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.
Recent DESIGNATION News
- Alumni Spotlight: Zoe Sinner of DESIGNATION
- Alumni Spotlight: Anne Levy of Designation
- Front End Development vs Back End Development: Where to Start?
Recent DESIGNATION Reviews: Rating 4.79
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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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.
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 wanted to wait till I got a job before writing this review, because in the end that's all that matters coming out of a bootcamp, no matter how much you learn or how fun it is.
The good news is I did get a job, at one of the world's largest digital agencies, and a leader in digital strategy, transformation, and digital products/services. So now I can finally write this review and give the program and people the kudos they deserve.
I was a psychological researcher and wanted to shift gears drastically into the creative, rigorous, ever-evolving, and impactful profession of user experience design.
I read a bunch of books, took some online courses, then came to DESIGNATION. It was incredibly fun, fast-paced, challenging, and there was little hand holding. I learned a ton and became a competent UX designer ready to go out and tackle client projects in the real world.
The best points of DESIGNATION were:
-Client projects. Design doesn't truly exist in theoretical situations. Things are designed for people, with constraints, and by emotional, over-worked humans. That's why experience is so heavily valued in this field.
-Great staff. The people who work at DESIGNATION are smart, experience, and care about your development. They also have deep ties to the design industry. That being said, this doesn't mean you'll get hooked up with a job automatically. It does mean that you'll see what great designers are like, get exposure to a lot of firms, and have extensive networking opportunities.
-Fun. It was a blast. Design is a profession that lends itself to flow, so the hours fly by. And with every hour that you work past 8 pm, drinking at work becomes more and more acceptable.
The worst points were:
-It's a young program, and there's a lot of experimentation going on. Parts of it are great, parts of it are not.
-Standards could be higher for entry into the program
-The job hunt is unpredictable, and you might be unemployed for a while. I got about the best job I could ask for, at a company that I would be willing to stay at for a long, long time. But it took me almost a year and several pro-bono projects after DESIGNATION to do so.
-There is an annoying staff member. But still very knowlegeable about his domain. And perhaps it's just my individual taste.
-Don't let people psych you out into thinking it's deathly difficult. It's up to you how much you want to run around like a headless chicken, and you have the option of trying to have enjoy it instead.
-Network a lot. It may not directly lead to a job, but it's fun and you get practice. And for some people it does quickly lead to a job.
-Compare your work and attitude to that of the best speakers that come and speak to you. I compared all my work at DESIGNATION to this senior designer that came in, and it drastically improved my approach..
-Steal liberally from people that are good at things. Everyone in the program has strengths: Learn from them as fast as possible.
-Give up your ego. In design, it's not really your work. It's the work, and it's there to get picked apart, reworked, and renewed until it's as good as it can be.
DESIGNATION is quicker, more practical, and more intense than a master's degree. In the field of design, an academic credential is an entertaining distraction and not serious career capital. If you want a master's, go get one, but I promise that DESIGNATION will deliver more practical results to you more quickly than any purely academic program.
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.
I wish I could say I absolutely loved this program and highly recommend it to everyone, but there were too many moments of frustration that makes it hard to spew out those exact words.
I'll start with the bad and transition to the good.
- Instructors - I really enjoyed learning from the UX instructor; however the UI instructor was hands down terrible despite his numbers of experience and other credentials. I'm not sure what the interview process is like for them, but the first and foremost criteria to look for is the ability to teach. I was appalled at the instructor's shoddy presentations and how he would look at his watch in the afternoons when he was supposed to be providing the team with design critique. I found the occasional weekend classes taught by the original founders to be a lot more engaging and useful. Please dedicate more resources to recruit the best design instructors so it's not a "hit-or-miss" learning experience.
