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 Reviews: Rating 4.84
Recent Designation News
- What I Wish I Knew: Advice from UX/UI Designers
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- November 2017 Coding Bootcamp News + Podcast
- Digital Marketing, Design, Product Management, Mobile, User Experience Design
In PersonPart Time20 Hours/week5 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Start Date
- Rolling Start Date
- Class size
- Skills Fund
- Minimum Skill Level
- Placement Test
- Digital Marketing, Design, Product Management, Mobile, User Experience Design
In PersonFull Time70 Hours/week
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 email@example.com.
- Start Date
- Rolling Start Date
- Class size
- Climb, Pave, Skill Fund
- Minimum Skill Level
- Design Essentials is a required pre-requisite for this course for students without prior professional design experience.
- Placement Test
- Digital Marketing, Design, Product Management, Mobile, User Experience Design
In PersonFull Time70 Hours/week17 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Start Date
- Rolling Start Date
- Class size
- Climb, Pave, Skill Fund
- Minimum Skill Level
- Design Essentials is a required pre-requisite for this course for students without prior professional design experience.
- Placement Test
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Like others have said, you get what you put in. You'll work hard but learn the skills to be able to land a job after graduation. If you're looking to get into design but don't want to spend the time or money on a Master's degree, Designation is a great option.
Choosing a program:
I knew I wanted to be a product designer but didn't know how to get there. I looked into HCI programs but they seemed expensive and long. While Designation is less academic than an HCI degree, the work is far more practical. If your goal is to get a job, Designation will teach you the necessary skills to get an entry-level role. That said if you're someone who's very interested in theory, you won't get that at Designation. Since my goal was to get a designer job as fast as possible, Designation seemed like a better option.
I looked at other bootcamps but thought they lacked the rigor of Designation and wasn't confident that I'd be able to get a job after just 10 weeks. I liked that Designation was longer and much more in depth. I also spent a lot of time stalking past Designation grads on LinkedIn and noticed that they were mostly successful. I spoke with 4-5 folks to hear about their experience, which helped me feel confident about choosing Designation.
The program starts with a 6 week DE course to learn the basics of UX/UI. Expect to spend 20-30 hours a week on the work. I worked full-time while doing DE, which was rough but doable if you spend your evenings and weekends working. For me, DE was a good way to confirm that design was interesting to me. It's very high-level, but you get a sense for the work, learn about the differences between UX and UI, and start using some design software. The work is individual and online, so it can seem a bit like you're on an island. At the end of DE, you choose either the UX or UI course and the instructor helps guide you based on your work and strengths.
During Virtual, you work with a team on a mock project for 6 weeks. It's the same basic work as DE, but you'll go more in depth. You also get some exposure to the teamwork that you'll have during the in-person phase. For me, this was the lightest part of Designation in terms of work. I had a great team, which made things easier, but some folks can struggle with their teams. Again, the online part is a little tough since you're isolated, but you can manage to make it work.
This is the real point of Designation and where most of the learning happens. In-Person is split into 3 portions: Immersion, Client, and Career
Immersion: During Immersion, you continue with the same design process that you've learned in Virtual but take it to another level. The instructors will push you more and you'll do much deeper work. You also get to work on a real project, which completely changes things.
You'll also get to know your classmates better and really collaborate. You'll have to work on your team skills and presentation skills. While they might seem soft, they're actually very important and help a lot once you start your job search.
Client Phase: During Client Phase, you get exposure to actually working with clients and get a lot less handholding. Again, the process is the same but you have more agency and get to see how business challenges affect design (very important!).
Career Phase: By the time you get here, you'll be burnt out and will want to chill. Don't do it! Mike gives great feedback and you'll have a much easier time post-graduation if you keep up the pace here.
This is the hardest part but it's also why you came to Designation. When I first finished, I was still unsure about whether I'd get a job or what that job would look like. You're also alone again after spending 12 weeks with the same 20 people, so the transition can be a bit shocking. My advice is to be super-organized, make yourself a timeline for finishing your portfolio, and then start applying like crazy. While it's important to have a job you like, your first job will probably just be your starting point and not your dream job. Everyone has a different strategy (Meetups, networking, applying to a ton) so figure out what plays to your strengths.
During the interview process, you'll be surprised at how well you can speak to your work and do design challenges. This gave me more confidence since I felt that I could actually do the real work.
You'll definitely have low moments since applying is a grind, but if you work hard enough, you'll get there eventually. Depending on your skillset, it can take some people longer to find a job. There are a LOT of junior designers out there from other bootcamps but a lot of them suck. Designation is more rigorous than other programs, so you'll stand out if you put in a lot of effort to make your portfolio look good.
It took me about 6 weeks to make my portfolio and then another 6 weeks of interviewing before I got an offer. I managed to increase my salary from before Designation, which I wasn't necessarily expecting (but was exciting!)
The people: Designers tend to be pretty fun people so you'll have fun. While the cohorts vary, mine was pretty diverse (a mix of people right out of college to people going back to work after having kids). Since you spend so much time together, you'll get goofy as well. You'll probably also have moments where you're pissed at others, but that's natural when you spend that much time with a small group.
Real work: Having actual projects is essential to getting a job. Employers want to see how you navigated the client interactions and business side, so Designation will allow you to speak to that. It's also way more fun to work on real projects that can have an impact.
Presentation skills: You'll have to present every week, so you'll get good at making a pretty deck and articulating your ideas. Both are essential for a design career.
Quality of instruction: If you want to be pushed, the instructors will help you. They'll constantly give you feedback, help you think through problems, and actually learn.
The people: While most people are great, there are always a few difficult teammates or some people who aren't cut out for design. Designation tries to weed them out during DE or Virtual, but they also need to keep attendance rates high because it's a business. At times, teammates can bring the group down and make it hard to learn.
Virtual phases: While these are necessary so that you have a basic framework, the structure could be improved. Some of the lectures were tedious.
Post-grad: While Mike does a great job during career phase, you're kind of on your own after. You'll still check in with him but it's up to you to hustle to get a job. I did a lot of my own networking to get advice, which I'd recommend. You also don't get a lot of practice with design challenges, so that was a bit challenging.
UX vs. UI: Designation makes a pretty clear split between the two but a lot of jobs tend to focus on both. I found it rare for a job to be just UX. Since I wanted to do product design, I spent some additional time teaching myself some UI skills. Basically, I wish there was just a product design track!
Six months at Designation jumpstarted a career that I love. I came to Designation with no design experience, spending the years prior to the program working in finance. The most designing I'd ever done was in PowerPoint. I was initially skeptical of the program because it didn't provide a formal degree or certification. I'd also need to leave the comfort and security of my current job. Wanting to understand more about the industry and program, I sought out a Designation grad (which I highly recommend doing). She eased a lot of my concerns about the field and the expectations of the program.
As many of the other reviews have voiced, you'll only be successful at Designation if you're willing to put in the effort. The time commitment is significant, as is the amount learning you'll be doing in that time. The curriculum is structured in a way that allows designers to learn and grow through hands-on experience and repetition.
The first phase of the program is Design Essentials, which serves as the foundation of your future learning. You'll learn the basic principles of UI/UX design through lectures, group work, and assignments. This phase is part-time, so I continued to work my full-time job. The amount of time this phase takes up is dependent on your learning and working style. I think I personally invested 20/30 hours per week reading and completing the assignments.
The second phase is the virtual phase. At this point, you'll likely need to commit 40+ hours per week. Between Design Essentials and the virtual phase, Designation requires you to choose a concentration: UI or UX. The next six weeks will be a deep dive into the concentration you choose. I chose the UI path because I enjoyed the visual design process. There are lectures during this phase, but most my of learning came from actually designing a mock project. The most beneficial part of the virtual phase for me was the critique and feedback I received on my work. It's difficult to accept at first, but you'll quickly find that feedback is invaluable to your growth as a designer; you can't take it personally. I did wish this phase incorporated more learning around UX. In looking for jobs, I found that most positions were looking for candidates that had a solid understanding of both UI & UX.
The next phases are Immersion and Client phase. These are in-person at Designation in Chicago. This is when Designation becomes your life. You'll spend 60+ hours per week learning and actually doing real design work. This is an important part of the program; perhaps the most. I learned how to cohesively work in design teams and explain and present my designs to stakeholders. There are so many resources available to you, being in-person: creative directors, peers, guest speakers. Leveraging these resources will be crucial in your growth. I had the opportunity to design for two actual clients, so I learned firsthand how to communicate design to different types of people while designing for real business problems. This will be a challenging part of the program, but I learned the most during it and am able to apply the things I learned at my new job.
The last phase is the Career phase. You'll learn how to write case studies on your work, create your portfolio, and how to market yourself as a designer. Designation pairs you with a career mentor, which was really helpful for me as I crafted my story as a designer and reached out to prospective employers. Designation does not place you in a job after you graduate. You'll do all of the searching and applying on your own. However, there is a very active job board where the Designation community post listings for candidates. The creative directors are also more than willing to provide feedback on job listings and companies you may come across. Career phase continues post-graduation as well. You'll have access to Designation for six weeks to have any of your career materials reviewed.
Designation provides you with all of the resources you need to learn and become a UI/UX designer. The result of the program hinges on the effort and quality you put into the learning. If you leverage all of the tools provided to you, the people you meet and stay humble, I think anyone can become a quality designer through Designation. I'm currently the sole designer at my company and feel confident in my ability to create progressive and meaningful work.
Designation is a life changer. If you are on the edge of deciding whether or not to join Designation, hopefully this review persuades you to go for it. You get out of the program what you put into it and it when you graduate, you are prepared for a career in the field, even if you don't think you are.
