Designation is a 24-week program specializing in the fields of UX and UI design with the primary goal to turn you into a hireable candidate for innovative and tech-focused companies. Designation offers a hybrid of both online education and in-person immersion in Chicago. Throughout the 24 weeks of the program, students are treated to guest speakers, sponsored workshops, and lab sessions. While there is no formal grading, students are asked to create portfolio deliverables and to actively document their design process for the purpose of finding a job after graduation. No prior experience is required, though top applicants should be prepared to work a minimum of 60 hours per week during the 12 weeks of the in-person phase. Designation is looking for highly motivated individuals who demonstrate maturity, persistence in problem-solving and show a genuine interest in design.
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Recent Designation Reviews: Rating 4.81
UX Design Intensive (begins every 6-8 weeks)
Take a deep dive in to the strategy and structure behind the creation of digital products. Learn how to identify who your users are, and how to build products that solve a problem. then conduct usability testing to ensure what you built is both efficient and effective. If you have any questions, or to discuss the course and whether it's right for you, email email@example.com.
- Climb, Pave, Skill Fund
- Minimum Skill Level
- Design Essentials is a required pre-requisite for this course for students without prior professional design experience.
UI Design Intensive (begins every 6-8 weeks)
The tools of the UI designer are many, and in this phase, you'll work with all of them. Learn about layouts, identity, preparing assets and interpreting UX research documents to make killer designs that are not only beautiful, but also intuitive and easy to use. If you have any questions, or to discuss the course and whether it's right for you, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Climb, Pave, Skill Fund
- Minimum Skill Level
- Design Essentials is a required pre-requisite for this course for students without prior professional design experience.
Design Essentials (Online, Part-time, begins every 6-8 weeks)
Learn the essence of user experience (UX), user interface (UI), interaction design (IxD) and more over six weeks of part-time learning that covers the core skills of design and product development. Join a small class of motivated people to learn from our special team of instructors and mentors. If you have any questions, or to discuss the course and whether it's right for you, email email@example.com.
- Skills Fund
- Minimum Skill Level
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At Designation, you all are truly allowed to design their next career if you put forth the effort.
Before Designation, I was a Relationship Manager at Bank of America. I had significant experience in finance and banking, but I also worked in other industries including healthcare and food retail. I also have a degree in sociology. Throughout all my positions across industries, they were all people and client facing, so I knew I had a love for customer service and client experience.
I was looking for an opportunity to challenge myself in a new way and I wanted to get out of sales. UX would allow me an opportunity to use my people's skills, inquisitive nature, and curious mind. After a series of Google searches, I found a couple of bootcamps. I was undecided between Springboard, General Assembly, and Designation. I chose to attend Designation because of the client phase. The opportunity to work with real clients and design digital solutions for real problems for me was invaluable. I knew having client experience would afford me more opportunities later and make me stand out among other applicants during my job search. No other program offered client facing projects.
Unforgettable and transformative are two words to describe my experience there. The in-person phase called for 70-80 hours per week, and it was intensive. But I loved what I was doing. The work wasn't work for me. I had finally found something that invigorated my soul. At times, working on a team of people with different and sometimes challenging personalities was difficult. The team dynamic played a huge role in the quality of work. Making a team contract and understanding your teammates preferable working styles, what makes them tick, and how they prefer to communicate especially when solving conflict made it easier to solve a conflict if ever there was an issue.
All in all, I learned a crap ton at Designation. I truly felt prepared for a career in UX upon graduation. I didn’t have a technical background before Designation, but I found myself confident and reassured when looking for jobs because there’s no doubt they fully prepare prepared me. Long story short, I grew both professionally and personally and learning skills like how to work in teams or how to resolve conflict are skills I couldn’t have learned in an online program.
Designation tailored me for my new role as a UX Designer. It expanded my toolbox for everything I needed to begin my new career. My confidence soared and I am forever thankful and proud to call myself an alumna of Designation.
The only con is I wish I could've learned more UI to be interdisciplinary. Yet, I understand the industry is going in a direction of specialization, and I did get UI exposure, but I want to be a unicorn!!
The in-person instruction, group collaboration, career counseling, and an opportunity to work with real clients attracted me to Designation. During my time there I acquired the experience that I have used to transition my career onto a more rewarding path. I also gained a valuable network of Designation peers, mentors, and friends.
Before Designation, I was working as a Graphic Designer doing mostly production work. I had a desire to move into a position where I could grow as a creative visual problem solver, but I lacked digital experience. In addition to my background in graphic design, I also had experience with illustration and fine art, so the UI track was a clear choice for me.
As a career transitioner, I was allowed to submit a portfolio for review and opt out of the first virtual phase of the program. I quit my job and joined my cohort in the second virtual part of the program. This part of the program is around 40 hours a week but there is a lot of material, and you could quickly add 10-15 hours to the work week by completing the supplemental reading and extra credit work. My instructor for this phase had a lot of industry experience and conducted beneficial feedback sessions and lectures.
The program ramps up in intensity for the next two in-person phases. There is a lot of team collaboration although UI designers do create individual design systems which will be critical for your portfolio and interviewing during the job search. There is also a substantial emphasis and instruction on conducting client presentations, and they were part of weekly sprints.
Some of the things specific to the UI track such as typography and color theory are hard to gain more than a necessary level of experience. That said, I saw many people in my cohort with no design background metamorphize into effective UI Designers.
The Designation staff makes an honest effort to improve the program and themselves from cohort to cohort. They conduct objective exit interviews with the designers and implement changes based on that feedback, sometimes immediately. The staff is very caring, and the small cohort sizes create a very close working relationship.
During the hunt for a job, I received positive responses to my new portfolio and resume. When writing cover letters and interviewing I utilized skills that I gained in the Career Phase. In the end, I found a good fit at a company who does exciting work and has values that align with mine.
It is a boot camp environment, and it can get intense, but I highly recommend the program if you have an honest interest in design and a strong work ethic. It's a commitment, but you will get out of it what you put in, and it can be life-changing.
First little bit of my background. I'm coming from another country with the background in banking and accounting. I always had a passion for design, and in one moment in my life, I decided to work in a more creative world. I opened flower shop and gallery and learned how to make beautiful flower arrangement and that way make my customers happy and satisfied. When I moved to the USA, I continued to follow my passion but this time in the digital design. I spent a lot of months researching and learning about new trends in digital design, schools, and boot camps and finally found Designation.
Designation is a place where you can learn or improve your UI or UX skills in such a short time frame. For some people, seven months (twelve weeks virtual, ten weeks in-person and two weeks career phase) could sound as long time, but when you see yourself at the end of the program, you'll be impressed how many things you've learned for that time. During the Designation time flies, and every single day you can notice an improvement.
Whenever you're in doubt about your work, process, or struggling to finish something, there are your instructors or creative directors to help you. Their advice, feedback, and support are invaluable.
Designation is unique because there isn't another place where you can have and work for a real client. You'll have a chance to put your knowledge and effort to help someone to grow their business.
Once you start to build your portfolio and see how long way you've passed, how much improvement you've made, you'll be proud of yourself every day, every moment. This pleasure and indescribable pride the only Designation can provide.
Designation is a big family, and during this program, you'll make lifetime friendships. Your cohort peers will be your most significant support and resources.
I didn't have situation yet that I've mentioned Designation in front of someone from design world that haven't heard about Designation. Everyone admire Designation's program concept, and Designation's graduates are more than welcome in the design world.
Designation is a place where I changed my life. My journey through Designation was hard and very challenging due to my language barrier, but if someone asks me to do it all over again, I definitely would say yes.
I'm going to preface this review with the fact that I am a) usually an optimist and try seeing everything as a learning opportunity, b) still processing the entire experience seven months out of the program, and c) had literally no design experience prior to Designation, so I won't be able to compare the workload/experience/lessons to anything (job or boot camp-wise) "in the industry." I'm about a month into my new job, so my feelings about it can and will obviously change the more I go deeper into this field.
- For someone who had no previous UX/UI OR design experience, this program is great at introducing you to ideas, methodologies, techniques, approaches, etc. I can genuinely say I learned more about UX and UI (I focused on UI while there).
- Working in 1871 immerses you in Chicago's tech industry. If you've never been part of this field, you get a super focused view of what the startup and tech world is like, and you're usually working just feet away from another boot camp member or a techie or a startup. Everyone is more than likely excited to talk about what they're doing in 1871.
- You get actual client experience. Client phase was my favorite primarily because you apply everything you've learned to real businesses looking for design work. Interviewers will most likely look for this kind of experience and what you were able to create and learn from these sprints.
- Each cohort is a diverse cast with differing work styles and strengths and weaknesses. You'll work with a good number of your classmates, and you'll work well with some, and not well with others. If you remind yourself that this is what the real working world is like and that there's something to learn from everyone, you'll be more level-headed throughout the experience and your career.
- There's a large emphasis on presentations. As someone who is naturally anxious in presenting, I've gotten super comfortable with talking and defending my designs.
- You have access to a growing network of alumni, future and current students, and mentors. There's always someone to connect you to the right person, be it a user tester, potential employer, or professional connection.
Areas of improvement:
- Each phase tends to weed out more students; by the time you get to Immersion phase, the students who are in it are the ones who are (I believe) the most committed to making a career out of UX/UI. The earlier phases tend to be full of a hodgepodge of people who are figuring out if this is for them (which is great) and people who are just not committed to it. The program could be more selective to ensure committed students work with committed students.
- You sadly have to choose to focus on either UX or UI for the majority of the program. I understand the idea behind investing in one field to really learn that process, but there are a lot of opportunities to integrate UX designers with UI designers throughout the program instead of feeling like there are two classes who happen to work in the same office space.
- Career phase could be a six-week experience that emphasizes collaboration from outside of Designation. You'll spend a lot of time typing and assembling your previous work as coherent case studies, which is itself super satisfying. I admittedly didn't take advantage of the career phase resources (huge shoutout to Mike Joosse) post-graduation, I do feel like I learned a lot about the application process and case study creation/design from people and mentors outside of the Designation bubble that tend to get lost in those final two weeks.
Overall: You get what you put into it. I cannot emphasize this enough. As someone without prior design experience (I worked in customer support for four years and desperately needed a career change), I wanted to fully commit to learning as much as possible in the time I had with the program. This meant quitting my job for Virtual phase, and I have absolutely no regrets. I know other students who held their job through Virtual until Immersion phase. Know that you need to figure out what you want to get out of it, when you want to get it, and your financial situation. I'm the kind of person who'll fully invest time to understand and learn something thoroughly, and that meant a lot of social and financial sacrifices to make sure I read and understood and designed as much as I possibly could. I still am learning a ton, but I'm pretty sure that I'd be way behind in my job if I didn't fully commit to this program at every phase. This tends to show in your work, how you generate ideas, and how you present it.
As someone said in another review, this program is NOT EASY. It's a big time commitment, but you learn a lot about time management and being an efficient designer more than a detail-obsessed one.
Is Designation worth the experience? For me, yes. I'm doing something I absolutely love every day, which is miles away from what I was doing before. In the end, it really does depend on who you ask and what they took from the program. I tend to see that the most successful grads tend to be the more appreciative ones who were willing to learn something from everyone and realize the overall experience is just the start; you shouldn't expect to know everything once you graduate. You should keep learning more in your job and from people outside of the program.
THANK YOU DESIGNATION.
I came to Designation after working for 6 years in the advertising agency as a video editor and animator. After a few clients told me that I “think too much for this job”, I started looking for a job that encourages me to ask questions and really think about all aspects of the work. In less than 3 months after finishing Designation, I had several exciting job offers from very reputable companies (all of which paid significantly more than what I was making in advertising.) I recently took a job at a well-known consumer electronics company trying to revamp its entire approach to software/apps and I couldn’t be more excited to tackle this challenge.
Why Designation over General Assembly?
The genius of this program is that you work on REAL WORLD PROJECTS. At the end of the program, Mike Joose (our mentor during the career phase) told us to put Designation in the work experience section of our resume and not in education. During my interviews, I never used the word boot camp once. When asked about Designation, I pitched it as a “start-up that gave aspiring UX designers like myself a chance to cut their teeth on real-world projects and gave small cash-strapped start-ups the quality design help they needed but couldn’t pay for.” I can say hands down that pitching Designation in this way is what got me a senior level job that I have never heard of anyone getting right out of a boot camp like General Assembly. My piece of advice for Designation who be to lose the word “boot camp” entirely from their branding materials and instead use words like “apprenticeship” or “UX incubator” because that’s really what this program is (and calling it a boot camp actually makes it confusing for some recruiters).
If you want to have well-made presentations and more “academic” course materials, GA is definitely the way to go (or do a masters program). To be honest, a lot of the learning at designation is “click this link, read this article, watch this keynote, then do this exercise.” But if you want to get a non-entry level job, having the ability to say “this was a real project and you can go to the site right now” is crucial. For that reason alone, I think Designation is worth the investment.
Designation is a good fit for…
Individuals who have worked in a high-pressure work environment for at least a few years (especially if that’s in a project-based or creative field). There were a number of us who had worked in marketing, advertising, media, or just project management in general. As a whole, I found that this group really got the most out of Designation mainly because they were used to working very long hours and holding themselves accountable to hitting extremely tight deadlines.
Designation is not a good fit for…
For those people who hate their jobs and are just looking for a way out. In order to succeed in this program, you should already love UX/UI. As a rule, those who did well after this program were the ones who had been “studying” really good examples of product design just for fun way before they even started Designation. If you aren’t sure what you want to do and are just looking for possible careers, I would say start by chatting with some designers currently working in the field and make some practice products for fun just to see if this is really something you want. This program goes by incredibly fast, so the best thing you can do is come into it with an idea of what you want so you can take advantage of every second.
UX vs. UI track
If you’re unsure whether or not you want to go into the UX or UI track, I would suggest you choose the UX track for two reasons. First off, I would argue that graphic design skills and the various visual design tools like illustrator are relatively easy to pick up just by watching some videos on online and doing some practice challenges. Second, I think the demand for UX designers (with basic visual design skills) is greater than UI designers (at least in Boston in 2017). When I was looking for a job, pretty much every job post was for a “senior UX designer” because what a lot of companies need right now is for someone to teach their design department about user-centered design and really restructure their product design process. These UX design positions, at least in my experience, pay at least 20%-30% more than the straight-up UI positions. And if you’re like me and are looking to have a more strategic role in making major decisions that shape the product beyond just what it looks like, UX is for you.
In addition to what I’ve already discussed, here are some real highlights of the program:
Pretty solid alumni network
There are a lot of very successful designers out there who’ve graduated from Designation. You can’t just email them and say “can you get me a job.” But if you take the time to get to know some of them and really connect with someone, then I think you’ll find it’s a pretty supportive community.
Active slack network
The Designation slack community is a great resource for professional development, with channels for design trends, community events, and more.