- Day-to-day / Curriculum - I'm really glad the program has been iterative and many improvements have been made based on student feedback. However, I was shocked at how little our direct feedback throughout the program was taken into consideration. I fundamentally believe that certain changes can take place overnight if deemed reasonable. The fact that we had to do daily stand-ups to have everyone repeat the same thing they were going to accomplish that day (aka. the assigned work) was an utter waste of time. I was once reprimanded for writing the schedule on a whiteboard because we were supposed to be using Canvas; yet the the information on that site was not up-to-date. Nothing made much sense. I didn't think the program itself was that intense. It certainly didn't feel much like a bootcamp and much of my motivation was sprouted from within. The curriculum could have been much more rigorous. I wish we crammed in more information during the lectures and covered some of the topics more in-depth. Outside education content is fine to include, but some of the videos that were selected provided very little value. Perhaps the program managers can include a survey after each video to better curate the list.
- Job Assistance - I'm glad we had this one-week session but companies are vastly different that it's hard to get beyond generic advice. We were able to visit a few offices and hear from previous cohort graduates, who were pretty helpful. I wish we learned more about various companies and their design culture. The interviewing season is quite depressing for bootcamp-trained-newbie designers. I personally longed for some messages of encouragement during this transition period. I wish the staff members could have leveraged their networks in order to connect us with potential employers.
- Team - The people I met during this program were really great. It was one of the more diverse environments that I have worked in – in terms of experience, background, stage in life and personality. I went in thinking "I'm fine with #nonewfriends" but the relationships I have built made this program worth it.
- Startup Partnerships - I thought this was the program's competitor advantage but realized that other bootcamps also following the same path. I enjoyed the startup projects, but it sounded though as across board, many did not implement our suggested changes. That is ultra lame and such a turnoff for a lot of interviewers. I guess it's a bit out of the program's control, but could not help wonder if my work was done in futility.
- Community - I am happy to start out my design career connected with a number of other designers. The organization has a very active Slack channel with individuals eager to exchange information and learn from one another.
Overall, (like most things in life) the program is what you put into it. The fact that it costs $15,000+ is a bit insane in my opinion. I would not call this top-quality education and am really interested in the breakdown of costs. To be really honest, I still want to receive additional, formal education in design/engineering but am too poor to do so. Perhaps working in the field a couple more years will change that thought and hopefully my current financial state, as well.
I landed my product design role with great thanks to this experience and am very thankful. It's true people can become designers by teaching themselves with free information found online, but it's a much better experience to learn with others who are as hungry to improve their design skills.
One importance realization I had during the program was that design is merely a tool. It's hard to say that design itself is my passion; it is how and what you design that speaks to your passion and your work is just an extension of your character.
This program is not perfect and this review is extremely long.
tl;dr – I recommend.
When I transitioned into the UX/UI field with DESIGNATION, I was coming from a Music Education/ Performance background. I was a teacher for 6 years.
I came in worried about this career change, but after going through the 6 month program, I can honestly say, it was one of the greatest decisions I have ever made.
The teachers care about your success, and the fellow students are passionate. Almost everyone participating in my cohort came from different backgrounds, and were driven and hard working. I learned many things, and gained an immense network of professional designers and new skill sets. If you're hesitating about doing this, I would say give them a call and just take the plunge. You won't regret it.
Pros: Work with Real World Clients AND iterate on the UX/ UI Agile Process over and over again until it becomes like second nature. THE PEOPLE, and the connections you make. Also, the environment (1871) really makes you want to work hard because of the start up-ish vibe. Lastly, the teachers and the career phase. Extremely helpful, utlize it.
Cons: Find a window for some sunlight! The room can be a bit bare in the beginning due to the lack of post it notes.
Just a quick note: be prepared for a lot of work. That saying, "you get what you put into it", rings true here. The last two weeks of the program, the Career Phase, is probably the heaviest part, and it comes after the Client Phase. So you get into the mentality that you've "finished" the program, but you have to keep pushing through, because the Career Phase is arguably the most important part.
TL;DR: DESIGNATION can help you land a design job, but nothing's handed to you. The people that do well are the ones that have some work experience, take it seriously, trust the process, and work their asses off. The program's hard by design and constantly testing/iterating to be better.