Before starting Designation, I was working for a startup and saw the design side of things and wanted to be involved. I am so thankful that I chose this program, I grew as a designer and as a person in a matter of months.
The virtual experience
When you start in the virtual phases, you learn the basics that will carry you all the way through, it can be tough, but if you take the time to really learn the material you are prepared for entering the in-person phase.
The in-person experience
The in-person experience is intense and is designed to be ambiguous. As someone who recently started a career in the field, you're never going to be given a problem to solve that is black and white and as infuriating as it can be during the program, you will thank Designation in the long run. Having the opportunity to work with real clients is absolutely necessary and the staff is extremely involved and helpful.
The in-person phase is no joke. You will be working early mornings, late nights, and weekends, I cannot stress enough that you will get out of it what you put into it. It sounds intense, but if you do want a change in careers, it's the best route to go. You have continued support and will get to know your cohort and make lifelong friendships.
After the program
I was able to land a job within 3 weeks of finishing the program, though you should budget for about 3 months after the program to finding a job. If you use the tools the staff gives you, you will find something. Not only will you graduate with new skills and process, you will have formed a network that goes beyond your cohort and will get support from Mike, the career phase creative director, to help move your job search forward.
Advice to staff
I don't have enough kind words to say about the program, and being in-person for 3 months, I already saw multiple changes made to curriculum and the program, so the staff is continually iterating on how to make it better.
I would recommend having more material on user testing and different methods in the virtual phase for the UI track and having more opportunities for cross-track learning during the in-person phase. It was difficult for me to decide between both UX and UI and having the ability to learn more of the opposite side of things and having materials for portfolio on the UX side of things would have been ideal.
What I wish I would have done before starting
I wish I would have gone to more meetups and events in the field to start building up a network and learning different methods and approaches. Do as much learning on your own as you can, it will help you inform your career path and what you are interested in before starting, and as you go through the program you will have a more concrete idea of what to expect in a career.
Many props to the entire staff at Designation, it was a life changing experience and after 6 months, I have a completely different career that I am passionate about!
If you are a naturally curious person who wants to know what makes people tick and doesn’t want to be spoon-fed instructions, Designation is the place for you. I had 10 years experience in graphic design but was looking to make a change to a field that would be more meaningful on a day-to-day basis. I was looking for the right balance of time to soak in new knowledge, but not the extended length of a graduate program. This was the perfect split for me compared to some of the shorter 10-week programs I compared it too. One of the best parts of the program is that it lets you get a taste for either UX or UI track before committing to it fully. In my case, I was pretty sure I wanted to pursue the UX path, and Design Essentials helped confirm that it would be the most beneficial to me. It has been nine years since graduating from design school, but it was pretty easy to get back into a ‘student' mindset. Once you move from virtual in person, the program tries to drive you out of that mindset back to more of a professional setting, but the ambiguity can be mentally confusing at times, and it doesn’t click for everyone at the same time. This is especially true if you like to follow a syllabus and play by the rules. You eventually have to figure out what is the most valuable task to do to make the best product possible, not because it was handed down for you to do. This can lead to some frustration feeling like you are not learning enough pure technical skill (esp in UX), but you are learning the stuff that you can't learn from watching a YouTube tutorial. This has been most beneficial in the post-graduation world where for me it has become much more about what part of the process will bring the right insight to build the best product. The client phase is the real deal. I’ve worked live in design for a long time, and while you have some guardrails thanks to the tireless effort by your creative directors, the working process with the clients is as it has been at any point in my career. This should give you total confidence when putting together your portfolio that the work you have done is legit and enough to get you a job. Speaking of getting a job, the career phase is a perfect ender to the program. It teaches you all the things you would never learn in a graduate program about the in's and out’s of the interview process. Everyone in my cohort that put all their effort and trust into the career phase process has come out with great jobs and on an exciting new path forward. I cannot recommend it enough, and I know Designation is only going to keep iterating and improving from here!
I had been a designer for a good while. I was working at a large reputable ad agency as an Art Director for 5 years but the work I was doing was of a very narrow skill set and it was extremely difficult to advance or find many job opportunities elsewhere that really got me excited to apply. Even changing companies would only have afforded me minimal additional money or career advancement opportunity. I had been wanting to make the transition to digital work for a long time but it was difficult to break into it without the prior experience. I met with a couple mentors who told me that is was going to take a lot of self-education or going back to school but one of them mentioned a short but intense program that he knew produced some really solid designers. It was called Designation. He told me that he had even hired a designer out of Designation and was very impressed with him. That was a huge endorsement and the rest is history.
Designation was a game changer for me. It actually sounds fake to talk about all the positive things that it did for me. I landed a contract gig doing freelance UX design immediately after finishing Designation. I went on to work at a reputable startup in Chicago, getting a lot of praise for my work there. About a year into my UX career, the recruiters started to call and message. I've had many people contact me asking if I'd like to hear about new opportunities. I haven't had to actually seek out jobs in almost 2 years. The jobs come to me. And I'm on the cusp of doubling my salary. DOUBLE.
Designation did many things for me and my career but it was also just a great experience to go through. I made some great friends that I still keep in touch with over 2 years later. The program itself was no joke. It was challenging and consumed my life for over 4 months but the knowledge and experience gained was worth far more than the program costs and the program is not cheap. I feel it was every bit as valuable as 2 years of grad school would've been but grad school wouldve cost multiple times the tuition of Designation.
I can't say enough good things about Designation. It did incredible things for me that I still can't believe and I'm way grateful for it!
I have to echo what has been said in multiple reviews of Designation—you will get out what you put in to the program, the time and money are worth it, and it is a life changing experience… but let’s back up to how I got here.
In 2017, I was unhappy with my career in administration and operations and was looking for a change. I knew that I wanted to work in a creative, project driven environment and started exploring ways to move into a design career. I explored a number of bootcamps, but ultimately chose Designation for three main reasons:
- The 8-week Design Essentials was relatively low cost and allowed me to dip my foot in the waters to see if this field was the right fit for me before I committed to the longer program. Also, since DE gave me the full spectrum of UX &UI work, I was able to better decide which track I wanted to pursue.
- The big differentiator is the Career Phase that is offered at Designation. It was important to me that I have the experience of seeing how a design team works together in a real-world environment and that I walk away with a portfolio that included more than spec work.
- The last piece that drew me to Designation was the people. Through design meetups around town, reaching out to people online, and my interview at Designation, I got a good look at the culture at Designation. The staff and alumni of Designation is truly a village–kind, supportive, constructive and responsive individuals that want to see all members of the community succeed and be their best selves.
With the decision made, I embarked on my journey at Designation in October 2017 with Design Essentials.
Pros: James is a great instructor and breaks down the process into easily digestible pieces. You will learn not only the “what” of UX/UI, but more importantly the “why.” You will also get introduced to design crit and feedback, which is extremely important to both growth as a designer and learning to become a great team member.
Cons: The time estimate for DE is 15-20 hours a week, but I easily spent 30-35 hours in DE. The work can be done in less time, but to get the most out of DE it really pays to do the extra reading and to start spending time getting to know the tools better.
Tips: (1) Don’t think you can wait until the weekend to get the work done. Work a little everyday–before or after work if you are still working. (2) If you have time before DE starts, take some online courses to get to know Sketch and the UX process. Lynda.com is great for this. (3) Make the effort to get to know your cohort. Online is awkward and everyone is new, but you will eventually be spending 70+ hours with these people. Take advantage of the slack channels that James sets up for you and do some Google Hangouts with your group.
After DE, I chose to take the UI track for the rest of the program. This is because I am more interested in visual and interactive design, and knew I wanted a job in that space rather than research, concept, information architecture or other more UX focused areas.
Virtual- UI Track
Pros: The UI track starts by building on the visual design principles (color, layout, hierarchy, etc.) that you learn in DE, progresses through learning the tools of the trade (Illustrator, Sketch, Photoshop), and then builds web and mobile UI practices on top of this foundation. Jancy is a great creative director in this phase. She strengthens your design feedback and crit skills having everyone participate in the feedback for each designer’s project deliverables.
Cons: The first couple of weeks can feel overwhelming–there are many deliverables during this time and the course materials are also heavy towards the beginning.
Tips: (1) Try to bond with others on your track, share tips you’ve learned with the tools and interact around the coursework throughout the week (2) Do the extra credit–you’ll thank yourself for learning those skills when you get to Immersion.
Immersion- UI Track
Pros: This is where you will feel like the training wheels have come off. Doug will challenge you start taking ownership of your design process and by the end of Immersion you will be amazed by how much you grow in a few short weeks. It is here, too, where you will polish up your presentation skills and learn how to communicate design to stakeholders. This will be invaluable in Client Phase.
Cons: Week one was a bit overwhelming with your first deliverables due at the end of week one. However, design is an iterative process and Designations curriculum is no exception and I understand that this is no longer the case.
Tips: (1) Actively solicit feedback from your cohort mates–from both tracks–you will learn so much. (2) You will have mentors and a Designer-in-Residence–they have been through the program, understand what you’re going through and are there to help.
Pros: So far you’ve built your skills as a designer using a linear design process, but client phase is where you meet the real world and it gets interesting. You’ll be jumping into a project for real clients, so expect some pivots and to start flexing your design skills. Megan and Dan, the creative directors for this phase, will push your team to continue taking more ownership as designers but are also there as a great support and sounding board.
Cons: It is hard to judge what kind of work will come in the door for each cohort, but ideally it would be useful for each designer to have a mobile and a web project.