The staff at Designation actually care about you and your success
No one is perfect. And it can get a little crazy at times. But at least the staff at Designation really does put their heart and soul into what they do. Unlike bigger boot camps or online programs, Designation is personal. And if you put in the effort to talk with Mike and your creative directors, they will reciprocate.
While I was ultimately happy with what I got out of Designation, there were some issues that you should be aware of:
You might get stuck with someone who has no business being there
Let me start by saying that I was by no means the world’s best teammate - I think was too intense and strong headed at times. I didn’t always give my teammates the respect they deserved. But at least I listened and I made an effort to right my wrongs and improve myself as a teammate.
But with every cohort, there is always at least one person who no one wants to work with. The kind of person who doesn't listen to anyone, who doesn’t contribute, and who is a liability when working with clients. The kind of person who negatively affected the outcome of the project they were a part of. And I wasn’t the only one who felt this way - the entire cohort trembled in fear just at the thought of working with them. And when everyone feels that way, my belief is that this person should be kicked out. But Designation is ultimately a business and the potential lost tuition is more important to their bottom line than the general morale and group dynamics of the cohort. That’s why when someone would ask me if I recommend this program, I always tell them “It’s a great program, but it ultimately comes down to luck of the draw. You could potentially get stuck with someone who will derail your project and it’s totally on you to deal with that.”
Poor project management
When it comes to user research, it’s really important to have the ability to talk to the right kinds of users. This is something that your creative directors and your clients are responsible for setting up before each project. Unfortunately, this didn’t always happen. When all of your interview subjects are coached friends of the client who don’t fit the demographic, it makes it nearly impossible to get the insights you need to make a really compelling case study.
They forgot to teach us about “best practices”
There is no universal “right” or “wrong” way of doing things when it comes to design. The process depends on the project and Designation does a really good job of teaching you the kinds of questions you should be asking. However, there are some things that designers in general just don’t do or that you really don’t see anymore. There were several moments during our client phase in which a developer or client said, “you’ve clearly never made an app before. No one does that anymore” and they were right. So I would have really liked a few weeks of just studying some common practices in modern-day sites and apps to avoid any rookie mistakes.
Is this program perfect? No. Is it worth it? That depends on who you are and what you want. But for someone like me who was looking for a way to build on the skills he already had and transition into a more strategic role, it was totally worth it.
I did a lot of research into many schools before I chose Designation, and I know now that I made the best choice in choosing Designation. The hands on experience that I received in working with actual clients was extremely valuable, because I could describe real life scenarios at the work place when I went on interviews. The mentors at Designation really care about each individual student and their personality. The mentors, spend a lot of one on one time with each student to help them reach their highest potential. Once the education process is complete, Designation puts a high priority on job placement and resume writing. Also, you get paired with someone who currently works in the field to get guidance and network connections in the design industry. When I was looking for jobs, Designation supported me, beyond my expectations. I highly recommend Designation to anyone who is serious about a career in the UX/UI Design industry.
Changing careers wasn’t easy. But with DESIGNATION on my side I made it happen. I’m now a Product Designer for a startup. I write research plans, conduct interviews and user tests, design new flows, iterate on the UI of the product, and collaborate with every team in our company. In everything I do I advocate for the experience of our users. I love my work. And I look forward to a long career in a creative industry with expanding opportunities.
My take on selecting a bootcamp is that there are two very important questions to answer for yourself first:
1. Why do I want to become a UX/UI designer? If you've got a clear and compelling why it makes it easier to focus on the challenges of actually becoming a designer.
2. Why do I want to attend a bootcamp? You could also do self-study or an accredited degree program.
For me, a bootcamp was the only option. I learn by doing, especially with others and in a context where my work matters. Also, immersion learning is proven to accelerate knowledge integration and I had the privilege of time to go that route. If this sounds appealing to you, rest assured that DESIGNATION is designed to be both immersive and relevant.
Your cohort mates are counting on you to show up and do your best everyday. Your mentors and instructors are always pushing you to grow and expand beyond your comfort zone. Your clients need you to translate their hard work and business vision into a digital experience that will solve a problem for real people.
It goes without saying that the responsibility for finding and getting a job will fall on your shoulders. But DESIGNATION offers an outstanding career phase that prepares you for that intimidating reality. Hiring managers will take a chance on a career changer, but only if there's something solid to back up your enthusiasm. The client projects in your portfolio will open that door and then you just have to hustle to show that you've got the skills to contribute right away. And thanks to DESIGNATION you will.
I loved my instructors and art director. They shared a ton of knowledge, but most importantly they asked me the hard questions and trusted me to come up with answers. That's how I learned to trust myself and the design process.
Being a designer is rad.
DESIGNATION zooms past and every instructor, guest speaker, company tour, and team project will soon be in the rear view. What you learned from the time you spent with them–about yourself, about design, about being a professional in this industry–those are the things that stay with you.
It’s not paradise. At times I felt frustrated, disillusioned, insecure, stressed, and exhausted. But I had many more moments of deep absorption, inspiration, amazement, pride, and gratitude.
I knew why I showed up each day. And I gave it my all.
If you can do that, DESIGNATION will provide the heat you need to forge a real skillset in UX/UI design. Thanks DESIGNATION!
DESIGNATION’s location at 1871 is invaluable! While here, you get a feel for the pulse of Chicago’s tech community and have chances to interact with brilliant people of various companies and disciplines. There are plenty of workspaces and resources to use here while knocking out 70+ hour workweeks with your teams, so take advantage!
Before I attended DESIGNATION, a lot of my design skills were self-taught. I signed up for numerous classes on design at Udemy and Coursera, and I even took a 6 month online UX immersive course at CareerFoundry. Although I was able to utilize those new skills at work, I felt that I was nowhere near prepared to apply it in a fast paced and demanding setting. I needed more experience collaborating, and I wanted to solve more complex problems, so that’s when I started to look into bootcamps.
Why I Chose DESIGNATION:
I wanted to transition into a career in UX, so I spent about a month studying for the GRE to get a Master's in HCI. But I decided that I didn't want to spend another two years in school. I wanted to work in the field ASAP, so my brother suggested I try out bootcamps. That's how I stumbled upon General Assembly and DESIGNATION. I took my time comparing the two. I researched every course review sites, read blog posts by alumni, I attended a two day UX workshop at GA, and I also visited DESIGNATION’s space at 1871. It was that visit that sold me on the program. I was already leaning towards DESIGNATION because of the opportunity to get to work with two startups, but after seeing the space where I’d basically live in for 70+ hours a week (1871/Merchandise Mart), I knew that DESIGNATION was the program I wanted to enroll in. The energy in the place was intoxicating. It also felt like a space that would be more conducive to creativity.
Overall, I think that the instructors were knowledgeable and passionate about design. For the first two phases you're treated like students, so the feedback is designed to help you grow. When you enter the in-person phase, you're treated like designers in an agency. So the instructors become creative directors who are their to guide you rather than teach you. I liked all my instructors, some more than others. I feel like they're able to push you to become better designers by allowing you to make your own decisions. They're always accessible whenever we needed help, though. In every phase of the program, I felt like that I, or my team, could schedule time to speak with them. Also, you can always reach out to them via slack, and they’ll get back to you in 20 minutes or less.
For the most part, I think that their curriculum was successful in developing us as designers. We were given so much resources at every module that we had to go through in the first two phases. Also, our instructors provided additional articles, videos, etc. if you reach out to them about a specific topic that interests you. Although some of the resources they gave us were a little outdated, it’s to be expected since technology is so fast paced.
Some things that I didn’t like about the curriculum were how most of our quizzes weren’t graded. I think that it would’ve been a great way to see who was actually learning and doing their part. It could’ve weeded out some people who would later on become a burden on their team because they didn’t even know some of the basics. The other aspect of their curriculum that I wasn’t a fan of was the “creative cool downs” we had every Friday. I would’ve rather done something more productive with my time. What’s great about DESIGNATION, though, is that their program goes through constant iterations. A lot of us expressed how we weren’t fond of the creative cool downs, so for later cohorts they changed it to “design challenges.”
The Community Director, Mike, was an invaluable resource during the career phase and post graduation. The one constant that you’ll read about him is that he seems really unapproachable, but that’s so far from the truth. When I was in the program, and I had a question, I’d ask him and he’d always have time to answer it. Also, after graduation, I constantly messaged him on slack with questions regarding my portfolio/jobs, and he was always there. If you do decide to do the program, just remember that Mike is there to help you. He may be inaccessible at times due to prior commitments, but he’ll always get back to you. And no matter how tough he may look, he genuinely wants you to succeed.
The second reason why the career assistance was great was because of the wide network of alumni that they have. A lot of them are willing to take time out of their schedules to help you out or mentor you. I’ve had three mentors from the program who have helped me grow. One of them, I just reached out after she gave a talk.
It’s important to note that attending a bootcamp like DESIGNATION doesn’t guarantee that you’ll either get a job or become a skilled designer after 6 months. You still have to put in the work, and then some. It’s far from easy. In fact, it’s been one of the most challenging experiences in my life. There were multiple weeks where I stayed at 1871 until midnight, or later, working on my portfolio or a deliverable. When it ended, I was physically and mentally drained. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely. From the mind-numbingly difficult challenges that my team and I had to solve for the startups we worked with, to the amazing people I met and became fast friends with, to learning what my process, strengths, and values as a designer were, it was all worth it.
Let me start by saying a little about my background.
I worked in PR agencies for 3 or so years then decided to switch into something more creative. I looked into GA and even went through their application process, but it ultimately wasn't for me. DESIGNATION sold me on the client-facing projects that they had to offer as well as the extended length of the program. The 94% job-success rate also was in the 'pro' column.
Now that you know what led to my decision, here's how that decision panned out.
INSTRUCTORS (4 stars):
The staff help you recognize different approaches to a problem, not necessarily give you direction. I know some people have a hard time with not getting a direct answer. But the more you figure out your process, the less you need a definite answer.
The first in-person phase (Immersion) felt light on instruction. After talking with other cohorts and with the staff, I've learned that this immersion phase is meant to be more exploratory so you define your own process. It also didn't help that our part-time UX instructor was mentally checked out even when she was there. They have since hired a full-time UX/UI creative director who I can attest has a vast amount of experience.
The client portion - the reason that I chose DESIGNATION - definitely proved to be the most beneficial. We were given 2 client projects to do in 3-week sprints, solving real world problems. And each week, we sat down with our clients to talk about our process and our design decisions based on user research. I learn by doing and this gave me that context of working with clients as a UX design consultant. Additionally, my creative director pushed me to think in terms of different use cases, levels of knowledge, even accessibility. She helped me become more strategic with my curiosity.
CURRICULUM (4 stars):
I mentioned before that the program is structured to give you the tools and the projects encourage the reps. I do believe there could have been more opportunities to do workshops with Axure and Sketch during the in-person portion. In hindsight, I could have done more during the virtual phases, but I still would have liked more opportunities to practice the different dynamic panels and variables in Axure specifically.
JOB ASSISTANCE (5 stars):
Mike is one of the greatest assets DESIGNATION has to offer. He's thoroughly connected in the design industry in Chicago and across the globe. He's also been in the business for years, so he knows his shit. When he gives feedback, it's never fluff. It's direct and actionable.
His career phase decks are FILLED with invaluable resources and data. And you always have access to them!
I know some people think he's intimidating and unapproachable. I sort of see why. He's knowledgeable and very well connected and he does have this system of 5-then-me. But honestly, just because he's intimidating, doesn't mean he's unapproachable. If you don't approach him for feedback or help, that's on you. He helps those who want to be helped. And the 5-then-me rule is so he can be the most value to people instead of just giving you answers that you could have Googled.
OVERALL EXPERIENCE (5 stars):
As you can see from the variety of other reviews, you reap what you sow at DESIGNATION and my experience is no different. I wanted to soak up as much as possible and because of that, I got a lot in return. The program is about exposing you to design thinking and showing you the tools that help people become successful. It's YOUR job to put in the work, do the reps and become the designer that YOU want to be.
One thing I got out of it that I didn't anticipate was such strong friendships. I knew I'd make connections in the field, but I didn't know I'd develop such strong relationships with my fellow designers. I'm amazed at the level of support I still get from my cohort/friends.
While this program does equip you with the knowledge and tools to become a UX or UI designer, you don't just get a job right afterward. You still have to make a portfolio, network and HUSTLE. But after going through the program, I definitely feel equiped and confident as I start my career as a UX/IxD Designer. DESIGNATION is a great start for those looking to transition into a new career within UX or UI.
I stumbled across this program after my previous industry had crashed and left me with little opportunity. I was forced to pivot and discovered UX design when researching new careers. It sounded awesome! But I had zero experience in design and programming. I also had zero connections in tech to reach out to for advice. A degree in psychology was my closest applicable experience.
At the time, DESIGNATION touted a 94% post-grad employment rate. Since employment was the goal, I put faith in their message and enrolled.
-1871. It was great to be completely surrounded in the tech world. 1871 is full of super motivated people and is very inspiring to improve oneself.
-Intensity. You will improve greatly. You are forced to work under intense time constraints as you learn new software, design methods, and how to work in a team (surprisingly difficult in close quarters and long hours). The intensity could be too much for some. I have seen multiple people break down and cry, but hey, you do learn something.
-Know-how. You can learn 95% of it online on your own, but some stuff you just need to experience. Mostly working with others and how to communicate design effectively. You will develop thick skin :)
-Guidance. It was most helpful in showing me the path to get that first job. Stuff like what recruiters look for in a portfolio.
-Some instructors. They had egos and some drama would come from that. They could come off as kind of pretentious. My favorite faculty member by far is Mike, who works to connect the students with the real world. He is there because he's truly passionate about helping people succeed in design.
-Starts off slow. The earlier curriculum can be too novice, but they want to get everyone up to speed. It is a good review of the basics, but those who already have experience might find it mundane.
-Don’t expect a job. You are competing for jobs with your cohort, the cohort before you, and the cohort after you. I knew awesome people who are still having trouble getting work. Don’t rely on this program to give you anything. The connections I made here did NOT help me get any of the design jobs I’ve held. You still need to grind on your own to make an awesome portfolio and nail those interviews.
This program is just one way to start. If you want to work with awesome people in a supportive environment, this could be for you. You will still need to put in the work. Just know that you can’t become a pro designer with one course. This is one method of learning what is needed to get you an entry-level position.
Before Designation, I was working as a Visual Designer for an Architecture firm. I wasn’t completely content with what I was doing because I was siloed and craved collaboration. A friend mentioned I’d be a great fit for UX because I was always asking “why” and could carry a conversation with anyone. After doing my research, I chose Designation to transform my career path. And, after putting in countless hours of hard work, I landed a few very exciting job offers. I recently started working as a UX Designer at a global user experience agency where I get to work on all types of industries like healthcare and more!