I worked with DESIGNATION both as a student and on staff (as a TA), and I'm super happy with the investment. I gained an awesome UI/UX job, solid portfolio, invaluable career advice, connections to companies, and access to a huge network of friends and other designers across the country. I learned. a. ton.
Mike Joosse and his portfolio / career prep
Client phase: actual client projects with committed Creative Directors (GA doesn't do client projects)
Immersion phase with our intsructor Andrew Twigg from Carnegie Mellon - he was awesome
The move away from teaching breadth in both UI and UX towards a depth in either UI or UX. Good for some folks (specialists), bad for others (generalists…)
It’s a for-profit program, so it’s not the most selective. Your teammates might be fairly experienced and committed, or they might not…
- The program also seems a lot more difficult for recent grads vs. career shifters. It helps to have a few years work experience when going in
Overall, I'd choose DESIGNATION again. Do it! But only if you're serious.
If you have no design experience, but want to make a career change into it, you should definitely consider DESIGNATION because I was on the same boat as you. I came into the program with a background in Biomedical Engineering, while doing wedding videography on the weekends.
I chose this program because I wanted to learn the fundamentals of UX/UI, apply them to projects, which would help me to find a job. And that's exactly the focus of DESIGNATION.
A huge highlight for me was the client phase because the clients that I worked with were working towards impacting Chicago. One was working to shake-up the education space, to help teachers be able to focus more time on their students and another client was working towards minimizing food waste in the city. I think having opportunities like this makes DESIGNATION a lot more valuable, especially since it's in the 1871 space.
Design is constantly changing, and so is DESIGNATION, for their students, which I appreciate. They have built a process that does help students to find jobs, AS LONG AS you do your part in putting together case studies and a portfolio, so don't slack on that.
I valued my time at DESIGNATION. Before attending the program, I was a teacher without any formal design experience and nervous about the ambiguity of changing careers. Through its rigorous content and nurturing delivery, the program made me confident in my abilities. Working with real startup clients was an invaluable experience that strengthened my design processes. I also want to acknowledge DESIGNATION for being an incredibly inclusive atmosphere for LGBT people. I appreciate how empowering the experience was.
While DESIGNATION is nurturing, it doesn't coddle. The effectiveness of the bootcamp relies on self-motivatation. That said, the staff is extremely responsive and eager to offer support.
I'd highly recommend DESIGNATION to any ambitious people seeking a safe learning environment.
I was looking to expand my design skills and break into the field of UX/UI, when I stumbled upon DESIGNATION on Course Report. As a web and graphic designer I had experience in design but this is a whole new level. The course is extremely challenging, but also extremely rewarding. I have learned more in the 18 weeks of this course than I did throughout a good portion of my college years. I truly believe that they have set me up, and will continue to support me, to get the best possible job that I can to start my new career.
When I found DESIGNATION while looking for graphic design master's programs, I didn't even know what UX was. After doing research and meeting with several of the UX/UI programs in Chicago, I knew that DESIGNATION was my best option at finding a career that I would enjoy going to every day. The real world experience you get and the network that you make during the program are invaluable. I am so glad I stumbled upon their website less than a year ago and am extremely excited for my new career in UX/UI.
Designation was awesome, and I think it deserves a five star rating. The instruction was mostly great, I learned a ton—in part because it was a really fun experience—and I was able to build a really strong portfolio. I also got to know a lot of great new people, make some lifelong friends, fall in love with the city of Chicago (so much so that I’m staying), and launch my career as a UX/UI designer. I really believe I got everything I wanted out of the program.
I was able to graduate with a really strong portfolio and set of skills that has gotten me interviews at companies like Allstate, Accenture, Walgreens, Coursera, Jellyvision, BuiltinChicago, Civis Analytics. I’ve been working an internship at Perkins+Will doing UX and UI design, and it looks like I’ll be joining Walgreen’s Design team as a UI designer this fall.
If you have some prior design (graphic, visual) or development (websites, wordpess) experience—Designation is an easy bet. It will build on things you know, but at a level or rigor that’s hard to learn on your own.