Tips: (1) You should know your team members pretty well by now, leverage each other’s strengths. (2) Build a good relationship with your clients, you may want to use them for recommendations in the future.
Pros: Designation has had over 500 grads, and Mike uses the feedback he gets from alums to build a great career phase that gives you the blueprint you need to build your portfolio and find a job.
Cons: I wish there was more of an emphasis on practice interviewing with creative leads in the industry.
Tips: (1) Try to get all of your writing finished for your first case study before graduation. Building your portfolio site is fun, but you won’t really know what you want or need until your case study is written. (2) Take advantage of the time Mike offers all graduates for the 4 weeks after graduation.
You get out what you put in–do the extra reading and projects, make connections with your cohort, creative directors, alumni, and guest lecturers, and give 110% every day. You will leave Designation will the skills, portfolio, and confidence to launch a new career in design. It truly is life changing.
Designation is a life changer….if you want it to be. The program itself provides you with the necessary resources, knowledge, and integration that will help you become a successful designer. Here are some pros, insights, and tips.
1. The Designation staff is excellent. They’re super knowledgeable and they know what they’re talking about. They’re really supportive and are willing to help you out every step of the way. You're never gonna feel like you're in this alone. Besides the great staff, you have your own team members for support as well.
2. What's great about Designation is the opportunity for real client experience. That is one of the main reasons I chose this program over GA and others. You’re able to work for and interact with 2 clients during your time with the program. This definitely helps you stand out once the program finishes and you start looking for a job.
3. Designation does an amazing job of fostering a great positive community within the Designation and the Chicago design community. It’s awesome to see Designation alumni come back to the program as either guest speakers or DIR’s (Designer-in-Residence) to help out. Towards the end of the program, you’ll even go on company/agency tours in Chicago. When I was there, we got to go on a tour at Allstate and meet some of the designers that are currently working there. It’s cool to see how well Designation is connected with not just companies and agencies in Chicago, but all around the world.
4. Designation provides career assistance through their Career Phase. They even give you some assistance after you graduate from the program as well. I do wish the program added a couple more weeks into the Career Phase, it felt a little rushed. With the extra weeks, I would hope to gain more in-depth knowledge on how interviews/design challenge/networking work specifically for designers. Just being around Designation staff and cohort members can make such a huge difference when it comes to support and staying motivated, especially because there’s still a lot of work to do even after graduating.
TIPS AND ADVICE
1. I would like to remind people that this is a “bootcamp” program, meaning you will eat, drink, and sleep design for the next 6 months. They don’t call it a bootcamp for nothing. There will be a lot of early mornings and late nights put into your work. You’ll spend 6-7 days out of the week working with your team in order to get work done for your project and client. Yes, that means Saturday and Sunday. It is a very intensive program that is built to help you learn a lot of stuff in order to best prepare you to be a great designer. Basically, people should join this program expecting to be working 24/7. I don’t want to scare anyone away from the program, I just don’t want people joining this program w/ the wrong expectation and giving themselves a bad experience. But at the end of the day, every early morning, late night, and Saturdays I spent for Designation, IT WAS WORTH IT.
2. As you can tell from almost every review that you read on here, it’s important to know that “you get what you put in,” no matter how cliche it sounds. It can be very easy to join this program and really leave without feeling like you actually learned something. Be interactive and curious, and really try to soak in as much as you can. Ask questions, ALWAYS find ways for improvement.
3. No matter how old you are or how long you’ve been working in whatever industry you were working in…please come into the program with a “student” mindset. Drop your egos and be humble. Learn to grow with other “soon-to-be-designers” from other walks of life and help each other out. This program isn’t a competition to see who is the best designer. Thankfully Designation doesn’t have that kind of vibe, nor does it encourage it. Again, it builds a great positive community where you will probably call your cohort “a family” and stay connected with them even after the program ends.
Designation has helped me to finally be in a career where I can be passionate about my work as a creative. I was able to build confidence that I’ve never had before in my previous work experience and take great pride and ownership of my skills and works. I can honestly say I'm finally in a career field that I know will make me happy and put me in a position to always CREATE.
If you have any questions about the program, please feel free to reach out!
I won't lie and say this program was fun the entire time. I struggled through it. Some days, it felt really overwhelming. I was pushed beyond my comfort zone, I lost sleep and sometimes it felt like I failed pretty hard but ultimately, I learned a ton about myself, my skills and what I actually wanted out of a career. I made great friends, I acquired years worth of knowledge in a short time and I can actually see my new skills in action with every new job/project I take on. I felt the curriculum itself needed a bit more fine-tuning, and I hear it continues to be updated, which is great!! Its probably already better now than when I went through the program. Don't get me wrong though, I felt I learned SO much and I wouldn't trade this experience. The knowledge they share is robust and ahead of the curve. I loved the staff at Designation. Everyone has their own style of teaching and leading. Working with different staff members was an added bonus for prepping to be a designer in the real world. I also loved the client work that makes up part of this program. I personally feel this is what separates Designation from other design bootcamps. Working with real clients allowed me to talk about my actual design experience in job interviews versus just fictional projects. I also was lucky to be able to continue to work with one of the clients beyond the program, giving me even more experience than I could've hoped for. If you're thinking about attending Designation, I can tell you from my experience, it was worth it! I'm on the verge of starting my first design focused job and I can't wait to see where my career goes from here.
It was the end of 2016 and I had been looking for a job for close to a year with no luck. The jobs I was looking at during that time were not very desirable. I was not in a good place, but one day I stumbled upon a post about bootcamps as a way to jumpstart a new career. A year after graduating I'm now employed as a UX Designer and couldn't be happier. Designation is a great place to change your career if you are willing to put in the work.
In my case, I had no design experience coming into the program and really appreciated how they started slow and introduced new concepts and ideas before ramping up the difficulty later on.
The Client phase gets you exposure to what working for clients is like. I loved that I got to work with actual clients and get some really solid projects for my portfolio. This is something that most bootcamps are missing.
The Career phase is another thing unique to Designation. You learn how to write case studies, resumes, cover letters and portfolios to help you land a job after the program.
Designation's staff is full of the most hardworking and dedicated people I've ever met. They really care about the program and providing the best experience for people wanting to learn UX/UI.
Despite how thorough career phase is, there is a lack of focus on interviews. I would have loved a couple mock interviews or design challenges.
I would have liked for interaction between the UX and UI side of the program. For the most part, you don't work with the UI side if you are UX very much. Working alongside a UI designer would have been a great experience.
Things to consider before you decide
During the in-person phase of the program, I was putting in 70-80 hour weeks on projects. If you are not willing to put in the work you won't get a lot out of the program.
The program is also quite a bit longer than most. You have to commit to 6 months to complete the program. It is worth it, but you might want to look elsewhere if you want a quicker program.
From the amazing friendships I've made to the great job I have now it is safe to say attending Designation was the best decision, I've ever made. It was a lot of work, but worth every late night and early morning to get where I am now. If you are serious about starting a new career in UX and are willing to put in the work Designation is the best program out there for you.
In short Designation teaches you a process that gives you confidence in tackling the unknown. I came from an engineering background and was used to building things, and working through problems. The skills that I picked up during my enrollment in Designation have made how I build things, and how I solve problems more purposeful. To be more specific Designation explicitly taught me the process of how to create mobile and web applications, but they also teach you how that process can be applied successfully to nearly everything. Since then I've used the same process to confidently do anything from leading the art direction and writing the script for marketing videos, to developing key performance indicators that will monitor the health of a mobile application through a beta launch (both completely new experiences for me).
The programs immersive nature gives you opportunity to apply what you're learning in real time, with real people, and real problems - which is an invaluable. Now that I'm graduated, I find myself the member of an active Designation community, who continually help each other, whether it be through asking and answering questions, or provide leads and connections to new opportunities. It's really a wonderful community to be apart of.
If you are looking for a program to help you break into the UX/UI world, you cannot go wrong with Designation.
After working as a content writer in Chicago for a few years and hearing from my department's UX team that Designation was the way to go to learn UX, I decided to give it a try. Designation is broken into different phases, beginning with Design Essentials, a 6 week virtual introduction to UX and UI. The idea is that you pay a deposit for DE, take the course online (15-20 hours/week), then talk with your TA about whether the rest of Designation (which spans almost 6 months) is the right fit for you.
A few things to keep in mind: PLEASE do not take Designation Essentials UNLESS you are working <40 hours/week at your current job or your job is truly just so boring/easy that you can lock yourself in a conference room for hours during the day to complete your assignments. Further, you'll need a Macbook, access to a few softwares, and a lot of flexibility to get through these 6 weeks. I love user experience design, had been working with a UX team, was familiar with some of the concepts and work - and yet, it still took me FULL DAYS most weekends to complete the assignments, which build on one another, so if you mess up early on, you're playing catchup for the duration of your time in DE. Assignments are due multiple times a week, so if you work 9-5 and can't pull out your Macbook to very obviously work on design homework, you're probably SOL and won't be able to submit assignments on time. (I am a person who is always 3 days ahead of a deadline for anything, and yet, I was always behind at Designation.)
The good news: you will learn a TON in six weeks, including but not limited to doing user research, conducting a competitive analysis, creating wireframes, loading early hand-drawn prototypes into various prototyping tools (InVision, Marvel), creating style tiles (basically branding your app), plus more. Most of this is learned through hours and hours and HOURS of online videos from across the web, from real designers and researchers as well as YouTube designers.
