students are in the workforce and the rest are recent graduates or currently enrolled in college.
Does Mento offer an intro course for beginners who are interested in the full-length program?
We host events that cover entry-level topics, we have a meetup group, and we record all of our events and post them on our YouTube channel, so it's available for anyone that wants to get a glimpse of what they might be able to learn as a UX designer. This is the best way to gauge whether design is something that you want to do or not.
We recommend that people schedule a free call with us. We want every student that we enroll to get an understanding of what the job entails.
What is your advice to incoming students on how to make the most of their time at Mento Design Academy?
I actually built a course about this, How to Make the Most Out of Mento! We analyzed students' progress and why they pause their program, and what makes some students successful and some struggle.
Setting yourself up for success means setting expectations with work, friends and family, and anyone else you’re committed to. Taking this course means sacrificing some weekends out with friends, or taking on new responsibilities with work.
Document the time you have available. In the course, I show people how to map their time commitments, because as humans we tend to be unrealistic about how much time we have available. Take your calendar and map out everything you’re doing, from your 9-5 to grocery shopping, cooking, hanging with the kids, and taking out the dog. Then you have a visual representation of how much time you have available. Maybe you agree with your partner that they’ll take out the dog, take out the trash, or cook for the next six months, so make room for your study. Often, people enroll overly optimistic and then find themselves dedicating less time than they thought they could. Preparation can make or break it for you.
Make sure that there are no big events coming up in your life, like the birth of a child, travel, surgery, moving houses, or changing jobs. We had a number of fathers that enrolled right before their first child was born! Although many parents have done great taking care of their kids and going through the course, my secret assumption is they don't sleep! Some things are unavoidable but try to know things beforehand so you can be prepared and able to commit to this program.
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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