Here’s a breakdown of the phases of the program:
DE was a great introduction to both the UX and UI field. You are given access to an incredible amount of online resources and the ability to learn and discuss various topics with your cohort and instructor multiple times a week. The instructor, James was AMAZING. He really challenged the cohort to think critically and encouraged discussion instead of lecturing the whole time. Since this part of the program is virtual, you need to be able to stay self-disciplined and structure your days so you get the most out of this phase. This was really difficult for me at first because I was working full-time BUT if you push through, it’s completely doable.
Going to be honest, was not my favorite phase BUT I think with a few changes, it could be vastly improved. I will also say, the staff conducts objective feedback interviews to find out how they can improve the program (and they actually listen and try to implement our feedback).
Anyway, here’s why: You meet together twice a week to discuss assignments and listen to a lecture about a new topic and/or go through a design tutorial. I found some of the lectures dry and not as informative as I would have liked. I’ve also found it difficult to encourage designers to participate in group discussions when it’s remote (perhaps it was the cohort I was in). Other than that, it’s great practice who designers who want to/have to work remote.
Immersion is all about applying the skills you learned in DE+Virtual. It is also VERY different than the first 2 phases. You are working in-person with designers on small teams 40+ hours a week. After a week + 1/2 into it, you’ll start to get used to the hours and then it’s no big deal at all. After all, it’ll be what you sign up for and trust me, it’ll be worth it in the end!
Working in small teams comes with ups and downs. You don’t get to pick your teams but the staff tries to pair you based on skillset and personalities. So, you might get paired up with someone you don’t jive with. If this happens, learn a productive way to work through it and learn from it because that could happen in your future workplace. Also, If you like to work solo, UX is not the tract for you. You must collaborate and communicate and you’ll do great.
The instructor, Doug, is one of the nicest humans you’ll ever meet. He’s very supportive of you learning as a new designer and always wants you to push yourself just a little further. You’ll get really good practice working in small teams and improving your presentation skills (you’ll be giving a lot of those)!
This phase was one of the main reasons why I chose Designation because you get the work with REAL WORLD CLIENTS. By the time I got to this point, I was confident I knew the process and could easily adapt it to any project I was given. I got to work with an AMAZING client and a so-so client. The staff really tries to pair you with different types of clients and designers to work with. It’s not always perfect but it definitely prepares you for future engagements. Megan and Dan were the creative directors for this phase and they, along with the rest of the staff are also AMAZING. Always pushing you to think critically through every design decision and to make sure you have research to back it up. They are also super fun to work with!
I was lucky enough to go through this phase twice! Once as a designer and the next time as a Designer in Residence (DIR). Get ready for a rollercoaster of emotions this phase! This was probably the most challenging and exciting phase for me. You have 2 weeks to work on a LOT of material that will set you up for your job hunt. By the time you get to this point, you'll feel overworked, exhausted and "ready to start applying for jobs already." Just remind yourself, you can't apply for a job without these materials. So, buckle down and push through it. It can be very overwhelming in the beginning but Mike Joose does a great job organizing those 2 weeks so that you can feel at ease while you tackle one task at a time. Mike gives you his undivided attention for those two weeks. He's there to review your materials, provide feedback, answer any questions you have and most importantly, help you find a job (if YOU give him the tools to do so). He even managed to help set me up with a contract job the Monday after I graduated from the program. Don't slack off during this phase and you'll finish feeling super prepared for entering the job market!
Trust the process and the program. If you put in the hard work, push yourself, and stay passionate about design, you’ll be so happy you chose Designation.
A year ago, I started DESIGNATION, I was in the UI track of the Yucca Cohort.
A bit about my background. I moved to the United States from Mexico about 1 year before starting DESIGNATION. I came with a degree and a few years’ experience in Graphic Design but was having a difficult time getting interviews in the United States. I quickly realized that lacking skills in Digital, not having connections, and no prior ‘working’ experience in the United States was probably holding me back. When I came across DESIGNATION I realized it could give me all of that, in an immersive and accelerated way.
Starting out I was nervous, I was afraid of how my language barrier would affect my progress in the program.
DESIGNATION not only taught me new skills and trends in design, it also helped me to be more confident in myself; You give presentations each week to share your work, in front of real clients. in the begging I was so afraid to present/talk to people that I just met, but as the time passed I felt more confident and secure in what I was doing.
Designation is really a full-time program once you hit immersion phase, you are not going to have time to think about anything else except design, design and design. If you work hard and complete all work, at the end for sure you’re going to feel satisfied.
One of the most important parts of the program is the portfolio, it is where you’re going to show all the work you created in DESIGNATION. Without it, it can be really difficult to sell yourself to companies.
I got a job offer 2 months after completing DESIGNATION, now I’m working in a full time UI position. I definitely could not have done this without the help from all of the DESIGNATION team together. It was through DESIGNATIONs network of designers that I got the opportunity and the coaching that got me through the interviews.
Now I can say without a doubt it was one of the best experiences I have ever had, I met a lot of new people and some of them are still close friends today.
Designation will serve as the starting point for your career in design if you're willing to put in the effort. You will not come out of the program a senior designer or with the same knowledge as a graduate program/portfolio school (obviously), but it's absolutely possible to land entry-level/associate positions within 2 months. The instructors and staff genuinely care about your success and are invested in your growth throughout the 24 weeks, as well as during your job search post graduation. You'll learn how to think critically and dive deeper than simple surface level solutions, skills that in turn make working with startup clients a rewarding experience for both parties.
Background/advice for current designers:
I'll preface this review with a bit of background in order to provide some context. I came into Designation with a degree in graphic design and years of freelance/in-house experience, so the UI curriculum wasn't particularly beneficial to me. When I initially applied to the program it was advertised as "full-stack", a distinction that has since been removed from the description. That said, it's important to know what you want before coming into the program and to think about your career goals. If you have a design background already, I strongly suggest that you consider the UX path of the program in order to round out your abilities. There's way, way more value in the program if you steer towards being a product designer or hybrid UX/UI (that has real, practical UX experience combined with your graphic design skills) than a pure UI designer. Again, this is strictly for those who have design experience.
As I mentioned earlier, the staff at Designation is dedicated to your development as a designer and your experience in the program. The enormous emotional and financial cost is not lost on them, and they work hard to improve the experience for the designers daily. They care about strengthening your skillset and are active members in the design community. Mike Joosse and the career phase that he leads could be a paid service in and of itself; his industry knowledge and actionable advice will guide you through creating a strong portfolio and interviewing for jobs with full confidence.
There's a stronger emphasis on thinking/presenting than technical ability. I'll address the flipside to this in a minute, but Designation definitely errs on the side of teaching soft skills. From my experience, being able to think the right away and communicate your designs is far more important than being a wizard in Sketch of Photoshop. Anybody can make some pretty gradient crap on Dribbble working without constraints, seriously. You'll leave Designation with the confidence to speak through your thought process regardless of your prior working experience, and you'll learn to ask the right questions to get you there. That's what'll get you hired at the right places when you're interviewing, anyways.
The sense of camaraderie amongst your cohort is a very unique experience that you won't quickly forget. It's impossible to spend 80+ hours a week with a group of people and not come away with some life-long friends. Additionally, you'll become a member of the Designation community, which might just provide you with a referral or interview.
Working with real clients is a gamechanger, and sets Designation apart from any other bootcamp. Hiring managers want to see practical experience, and you get that here. The quality of the client can be hit or miss, but that's no different from the working world. Having a client set real constraints and working with scrappy startups is much more rewarding than doing mock projects.
It's been mentioned in other reviews, but the barrier to entry isn't very high. It's hard to blame a business for wanting to grow, but there needs to be a stronger application process. It's clearly a delicate balance. I do know that there's been some change in leadership recently, however, and that this issue is on their radar. It's a shame to have one bad apple spoil the lot, so hopefully there will be some guidelines or language drafted to hold people accountable for their lack of effort and actions.
Technical workshops would add a lot to the curriculum. It's the one main weakness of the program, especially during the first 4 weeks of the in-person phase. Often times, designers in the program get anxious about bringing their concepts to life because they don't have the confidence in their industry knowledge or technical ability. Hard skills are something that can be learned independently, yes, but imposter syndrome leaves a lot of people anxious and unwilling to even try. Additional workshops on best practices, industry standards and emerging technologies would benefit the designers' growth and their relationships with the clients.
It helped me take the next step in my career, and it can do the same for you. Don't expect to walk into the room and be handed a guidebook on how this thing will shake out, it's not a traditional education model. Keep an open mind, cultivate enthusiasm for what you're learning and you'll be a working designer a few months after you graduate.
Designation is an amazing program that speeds up the process of starting a career in UX. However, you need to be prepared to put in the work (like a good 90+ hours/week) and put the rest of your life on hold. If you have the resources and you love design, it's a small sacrifice to make for the massive difference it'll make to your career.
Thoughts on the Program
- Client phase. Over the course of two client projects, I learned how to apply and tailor various design thinking concepts and technical skills to real-world problems. Thanks to this portion of the program, I had a portfolio to show at the end of 18 weeks and enough experience to discuss with potential employers.
- Mike Joosse. Our community director was an amazing resource during Career Phase. He knows his stuff and the feedback he gives on your case studies, resume, and cover letters is always on-point.
- The instructors. Everyone I worked with was extremely passionate about design, incredibly sharp, and super dedicated to making Designation the best it could be. What surprised me most was how much they were personally invested in me and my cohort. Nobody is there just to collect your tuition and make a profit. As corny as it sounds, they genuinely care about helping each designer reach his/her potential and find a fulfilling career.
Areas for improvement
- More instruction on technical skills. When I went through the program, there wasn't a huge emphasis on Axure, which is a difficult tool to learn on your own since there aren't many online tutorials for it. Aside from one workshop during Virtual Phase, we pretty much had to muddle our way through it on our own. The upside is that the information sticks when you do it yourself. The downside is that you have no idea if you're doing it correctly or following best practices in the industry. The staff is actively trying to implement additional workshops and recruit designers with more expertise to give lectures, so it's definitely something they are aware of and working to fix.
- Better integration of UI and UX concepts. Designation makes you choose between UI and UX after the introductory Design Essentials course. It was an easy choice for me, but most members of my cohort had a strong interest in both. It's nearly impossible to gain a strong foundation in UI and UX over the course of just 3 months, but I think Designation could do a better job of linking the two. During my program, I felt like I was in a UX bubble. I only had a very vague understanding of how a UX designer should collaborate with and handoff projects to a UI designer.
- Stronger vetting processes. Although Designation tries its best to only admit strong candidates to the program, occasionally someone who may not have the appropriate work ethic or temperament does get through to the in-person phases. Since UX is extremely collaborative, the rest of the team's experience will suffer as a result of that individual. I was extremely lucky to have had wonderful, hardworking teammates for each of my client phase projects, but I know this was not the case with everyone.
Finding a Job
I will preface this by saying that I experienced an easier job search than most, since I was employed by Designation as a Designer-in-Residence (a TA/PM kind of role) after the program ended. As I had a steady source of income and a job where I could continue learning about design, it gave me more practice, extra time to work on my portfolio, and the luxury to be choosier with the roles I considered. The staff do make introductions occasionally, but it's largely up to you to network, reach out to recruiters, finish your portfolio quickly, etc. Help is readily available, but you have to be proactive about reaching out for it. Designation can't help you if they don't know you need it.
If you don't have a design background, it's less likely you'll end up in a senior-level position. However, the work you've done at Designation (if you've put in the effort) and the preparation you've gone through during Career Phase should be enough for most entry & associate-level roles. I started interviewing as soon as my program ended and I received an offer after about two months, which is close to the average time it takes for most people (around 3-6 months).
My exposure to DESIGNATION is unique from most. I had friends who went through DESIGNATION years before I did. I eventually went through myself as a UX Designer and earned a position working as a Designer-In-Residence for several months after I graduated from the program. I saw many different sides of the program and the people that make it up over a period of time. With those experiences and knowing so many people who participated, I can say with absolutely certainty that DESIGNATION works.
I will start by saying it is NOT easy. You have to make sacrifices and truly dedicate yourself to learning a new craft. There is no hand holding involved. I have seen a number of people struggle through this program and not get their dollar's worth because they expected to be spoon fed solutions to problems. This is not a traditional educational setting and I think you have to understand that before you take the plunge. There is not really a lot of formal instruction. You are given tools to design, introduced to a supportive community of fellow alums/designers and challenged to figure out a lot for yourself.
DESIGNATION does an incredible job preparing Designers for their new careers. The last phase of the program is dedicated entirely to working on your portfolio, resume, and preparing yourself for the job hunt. Making it to this point of the program is worth more than admission as the staff works endlessly to get you where you need to be if you're willing to put in the work. Like most things in life, you will get out of DESIGNATION what you put into it.
9/10 - Would recommend
DESIGNATION is a great experience, but it definitely isn't for everyone. It can be a huge help if you have the resources and want to transition careers, and even just the first phase is a great introduction to UX/UI if you're looking to learn more.
If you do the full program though, you need to be prepared to put a lot of things on hold for about 4 months and work REALLY HARD. A lot of people come into the program and think they can treat it like college - you show up, you work hard for a while, have fun for a while. It's not that. It's a professional training program, and every instructor is your new boss. Make a great impression, work like hell, and they will support and boost you.
I came into the program with several years of professional print design experience, which was definitely a huge help. I had plenty of cohort-mates who didn't have a design or design-adjacent background do a great job though, so don't let that dissuade you, just know that it will be that much more challenging. Anything you can do on your own to get some familiarity is great – look at resources on color, typography, hierarchy, that kind of thing, and start reading articles from UX/UI blogs and industry groups.
I chose DESIGNATION over General Assembly in part due to my background, and how much work I had put into becoming a professional print designer. In my opinion, you can't effectively help someone learn to be a professional, hireable designer of any kind in only 12 weeks. The length of DESIGNATION, and their recognition that having real-world client experience is crucial, both indicated to me that they are very serious about helping their designers effectively enter the workforce. I found that to be true, by and large, IF YOU PUT IN THE WORK. The instructors will do everything they can to help and support you, but at the end of the day how much you get out of it is on you.
I recently became salaried (from being on contract) with a good group of people, doing cool and collaborative work as a research/design hybrid, via a recommendation from DESIGNATION's career services. I might have been able to get here on my own, but it would've been incredibly difficult. DESIGNATION helped me get experience, meet the right people, and transition smoothly into an exciting new career.
If you've looked at the program, it looks exciting to you, and you have the resources, it can be a fun, challenging, and rewarding program!
My Designation experience was the hardest and most rewarding experience of my life. I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd be able to call myself a true designer yet Designation helped me attain that title and much more. I viewed Designation similar to how I saw my own design experiences. They are evolving and can improve on certain things to become a stronger design program. But overall, it brought out the best in me and pushed me to my limits. I worked 70 + hours a week and listened to the critiques and feedback for my hard/soft skills to get better, as this helped my position in landing a design job for a startup company. This was an opportunity for me to help all kinds of people in our forever-evolving world of technology and I'm grateful to have been a part of it.