I know what you're thinking, "but is this worth the money?" Yes. "Couldn't I just find all of that stuff on my own and teach myself?" No. Because when you're looking to jump into a new career, you don't have time to find all of this content, let ALONE learn it. I never had time during my 6 weeks to read every article or watch every video, but I have access to them all even after leaving the program. Your TAs and staff at Designation are truly passionate about helping people launch a career in ux/ui design, which means they answer Slacks and emails quickly and with flexibility.
I loved this program, and even though I ultimately determined the full 6 month course wasn't right for me at the time (I had just started a new job), I fully encourage people to sign up for Designation's DE and just give it a try. I am not a rich person, and yes it was an investment, but it felt like it was worth the money. I have never before taken an online class that didn't just feel like a joke. Designation is no joke.
2017, one year into my life as a Junior Architectural Designer, I was feeling extremely unsatisfied with the work I was doing. I felt as if I wasn’t making an impact on peoples lives and the work I was doing did not quench the itch I had to design conceptually, create, and problem solve. I had been mulling over transitioning out of Architecture for some time at this point, and after months of research plus some intro courses at a few boot camps, I made the pivot of a lifetime and couldn't be happier with where I am now. I owe an enormous debt to Designation, and could not have changed my life without them.
Why I Chose Designation
I discovered Designation through months of research and even took some intro courses at different programs to really test the waters before making a decision. Ultimately, the genuinely immersive program length and Designation's unique Client Phase—no other program pushed designers to work with real clients/startups— were key deciding factors that prompted me to take the leap. My potential program also needed to have a true studio culture and the energy and melting pot of knowledge that comes it. I believed that Designation was one of the few programs where I would find this, and needless to say, I was not disappointed!
The Staff: The staff at Designation is unbeatable. Passionate, caring, un-imaginably talented and hard-working, the leadership consistently worked to build the next generation of great designers. Throughout the entire program, there was a keen sense of care for each cohort member. Each teacher pushed us as a team and individual to be better than the day before.
Client Phase: By far the most significant differentiator compared to other boot camps. The experience gained by working with real startups, stakeholders and investors not only showed me the true power of design but helped prepared me for the professional world of UX/UI Design. Client Phase gave me a huge competitive edge during my interviews, and no amount of academic work can replicate the constraints, pivots, and hurdles of real-world projects—which become fantastic talking points during interviews!
Career Phase: This phase was the culmination of the entire program, and Mike Joosse—president of Designation—runs Career Phase at a level that pushes everyone to do better and be better. An incredible career coach and mentor, he works one on one with each cohort member to craft resumes, case studies, elevator pitches and portfolios that ultimately set you up for the highest amount of success. Mike cares about each and every designer that comes through Designation, and I couldn't speak more highly of him and the way he has structured Career Phase.
Network: Ever buzzing with the latest design news, job opportunities, and helpful hints and smiles, Designation's postgraduate network is always readily available to assist in any capacity. While not the only key to success, Designation's Alumni are a force to be reconned with and provide new grads with a great foundation that makes networking and job hunting that much less daunting.
Not enough focus on the interview process: While Career Phase and Mike do an incredible job of pushing designers to develop industry ready portfolios and case studies in a short period of time, there's a noticeable lack of interview prep. I was often blindsided by interview requirements such as whiteboard challenges and take home design challenges. There's so much focus on the portfolio, and just not enough on mock interviews and interview best practices and technique.
Not a high enough barrier to entry: While Design Essentials and the application interviews with staff are excellent filters, inevitably, your cohort might have a few people just not cut out for the design industry. Be it their inability to work with other people, attitude or lack of good design talent, there was someone who the entire cohort dreaded working with. I understand Designation is a business at the end of the day, but I wish there were a more extensive filter at the beginning of the program to ensure that people who see design an "easy way out" (to money or happiness) don't make it through.
At the end of the day, Designation was an incredible part of my life. The staff, my cohort, and the environment helped me grow as a designer and as a person, and there is no better way to transition into the UX/UI world. I learned an unbelievable amount and formed relationships to last a lifetime. I would recommend the program to anyone!
Designation was absolutely crucial to me getting my foot in the door. After the program, I got 4 interviews out of ~20 applications and my first offer as a UI/UX designer about 2 months out. It's a very thorough program that is focused on developing one's design process and gaining hands-on experience working with clients. It never felt like I was being pushed to just make artifacts for the sake of making pretty things to show in a portfolio. Every deliverable I made added to my portfolio's narrative and demonstrated my own design process. The 24 weeks was worth it in helping me create a design portfolio from scratch and having the language necessary for UI/UX job interviews
During the on-site experience, especially the really tough immersion project, it was a 70 hour work week with a few all-nighters. All the instructors were great at being guard rails against failure, but they often felt hands-off unless asked to. During the client projects, my team was given a lot of freedom to dictate the flow of the project. I think that was the most important aspect I talked about in my interviews: not so much about any particular design concept, but about working with clients, facilitating discussions, managing expectations, and developing your design process. The client projects ended up being the real meat of the experience, and they gave me enough confidence to do freelance projects apart from the program.
Designation has ups and downs. Their network is mostly in Chicago. I was looking for a position on the east coast, so it felt more difficult for me to access that network once I was out of the program. For me personally, the job assistance felt rather lacking. Also, one thing that helped me get my offer was doing a personal project outside of the program. This was necessary to demonstrate my passion for design beyond the program. Designation currently does not officially offer any assistance in helping designers find valuable side-projects, but once I had one, my mentors were very supportive. So yeah, expect long hours, a kinda lackluster job assistance experience if you're looking outside of Chicago, and the possible need to take personal initiative to do a side-project in addition to the main program.
As an indicator of my satisfaction with my experience, since the couple months I've been out, I have felt comfortable enough to mentor a new designer in doing a side-project and developing their own portfolio.
Overall, I would definitely recommend Designation to friends as a great place to get your foot in the door for design and meet and work with wonderful people. They do a damn fine job if you're able to handle a 70 hour/week workload and be okay with not having everything handed to you. My only real suggestion for the program would be to work on developing a network outside of Chicago.
Overview. Like all things you do in life, Designation is what you make it of it. If you put in the work and use the resources provided, this program can change your life. It is intense, challenging, and satisfying. I came out of this program a different professional person and a more reflective human. I loved my time in the program, most of the people I met, and everyone that works at Designation.
* In-depth curriculum and working knowledge of design prepares you for application in a job setting
* Well versed and supportive staff members that really care about designers success
* Client projects that give you real portfolio pieces
* Work-like style of in-person phase
If you are serious about making a career change and are ready to work your ass off and embrace loving it, then Designation IS for you. You will lose most of your social life, but if you care about design, you’ll likely fall in love with working as hard as you do during your time here and it can be a valuable experience. I couldn’t be happier with my choice to attend. I was able to change careers, grow as a human being, and made a lot of life-long friends in the process.
Choosing a Program. I choose Designation because as a career switcher if I was going to make the jump I wanted to do it at 150%. Designation is the longest and most specialized I looked at and gave real client experience in a small community setting. I couldn’t be happier with my choice to attend and feel confident in my decision.
Overall Curriculum. Designation is 24 weeks long, a mix of virtual and in-person, which I thought was beneficial to learning and then focusing on applying skills. They have great curriculum online if you take the time to read it. The in-time focuses on applying your skills and soft-skill development where you will work closely in teams and with real clients. You end the program with an in-depth career phase to help you set yourself up for success. They are constantly improving and looking for feedback on how things can be better, which I found to be a strength of the program.
UX vs. UI. You have to choose UX or UI after 6 weeks, which I had a very hard time with. I felt pressure to choose UX based on the advertising and curriculum but ended up choosing UI. A lot of people told me I would be better served to do UX, but I actually don’t think this is true now for where I came from and what I want to do. UI forced me to learn in a completely different way and really pushed me out of my comfort zone to learn something (visual design) that I think would have been much harder to do on my own. I knew that I wanted to do Product Design, which has elements of both UX and UI. My background was all in research and jobs that required critical thinking, so I felt more comfortable with the UX, which is why I choose UI. I think visual design is harder to learn, or it was for me personally, and I feel confident it would have been harder for me to get the job I did having chosen UX.
Also, due to the way in which the design process works, if you do UI, you are inherently involved with some UX changes in all of your projects, which allows you to have a little bit of both UX/UI in your portfolio. I feel as though I got a little more experience on both sides of UX and UI due to this.
Time Commitment. The in-person phase is very intense. They say 10-12 hours a day, but I put in closer to 15-18. I believe this allowed me to make a real change and improve in the way that I personally needed to as a designer. I don’t necessarily advise other people to do this, but I moved from another city for the program so I didn’t have any other asks on my time. I will say that I think it paid off afterward and showed me that if you can work that hard towards something, be exhausted, but still be happy to get up the next morning, then you’ve probably made the right choice. You can do anything for 12 weeks, but if this type of intensity (at least 10 hours a day), then I might look elsewhere.
People. As a growing startup, they cannot be as selective in who they let in. They work to help people of ALL backgrounds move into design, which is a strength, but with this can come people with differing levels of commitment and work ethic. You may have people in your cohort who are difficult to work with or simply burn out, and to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact your work, you may have to carry their weight. I was also lucky enough to work with some incredibly hard working people too and made a lot of life-long friends. It goes both ways.
Networking. Take advantage of the networking. I moved back to SF and thankfully had a large network here, which helped me immensely in my job search. Utilize the network you gain access to during the program as well as the guest speakers, and if you are moving elsewhere, start reaching out to people in those cities during the program.