If you are totally new to the field, but extremely motivated—the program could be for you, but make sure you’re realistic. Employers will be more cautious, since your portfolio will be lighter, and you may have to take an internship before landing that full-time job.
Bottom: Designation is tough, fun, and on the whole—worth it.
Let's start by saying I would have had no idea where to start in my UX career without DESIGNATION. Their career councelor/guide is incredible and very intense. Mike is constantly pushing to make your work better and always available to review your work, and help you find a job that not only fits the companies needs, but yours as well. He helps build a portfolio, case studies, resumes, a linkedin, a personal brand, how to give presentations, how to act as a professional in the design community. The community building aspect of it is great too, and I certainly made some lifelong friends and a "network"(what a horrible word) of people that I now know within the design community.
You do actual work for real world clients and have the ability to put that experience on your resume, see what youve designed come into reality. Megan Meuller is an incredible creative director, and Dan Hopewell does an amazing job of setting up clients to work with.
So one of the things that DESIGNATION excells at is taking advice on what they can improve on, and listening to the job market to see how they can make their students as hire-able as possible. Students from now on will choose a UX or a UI career path as a major (though you will learn the essentials of both). They have removed the frontend dev/markup language part of the course because the vasat majority of jobs arent looking for a unicorn that can do all the UX the UI and the code, and even if they had one on their hands they'd most likely have them focusing on one field. Instead of coming out of DESIGNATION being mediocre at all 3 parts of Front End Dev, they push you to be incredible in one area, and use that as leverage into the other fields if they interest you. As a UX or UI designer the likelyhood that you will be actually coding for your job is incredibly small. It's a plus, a benefit, you'll need to know certain keywords to communicate with developers but you can learn all of that through treehouse or codeacademy with 20 hours of your free time. You dont need to pay a bootcamp to teach you that.
Right now, the community between the faculty and students (but really they treat you more like employees,which is a good thing) is a little weird. I wish that the staff rotated through giving 5 minute announcements at the begining of each day or something to put all of them in front of us more so we could have learned and empathized with their personalities more. We had an incident where we took an assignment as more of a lighthearted team building exercise, while the instructor definitely wanted us to take it waaaaay more seriously. We had only communicated with him once or twice before this and had no idea it would have been recieved so negatively. It was a minor slight, but it put a weird damper on our relationship with the faculty for the rest of our time. Also just in general moer transprency on decisions they make, and why. Continue pulling aside individuals that you have actionable issues/criticism with, instead of adressing the class as a monolith.
I've already recomended several of my good friends that are in a career rut that they should pursue starting their career at DESIGNATION. I'm from Atlanta and was more than happy with my decision to move to Chicago to pivot my career. 5/5, ten outta ten, gold star, blue ribbon. Oh if youre from out of town make sure you look up the walkingscore of your apartment youre gonna sublet/rent. and try and get there 30 minutes early everyday, it allows you to level your head, and making your team of 2-4 work, and start their daily plans without you is selfish (plus these are your friends youre gonna be looking to get a job with 5 years down the line.)
It was the most intense experience I've ever had and also the best. They have great instructors, always willing to help. There has not been one time when I've been stuck and couldn't find an instructor to help me, even after finishing the course. They offer top notch resources. Have no doubt that if you put the effort you will become a UX/UI designer. Most importantly, you'll learn how to be a profesional in the field. After learning for the first few weeks we then worked with real life clients on real projects. Eventhough we had guidance, I felt confident with my knowledge, skills and the quality of my work. There's no substitute for working with real clients and their feedback is very gratifying. I made great friends in the process too. I would do it again and double down. Be prepared to work hard, very hard. It's doable, but remember that what you take out is directly proportional to what you put into it. The only feedback I had was that they needed more people to assist with job placement but they took care of that already so it's cool.
I was a member of the Magenta cohort that graduated in November 2015. After graduating, I was hired by the program as a Designer-in-Residence.