Things I loved
1. The staff always helped me with questions about deliverables or career aspirations. More importantly, they challenged me to solve problems with design solutions supported by data.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: Mike Joosse and Megan Mueller.
2. I loved the resources given to me on Canvas. There are thousands of learning materials online but I loved how Designation was there to point me in a good direction.
3. I made life-changing relationships in this place. The other people in your Cohort may be designers like you but don't think of them as strangers. They can be great people to talk to.
4. The knowledge I've gained. When you go through this program, you learn about the design process and the tools necessary to create different things. Take advantage of that.
Things That Can Improve
1. I'd like to see more implementation of UX and UI groups. I feel mixing them together in some way could be beneficial to everyone involved, even potential clients.
2. Keep a fair balance for working groups. I think a group of 4 is too difficult for some people since there are so many opinions in the air. There needs to be the right balance especially if these projects run for only a few weeks.
3. I think improved communication regarding the "best way" to do certain things is important. It's true how we as designers need to think for ourselves and figure out our own approaches to different problems. But in some cases, Designation is the subject matter expert so just pointing us in one direction can be appropriate at times.
Overall, it was a humbling and memorable time for me at Designation. The experience rejuvenated not only my career but in a lot of ways, my life in general.
I once came to this website in your shoes, wondering if this program was worth thousands of dollars and 4 months of my life. I was suspicious of the positive reviews, to say the least. I was up the night after submitting the tuition fee, wondering if I was making a terrible mistake.
But I was in a borderline crisis because I’d been applying for job after job and getting nothing. I was educated and eager, but I didn’t have any relevant experience.
Now, almost a year later, I’ve completed nearly two months at my new job. I work at a downtown agency with a hip, collaborative office. I get to do interesting work I enjoy and I like my coworkers. And I can wear jeans to work.
It sounds too perfect to be real, and I still can’t believe it. It sounds super cheesy, but I believe going to Designation was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. They did far more for preparing me for the job search than my four-year college did.
No, the program wasn’t perfect, but everyone there cared about the success of the students and they are working to improve. There were actually quite a few times I was frustrated but I gave them five stars, because in the end, it all worked out.
Like the other reviews here say, we work long hours, and you have to be ready to put the rest of your life on hold for a few months. But if you’re serious about getting into digital design but you aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend this program.
DESIGNATION helped me achieve my career goals. Through the experience, I built the skills necessary to land a great job in UX design and significantly increase my salary. It should be noted, however, that DESIGNATION was only one piece of this equation. It also took my other work experiences, tremendous hard work, and self-motivation to reach my goals.
If you are really interested in becoming a practicing experience design professional, have some previous work experiences, and are willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gain, this program is for you.
- DESIGNATION does a great job of teaching an industry standard design process that becomes second nature after practicing it five times (two online mock projects, one in-person mock project, and two in-person client projects). I felt very confident talking about my design process during interviews after graduation.
- The program provides the opportunity to work directly with clients. This is definitely a plus especially for people interested in doing freelance work or working for an agency or consultancy. This helped me develop client interaction skills that I could speak to during interviews.
- I thought the Creative Directors did an awesome job answering my questions and providing solid feedback and guidance when needed. The career advisor was also incredibly knowledgeable and gave spot on resume and portfolio feedback. He was a great resource in my job search as well.
- Personally, I met some amazing people in this program who are now good friends of mine. There is also an extensive network and community of alums who serve as a resource during and after the program.
- There is a low barrier of entry. Graduate programs require GRE scores, a portfolio, and a college degree and transcript to be accepted. DESIGNATION doesn’t require any of these. You might be put on a team of great designers or you might not.
- The career phase is only two weeks, which isn’t enough to really learn the nuances of the industry. I did most of my learning through formal and informal interviews with various companies.
- Most companies use Agile methods for product development. While you learn the basics of this in theory and work in sprint cycles at DESIGNATION, you do not get the opportunity to work with developers on a cross-functional, Agile team.
- DESIGNATION recently split the program where students choose a focus, either UX or UI, but there are still plenty of UX/UI hybrid positions in the industry.
Overall, this program was perfect for me and my needs, and I would absolutely do it all over again.
I started my career in IT recruiting/account management and always felt that something was missing. Being creative! I worked on placing UI/UX designers and decided that I wanted to make a career shift into design. I definitely did my research on bootcamps. I met with people who had gone through different bootcamps and I heard the best reviews on DESIGNATION.
DESIGNATION is a great investment if you know UX/UI design is something that you're interested in. It seems like the industry is always changing but DESIGNATION seemed to be up to date with all of the tools and processes they tell you to use. It's also great that you get to work with ACTUAL CLIENTS which I stressed a ton in my interviews. The tight timelines and actual client work give you a taste of the real world and future employers were always impressed when I told them how much I got done at DESIGNATION in so little time.
While it is a ton of hours per week, I never felt it was neccessary to stay until all hours of the night. If you and your team work efficiently then there should be no reason why you can't get your work done within the designated hours.
Career Phase: I cannot stress enough how crucial it was that I got my portfolio done in the two weeks we were given. Stay focused during this time.. if you have to be at 1871, use your time wisely. I had my portfolio up the Monday after my cohort graduated and a month and half later I am employed at one of my target companies!
You get what you put into it but I would say that overall, my time at DESIGNATION was a positive one. I'm so glad I made the career switch and got the real client experience. It helps a ton!
I am someone who was employed at a company for 18 years and then let go due to a reorg. I looked for a job, went on interviews, but found nothing. Then I throught of going through a boot camp. I first went to General Assembly for Front End Development, but then found out that it wasn't for me. So then I went to DESIGNATION, because a former co-worker recommended it. With a design background I found Design Essentials relatively easy. But when I got into virtual then it started to get a little harder (I was learning more). What I liked the most was Immersive and Client Phase. I learned how to think more critically about my work and how to explain my design decisions. I also learned how to work fast, you have no choice. I finished with a few good portfolio pieces. The Career Phase was a good way to learn more about how to professionally present your work. I wish Career Phase was at least a week longer to really get all my case studies done (I am a slow writer). Overall, the course is good and the faculty really want you to succeed and they are there if you choose to use them.
I agree with pretty much everything that has been said in the other reviews. So for those still unclear about how Designation stacks up against other programs for UX and UI design, there are a few things which I think make Designation a unique, and ultimately worthwhile experience:
The Community: When you join Designation, you’re not just joining a single cohort; You get access to a community of incredibly talented and enthusiastic designers (graduates, instructors, mentors), all of whom stay active and participate in discussions, events, and mentorship opportunities over the Designation Slack channel. Everyone is excited about design and they all (especially the instructors) have a vested interest in helping each other succeed. The career advice and mentorship program in particular goes way beyond anything I ever experienced in my undergraduate or graduate education.
Client Phase: I doubt that other immersive programs for UX design, or even graduate level HCI programs, have a comparable structure for gaining real-world experience. There is definitely a utility to working on imaginary projects, but at certain point, if you want to be competitive in the market, you have to gain real-world experience. Not all of the clients have well-developed ideas, but that is part of the challenge, and ultimately what makes this part of the program so important.
Iteration: Designation is constantly changing (maybe less so now than in the early years), and some might find this annoying. Personally, I really appreciated the fact that they are constantly tweaking the program. They practice what they preach. And apart from the fact that this constant iteration has improved the program over time, it helps you think more critically about the material.
Overall, this was a great experience, and if you're willing to put in the work, Designation is a good choice.
You will hear it over and over, but, trust the process. Designation gives you space and the tools to learn about UX and UI design in order to kick start a career in UX/UI design. But, you can't just sit back and enjoy the ride. The knowledge and skills won't come if you aren't willing to work hard and be proactive about your learning and your future career. Coming from marketing, graphic design, and sales, I could have gradually worked toward a career change, but it would have taken me years and a lot of luck. This bootcamp allowed me to make that change in just 6 months.
I chose Designation because of the Client Phase - you get to work with real clients to solve real problems that you can use in your portfolio. This gives you a leg up on your competition when you start applying to jobs because you can talk about real work experience instead of just lab work.
The career phase was the most important phase, in my opinion. Two weeks devoted to writing and thinking and talking about the work you have done over the last 22 weeks in preparation for applying to jobs when the program is complete.
I learned so much about myself and my working style in addition to a new way of thinking about and approaching human-centered design.
• The group of instructors really care about your learning and want to see you succeed. They work hard to give you all the tools you need to strategically accomplish each step of the program.
• Unfortunately, I felt that some of the instructors lacked sufficient real-world experience to be truly effective in some cases. I was disappointed to learn that it wasn't a requirement to have at least some experience outside of the program before being offered a job as an instructor.
• I have spoken to this a bit already, but I like how the curriculum is built. Each phase of the program thoughtfully builds upon the next so that when it comes to the end of the program you feel confident and knowledgeable in your new field.
• Most importantly, I think, you leave knowing what you don't know and having a really good idea what role or area in UX/UI you want to focus on in your career.
• I found the final two weeks to be the most valuable portion of the program. It was worth all the time and money just to be able to leave the program ready to start the job search with a solid portfolio, resume, and game plan. Also, take full advantage of your time in this phase with the instructor(Mike). He knows his stuff from years of experience and will give you great guidance and advice. I was the only member of my cohort to finish my portfolio in the two weeks provided. I would say, if you make it a goal to finish before the two weeks are up, you will. But, know that there are resources available to you even after you finish the program – Designation ultimately wants you to succeed and do well as designers.
• After graduation, I jumped right into job hunting and treated that like an extention of the curriculum. That dedication paid off because I found a great job as a UX designer for a startup in just under a month.
• You will not do well in this program if you are not self-motivated and willing to work hard for the career you want. This is not your typically learning environment where the instructors feed you all the information. You are expected to be hungry to learn and find the answers you are looking for. They will give you the tools you need, but if you want to do really well and excel, you will need to put in some work too.
• The price of the program is considerable. You are not only paying $15,000, but you are also taking 24 weeks out of your life. But, what I can say is that if you have the means or have the support that allows you to take the time and you really do want to make a career move to design; do it. This program will kick start your career.
• And finally, if you are having any questions as to whether you want to do the UX or UI track, take stock of your current skill set and if you think you could teach yourself what you want to know about Sketch, Illustrator, and Photoshop follow the UX track. You will get so much more for your money following the UX track, but this comes with a caveat: You will have an easier time finding a job if you can do both User Experience and User Interface design to some degree. It is much harder to find a position that is strictly one or the other, so consider your skill set and where you feel you need more work before choosing one track or the other.
I learned so much during DESIGNATION and I found this very helpful in starting my design career. I feel like this program has prepared me what I needed.
Design essential: it was great to experience the flow of both UX and UI. I first learned Sketch during this time and the program as very structured in a way to start from the very basic of design to actually applying thought process and skills. Even though it was short, I learned a lot during this time.
Virtual Phase: I was already putting most of my day life on doing assignments for this phase, I had trouble finding time to complete everything the way I wanted because there was a lot to cover but the resources were there and it was mostly my part to put in the work.
Immersion phase: for me, it was mostly meeting new people in the field and building the connection while working had long hours. I learned not only just designing but also how the working environment is and what it's like to be working in the team, communicating to one another and giving each other feedbacks.
Client phase: this has prepared me so much for going out to the professional world, the first time asking strangers to spare their time for the user testings were challenging but I feel like I grew my social skills as well as getting feedback and become a better designer.
This experience has been incredibly helpful and supportive of what I have always wanted to do, the program is very organized and structured and DESIGNATION has opened the door of the chance for me to be an UI designer.
Our latest on Designation
Designation is a UX/UI bootcamp that has been building up the Chicago design community since 2013, and recently moved into a new WeWork classroom. We asked the Designation team to share their reasons behind the move, how students will fit into the larger WeWork community, and why Chicago is a great city to work in UX Design. Plus, we hear about Designation’s future plans to collaborate with WeWork in other cities around the world!
Why did Designation decide to move from 1871 (another coworking space), to a WeWork?
A lot of people don’t know that 1871 wasn’t our first location. We moved there in 2014 from our original space in the Lincoln Park neighborhood when Designation had been open for 1 year. The move happened because we were creating a new iteration of Designation; there were changes in our curriculum, experience, and team, and we needed our learning space to reflect those changes. That was a huge move for us.
In 2017 when we looked at how much we’d accomplished after 2.5 years at 1871, we realized we were preparing for another big iteration of the program. So we started to figure out what that would look like in terms of space. We ultimately made the choice to move based on what we believed our designers needed most: to have the best possible experience – and the most professional experience possible of any program like ours.
When we found WeWork, we knew that being in a WeWork reflected how far we’d come. In the same way that we’re more than a design bootcamp, WeWork is more than just a coworking space. We found the company to be an intriguing evolution of a coworking space – one that created a truly welcoming environment for companies at every stage of their growth. And we knew that as members, we could tap into the worldwide (160,000-member!) WeWork network as clients, hiring partners, strategic partners, and allies.
WeWork has a number of locations in Chicago. Why did Designation choose the State Street location?
We like saying that we’re near the direct center of downtown Chicago. When applicants think about coming to Chicago for our program, State Street We Work is an actualization of the vision they have of the experience. The building borders the Financial District and the Theater District, and is where the famous Chicago Macy’s is, as well as historic buildings, companies, and shops. It’s also close to public transport.
What is it about being in this new location that will make Designation stand out amongst the competition in Chicago?
Designation is all about gaining the professional experience you need to be an effective and employable designer. WeWork has a community team on site that works as an extension of our team, making sure our designers have a great experience.
In addition to the experience, WeWork will be able to functionally enhance our program as well. WeWork is home to so many interesting and growing companies. Since a major part of our program is working with these types of companies, it gives us a great pipeline of portfolio projects for our designers.
In general, what makes Chicago a great city to be teaching/learning UX design?
Chicago is an unbelievably welcoming city for designers. There are many tremendous organizations here that champion design and encourage designers to come together, from AIGA Chicago and the Chicago Design Museum, to Meetups like ChiDUXX and &UX. It’s a city that encourages cross-pollination and growth. Designers here often work together to build products at events like at Chi Hack Night and Startup Weekend, or learn beyond UX and into accessibility, content strategy, service design, front-end development, and many other areas.
The professional ecosystem here is also stellar; there’s a remarkable mix of product companies, startups, agencies, consultancies, and in-house teams between the city and the suburbs – all of which need skilled, thoughtful designers.
What is the Designation teaching space like at WeWork?
We have our own private campus, just off the main lobby, near the public coworking space. It’s one large room that’s subdivided by team pods and whiteboards. We also have two offices we use for interviews, testing, and meetings, and we just installed standing desks at the windows. We’ve found that our designers respond best when they have access to varied working environments – whether that’s at a desk, standing up in our space, on couches, or in a WeWork conference room. That variety is a reflection of the multiple types of environments found in professional design offices, whose teams know that one working style doesn’t work for everyone at the company.