Getting a job. It took me 3 months to get a job, while I continued to work at Designation as a DIR. That is another thing that Designation doesn’t really hype up, but if you work hard and are a good communicator/collaborator, there is a chance you’ll be asked to stay on for 3 months in a paid position. It was a good fit for me, as a previous teacher, and I really enjoyed giving back to the program, learning more about UX/UI, and working with all of the staff for three months. It also gave me a nice window to work on my portfolio without stress. I think this is another huge advantage for Designation. I interviewed at three companies before landing my job and felt very prepared from all of my time at Designation. I will say that I was rejected without interview from probably another 10 or so jobs, so that is why the networking is so important—it helps get someone to actually look at your resume and consider you.
My Background: Prior to Designation I worked as a Project Manager in a completely non-related field to design, which is to say that I'm a career switcher and I was quite hesitant to do so in the beginning since I had to quit my job and take a leap of faith.
The Program: The structure of the bootcamp is setup so that you’re initially exposed to the entire process of designing a digital product to get a sense of what UX and UI (separately). You're expected to pick either one to move forward in the curriculum after the introductory virtual course.
I personally struggled with the decision between UX or UI and would've liked to be a multidisciplinary designer (or maybe a major and minor kinda thing) but chose to move forward with UX since it was a better fit for my background and knew my odds of getting a job as a UX Designer would be better. Also, as you proceed in the program, there isn't any exchange of knowledge between UX and UI folks and it's something that I personally would've liked.
Looking back at the entire experience, I think it helps if you know what kind of work environment and prospects you're seeking i.e. small vs. big (company), startup vs. enterprise, hybrid vs. specialized (role). I would say talk to as many people in the field as you can to figure out what works best for you.
The one aspect that I can't stress enough about is the importance of networking! Designation does a good job of bringing in guest speakers from the industry (some of whom are former Designation grads) to share their experience but the onus is on the individuals to go to meetup events and industry events outside of the curriculum. It definitely helps knowing designers in the field once you've completed the program and are looking for jobs. Designation also has a strong alumni network and quite a few people that I've spoken with have gotten jobs because they were referred to by other grads of the bootcamp. (speaks to the strength of the program)
The in-person phase of the program was definitely the most challenging since most of us aren't used to working 10-12 hours a day but I got accustomed to it after the first week and it was definitely the best part of the program. You get a chance to work directly with entrepreneurs and you’ll be presenting your work in weekly Sprints; I definitely got a lot better at presentations and public speaking through these. Designation does a good job of vetting the clients but they were a couple instances where the clients either weren’t as serious about their project and it was a slight bummer since all the designers wanted feedback from their clients to move the project forward.
Most of the people in the program that get to the in-person phase are absolutely committed to the cause, however there are some who slip through the cracks that just want to do the bare minimum and it's ultimately up to you to either drive the process or bring it to your creative lead's attention for the sake of the project.
The most challenging part of the curriculum for me was the career phase. You're expected to finish a lot of work in a very constrained time frame and I know that none of the people from my cohort were able to get most of the work done within this timeframe. You do have access to Mike who’s a valuable resource in not only providing you with feedback about your portfolio and resume but will also help you navigate the job market by putting you in touch with the right people!
It took me roughly 6 months to get a job after the program and it was quite challenging to get interviews in the first few months after the program. Even though the program says that it takes 3-6 months on average to get your first job, be prepared for the worst case scenario. I feel like it is a combination of a lot of factors that leads to anyone eventually getting an offer; I know some designers from my cohort that got a job a month after and some that still don’t have anything solid. Try to take on freelancing and contracting gigs in the meantime since this will be your ammunition when you go into interviews. In my experience a lot of employers/recruiters want to hear about what you’ve been doing after the program.
In the end, I will say that Designation is a solid program and I was able to switch careers to do something I find challenging and fun! Be real with yourself and assess your strengths and weaknesses before the program...just going through the program is not going to magically present you with a job. Be prepared to say goodbye to your social life for the duration of the program since you’ll be putting in 10-12 hours of work daily. Everyone in the faculty will absolutely help you get to the point where you have the best shot at becoming a designer and finding a job and you will also make some really great friends along the way!
One year ago, I was feeling super unmotivated and defeated at my current position at a family business. It had been two years since finishing undergrad with a degree in Psychology, and I knew I was meant for more. I didn’t think it was possible to find a career that would align my passions for psychology, art, and helping people until a friend encouraged me to look into UX/UI. I did as much research as I could on UX/UI as well as numerous programs, and it was clear that Designation was the best choice because of everything it offered.
A year ago, I had no idea what UX/UI even was. Now, I’m a UI Visual Designer at a great company, and I’m confident I could not have reached this point without Designation and the people I met along the way.
Why I Chose Designation
I believed Designation was the right choice for me after doing extensive research on other UX/UI programs and weighing out what they offered. What drew me to Designation was the immersion and client phases it offered to gain real-life design experience with real clients and collaborating with others. What also helped me choose Designation was the loan programs they offered through Climb Credit, which made it an easy to apply and take out a loan.
For the first 3 months during the virtual phase, I was able to juggle a full-time job with the design workload I had because of the flexibility of working for a family business. Design Essentials and the Virtual phase really set up and prepare you for what to expect in the Immersion phase. Instructors will teach the basics of how to use design tools, but it is really up to you to self-teach and master them.
The Immersion phase consists of a mock project and two client projects with small groups, which require a LOT of work. You will learn your own design process while honing both soft and hard skills. No, it’s not easy, but it is so worth it. The creative directors, designers-in-residence (DIR), instructors, speakers, and cohort mates truly make it one of the best and unique experiences you will ever have. They are some of the best people I’ve ever met!
Career Phase/Post Graduation
During this phase, you will work with Mike Joose, who is the president of Designation and also handles the career phase. He will help you write and edit resumes, Linkedin profiles, case studies, cover letters, portfolios, etc., but most importantly, he will help connect you with clients and companies if you continue to stay in contact with him and show effort in the job searching process. He helped me get a short contract position right after graduating and continued to send my portfolio and contact information over to companies and recruiters until I found the best job match. He is the best resource you will have coming out of Designation.
Designation was one of the most rewarding, fun, and best learning experiences I’ve ever had. There is truly no other program like it, and that is why it draws people in from all over the world. You learn to work harder than you ever have before and meet the best people along the way. If you want to get into the UX/UI field, I highly recommend it!
Long story short: If I can change careers, you can too. Designation is worth it, and you get what you put into it. It was easily the best career move I've ever made, hands-down.
I won't go into crazy detail about the curriculum, but I can touch on my personal experience and why I chose Designation. I was in logistics sales for 2.5 years, not crazy about it, and wanted to do something more creative. Obviously, I didn't have the skillset to make it in design, so I did my research and found that Designation was highly-recommended by family and friends in the industry.
Holy cow, was it a lot of work but 150% worth it. The early phases worked with my work schedule. These virtual phases were excellent for grasping the broader concepts of UX, and the instructors were incredible. They taught me that all feedback is useful, and the in's and out's of the design process.
For me, the best part of Designation was the in-person phases. Meeting the creative individuals I had only known virtually was a lot of fun, and everyone was extremely passionate. Collaborating with these different designers was really fun, and really drove me to think outside the box. This was also where I got the most hands-on experience with my technical skills, which I drastically lacked. We worked with real clients, designing real products, and I built out a solid portfolio. Yeah, late nights and some weekends, but so what? I was completely changing the direction of my professional career in less than 6 months!
The final phase preps you for the job-hunt, and what to expect when looking for jobs in design. This was also extremely useful for someone like me who had to explain why I changed careers, and why that company should hire someone with only a bootcamp under their belt. Fortunately for me now, I have a substantial amount of technical skills and professional experience, all thanks to my time in Designation.
All in all, I went from a Joe Schmo who could only operate Microsoft Paint, and now I have a job as a visual designer at a major pharmacy company. The time, effort, and enthusiasm I put into Designation definitely paid off.
When I first heard about Designation, I was a mechanical engineer without a background in design. I wasn’t sure if I had the skill or creativity to be successful in UX design, but once I decided to switch careers and pursue a career in technology and design, I knew Designation was the best option for me. They provide the most education for their price (24 weeks is a long time!) and offer real client experience, which is crucial when getting your first UX/UI design job.
I used their 6-week prerequisite course, Design Essentials, as a litmus test to determine whether I’d actually enjoy the Designation and UX design. I fell in love with the process during this phase, and I was excited to go through the rest of the program.
After completing Designation, I spent about a month working on my portfolio. I was hired as a short-term contractor about 1.5 months after graduation. Two months later, I started my full-time role as a UX designer for another company.
What I liked about Designation:
The staff are incredible and do as much as they can to help designers succeed. They truly believe in educating the next generation of effective, workplace-ready professionals. They not only teach us how to iterate, but also look for improvements in their own curriculum. This willingness to change and try new ideas helps this program stay ahead of its competitors.
Perhaps the biggest stigma against bootcamp graduates is that they only have academic projects that don’t reflect working experience. Designation directly combats this stigma with not only one, but TWO client projects. I regularly discussed these projects with prospective employers, who were generally glad to know I’d worked with real businesses.
A lot of interview questions ask you about your working style and any problems you’ve overcome working in groups. Each Designation cohort is fairly small (mine was 16 people), so there’s a lot of room for collaboration. With each project, I learned to effectively work with others, and I learned a lot about my own working style as well. This program cultivates an environment that’ll develop your soft skills, yet another factor that prepares you for a great career in design.
Designation ends with two weeks of career material. Mike, the President and career counselor of Designation, walks you through everything you need to know about the UX/UI design job hunt. He often reiterates that it’s not enough to be good at design—you also need to be good at selling it. He’s the greatest career resource, and with his help, I created a portfolio that received a lot of positive feedback throughout my job hunt. He also keeps Designation graduates accountable until they find a job. You won’t find career support like this anywhere else.