I can wholeheartedly say that DESIGNATION changed my life. I enrolled in the program without having had any formal design training, yet with the guidance of the instructors, the comprehensive curriculum and many late nights of effort, I am now confident in my abilities as a digital designer.
Having been both a student and an employee of the program I was able to gain the student perspective but also a look behind the scenes.
As a student, DESIGNATION was one of the most challenging yet rewarding academic journeys I have been on. There is an incredible amount of information that will be thrown at you, and you will inevitably feel overwhelmed at points; however it will be a shared experience between you and your fellow cohort members who will become close friends that you can lean on.
DESIGNATION will provide the tools and guidance for success, however, success is not a given. It is the student's responsibility to be self-disciplined and to take advantage of the resources provided by the program.
The instructors are one of the key resources of the program. The instructors are knowledgeable and want to see you succeed. They are there to provide guidance and help you on your journey. That said, they are not there to hold your hand. You are expected to put in the required hours and effort.
An additional resource that is just as important as the instructors, if not more so, is your fellow cohort members. Fellow cohort members (as well as those in the senior or junior cohort) will teach you much more than you expect. Learning design is about practice and being open to critique. If you consistently ask your cohort members for feedback, you will accelerate your growth and learning.
Unlike other programs, DESIGNATION gives you the chance to work with actual clients (startups in Chicago and around the country) to gain real-world experience which in turn distinguishes the work of a DESIGNATION graduate from those of other bootcamps. You will learn how to navigate client relationships which is a critical skill to possess.
As part of the program you are paired with a mentor; a working design professional who can answer any questions you have regarding the working design world, the application and interview process, etc. Again, it's up to you to schedule the meetings with your mentor.
The career support is also another selling point of the program. There is a dedicated community director who provides portfolio development support while you are still a student and will assist you in making connections with companies once you are a graduate of the program. DESIGNATION does not guarantee a job upon graduation, but if you ask for assistance, they will do what they can to connect you with recruiters and companies. You will find that they won't always be able to help you in the case that they have no connection with the company but as time goes by, the stronger and more expansive the DESIGNATION network becomes.
As an employee of the program, I was able to see and contribute first-hand to the program itself. DESIGNATION practices what it preaches in that the curriculum is constantly being iterated upon based on student feedback. They make it a priority to figure out how to address frustrations that students have.
The program is not perfect - there will be moments of frustration, but you are actively encouraged to voice your concerns. The staff is genuinely invested in your success.
Overall, this program has the capacity to change the direction of your career. You will get out of it what you put in. It won't be easy, but you will have the support of a lot of people along the way. You will form friendships that will last a lifetime; you'll learn more over the course of the program than you ever thought possible and you will have a great of a time doing it.
I graduated from the program in April and just got my first job offer. So I can happily say that the program is legit and would reccomend it. I think there are a few things to know/consider to get the most out of the program:
- Know the basics of what UX is BEFOREHAND. Read as much as you can to get aquianted with terms and everything else UX so that you can hit the ground running.
- Be ready to work your ass off. When they say the program is intense, they mean it. When they say it's 70 hours a week, they mean it. When they say you really have to put in the effort on your portfolio (during the latter career phase), they mean it. Or you could be lazy and slack off throughout the program, but good luck with the job hunt afterwards.
- The instructors are awesome, and expose you to a wide variety of views, opinions, and styles. Realize that everything you learn is subjective, and you have to process or filter your feedback. Also, you will learn SO MUCH, but there is inifinitely more for you to still learn after. This field in general is best for lifelong learners.
- It's not perfect. There were definitely bumps in the road, but I think thats to be expected. The staff at DESIGNATION are all very friendly, genuinely interested in their mission, and adamanet about constantly asking for feedback and improving the program. This is key, IMO.
- The people you are exposed to and the network they help you to create is one of the biggest benefits in my opinion. Especially for a pretty big introvert like me, the opportunity to comfortably meet and talk with designers and other creatives and tech people from all over Chicago (and beyond) is amazing.