We can accommodate up to 54 people in the workroom; currently, we have about 30, which allows us a lot of freedom to experiment with the room layout and see how it affects noise level, productivity, teamwork, active listening, and other everyday features of the program.
What sort of amenities and benefits are Designation students entitled to as WeWork members?
The list is huge, and so big none of us have made our way through it. WeWork does a fantastic job of creating a professional environment for everyone with tons of amenities, including tea, coffee, fridges, microwaves, phone booths, a ping pong table, and events. That was a big draw for us, because we appreciated how much WeWork had done on members’ behalf to make sure they could take advantage of all the resources at hand. There are also member discounts on software, hardware, lifestyle brands, utilities, and more.
How will Designation make the most of being in a co-working environment like WeWork?
Two of the things that drew us to WeWork was the size of our workroom and the level of activity in the building. We knew our workroom was big enough to hold many types of events such as guest speakers for our cohorts, information nights for potential applicants, and other events for the community. It’s a requirement that all events we hold here are open to all WeWork members, which will be a great way to meet everyone else in the building. We’re genuinely thrilled to have access to a new network, both locally and globally, of potential clients, hiring partners, and even applicants to the program.
And around the building, there’s an insane number of events happening here each month. Because we’re members, we’re free to join in them too. As long as they don’t get scheduled while we have an important workshop or presentation happening, we encourage our designers to take part in those events too. Just like at 1871, we know those random conversations have the potential to lead to something great – or at least spread the word about how great Designation is.
Would Designation consider expanding to other WeWork locations either in Chicago or in other cities?
We would like to in some way, shape or form. WeWork’s multi-city presence provides us with the ability to extend our presence to many other design communities through their many locations. We believe it is imperative, to be an effective designer, to acquire in-person experience collaborating on projects with clients and other designers. With more than 70% of our designers coming into the program from outside Chicago, WeWork gives us the potential to have a physical presence in numerous locations across the world. As we look towards late 2018, we will be able to create a blended experience of both virtual and in-person education.
Is there anything else future students need to know about the new WeWork campus?
It’s going to be a different experience next month and next year than it is today. In our short time here so far, every week has had unique events and activities, and those events will change over time. We can’t predict what WeWork will be like in a few months or years from now; we can only say that that variety is a great asset for us, and will help ensure that everyone who goes through Designation will have an interesting, special experience.
Oh, and there are dogs! WeWork is dog-friendly, so Designation became dog-friendly the day we moved in. Staff members occasionally bring dogs into the space, but even without our own dogs, just knowing there are dogs elsewhere in the building is a big draw for our team and our designers. We really look forward to dogs becoming a more important and regular part of the experience of coming here.
On the Course Report Coding Bootcamp News Roundup, we keep you up to date with the blossoming coding bootcamp industry. This November, we're covering the WeWork/Flatiron School acquisition, over $2M in funding to various bootcamps, and why tech is booming in "Heartland" cities. Of course we also look at new schools, new campuses, and our favorite pieces to work on this month for the Course Report blog! Plus, is The Iron Yard back from the dead? Read the summary or listen to the podcast.Continue Reading →
Allstate Product Design Manager, Dustin Hamilton, started mentoring Designation UX and UI students, and soon realized that many of them would be great additions to his team. He has now hired six Designation graduates, and continues to mentor and get to know many of the designers as they go through the program. Dustin tells us why Designation is his first port of call over other education providers, what the interview process involves, and why he will keep hiring Designation grads. He also advises other employers to research the curriculum of a UX and UI bootcamp before hiring a grad.
Can you tell me about Allstate and your role there?
I'm one of two product design managers at Allstate. The user experience and design organization here is more than 130 people right now, and we manage a team of 44 product designers.
We have a unique working model with a product-centric viewpoint. It's called Agile XP which stands for extreme programming where we do pair design. We take two designers, put them at the same table, and they each have a keyboard, mouse, and a monitor connected to a single computer. So they're working on the same thing at the same time. This model drives the need for somebody very articulate, somebody who has a lot of empathy, communication skills, and emotional intelligence.
For people who are new to the technology industry and the way design teams work, could you explain why an insurance company like Allstate needs UX and UI designers and product designers?
Allstate was traditionally an insurance company, then we began offering mobile apps and things of that nature. Insurance is still the core of what we do, but you could argue that Allstate is now a software company that also has insurance. We've done so much in the digital space outside of insurance, that arguably it's not the same company that was here five or ten years ago. It's a very different space at this point.
Do the product designers work in all areas of Allstate operations or are there specific places?
We work on all aspects of things. Not everybody in our design organization is a product designer – we also have specialists like UX architects, visual designers, and specialist researchers. The product designers are responsible for small teams doing the visual design, architecture, research, and content. They're very generalist kind of roles.
We've got product designers who are working on everything from call center apps that we use internally, systems administration tools that our IT team uses, software and rollouts, and of course public facing mobile and desktop apps. We also do business to business apps.
How did you first get connected with Designation?
When I first learned of Designation, I didn't look at it like an HR tool. My initial involvement was mentoring and speaking where one of the curriculum directors asked me to teach some classes on how to do design critique. It went really well and I was mentoring a number of Designation students. Then my involvement grew and so did my mentoring. At one point about 18 months ago, I would meet with a student every weekday to help them get their career started. I think that kind of mentorship is really important because it's not a resource I had when I started doing design work more than 14 years ago now. User experience didn't even exist then.
Later in my engagement with Designation, I've been able to help get a number of designers hired because I see a lot of talent through the mentoring program. When you see somebody who clearly “gets it” beyond their education, that's always a great thing. So I help connect students to people I'm connected to within the community so that companies can hire great talent.
Are you still mentoring Designation students now?
Yes. It's lessened significantly because I'm helping others get involved. At Allstate, at least half of the product designers and UX and UI practitioners mentor designers from Designation. Actually, I think Designation got to the point where they had too many mentors from Allstate and not enough students! We also present once a month at Designation to give students an opportunity to learn about something different outside of their schooling and it gives us a chance to practice our consultation and presenting skills.
I see it as an opportunity to help a very lean, scrappy program at Designation where designers are learning very rapidly, hands-on, and almost in a very gritty fashion. I have a strong appreciation for that.
How many Designation grads have you actually hired and what kind of roles are they in?
I have hired six so far, but there were other Designation hires at Allstate before I started in Chicago. My co-manager, who handles our Northbrook location, has a number of Designation folks on his team too. Needless to say, we hire from them quite a bit.
The Designation grads on my team are all product designers, which are purposeful generalists. We work in a pair design model and they do everything from visual design to architecture, to research. They do their own content creation, planning, and strategic work at the product level.
What are you looking for in a new hire? And what was it about those Designation grads that got them the role?
What I'm really looking for are people who shine in regards to soft skills. How do they communicate, how do they present themselves, how are they working, are they collaborative, do they have a sense of community? It's that kind of stuff because our model drives a need for soft skills. Whatever hard skills someone might be lacking, we as a group can help train them.
I mentored two of my Designation hires myself before hiring them. So I already had a sense of their communication style and skills. My own personal mantra is to hire personality and train skill. I fully recognize that anybody coming out of Designation has merit anyway, because they have the ability to learn quickly.
I think there's a spectrum of practitioners out there. On one end, I find the best designers have a broad sense of their skills. They've got a firm understanding of what they know, and an acknowledgment of all the stuff that they don't yet know. People with that mindset are more open to grow and learn. The opposite end of the spectrum is somebody who knows what they know but doesn't have an acknowledgment of what they don’t know. That limits their growth because you can't present them with new information and knowledge because they think they know everything already. But even at 15 years into this career, I'm still learning.
What kind of interview process do you put new hires through? Do Designation designers go through the same kind of interview process as any new hire?
I use the same process regardless of where somebody's coming from. It starts with a half-hour video conference where I describe our working model. I'm also interested in communication skills, focus, personality, that kind of stuff. If somebody is interrupting or asking what the salary is, that indicates to me they don't have a sense of the big picture. Then if I feel there's merit there and mutual interest, I’ll invite them in for an interview.
Part of the interview is a discussion to get to know the candidate and their background. Part of it is also like a showcase – I want to see a piece of work that people are proud of or learned a lot from. I'm looking to see how they articulate the process they went through, and then the pros and cons. Anybody can tell me about the great things they did on a product, but when somebody tells me, "We made this decision and it didn't work so well,” that's the kind of person I want to work with. Someone who isn't afraid to share that something didn't work, and acknowledges that design is a gritty process.
What are you looking for in candidates? Any tips for the interview process?
One of the key elements we do is a design exercise. We role play with the candidates where I act as a business owner, give them a client brief, and they have to act as if they were a consultant. I'm looking for how the person speaks and how they present themselves. Were they pacing, do they have their hands in their pockets, are they focused on the problem or are they talking about solutions already? Are they are asking questions and if so, are they good questions or are they superficial? So it's not the work itself, it's more like the “how”.
My most recent hire, we were doing the design exercise and it was 11 minutes in. I just started laughing and I told them, "You're hired." My guidance to everybody is just be yourself and do what you would normally do. It's not an assessment of skills. It's assessment of working style.
How important are candidates’ backgrounds from before Designation? Do you factor their previous backgrounds into their suitability for the roles?
It's always cool to hear about, but I don't consider that so much in hiring. It matters to me more that they got through the program successfully, and that they've got a good mindset. Then usually I can speak directly to Mike Joosse, Designation’s President, and find out more about an individual. I’ll get the intricacies of how they worked, where they worked, and what their challenges were. That means far more to me than what their background is. I like to mentor a lot because, unfortunately, the people who didn't come with some kind of background that's relatable to UX and UI have a harder time getting their first jobs. So I work with them to help them showcase their portfolios, resumes, and their interview skills, to try to help them get that first role.
When those Designation grads first start at Allstate, how much training do they need? Are they quite well prepared for the job already when they start or how much training do you have to give them?
Because of the way that we work in product design, I would say that everybody needs leveling up, not just Designation designers. Because of our unique working model, it takes all new hires about a month to really get into a good routine. The Designation grads bring a good mindset; they are eager to learn and they approach things with curiosity.
We also do a week-long product design bootcamp periodically for everyone. The Designation designers are excited when they hear that we have a product bootcamp, that we are investing in them, not only in their future here but elsewhere as well. A true mark of success for me is if any of these practitioners down the road says, “Dustin really set me up for my career." That would be awesome because I know this likely isn't an endpoint – I want to make sure they get set up in their careers.
How do you ensure that those employees continue to be supported in their learning as they progress? Do you have any kind of mentoring or apprenticeship-type programs going on?
We do. As I mentioned, our working model of pair design involves two people working from the same computer, with a monitor each, looking at literally same thing. It's difficult to find people with a generalist background in UX, UI, content, and research. So I often pair somebody from a UX background with somebody from UI background. Then that UX person will teach the UI based person about architecture, and that visual knowledge of the UI person is transferred to the UX person. So through that way of working, they are leveling up their skills constantly.
We also have the notion of pairing with a specialist. In some of our product teams, we have data scientists, so instead of a product designer pairing with another designer, they sometimes pair with a data scientist. It's all about mutual sharing of information so that the data scientist learns about the product, and the product designer learns about the data, how to use it, and what it means. There's a lot of learning that takes place.
I’m also very thoughtful when I put together management and reports. I’ll take a senior project designer with a very strong UX architect background and have them manage somebody who's visually based. And I'll do the same vice versa. Allstate is one of the best places I've ever seen for investment into employees – we do all kinds of training.
Since you've hired those Designation grads, have any of them switched roles or been promoted or do you anticipate that might happen in the future?
Oh, they definitely will. We have three levels of product designers. The first two levels are product designers, and we treat them the same. If you're in the more beginning stages of your career, you're in the first level. If you're at the higher end of experience, equating to a mid-level practitioner, you're probably going to be in the second level. The third level is the senior product designers, who typically have five years of experience or more. So eventually those Designation grads will progress through the ranks.
Other than Designation, what other talent pipelines do you have for UX and UI and product design hires? Are there other bootcamps or university programs that you look at?
If I'm looking for an entry-level practitioner, Designation is my first go-to. I will consider other bootcamps and other practitioners who are experienced or just starting, but I think because of my knowledge of the way Designation works, I feel more confident when I make a Designation hire. With Designation designers, I know what they're learning, and I know who they learned it from.
At any point when you were first thinking about hiring from a bootcamp, did you have to convince anyone else in your company?
I'm pretty transparent about that kind of thing, and everyone knows I'm a big fan of Designation. I advocate for the students whenever I hear an opening suitable for a fresh Designation graduate. I’ll give them three or four different candidate names and letters of recommendation from the people at Designation.
Are you able to give feedback to Designation and influence their curriculum if you notice any areas that your UX and UI hires might be under qualified in?
Yeah, I do look for that. Mike and I meet on a periodic basis and talk through those things and I give him a lot of direct feedback. When we walk away from those sessions, I know Mike is going to do what he feels is right for his students. I used to teach a class to every Designation cohort about mindfulness design critique. The students and staff reacted so positively to that, that they actually integrated it as part of their curriculum. So it's neat to be able to say that I can help influence what their students are learning to make them even better candidates.
What kind of relationship is there between Allstate and Designation. Do you have to pay a referral fee when you hire their graduates?
No. I would say it's semi-formal. We do a lot of work with them. We mentor a number of their students, and we do monthly presentations. One of the cool things about the relationship is my access to the Designers in Residence program. For every cohort, they pick one student to stay on for three months to be the Designer in Residence and work at Designation teaching other students. You could argue that the top designers out of every cohort get that role. What I do, which has benefits for me and the students, is meet with every Designer in Residence personally for an hour here at Allstate. And it's not necessarily a hiring thing for me; it's getting to know who is the top talent coming out of Designation and entering the design community, and helping get their careers started. I work with them to make sure that once they finish, they hit the ground running and get a good job.
Getting to know those Designers in Residence means that when I end up with staffing needs I've already got a roster of the top recent Designation graduates. I can just make a few phone calls and see if anybody's interested in making a switch. That really goes a long way in shortening the hiring process.
Will you hire from Designation in the future and if so why?
Absolutely. I like to say that Designation is a very meaty program, and when you come out of that program you've got one of the best baseline skill sets that you can grow upon. It really allows the students to have their personality shine to show that they have the soft skills to back up their hard skills. Designation is one of the first places I look when I'm looking for a fresh graduate, then also I'm keen to meet alumni as well.
Have you hired a Designation grad who's already had another job in design?
Yeah. Sometimes I will simply reach out to Mike and say, “I need somebody that's got two or three years of experience. Who is your best?" And he'll give me a list of two or three designers and a detailed synopsis of what they've done and how they did. That's an amazing resource to have.
What is your advice to other employers or hiring managers who are thinking about hiring from a design bootcamp or any kind of technology bootcamp?