At the end of the day, you get out of this program what you put in. The staff at Designation make sure all their designers understand that. As you can guess from other reviews, the program is tough, but if you work hard and check your ego at the door, you’ll find it incredibly rewarding as well
There are plenty of reviews here that go into detail about the Designation curriculum and experience, so I don't want to go too deeply into those topics. What you're signing up for is an opportunity for a new, kickass career and a set of tools.
Designation will provide you with all the learning resources you need to get started as a designer, an incredibly knowledgeable and friendly community, and a chance to apply what you learn in a safe environment (it's seriously hard to screw up and you might need to do some self examination on whether this is the thing for you if you do). What you get out of it is ultimately up to you.
The only drawback was the lack of repetition on using certain programs like Axure, which is more related to the nature of tight timeframes in a bootcamp.
The most valuable part of Designation is the client phase projects where you get to work with real clients (which is critical for creating a portfolio that stands out. Make sure you take thorough notes during the client phase for your portfolio case studies. This will save you time and help you as you begin preparing for the job hunting process.) and the career phase where you get to work with Mike, who is an incredibly helpful individual. That man will fight for you.
For me, Designation was hands down one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. It widened my perspective on things that go way beyond just UX and design. I made life long friendships, leveled up professionally, and was able to better envision what it is I need to do to become a strong designer.
What that means is I was exposed to a variety of scenarios and able to closely collaborate with all sorts of people in a short amount of time, which allowed me to fully understand and confirm my own professional strengths and weaknesses. That in turn was key to presenting and branding myself to companies as I job hunted.
Many people are nervous about that job hunting portion but if you understand what you're good at and not so good at, it saves a lot of headache in terms of your optimizing your strategy and maximizing your chances of getting the right job for yourself. Mike Joosee will help you a lot with this in the career phase.
So my biggest piece of advice to get the full value out of Designation is:
1. Decide why you want to join a UX bootcamp
2. Familiarize yourself with the curriculum and what they are presenting to you
3. Create clear objectives for what you want to get out of each phase
4. Work HARD
5. Take advantage of all the networking opportunities and get to know your fellow designers as the cool people they are
Bottom line: Take an active approach. Do not be passive. You're here to make a career transition into a profession that you actually like. Use Designation as a practice round and confidence builder.
From self-taught designer to UX design career with Designation. With passion, a lot of hard work and genuine curiosity; designation can help you transition too.
Since I have a non-traditional education path I want to preface this review for others who may have a similar path.
Growing up I self-learned design tools and always had a passion for solving problems. As I started pursuing a BA in Graphic Design I realized it wasn’t what I was searching for. I soon dropped out and working as a Production Designer. Four years later I discovered a place for my passions with UX and debated on how to pursue a career. I looked at HCI programs, CS programs, and bootcamps. After a long debate, speaking to some grads and visiting both Designation and another bootcamp program I decide to go with Designation and I can now say am happy I did.
Is a bootcamp program right for you?
Coming from a non-traditional education path this was my biggest question before starting Designation. The short answer is: if you are dedicated, passionate, and have a genuine curiosity for design and UX this program can get you to where you need to be to land a job. With that said, before I started Designation I tried to teach myself UX as must as I could, read a few books, went to a workshop, listened to podcasts and I would suggest you do the same. As Designation is a big commitment in many ways(financial, time, life), this insures you are passionate about the industry before diving in. A career isn’t handed to you at the end of the program, this program is tough. It takes commitment and you will have to put in long days and drop your social and personal life for months. You get what you put into Designation and this program isn't for everyone.
As some of the reviews may mention the barrier entry can be seen as low, I believe this is due in part to the fact that if a student has a true passion for UX and design they will succeed. Sometimes that passion is hard to see externally, but if you have the passion, don’t be scared to take it to the next level with Designation.
Program Structure and curriculum
One of the factors that caused me to chose Designation was the length of the program. As it is longer than most other bootcamps added to the fact that UX and UI are split, allows you to cover more content and repeat the process enough times that you can start to form your own views and toolkit. Having phases online before the in-person portion of the program begins allows you to do the bulk of the learning of processes and deliverables before diving in. This allows you to take full advantage of the valuable three months in person applying the design process over and over. This is what I think was most valuable to me at Designation as by the time we reached client phase of the program not only does it teach you how to interface with real stakeholders and refine your soft skills but client phases also gave you and your team the autonomy to make your own decisions about the best processes and deliverables to address the business problems. During this time in person you also learn many soft skills crucial to being a successful designer. From presenting and telling compelling stories to employing empathy towards your team, client and of course the user.
Job placement and career readiness
In career phase of the program, you are assisted in creating all your career materials such as resume, portfolio, cover letters, and more. Here you also learn tips on finding a job and different types of companies and roles. Some have an easier time than others finding a job, as it can all come down to time and place. For me it took about 5 months, during this time I was refining my portfolio, keeping my mind sharp by learning every day, going to events and meeting with people for coffee. You will most likely need to network, meet people, get referrals. Reach out to other designers, people you saw present at Designation, alum, take advantage of programs like AIGA’s mentorship program(how I made my connection to my job) and just meet people. The design community is welcoming and most people are happy to help as many helped them too. Due to when my cohort finished the program, towards the end of the year, the beginning of my search was a little slow but as soon as one interview came 3 more followed soon after and I was soon employed as a UX Designer.
In my current role, I feel confident and capable to handle the projects I have been given. As the field is large and every job is different it's no surprise that Designation can't teach you everything you will ever need in your career. But that is also the beauty of the industry, stuff keeps changing and we keep learning. What Designation does give you are the fundamentals to be successful in the industry.
Staff and cohort members
All the staff at Designation are awesome. Everyone is super approachable and willing to help. If you show effort they will show you respect. The creative directors especially in the client phase they are awesome resources to bounce ideas off of and truly feel part of the team.
Your cohort will become like your family for a few months. But also being stuck around with people 10 hrs a day tension can also build and everyone might not get along, you learn to work through these situations too. At the end of the day a room full of like-minded individuals all taking the same leap as you, you will grow close with some. I can truly say I made a few lifelong friends.
Feel free to contact me if you would like to chat with an Alum or have a similar background and want to learn more about my experience!
Designation is a highly intense program that's not for those looking for a easy career transition. However, as many reviews on here have already stated...you get out of it as much as you put into it, and it will absolutely get you results if you put in the work and push yourself.
The curriculum is broken out into three sections of varying length, with the first two sections being through a virtual classroom and class session held through video chat. The third section is four months, working roughly 70+ hours a week onsite at Designation's location in Chicago; the last two weeks dedicated to preparing your portfolio. After the first section (which exposes you to both UI + UX), you are required to chose either the UX or UI path, and then spend the rest of the program specializing in your path.
The general experience is an extremely hands-on curriculum; it's all project based learning (with supplemental readings during the first two phases) so this is great news if you're a tactile learner (as I am). The instructors and online curriculum also provide alot of additional supplemental material if you are interested in exploring a certain topic more on your own. Do be warned that due to it's project-based structure, the entirety of the last two phases require that you work extremely close with a team of two-four people over several weeks. So if you're not a people-person, be prepared to either stretch that muscle or consider other bootcamp options. That being said, I made some very close friends during the program + my cohort lot's of good times together; so again, the experience is all that you make it :)
I did a ton of research on the pros and cons of different tech bootcamp and graduate school options before chosing Designation, so I'm pretty confident when I say that Designation was definitely the right choice. The top things that make Designation stand apart from other tech bootcamps, would be the 1) personalization, 2) client work, and 3) career assistance.
Personalization - by this I mean the amount of personal attention that you get during the program. The cohort class sizes are really small (there were 10 UX'ers and 8 UI'ers in my cohort) by the time you get to the in-person phase, which means a lot of one-on-one check-ins with instructors and feedback on how you can improve. This is also extremely helpful during the career phase when you get your case studies, resume, and entire portfolio reviewed (more than once) with feedback.
Client work - I believe that a few other bootcamps also use project based learning as a curriculum method, but I'm pretty sure that none have projects that involve working on products for real clients. During the in-person, on-site phase you work with start-ups or businesses to further develop their products. This is an invaluable experience that allows you get experience working with clients (adding them to the equation changes things more than you would realize), have tangible "real-world" products in your portfolio, and network with professionals.
Career assistance - the best part about Designation is hands down the career assistance and almuni network after you graduate. The career portion is also the most intense part of the program (you'll be building out your entire portfolio in two weeks), but also the most rewarding as you walk out of Designation ready to start applying for jobs. On top of being coached on how to build a portfolio, write your case studies, design a resume, and navigate the job hunting process in general, you also get continual support up until the moment you get your first job. Job hunting is intense, but Mike Joose (amazing resource and support system) and the Designation network give you countless resources.
One thing that I think the program could improve, would be to encourage better exposure to areas of tech + design that aren't in your chosen focus - i.e exposure to some basic UI skills for UX designers or UX skills for UI designers, and a general exposure to some coding basics for both. Since tech teams in the professional world blend together a lot of different team members with different role types, I think that it would have been useful to get a little bit of exposure/context to other roles outside of my UX discipline. However, this is easily supplemented if your motivated enough to ask for the right resources + put in some of your own time.
Generally, the experience I gained through the program translated seamlessly when I started working in a professional design environment - I felt very prepared to handle a role as the primary designer on projects when I started work at a professional design agency.