- The opportunity to work with two REAL clients is one of the key benefits of the program. Be as involved as possible during the client phase, because not only can this open up opportunities to you in the future, but being able to speak to real world client work during interviews is something graduates from similar programs cannnot say.
- Just competing the program isn't going to land you a job. This wasn't clear to me when I started, so I just want to try to be upfront about all of the work required to really be ready to search for jobs: resume, personal statement, portfolio site with 3-5 case studies. (THIS IS MORE WORK THAN YOU EXPECT). You begin work on this in the final 6 weeks, but its completely up to you how much you get done. It took me about a week and a half after the program to finish my portfolio, and I was the second one finished. So just remember, after the program, theres still plenty of work to do.
Overall, I really appreciate the program and the people, and where they've helped me get to today. Just know what you are getting in to, be ready to work your ass off, and go for it!
After graduating and moving back to San Francisco, one of my first design job interviews was with a hiring team that pulled my application from the applicant pool because they saw DESIGNATION on my resume. They had a great experience with another graduate and were eager to bring in someone with a similar skillset. That experience reminded me that I made the right decision to attend this bootcamp.
A few attributes set DESIGNATION apart from other design programs, in my mind:
- Intimate learning environment: DESIGNATION is small in all the right ways. While the staff have strong and deep ties to the design community and professional world, each cohort is comprised of maybe 20 students. You will get the help you need to reach your design goals. Instructors and classmates will learn your strengths and weaknesses. Everyone will help you improve by leaps and bounds.
- Startup workspace: The program occupies part of 1871, an incubator and co-working space. This means that, if you want, you can meet and talk with professionals from different fields who can offer you "outside" opinions and perspectives on design. I was even offered a few freelance opportunities while still in the program.
- Real client design projects: The last six weeks of the program are allotted to two design consulting projects with real businesses that want design work. This is an unreal opportunity to apply your newly-acquired design skills to the real world. These projects make for great portfolio pieces.
The reason I only give the program 4 out of 5 stars on job assistance is because they do not have established placement programs with companies who agree to interview new graduates (this is a practice that a few friends at development bootcamps have told me about). However, DESIGNATION does have a full-time staff member who focuses on professional development and a significant portion of the program is focused on getting you ready to find a design job. Again, the DESIGNATION community is strong and we have an internal job board where new roles and potential referals are posted everyday.
The instructors are great, they come from many different backgrounds, and they really know what they're talking about. With experiences in UX/UI design, advertising, graphic design, front end development, entrepreneurship, logo design, and so on, I dont remember having a question that somebody in 1871 didn't have the answer to.
At DESIGNATION, you're doing something productive towards your future 11+ hours every single day and that really makes you remember the knowledge you are learning. I learned more about design and front end development in the first 2 weeks then I did the previous 2 years in college. Doing something for 70+ hours a week is going to quickly get you better at whatever that something is.
Lastly, the 'job-opportunities' message board is constantly being posted to by the instructors and alumni located worldwide. With how big the network is, it is very easy to find job openings that fit your criteria. My cohort has gotten job offers from Hawaii to Boston, and many places in between.
I would not be where I am now without DESIGNATION. Looking back I can't believe how much they were able to teach and mold me in such a short time. I'm not going to lie, it was hard. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. I feel like they take 1-2 years worth of content and experiences and cram it into 4 months. Our instructores really knew their stuff, they could be hard on you but in a way that pushed you to do better. I loved that it wasn't just theoretical content. I got to work with real clients and was able to leave with a portfolio of work and an understanding of how to work with other designers.
Our latest on DESIGNATION
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 to 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. But this can be a tricky task if you aren’t familiar with these terms. 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 starting 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!
DESIGNATION, a coding bootcamp in Chicago specializing in immersive design courses, is offering a 90% tuition scholarship for US Veterans. So why tap into this potential group of bootcampers? Aaron Fazulak, co-founder of DESIGNATION, explains the decision!Continue Reading →
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 knowledgable 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 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 wire framing 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 to 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’s 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.