Designation is a meaty program where the designers come out with that solid baseline set of skills. They know how design really works and that design isn't a pretty process. They come with an eager mindset to not only show what they know, but to learn what they don't.
The reason that ‘bootcamp’ is an alarming word is that it's so loosely defined. For instance, another program here in Chicago is one hour each week for four weeks. So you're learning UX and design in four hours. My advice to employers is to look deeply at differences between the bootcamps. Look for schools that have assessment or intake processes and don't be afraid to ask about placement rate. Designation doesn't take just anybody who applies, and they have a very high placement rate. Look at all aspects of a bootcamp and know that they're not created equal, and the terminology is often not the same.
As the co-founder of Designation, I have talked to a lot of aspirational designers. At last count, in the 3+ years we’ve been around, I have personally interviewed about 2000 candidates for the program. And in that time, I’ve identified some distinct patterns about the types of people that are well-suited to a career in UX or UI design. If this is at all a career path you’ve been considering, check out this list to see if you have these characteristics:Continue Reading →
Zoe Sinner learned the foundations of UX/UI Design at Designation in 2014, and has only continued to skyrocket as a designer since graduating. After freelancing and working at TaskRabbit, Zoe recently landed a coveted job as a Product Designer at Facebook. Zoe explains why great design is a journey, how to go beyond the foundations you’ll learn at a bootcamp like Designation to perfect your craft, and why an alumni network can help you battle imposter syndrome as a new designer.
What were you up to before Designation?
I graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in Arts and Communications and worked for two years in marketing for a medical association. I found that I was drawn to creating and knew I wanted to pivot to a creative role, but didn't really know how to get there.
I thought about pursuing a master’s degree in graphic or web design but they just didn't feel like the right kind of design for me. I felt like there was a lot of learning materials online in which I could teach myself at a fraction of the cost. This was in 2013, and “UX Designer” was not in my vocabulary nor did I know what that kind of design entailed.
How did you teach yourself?
I started looking for ways that I could get the experience or skills to go into a design role. I started with a little bit of Codecademy and thought that front end design was cool, but I also took some self-paced, online Photoshop courses. I watched so many YouTube videos about how to use Photoshop and Illustrator. Once I started thinking about how to get to a design role, I considered going back to school to get my masters degree. But after all the learning I had done online it just didn’t make sense in my mind to spend 2 more years plus thousands of dollars on a masters degree when I had made some progress. I was ready to make this change now.
Why did you choose Designation?
I discovered Designation in 2013, and at that time, there weren’t any other Design Bootcamps in Chicago. What really attracted me to Designation was that I would be able to immerse myself in design and knock out the course in a few months. I knew I was passionate about this career, and I could put in 100% to pivot my career in a shortened timeline. In college, you spend a few hours per week on a subject, but I wanted to learn foundational design skills, plus get the experience of building a portfolio. To me, Designation was the perfect combination of skills and experience that I needed.
Were you able to carry the skills from your degree in Art and Communications into Designation?
I did take a little bit of what I learned in college into Designation. If you're starting from scratch, there's definitely a lot of basic foundational material you should learn before you go to a bootcamp. Because I had taken classes in college and was doing some creative work in my marketing job, I knew I would enjoy a career in design. Some of that background just naturally carried over into UX Design. Later, I learned that some of what I did in my first job was actually UX, but I just didn't even know it.
I think it does help to have a little bit of a foundation, if only to validate to yourself that you understand the concepts and want to pursue it as a career.
What hard skills did you learn at Designation?
You get to choose your weapon of choice: Sketch, Illustrator, or Photoshop. In UX Design, there are certain deliverables like “journey maps” that you use on the job, so we learned how to structure those. You also learn UX/UI methodologies, like product thinking, research, hypotheses, and layout for UI. I also took away soft skills like collaborating and presenting, especially during the client work phase.
Designation also has pre-coursework, where you’ll get to know how to use a tool before your first day.
Do you suggest that people get familiar with tools like Photoshop before they even get to the bootcamp?
Absolutely, because it’s going to be much harder to learn a software program while also trying to learn the principles of design. On top of that, by playing around and getting to know the software, you’ll get a feel for the job. Learning your tools as much as you can before you start at Designation is really going to help you in the long run; you'll set yourself up for more success.
Could you tell us about your client work project at Designation?
The most successful project I worked on was with WeDeliver. We worked on their marketing landing pages to fix usability issues and make the brand more clear. We actually needed to do user research to understand the pain points of the current site, and then we redesigned it so that it better communicated their mission.
How did Designation prepare you for the job search?
Designation helps you build a great portfolio and they teach you the tools and tricks of interviewing well. They also have a great alumni network, and a support network that you can reach out to.
They’re not telling you to apply for certain jobs, but they really help you figure out jobs that you want to go after, what kind of company you want to work for, how to network, how to prepare for interviews, and how to structure your portfolio. But when it comes to actually getting the job, that's still on you.
Tell us about your career progression after Designation; how did you land a job at Facebook?
The first job after graduating is the hardest job to get, but after that, it becomes much easier. Designation actually connected me with a recruiter, which is how I got my first job. I worked with that recruiter to apply and find roles that were right for me. The first company I interviewed with was originally looking for a Senior UX Designer, but it was such a good interview that they decided to bring me on as a freelancer, which then turned into a full-time UX Design role.
One of the things that Designation emphasizes is the power of networking. After getting some experience in my first job, I was able to get my resume passed around, and made a connection with the Design Director at TaskRabbit. That's how I got my second job as a Product Designer at TaskRabbit. And from there, I was approached by a design manager at Facebook and went through the recruiting process.
I probably wouldn't have been able to land a job as a Product Designer at Facebook right after graduating from Designation, but because of the foundation and skills I learned, combined with the real-life experience of working at two companies, I had a successful recruiting process with Facebook!
What is the difference between a Product Designer and UX Designer?
In this world, the terms are so generalized. At Designation, I majored in UI, but my first role was a UX Designer. Actually, when I was interviewing for my first UX role, I realized it was really a hybrid of UX and UI. The takeaway there is that job titles are just job titles. You have to dig in to find out what the actual role entails.
To me, a UX Designer thinks about user needs and the correct user experience, whereas a Product Designer takes into consideration the visual side and more of the business side as well. I don't think there is a hard line to differentiate those two roles; as with all design roles, they all exist in an overlapping Venn diagram.
What is a UX Design job interview like?
There were some commonalities between each interview process I went through. First, you need to know how to tell your story and how you got to this point. You should also be able to talk about your past work. In every interview, I had to go through my work, and I think the trick here is telling a story and conveying intentionality.
Secondly, this is not a requirement for all interviews, but you should expect some type of problem-solving or design challenge. That may be a take-home design challenge where you need to create a visual interface or an in-person work session.
My Facebook interview involved all of the above, app critiques, plus a whiteboarding session where I actually worked with my interviewer through a problem on the board.
What are you working on now at Facebook as a Product Designer?
I'm part of the Growth Infrastructure Team at Facebook; I essentially work on internal tools that affect the end user as well. That could mean anything from a visual update to pushing a new feature, to researching current users, to cross-functional work. Day-to-day, my job is a combination of all different types of skills. I could be pixel pushing more one day and brainstorming the next day.
On my team, I'm the one Product Designer supporting seven Engineers, a Product Manager, and an Engineering Manager.
Did you learn everything that you needed to know for your job at Designation, or have you had to learn on the job?
This is a great question. I tell everyone that Designation will give you the foundations, but it's up to you to really foster those skills. For example, at Designation, I learned about the methodology of how to build a page with good UI and how to lay things out, but it was only after I graduated that I’ve become more confident in those skills. Likewise, you start to learn and practice the product thinking methodology at Designation, but in the real world, you’re getting better at that thinking and fostering those skills.
For me personally, my advice to bootcamp grads is to never stop learning. After Designation, my whole world has become reading design books, going to design meetups, reading blog posts, and understanding trends.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned as your design career has evolved over the last 3 years?
On the job, I would say owning my own personal process and improving that and tailoring it for the job. Another thing I had to learn on the job was how a tech company actually works and how to work with other roles as a designer. At Designation, you learn in a perfect world where design is highly valued, but in the real-world, it's very rare to find a company that really values design the way you value design. You need to learn how to work with other roles that don't have an understanding of design.
One common theme I find myself talking about with other designers and Designation alumni is, "How do you evangelize the value of design in different companies?” It's certainly been a challenge to realize that there isn’t this perfect way to apply design in every company. Getting frustrated about that fact will only stress you out, so you have to really own your own design, and then get buy-in from the right stakeholders at the right time.
What has been your biggest challenge in terms of your journey coming into your role as a UX designer for the last couple of years?
Imposter syndrome! To combat this, you have to find other designers either inside or outside of your company (even your bootcamp alumni network). For me, the Facebook design team is huge, and are all so very different. Finding designers or product managers who I can confide in and express that too is so important. You have to find a design mentor or buddy that you can lean on and get support from. And learn to be okay with being vulnerable and asking questions. You're new to design and you don’t want to seem too junior, but find the right balance between being vulnerable and asking the right questions.
Are there a lot of alumni in San Francisco that you keep in touch with?
Not at first, but now there's a healthy alumni network. We actually still communicate through the Designation Slack channel, and sometimes meet up in person too. In my previous role, I was on a design team of only four people, so I relied on my alumni group a lot more to chat about design trends and questions. I try to meet up regularly with the alumni group in San Francisco to talk about our issues and our challenges. It's good to vent to each other and talk about how we’re dealing with certain things.
Looking back on the last few years, could you have kept self-teaching, working in marketing and gotten to where you are now three years later?
It's very unlikely that I would have been able to get to where I am today without Designation. That’s mainly because it gave me the foundations I needed in design, networking and taught me design methodologies, all of which I've continued to build upon as I've grown throughout these jobs. And that would have been really hard to do on my own.
Any final advice to future designers who are considering a coding bootcamp?
There's something to be said about perfecting your craft. I didn't graduate from Designation magically able to produce beautiful designs. It's been a work in progress. Learning a craft like design is like playing the piano – you have to continue to work at it to get better. Once you graduate from a bootcamp, take the foundations that you've learned and continue to practice it to get to the next level or perfect your craft and feel confident. I'm passionate about helping people get into UX/UI Design because I went through it and I know what it's like. It’s a journey.
Anne loved helping people as a college counselor, but she always felt like there was something missing in her own career. After a friend urged her to think about UX design, Anne realized she could combine her creativity and psychology skills, so she enrolled at Designation UX Design bootcamp in Chicago. Anne tells us how the pre-work phase prepared her for the Designation bootcamp, how her background in psychology impacted her design skills, and the importance of a great design portfolio. Plus, we hear about her new UX Design job at Accenture!
Tell us about your pre-Designation story. What was your educational and career background before you decided to get into UX design?
I studied psychology and French in undergrad, then I went on to a master's degree in counseling. I was working as a career counselor for college students prior to Designation. I always wished I had done something more creative because I took some graphic design classes in early college, and absolutely loved it. But I went the psychology route.
In my career as a counselor, I loved the creative aspect of helping to uncover people's goals, helping them find their direction, but I always felt like there was something missing. So I career counseled myself out of it! A good friend who's a developer said, "Hey, have you heard of UX?" So I looked into it, and he helped me look at different bootcamp programs. I was initially deciding between front end development and user experience. I chose UX because I loved that it incorporated my psychology background and design into one.
Did you research any other UX bootcamps?
When I started my research, I looked at both front end development and UX Design bootcamps. There are more web development bootcamps out there than UX courses. I wanted to stay in Chicago because that's where I was already based. I would’ve been willing to go elsewhere for the perfect bootcamp, but Designation seemed to fit all my criteria.
I wanted to go to Designation because you actually get to work with real clients, so you get hands-on experience right away. Having that access to UX designers who have so much experience is so valuable to learning. After visiting the classroom in 1871 and meeting a couple of the people there, I decided that I wanted to learn UX at Designation.
Did you think about going back to college to study UX Design?
DePaul has a great program, so had I not already gone to grad school, I might have considered it. I did talk to a couple of people who had done that DePaul program, and it seemed like an amazing program, but I wasn't ready to spend another three years in grad school.
Could you share with us how you were able to pay for the tuition? Did you use a financing partner or get a scholarship?
I had known that I was going to switch careers in some capacity for a while, so I saved up and was able to float myself for those few months. I was very fortunate. I think that's definitely not something that everyone is able to do. A lot of the people I went to bootcamp with did get some sort of a financing or student loan.
What was the application and interview process like for Designation’s UX bootcamp?
There are different admissions processes at Designation depending on if you come from a graphic design background or not. Since I didn't, I did the pre-virtual session. It was a self-paced design course to get you familiar with the Adobe Suite, and some prototyping tools. We would submit feedback online, and there was an instructor available if I had any questions. After that, they review your portfolio and you get firmly admitted into the program.
For the interview process, since I was in Chicago, I came in and met with the Admissions Director Will Shandling. We talked for about 45 minutes, he showed me the space, answered all of my questions about the program, and gave a general overview. One of my big questions was "What are the chances I'm going to be successful in doing this?" After the interview process, I felt really reassured and confident that I wanted to do Designation.
So you do the pre-virtual phase, and then once you’re admitted, what’s next?
After the pre-virtual phase, there was a six-week online virtual program with the cohort that you're going to be with on campus. It’s almost a full-time remote program to get everyone ready to jump in on day one of the bootcamp. We did readings from a textbook, and we built our own prototype for an app. That's where I started to get more familiar with prototyping tools, and what it meant to do low-fidelity, mid-fidelity, and high-fidelity design. For people with graphic design backgrounds, that phase was their first bootcamp experience. In my cohort it was about 50/50 in terms of people who had design backgrounds versus people who didn’t.
My favorite part of the online virtual phase was the interactions with people in my cohort. We would have regular meetings with everyone once a week, and we also had smaller groups of four people with whom we would check in, work on projects, and ask each other questions. It was really nice and it felt like we already knew each other when we arrived in person.
How many people were in your cohort and what kind of diversity was there was in terms of gender, and race, and background?
My cohort around 20 people and it was a pretty good mix. I mainly had younger classmates- one person was just out of college. I was probably on the older side and I'm 31, but there were a few of us in our early 30's. My cohort was about a 50/50 gender ratio.
About a third of my cohort was from Chicago, with other people from all over the US. People had all different backgrounds; some came from graphic design and architecture, some from business, and one person was an actor.
I was really lucky with my cohort. It felt like we were all family. We looked out for each other and cared about each other. After the first two days being there for so many hours, you get to know everyone and quickly get comfortable. One of the greatest benefits of coding bootcamps is going through it with other people, having that support, and learning from each other.
Once you were all on campus, what was the structure of Designation?
For the first six weeks, we would get in at 10am every day and have a standup meeting. We stayed in class until at least 9pm. There were many nights when we stayed a lot later than 9pm and I was there until 2am plenty of times.