Overall, Designation was one of the most intense and rewarding programs that I've ever experience. I left it with a completely new set of skills, a new career, and a few incredible new friends. This program is highly intense, but absolutely worth it at the end. You'll be pleasantly surprised and amazed at how far you've come :)
My personal experience at Designation was very intense. I always made it a point to stay later than everyone else during weekdays and took half of Sunday to practice coding. I took advantage of the instructors, my peers and the general Chicago design community to improve my craft as much as possible. As a result, I had a lot of success coming out of the program. I had a strong portfolio that was picked up by a few online galleries and forums, where my eventual first employer reached out to me and made me an offer.
You can coast through the program doing only what is required. But the reality is that there are enough bootcamp grads out there competing for jobs, that you will likely not find anything by just being good enough. No bootcamp will magically make you a designer, but good bootcamps like DESIGNATION will act as a multiplier for the effort you put in.
As someone who really wanted to break into the UX consulting world, Designation played a crucial role in not only teaching me the hard technical skills that were needed on the job, but more importantly the soft skills that are needed in a client facing/collaborative environment. The work I did with real clients and the obstacles I faced along the way ultimately prepared me to deal with unexpected curveballs that get thrown my way on the job.
Prior to joining Designation, I worked as an account manager at a small real estate firm and had little to no experience in design. I had always been interested in UX, mainly due to the fact that I had the opportunity to observe other UX designers work at my last job.
It’s been a year since I started Designation and I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at with my career. I knew pretty early on when I started the program that I wanted to be in a UX consulting role and the knowledge and opportunities Designation provided helped me get there.
Working with real clients: This is by far the one thing that sets Designation apart from the rest of the UX/UI design programs out there. My experience interacting with real stakeholders on their digital products gave me a competitive edge during my interviews. Companies want to see how you work in a real life environment, where real life obstacles will be thrown your way. Whenever my team and I were hit with an unexpected hurdle from the client’s end, our creative director would always joke that this would make great interview material. She was 100% right. Interviewers were way more interested to hear what went wrong and how I worked with others to resolve the problem.
Career services: Mike Joosse is an excellent career coach because he doesn’t just give you general advice about job searching, but he also helps you hone in on what exactly you want out of your next career. (In-house vs. consultancy, big company vs. small company, etc.) After expressing that I wanted to be in a consulting role, I was matched with a Designation alum who was a UX Consultant so that I could get advice specific to that field. Mike truly cares about tailoring his career services to your goals.
A strong network: One of Designation’s greatest assets is its alumni. The job hunting process can be daunting, especially when you’re trying to transition into a new industry. Many of the Designation alumni have a strong “pay-it-forward” mentality which really helps pave the way for incoming designers in the program and helps you feel more at ease if you’re breaking into design. Of course, I still found it necessary to network, but it was a wonderful foundation to start with and made networking a whole lot easier.
Areas for improvement
More collaboration between UX and UI: After Design Essentials, I had to choose between the UX and UI track. I chose UX. During our client projects, I worked strictly with UX designers and was kind of isolated from the work the UI track was doing. At my current job, I work on a team with a diverse set of backgrounds (UI designers, art directors, content strategists, etc.) I only work with one other UX designer. I definitely think I would have been better prepared for my job if I had the opportunity to work with my fellow cohort members in the UI track on projects.
Focusing on the job searching process more: Although the career phase was incredibly valuable, it’s all crammed into two weeks which can be overwhelming. Mike does a great job at organizing a timeline of the things you need to get done and he also makes time for your post graduation if you need additional coaching. However, I think there is a much greater focus on the portfolio and not enough on applying and interviewing. I did find myself overwhelmed the first month because I didn’t feel entirely prepared to interview with companies.
Designation is not a one way ticket to a new career. To put it simply, once you join the program it will take over your life. If you truly want to get the most out of the program, be prepared to work 12 hour days, 5-6 days a week. As you can imagine, this does require you to put other aspects of your life on hold. However, I know had it not been for Designation’s immersive (sometimes intense) environment and the amount of hard work I put in, I certainly would not have landed my dream job. If you’re truly committed to building the foundation for a design career you’re passionate about, you’ll learn a ton, grow in unexpected ways, create lasting friendships, and it will definitely all be worth it.
My timeline: I started Design Essentials in April 2017 and completed the Career Phase in October 2017. For a month after graduation, I did nothing but revise and complete my portfolio. After three months of active job hunting (A LOT of job applications, emails, networking, and interviews), I received an offer that I liked, and I began working at the end of February 2018. Now, I just finished my second week working as a User Experience Designer at a global consulting firm. This is my first position in my design career, and I couldn’t have done it without Designation.
My background: Prior to design, I was an art therapist and had worked for mostly not-for-profit organizations. After a few years of experience, I found myself burnt out and unfulfilled by the work.
How I decided on Designation: Design was a field I had always wanted to try but never got a chance to explore. Once I decided that I needed a career change, I looked into different types of design. As I learned more, I felt like UX/UI design would be a good fit where I’d be able to make use of both analytical and creative skills. To learn about design programs, I attended an info session that highlighted various tech boot camps including Designation. I had a friend who went through Designation already, and she had a lot of positive things to say about the program. I spoke with her extensively about her career change, read everything on Designation’s website, and read through each and every review I could find (on switchup, course report, quora). I made the decision after listening to and reading through first-hand accounts of designers’ experiences with Designation.
Phase 1: Design Essentials (6 weeks, ~20 hours a week)
This is a foundational course for those who has no experience with design. You have check-ins twice a week virtually to review design material and assignments. It’s a good introduction into UX and UI design, and at the end, you choose a track for the next phase of the program. Before starting this course, I was almost certain I would choose UI, but I found myself enjoying the UX material and assignments more. This course is a good way to dip your toes in design and to see if it’s something you want to explore further (you’re not committed to the whole boot camp at this point). Due to the small(er) time commitment, it’s definitely possible to complete this in addition to a full-time job, which was what I did.
The learning resources are varied—readings, videos, slide decks, podcasts, et cetera. When you submit assignments, graders review your work and give you feedback.
Pros: good introduction to UX/UI design, wealth of resources, critiques helpful (to begin developing an eye for good design)
Cons: my graders didn’t review my work in a timely manner (if you speak up about this, they’ll fix it)
Phase 2: Virtual Phase (6 weeks, ~40 hours a week)
Similar to Design Essentials, you have two virtual check-ins a week, but the material and assignments are specific to your track (UX or UI). You’re assigned a group and you work together on a project (from research and concepting to designing and validating). The assignments require more time and effort and groups often present to each other during check ins.
Pros: in-depth experience in your track, working in a group, going through an entire design thinking process
Cons: material wasn’t always the most organized, check ins weren’t always as detailed or deep as they could have been, expectations for assignments weren’t always clear
Phase 3: Project Phase (12 weeks, 70-80 hours a week / IN PERSON)
You finally get to interact with the staff and your cohort in person on site. While the other phases are more introductory and educational, the in-person phase is designing and working (as designers would work out in the field). It’s so much easier to work with teammates in person, and you’re fully immersed in the design process. There are guest speakers and workshops to supplement your experience. This phase is broken into sub phases: Immersion, First Client Phase, Second Client Phase, Career Phase.
Immersion (4 weeks)
You work on a new brief with your new teammates (they try to switch up groups to give you different work experiences). Immersion phase is the time get a more thorough understanding of the design steps and the processes. The Creative Director and Designers-in-Residence are heavily involved and give you a lot of helpful feedback. You’ll get a lot of practice with presentations.
First Client Phase (3 weeks) + Second Client Phase (3 weeks)
You work on real projects with real clients. This is one of the most valuable parts of the program because the stakes are higher and your designs can make a real difference. These phases are more self-directed; you and your teammates will have more ownership over the projects and designs. These are the projects you’ll talk about as your experience in your job interviews.
Career Phase (2 weeks)
This was one of my favorite parts of the program. While group work is an essential part of the other phases, in the career phase, you’re in charge of your own deliverables. You’ll get to synthesize on the work that you’ve done so far by writing case studies on your projects. You’re given direction, feedback, and support as you prepare various materials (portfolio, résumé, personal statement, et cetera) to start applying for jobs. You’ll also start to learn about the various ways UX/UI design could look like in different settings (hearing from past graduates and going on studio tours). It’s really exciting to tangibly see all the pieces come together; you’ll directly use everything in this phase for your job search. (Trust Mike!)
Pros: working as a group in-person, being able to devote this chunk of your life to design, getting so many opportunities to practice presentations, learning from other designers in your cohort, learning about how to get a job
Cons: 70-80 hour work weeks get exhausting
Time investment: 6 months of intensive experience helps you feel confident as a designer.
Staff: Everyone really cares about your development as a designer and is invested in helping you succeed. They are amazing resources and fun/knowledgeable human beings.
People: I love my cohort, and I still talk to a lot of them regularly. I didn’t expect to make friends, but I’m so glad I did.
Program: Everyone at Designation is constantly reflecting and iterating on the program. They are always interested in feedback, and they use it to make the curriculum, projects, and overall experience better and stronger.
Hard skills: You’ll get a lot of practice using different types of design software (I mostly used Sketch and Axure; now at my job, I use Axure).
Soft skills: If you're on the UX track, you'll be doing group work 24/7. You'll get practice fostering and navigating through work relationships.
Time investment: 6+ months is great for learning, but it’s a long time not working/having an income.
Financial burden: It is a bit pricey, but they have different payment/loan options available. I do definitely think it was worth it, though.