The day was a mix of lectures and hands-on work. We were put into groups where we worked on an app together. During the first part of the program, we built an app based on a problem statement that Designation gave us to get that experience of going from concept to high fidelity prototyping and doing testing. At the end, we presented our apps to professionals in the field, so you get that experience before the real thing with clients.
Did you learn any kind of web development or a programming language in the UX Design bootcamp? Was that necessary?
We had optional coding lessons on Fridays, which I (and the majority of us) chose to do. We had an HTML workshop and then a couple of CSS workshops. Each week, we were given an assignment, and our ultimate assignment was to create a portfolio website. Learning some programming really helped me understand what developers are going through and how to work with them. Before this program, I would not have known what a <p> tag was or anything like that.
Designation is unique because you actually get to work with a real client- who were the clients that you worked with?
Primarily, the clients are other startups who are based in 1871, which is a startup incubator in Chicago. One of my clients was from 1871, and the other was an external company. One client was in the financial industry, and then one project was a video camera lens prototype company. We got to work on different projects in different industries. You work with each client for three weeks, so the client phase is six weeks total.
What was your favorite project that you built?
I really enjoyed all of the projects that I did! During the final client project, we were almost given a blank slate. This company had come out with a new VR video camera lens that could connect with GoPros, and they wanted to create an app for their users. They were pretty open-ended about what they wanted. We had a lot of fun brainstorming ideas, exploring, and doing research before bringing our final idea together. I really enjoyed the creative formula of that project: the user research, interviews, and throwing different ideas out there.
We were working in groups of three or four people. Then we would have our creative directors who would step in and help us, and be there for all the client meetings. We met with the client once a week to present our progress.
Your portfolio must be pretty important as a UX Designer- did you have a portfolio before Designation?
Generally speaking, your portfolio is very important. I never had to have a portfolio before, because I applied for previous jobs with my traditional cover letter and resume. But your portfolio is what shows off what you can do as a designer. It should be a combination of visuals, your research, pointing at different posters during your affinity mapping, or a PDF of your final prototype.
We also include case studies that describe your entire process because people want to know how you think and how you execute a project. They want to know from beginning to end what you did, what you did well, what you may have failed at, and what you learned.
Did Designation help you develop your portfolio?
Designation has changed the structure a little bit since I went through the program. We had a career counselor who worked with employer relations and would do lectures once a week during our client phase. The current students now have two weeks devoted to portfolio development. We would have lectures on resumes and portfolio building and with an assignment each week. Those lectures were meant to prepare us to be able to build good case studies to apply for jobs when we leave. It was extremely helpful to get that advice. You also continue to have access to the Designation course material after you graduate.
Tell us what you’re up to now! Are you working as a UX Designer?
I am a UX Designer working for a division of Accenture Operations called the Accenture Operations Innovation Network. We are actually also based in 1871 right next door to my Designation classroom.
Shortly after I graduated, I was working on my portfolio and I hadn't really started the job application process. Mike, the employer relations and career counselor at Designation, talked to my current supervisor here at Accenture, and they were looking for somebody to join their team as UX/UI designers, and I was on a list of candidates.
At Accenture, are you using the skills you learned at Designation or have you had to learn some new skills as well?
Both. I'm definitely using the skills I learned at Designation. In spite of being a part of Accenture, we're actually a very small team– less than 20 of us. I am one of two UX/UI designers here. Our tasks can totally change by the day. This week, I've been doing a lot of wireframing and some high fidelity designing. Next week, I'll probably be working on personas, journey mapping, and initial low to mid fidelity prototyping. That part is great because you really get to experience the whole gamut of design based on your projects.
We also do some design thinking workshops when we meet with stakeholders. We actually recently went to our Bangalore office, and we'll be going to our Manila office next week to visit and do some workshops there as well.
Do you think that your background in counseling and psychology has been useful in learning and working in UX design?
A lot of UX research ties incredibly well into counseling. When you're interviewing people, a lot of the job consists of knowing what questions to ask and getting a sense of who the client is, what they value, what motivates them, and what frustrates them. A lot of that can be tied into counseling.
Later on, once you get to the actual design process, design is not necessarily just making things pretty. It's about making them usable and giving people a product that operates within their mental model. So psychology and counseling definitely tie into the design process as well.
How have your first few months been at your job and how did the company make sure you were ramping up and continuing to learn?
I'm coming up on my six-month mark now. When I first got to Accenture, Patrick, the other UX designer, was awesome. He basically showed me the ropes, and got me onboarded. In the Chicago office, you get to know everybody really well. I get to work across the table with our business analysts and innovators; I am currently sitting in a room with one of our developers. So it's great having everybody working together so that you can really go over projects in person. Everybody was incredibly welcoming and answered all of my questions.
What has been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to becoming a UX designer?
When I was initially deciding whether or not to become a UX Designer, it was hard to have confidence in myself and force myself to take that big risk. Switching career fields entirely was the scariest thing, but the best decision I made. You have to take that initial leap, and then dive in and not being afraid.
How do you stay involved with Designation, and have you kept in touch with other alumni?
One of my favorite parts of being a Designation alum is that we have a giant Designation Slack network with tons of different channels. For example, I was recently looking for a new design thinking book so I asked other alumni for suggestions and got tons of responses. It's an awesome network of people. If you are going to a design event and you're looking for people to join you, anything like that gets posted on Slack. I love having that as a resource.
What advice do you have for someone who's thinking about making a career change and going through a UX Design bootcamp?
First of all, talk to people who are in the career that you think you want. Ask them about their daily life. Ask them for their advice. UX Design is an incredibly welcoming field– at least in Chicago the design community. I've had people find me on LinkedIn and ask me if they can just chat about whether or not a bootcamp is the right decision for them. It's really an individual decision, so it's not going to be right for everybody. If you do think it's right for you, then it's very much worth the risk.
Do your research in terms of what program is the best fit, not only in terms of skills, but in terms of culture. Then take the risk and do it.
Do you want to be a front end developer or a back end developer? Understanding your career goals at the end of a coding bootcamp can make it easier to narrow down which school is best for you. This can be a tricky task if you aren’t familiar with these terms – but no need to worry now that you have this guide. Let’s dig into the difference between front end web development and back end development: which programming languages you’ll learn, which coding schools teach them, and what to expect from a career as a back end or front end web developer!
Founded in 2013, Designation offers an immersive bootcamp for aspiring UX and UI designers. Mike Joosse, their new Community Director, tells us about his transition from the design world to Designation, the most important ingredient for a successful UX designer and how Designation prepares students for post-bootcamp careers.
Tell us about your background and what you were doing before Designation.
I come from a design background. I went to design school a long time ago and was a practicing designer for a while. I took a few different turns until I eventually came to Chicago and worked as a Communications Director for a local brand and marketing agency called VSA Partners.
One of my duties was promoting the agency’s digital services. They were long known in print, design, branding and typography, but they had this amazing digital team doing UX, content strategy and front end/back end development. When I got to know them and their passion for wanting to mentor and be involved with educational opportunities, I thought about Designation.
I had friends who were part-time teachers and mentors here. Their name kept coming up, so they were the first people that I talked to while I was at VSA and said, “Our digital team would love to get involved with you guys, how can we do that?” That started the conversation that eventually led me here.
Your role at Designation is Community Director; what does that mean?
It has a few different meanings. We’re still a small startup and our roles are diverse. We cover a lot of ground and that’s very exciting to me because I’ve always been a person who loves having multiple responsibilities. It’s mainly defining and engaging our community. That’s everything from graduates to current students and companies in the communities where we place graduates.
For companies, it means finding ways to bring awareness to all Designation has to offer. How do we get them to understand the great things that Designation graduates can offer them? How can we provide mentorship opportunities for their employees? How can we get them involved in all of the other educational opportunities that are here in Chicago? I also manage external events and partnerships, interfacing with organizations like AIGA Chicago, IXDA Chicago and chiDUXX.
I’ve been working in the design community for a long time, and I love being able to work with so many people to promote a wonderful program that I was a fan of before I came here.
Did it take some time to be convinced of the bootcamp model?
It took about five minutes for me to realize that bootcamps are a pretty amazing recent development. It’s an excellent alternative to traditional design education, especially in the areas of UX and UI, which haven’t been around that long. I’ve seen so many people go through a two- or four-year program or more, just to have a never-ending stream of continuing education where you don’t necessarily reach a goal, you’re just observing knowledge. That can very easily go to waste.
Ultimately, I respect hard work and commitment. When somebody agrees to a really intensive bootcamp experience, I see that as a pretty amazing investment that I want to maximize for them.
Is there a traditional UX/UI design education path? Who are Designation graduates going up against when they’re applying for jobs?
There are a lot of different ways to teach and learn UX, especially here in Chicago. There are some programs that are very conceptual and research-based. Graduates from those programs (which are usually two to four-year programs) are leaning more towards strategist roles where they’re all about planning and big-picture strategy. Graduates from other programs are very task-based and there’s not necessarily much conceptual background.
I see Designation as being in the center. We stress the importance of the concept but also putting in the work. We produce people who have to be strong as designers and as creators.
There are a lot of different opportunities and roles for UX and UI designers. The current scene feels like where design was 20 years ago or maybe earlier, because there are so many different types of people entering the field and there are opportunities for everybody.
When we say UX/UI, we tend to associate those together but in your experience in getting people placed and being on the hiring side of it, is there really such a thing as a UX/UI designer?
I think so, but I think we also see some of our graduates go to work at startups that have five or ten people. At that size, the odds of somebody being multi-faceted like that goes way up. I like encouraging people to follow these opportunities. If they really want to practice both, I say, market yourself to those startups and smaller companies so that you can be more of a generalist.
But I warn them – as these startups get larger, they’re going to hire more people and your job will narrow to be more specialist. We already see so many graduates who want to specialize in one area and we say, that’s great. Keep developing your portfolio along that route, but always maintain the other skills. If you want to practice UI, keep developing your knowledge of UX; learn the basics of coding because that’s going to help you empathize with your team, who will also help you become a more conscientious designer.
What companies are leading the hire of UX/UI designers? Is that a first hire in your experience?
I’m not sure there’s a specific size where that’s really important. I’d like to believe that UX and UI – especially UX – are growing in prominence and urgency for these companies. They’re realizing that they need to hire these people much sooner than they did in the past. I think a UX designer has to be at the beginning of the conversation. He has to be in the room to say, “What do you want this product to achieve? What is it supposed to do and who is supposed to do it?”
When thoughtful, conscientious designers get in at the beginning of a process, they can make a big difference. We constantly teach our students – and it’s probably a universally accepted truth at this point – that the problem is not always what the client believes it to be. It’s what you, the researcher and designer who’s looking at this from a bird's-eye perspective see it is. It could be an entirely different problem, so you have to solve that problem instead. The sooner that they realize that the sooner they can make an impact on the process.
Is UX/UI design a career that someone can transition into? Do you have to have a design background in order to transition into UX/UI?
When you’re looking at things like composition and form and structure, having a design background definitely helps. But I think bigger than that, the best students and graduates are the ones who are interested in tackling a problem from a new perspective. They’re ones that value empathy, understanding what someone else’s need might be and how they can do something about that.
We’ve accepted students who work in data science, social work and education. These are people who never opened up Axure or Sketch before. But they come with a fundamental understanding of what UX achieves and what UI achieves and what you can accomplish as a designer at a very basic level. Those are people that have the best opportunity because it’s harder to teach somebody empathy or teamwork or discerning what the client is saying. And if you’ve had experience doing that before, to me, that’s more valuable than a design or coding background.
As the Community Director, you’re connecting students with the professional design world. You mentioned meeting with students to understand their needs and goals. When does that process start at Designation? Are you meeting with students once a week throughout the course?
Our program is 12 weeks and about five or six weeks in is when I pair students with a professional mentor who’s in their area—a UX designer, UI designer or somebody who’s a mixture of those. The one-on-one relationships that I build with the students really start after that mentorship assignment.
We start bringing in guest speakers to talk about their experiences on specific topics like how to build a case study or tips on interviewing. Sometimes it’s very big picture like “here’s what life is like at this startup” or “Here’s what it’s like to work as a UX designer with 50 other UX designers around you.” We also start doing some studio tours and weekly workshops on best practices for finding a job and building a portfolio.
It means a lot of one-on-one work with students. I sit down with them at the halfway point (week six) and start asking about what they’d like to do. Sometimes those ideas are fully formed; other times they’re very general and it takes an ability to discern what they’re actually looking for. When they say things like, “I want a mentor” or “I’d like to be able to keep learning while I’m there” then I can say, “You might be looking for an in-house team environment or a larger product design company where they have that structure built in.” My dad is a guidance counselor and I think he passed on a lot of that curiosity and desire to help students – with their portfolios and personal brands and make introductions with companies they want to work for.
As you are connecting with companies, the biggest question that I get is who actually hires bootcamp graduates?
It seems like twice a week, I send an email to another company just to introduce Designation. We find that they respond very well to these students committing a lot of their lives to shift their career. They're very passionate and excited about how they’re coming out of this program, and they’re very skilled.
We tell them about how unique the Designation curriculum is. So when they do meet our students, they’re impressed with the way they talk about their work and the experiences they’ve had. They’re quantifying those unique things about Designation that put them above graduates from other programs, bootcamps or otherwise.
One by one, we’re reaching more companies and more people who are saying, “Man, there’s something special about designers who’ve come out of bootcamps in general, and Designation specifically. Maybe we need to look at using bootcamps like Designation to source our employees.” I think they realize that when you’re used to working 11, 12 hours a day/70 hours a week for a sustained period of time, you can do anything as a professional. You can learn things very fast because you’re used to that pace.
Since arriving at Designation, what have you noticed that you need to add to this hiring process and how have you iterated on it?
I’ve built my career in the last six or seven years since I stopped being a designer around helping people. That propelled me in a really interesting direction based on doing what I could to help people get to this other stage of their career.
When I came to Designation, I realized this was a perfect opportunity where there were a bunch of students every six weeks saying, “I’m not entirely sure where I’m going. I know that I want to get there and I know that I’m going to be a good UX/UI designer when I get there. What can you tell me about what I can do from here?” Being able to be in that conversation is such an honor and a huge responsibility for me that I take very seriously.
Setting aside time to build a relationship with every student and saying, “Your success is my success” is my priority. And when students go out there and find a job, it’s the greatest feeling that I could have.
Welcome to the September News Roundup, your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the bootcamp space. Do you want something considered for the next News Roundup? Submit announcements of new courses, scholarships, or open jobs at your school!
This Week on Course Report:
- Should you learn web or mobile development first? We dive into this question with advice from Atlanta's DigitalCrafts code school!
- Have you tried Thinkful's Workshops? Grae, the Head of Education at Thinkful, gives us the scoop on their newest offering for bootcamp grads and working engineers.
- Mechanical-Engineer-turned-Web-Developer Kacy Ebel talks about her career change and her experience at We Can Code It's women-only bootcamp.
Aquisitions, Fundraises & Regulation
- General Assembly announced their $70MM Series D. This reporter thinks about what the fundraise could mean for their London campus.
- Hack Reactor acquired Chicago-based Mobile Makers Academy, adding iOS to their offerings. They also announced "Hack Reactor Core," the umbrella under which each school will operate autonomously.
- Inside Higher Ed reported on General Assembly's journey through regulation and expansion. Education Dive provides a nice, brief summary of the article.
- The Huffington Post reported on a letter from Jeremy Shaki and Khurram Virani (Founders of Lighthouse Labs) to parliament on code literacy, outcome-based education, and Canadian innovation through technology.
New Campuses + Courses:
- Dev Bootcamp announced they will open doors in San Diego this November.
- Montana Code School's first cohort started class September 28. (Listen to Montana Public Radio's story on the bootcamp).
- ThoughtKite will teach their first Toronto iOS bootcamp in October.
- Code Fellows has overhauled and reorganized their courses (bye bye Dev Accelerators, hello Code 401!)
- Applications for Code Platoon, a Chicago bootcamp geared towards veterans, are now open.
- Global News Canada writes about Toronto's Bitmaker Labs.
- Fortune Magazine explores women in Coding Bootcamps.
- FCW finds that coding bootcamps are 'Very empowering, very transformational.'
- A LinkedIn researcher blogged about the types of jobs reported by bootcampers on the networking site.
- Delaware Online looks back on ZipCode Wilmington's first bootcamp cohort.
- Built in Chicago: How Designation is bringing the bootcamp model to design.
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee computer coding school expands as employers show interest.
- The Street: Future Code Monkeys May Skip College and Head to Boot Camp
Have a great October!
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Coding Bootcamps are intensive programs- some require an 80 hour per week commitment, and all demand undivided attention in the classroom. This structure may be necessary to learn a new skill in a short time, but it can also overwhelm students and in some cases, cause burnout.
Luckily, at Course Report, we get the opportunity to talk with alumni from coding bootcamps all over the world, and we always ask how they avoided burnout during their courses. We’ve compiled the top eight best pieces of advice for future students from alumni who have been through it before!Continue Reading →
Welcome to the September News Roundup, your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the bootcamp space. Want your bootcamp's news to be included in the next News Roundup? Submit announcements of new courses, scholarships, or open jobs at your school!Continue Reading →
With a degree in Advertising Art Direction, Martha Willis was looking for a way to build on her current skillset in pursuit of a web-based career. So she enrolled in Designation, a full-time, immersive design course in Chicago. We get the scoop from Martha about the application process, her new job as a UI Designer, and how she's continued her education after Designation.
What were you doing before you started at Designation?
Just before starting at Designation, I was working as a junior designer at Proof Integrated Communication - a small NYC based digital agency. I worked on traditional print pieces as well as digital web design.
Did you have a technical or design background before you applied?
Why did you choose Designation? Did you apply to any other bootcamps?
Designation was the only bootcamp I applied to - I was originally looking for classes I could take while still working full-time. I wanted something to supplement my current knowledge base, that could lead to a more web-based career. When I compared the various programs I realized that Designation would be the best fit for me. I really liked the idea of being able to fully immerse myself into my learning and surround myself with other passionate creatives.
What was the application process like?
I made the decision to apply fairly close to the deadline for the first cohort so my application process was fairly quick. I filled out the online application, submitted my portfolio site and went through an in-person interview. It was a really great way to get a better sense of the program and the people involved.
What was your cohort like? Did you find diversity in age, race, gender etc?
My cohort was fairly mixed group. Many of us were a few years out of college, others were older. My cohort was mostly female, but the cohort right after was mostly male. Ultimately, we all had the same goal - to become better at our craft and support each other in our endeavors.
Who were your instructors? What was the teaching style like and how did it work with your learning style?
The instructors were designers/developers currently working in their chosen field. They are incredibly knowledgeable and were more than happy to share that knowledge (both in and outside of class). Class structures varied depending on the topic being discussed. Usually there was a lecture component and a workshop/hands-on component. We often did peer review for our visual design, all-day workshops for user experience and live coding classes. They were very open to adaption so if something wasn’t working or a student needed extra help, they would do their best to accommodate students.
Did you ever experience burnout? How did you push through it?
Burnout is pretty standard in any creative endeavor - especially when you’re working as many hours as many of us did while at Designation. Being able to take a walk and get a change of scenery are easy ways to restart your brain. Also, making sure to make time for self-care is really important. Even though it’s a rigorous schedule, there is still time to get away and clear your head. It also helps that there are other people going through the exact same thing you are so you can rely on each other for support and understanding.
Can you tell us about a time when you were challenged in the class?
Tell us about a project you're proud of that you made during Designation.
Near the end of my time at Designation, we worked in teams of three-four to design and pitch a native mobile app to a local startup. It was really a great experience to be given the opportunity to work on real client work. We had to apply everything we had learned up to that point - with some help from instructors as well. For our wireframing and prototyping, we worked in Adobe Illustrator and Omnigraffle. Most of our design work was done in photoshop and then everything was moved into Invision to create a working prototype. It can be viewed here!
What are you up to today? Where are you working and what does your job entail?
I am currently working as a web and mobile designer at Spartz, Inc - a small start up in Chicago. I work with some very intelligent, passionate people and I am given a lot of creative freedom. I currently do a little bit of everything; user experience design, interaction design, interface design and occasionally some CSS. I was connected to the company through one of the instructors at Designation.
Did you feel like Designation prepared you to get a job in the real world?
Designation definitely helped to prepare me for my new job. What I learned there can be applied to everything I do in my new position. I was given a great foundation to build upon. I have never regretted leaving my previous job to go to Designation and pursue something I was really passionate about.
Have you continued your education after you graduated?
I do a lot of reading to continue to build my knowledge base - both books and online blogs/magazines. There is no lack of information and resources out there to be discovered. Some are better than others, but there is always something to be learned from what you read. I also find that the best thing you can do is to keep building. Whatever your craft is, being young or new to the field means that you should always be creating. I strive to create as much as I can. It doesn’t have to be something large or groundbreaking, just something creative that gets my brain thinking.
Designation is a full-time, immersive design course in Chicago with the primary goal to turn you into a hireable candidate for innovative and tech-focused companies. For a limited time, the Course Report community will get $500 off tuition to Designation!Continue Reading →
Designation is a digital design-focused school in Chicago that helps students with a technical or design background make the shift to digital design jobs. We talk with founder Kevin Yun about the differences between Designation and other web-development bootcamps, the types of applicants they look for, and why it's important to learn digital design now.
Kevin, tell us about your background and how you got into this boot camp model of education.
I’m a startup guy, but I didn’t really find my passion until I started doing design work for the startups I was working on. The startup world can be really scrappy, but you have to learn to do things quick and you have to learn a lot of things and wear lots of hats. That’s where most of my self-education and experience came from- just building products with friends and companies. I found that I was interested in design, and that’s when I saw the model for bootcamps coming up. Everyone’s focus seemed to be on programming, which design being treated to the side. There was like, five classes, part-time, but not a real focus on teaching digital design. I wanted to build a curriculum where it was full-exposure, where you’re not expected to be awesome at everything, but at least you would know the whole process. That’s why I started Designation.
How did you learn front-end development?
It took me a couple of years, here and there, of self-teaching and doing what needed to be done, but in the end, this is what I really like doing. Specifically, I like visual design, and going into a text editor to execute the design into code. Digital design is a large field, and there’s a tremendous amount of topics involved. The idea of Designation is really compressing all that knowledge and the insights from people with different experiences in design. Getting them in the same room for a really intense focus on ten weeks of design.
How long has Designation been operating?
It’s actually been a year now. We’ve had two part-time cohorts. But we just shifted into a full-time model a couple of months ago, and are about to launch our first class on April 21st. This is also the first that we’re talking to hiring partners, the first time we’re purposefully taking action to help students get jobs. That’s really the main goal. Our team has doubled within these last two months. There’s a lot of things that need to be changed, revamped, upgraded, and executed on, so we’ve been pretty busy on our end. Adding the hiring partnerships initiative is pretty insane.
How many people are working for Designation?
We have a network of mentors, designers, TAs, and design instructors. Really, the core team is our four instructors. Our setup is that we have lectures at night, and then a daytime immersion portion where students work on projects, assignments, and apply the things they learn in lectures during the daytime. It’s work and effort, when it comes down to it. We expect people to take a self-directed approach; we’ll hold your hand, but this is technology. In five years everything will be different, so it’s really important that student be self-directed and be motivated by themselves to reach their goals.
Why is it important to learn front end design?
Design has become really prominent, not just in terms of how things look, but the user experience and the research done behind building a product or service for a particular set of people that will use that. It’s not just, “Oh, let’s engineer something and push it out.” It starts with building personas, doing a lot of testing, iterating. Design is a large field, especially digital design- there’s everything from UX, front-end web development, and visual design. But really, the goal at Designation is to get students exposure to all the different types of design- we’re throwing a lot at our students, expecting them to put in the necessary work, follow the program and build an amazing portfolio by the end of the program.
Do students need to have the Adobe Suite to start the course?
We require all students to come in with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop already installed. This is for the prep work involved, and of course, for the main program.
What’s the cohort size that you’re trying to stick to for this first full-time immersive program?
We’re looking anywhere between 18-24, depending on how we build out our space. We have a dedicated space now at 1440 N. Dayton St. in Chicago. The location is actually right off the red line, about a three-minute walk. The red line is one of five lines in the country that never stops running.
What are you looking for in potential students? And how many applicants and what kind of applicants are you seeing for this next program?
This whole week was jam-packed with interviews, as we’re trying to narrow it down for the next class. What we’re really looking for in candidates is a technical or design background. So what that means is that maybe you have experience in back-end or front-end coding, knowing syntax, and semantics of code, or you are familiar with the language of code. We’re pretty serious about our designers learning to code- we believe everybody should learn to code. Our applicant pool has actually been quite strong, and I’ve been pretty impressed by the people we’re taking in. We’re taking in people who have already held UX/UI design positions. Most of them are not junior level- we look for at least, mid to senior level people who want a change in their careers, who do have some experience in design, whether it is Photoshop, Illustrator, or UX. We don’t like to think that we teach people, or we’re a school, as much as we are a group of designers that are showing you our practice.
So, it’s really that we’re looking for applicants that are already experienced. We’ll accept some beginners if they have a really compelling application or interview we need people who can dedicate an intense ten weeks of their life, and have some sort of experience. This is why there’s prep work involved. We want everyone to be on the same page before coming to class, whether they’re advanced or beginners- at least they’ll all have gone through the same topics before entering.
I read on your blog that you have lowered tuition. What was the motivation there, and are you seeing more applicants, less applicants, people from different backgrounds that are now able to apply, or are you going to see any money on 2,000?
The course is really $1,000- if your goal is to get a job after the program and you take a job with one of our hiring partners, we’ll give you a $1000 tuition refund. When we went full-time, the expenses just skyrocketed through the roof. Between building a bigger team, handling admissions, hiring partners, logistics, internal marketing, and everything to make students come in and have a seamless experience. That’s been a full time, day in and day out job just for our internal team. But we lowered the tuition because we believe in the long term vision, which is to place people into design jobs. That’s something our partners are totally in line with. Our business, and the people and services we work for now- our whole team is totally in right now. And I would say that is the most important thing. We have a 100 percent dedicated team to help place our students in jobs.
Do you all have any outside funding?
My mentality has always been to just be bootstrapped. We are closing a couple of very small rounds from friends and family now- anywhere between 5K and 15K investments, just so we can sustain in the short term and focus on the long term.
It’s pretty clear that there is a disparity between men and women in the web development part of the tech world. Women are underrepresented, and minorities are even more underrepresented. Have you noticed, in your experience, that there is the same sort of disparity between men and women in the design world?
If you’re talking programming and computer science, I would definitely say there is a huge disparity. I was a student at the University of Illinois at Champaign, and their computer science program is pretty strong, so I hung around that building a lot, and you could definitely see the ratio. But if you’re talking in terms of creatives and designers, 60 percent of our past students have been female, 40 percent male. Our field is very creative, it is process driven. So I think that’s where it differentiates us. I think the overlap is where you see the coding aspect. I would say our classes don’t have that problem. It might actually be the opposite problem.
You seem to really emphasize the hiring aspect of Designation. Can you explain the relationships that you have with hiring partners?
We’ve been working on it for a couple weeks now, and it started with some companies reaching out and asking to talk to our students. And some of our students were asking us to help them polish up their portfolios. So we took those hints and we realized that we should just go the whole stretch. On top of that, we’ve been talking to companies that are anywhere from 100 person, design driven start-ups, start-ups that are just starting out, some that are VC funded- that need the talent to expedite their growth, and that can pay the commission for that talent. Just to give you a little scope, there’s 30,000 UX jobs open, and this is according to careerbuilder.com, and there’s only 3,000 professionals that can fill up those UX positions. And this is just for user experience design. What we’re trying to do is get designers that are 20 percent there, and get them to an 80-100% level, a point where they can work with these companies. We’re located in the same building as one of the leading UX agencies in the Midwest. Employers don’t care about your background if you came from a boot camp, or whatever else. It’s really, “Can you show us your portfolio? Can you explain your work? Are you a cool person that we could work with on a day to day basis?“
If a student takes a job with one of your hiring partners, then they get a thousand dollar refund, right?
We like to think of it as splitting half the tuition. Our business relies on the tail end, where we place designers into companies.
If that happens, is Designation also taking a recruiting fee, or a hiring fee, from the company?
Exactly. That’s how we’re going to pay the bills. $2000 is a crazy low tuition. We just want to work with awesome people- having a large financial barrier to entry didn’t make sense.
What is a design job interview like? How do you help your students train for those interviews?
Tell us about the tech scene, especially as it relates to design, in Chicago.
I’m glad we started in Chicago, just because things are way too expensive in San Francisco and New York. In terms of jobs, it’s just a rising industry in general. As technology gets less and less complex, as people build more products and develop and push and deploy apps, and work in the data, design is tremendously important in terms of not making crappy products- that means a good user experience.
The California regulatory agency story that came out a few weeks ago has gotten a lot of press. Has it given you all any pressure to become accredited or is that something that’s on your radar at all?
The main reason for that regulation is to keep out the fraud. For example, there’s been thirty boot camps that have just popped up for development and programming across the nation. Whether they’re good, bad, credible, there’ve been more than thirty that have popped out in the last year. In terms of quality and promises and guarantees, the state needs to protect students somehow, so we’re in support of it. We’re in talks with the state department of Illinois, we’re getting our documents organized, which puts good pressure on us in terms of organizational structure, academic calendar, etc.
Kevin, are there any plans to expand into other courses, other locations, in the future?
Our goal right now is 100 percent placement, nothing else. That’s our main focus. Everything we do is revolving around that fact.