Last words: As everyone else has mentioned, it’s not easy. The program got grueling at times, but Designation has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. At first, I was extremely hesitant when deciding on this boot camp (time and financial investment, risk, uncertainty of future). However, I will say that if you put in the time and the work, it’ll pay off. You can work to make the time, money, efforts—the sacrifices—all worth it. As far as the job hunt, no one will hand you a job; you’ll have to continue to put in a lot of work. As long as you keep putting in the effort and are patient, you’ll find a position.
When I started Designation, I just expected to learn some hard skills so that I could land a job that I wouldn’t hate. However, thankfully, I received so much more—I rediscovered what it was like to experience joy in work, I expanded my network, I created lasting friendships, and I had a lot of fun all while becoming a designer.
Our latest on Designation
Changing careers is a challenge in self-doubt, especially when you’re entering a creative field like UX/UI design. Aspiring designers might ask, “Do I have the right background? Will I be able to do a good job?” To allay those fears, we asked four experienced Digital Designers who teach Designation’s UI and UX Design Intensives in Chicago, to tell us what they wish they knew before they started their design careers, how to overcome impostor syndrome, and their top tips for starting a new career in UX/UI Design.Continue Reading →
Designation is a UX/UI bootcamp that has been building up the Chicago design community since 2013, and recently moved into a new WeWork classroom. We asked the Designation team to share their reasons behind the move, how students will fit into the larger WeWork community, and why Chicago is a great city to work in UX Design. Plus, we hear about Designation’s future plans to collaborate with WeWork in other cities around the world!
Why did Designation decide to move from 1871 (another coworking space), to a WeWork?
A lot of people don’t know that 1871 wasn’t our first location. We moved there in 2014 from our original space in the Lincoln Park neighborhood when Designation had been open for 1 year. The move happened because we were creating a new iteration of Designation; there were changes in our curriculum, experience, and team, and we needed our learning space to reflect those changes. That was a huge move for us.
In 2017 when we looked at how much we’d accomplished after 2.5 years at 1871, we realized we were preparing for another big iteration of the program. So we started to figure out what that would look like in terms of space. We ultimately made the choice to move based on what we believed our designers needed most: to have the best possible experience – and the most professional experience possible of any program like ours.
When we found WeWork, we knew that being in a WeWork reflected how far we’d come. In the same way that we’re more than a design bootcamp, WeWork is more than just a coworking space. We found the company to be an intriguing evolution of a coworking space – one that created a truly welcoming environment for companies at every stage of their growth. And we knew that as members, we could tap into the worldwide (160,000-member!) WeWork network as clients, hiring partners, strategic partners, and allies.
WeWork has a number of locations in Chicago. Why did Designation choose the State Street location?
We like saying that we’re near the direct center of downtown Chicago. When applicants think about coming to Chicago for our program, State Street We Work is an actualization of the vision they have of the experience. The building borders the Financial District and the Theater District, and is where the famous Chicago Macy’s is, as well as historic buildings, companies, and shops. It’s also close to public transport.
What is it about being in this new location that will make Designation stand out amongst the competition in Chicago?
Designation is all about gaining the professional experience you need to be an effective and employable designer. WeWork has a community team on site that works as an extension of our team, making sure our designers have a great experience.
In addition to the experience, WeWork will be able to functionally enhance our program as well. WeWork is home to so many interesting and growing companies. Since a major part of our program is working with these types of companies, it gives us a great pipeline of portfolio projects for our designers.
In general, what makes Chicago a great city to be teaching/learning UX design?
Chicago is an unbelievably welcoming city for designers. There are many tremendous organizations here that champion design and encourage designers to come together, from AIGA Chicago and the Chicago Design Museum, to Meetups like ChiDUXX and &UX. It’s a city that encourages cross-pollination and growth. Designers here often work together to build products at events like at Chi Hack Night and Startup Weekend, or learn beyond UX and into accessibility, content strategy, service design, front-end development, and many other areas.
The professional ecosystem here is also stellar; there’s a remarkable mix of product companies, startups, agencies, consultancies, and in-house teams between the city and the suburbs – all of which need skilled, thoughtful designers.
What is the Designation teaching space like at WeWork?
We have our own private campus, just off the main lobby, near the public coworking space. It’s one large room that’s subdivided by team pods and whiteboards. We also have two offices we use for interviews, testing, and meetings, and we just installed standing desks at the windows. We’ve found that our designers respond best when they have access to varied working environments – whether that’s at a desk, standing up in our space, on couches, or in a WeWork conference room. That variety is a reflection of the multiple types of environments found in professional design offices, whose teams know that one working style doesn’t work for everyone at the company.
We can accommodate up to 54 people in the workroom; currently, we have about 30, which allows us a lot of freedom to experiment with the room layout and see how it affects noise level, productivity, teamwork, active listening, and other everyday features of the program.
What sort of amenities and benefits are Designation students entitled to as WeWork members?
The list is huge, and so big none of us have made our way through it. WeWork does a fantastic job of creating a professional environment for everyone with tons of amenities, including tea, coffee, fridges, microwaves, phone booths, a ping pong table, and events. That was a big draw for us, because we appreciated how much WeWork had done on members’ behalf to make sure they could take advantage of all the resources at hand. There are also member discounts on software, hardware, lifestyle brands, utilities, and more.
How will Designation make the most of being in a co-working environment like WeWork?
Two of the things that drew us to WeWork was the size of our workroom and the level of activity in the building. We knew our workroom was big enough to hold many types of events such as guest speakers for our cohorts, information nights for potential applicants, and other events for the community. It’s a requirement that all events we hold here are open to all WeWork members, which will be a great way to meet everyone else in the building. We’re genuinely thrilled to have access to a new network, both locally and globally, of potential clients, hiring partners, and even applicants to the program.
And around the building, there’s an insane number of events happening here each month. Because we’re members, we’re free to join in them too. As long as they don’t get scheduled while we have an important workshop or presentation happening, we encourage our designers to take part in those events too. Just like at 1871, we know those random conversations have the potential to lead to something great – or at least spread the word about how great Designation is.
Would Designation consider expanding to other WeWork locations either in Chicago or in other cities?
We would like to in some way, shape or form. WeWork’s multi-city presence provides us with the ability to extend our presence to many other design communities through their many locations. We believe it is imperative, to be an effective designer, to acquire in-person experience collaborating on projects with clients and other designers. With more than 70% of our designers coming into the program from outside Chicago, WeWork gives us the potential to have a physical presence in numerous locations across the world. As we look towards late 2018, we will be able to create a blended experience of both virtual and in-person education.
Is there anything else future students need to know about the new WeWork campus?
It’s going to be a different experience next month and next year than it is today. In our short time here so far, every week has had unique events and activities, and those events will change over time. We can’t predict what WeWork will be like in a few months or years from now; we can only say that that variety is a great asset for us, and will help ensure that everyone who goes through Designation will have an interesting, special experience.
Oh, and there are dogs! WeWork is dog-friendly, so Designation became dog-friendly the day we moved in. Staff members occasionally bring dogs into the space, but even without our own dogs, just knowing there are dogs elsewhere in the building is a big draw for our team and our designers. We really look forward to dogs becoming a more important and regular part of the experience of coming here.
On the Course Report Coding Bootcamp News Roundup, we keep you up to date with the blossoming coding bootcamp industry. This November, we're covering the WeWork/Flatiron School acquisition, over $2M in funding to various bootcamps, and why tech is booming in "Heartland" cities. Of course we also look at new schools, new campuses, and our favorite pieces to work on this month for the Course Report blog! Plus, is The Iron Yard back from the dead? Read the summary or listen to the podcast.Continue Reading →
Allstate Product Design Manager, Dustin Hamilton, started mentoring Designation UX and UI students, and soon realized that many of them would be great additions to his team. He has now hired six Designation graduates, and continues to mentor and get to know many of the designers as they go through the program. Dustin tells us why Designation is his first port of call over other education providers, what the interview process involves, and why he will keep hiring Designation grads. He also advises other employers to research the curriculum of a UX and UI bootcamp before hiring a grad.
Can you tell me about Allstate and your role there?
I'm one of two product design managers at Allstate. The user experience and design organization here is more than 130 people right now, and we manage a team of 44 product designers.
We have a unique working model with a product-centric viewpoint. It's called Agile XP which stands for extreme programming where we do pair design. We take two designers, put them at the same table, and they each have a keyboard, mouse, and a monitor connected to a single computer. So they're working on the same thing at the same time. This model drives the need for somebody very articulate, somebody who has a lot of empathy, communication skills, and emotional intelligence.
For people who are new to the technology industry and the way design teams work, could you explain why an insurance company like Allstate needs UX and UI designers and product designers?
Allstate was traditionally an insurance company, then we began offering mobile apps and things of that nature. Insurance is still the core of what we do, but you could argue that Allstate is now a software company that also has insurance. We've done so much in the digital space outside of insurance, that arguably it's not the same company that was here five or ten years ago. It's a very different space at this point.
Do the product designers work in all areas of Allstate operations or are there specific places?
We work on all aspects of things. Not everybody in our design organization is a product designer – we also have specialists like UX architects, visual designers, and specialist researchers. The product designers are responsible for small teams doing the visual design, architecture, research, and content. They're very generalist kind of roles.
We've got product designers who are working on everything from call center apps that we use internally, systems administration tools that our IT team uses, software and rollouts, and of course public facing mobile and desktop apps. We also do business to business apps.
How did you first get connected with Designation?
When I first learned of Designation, I didn't look at it like an HR tool. My initial involvement was mentoring and speaking where one of the curriculum directors asked me to teach some classes on how to do design critique. It went really well and I was mentoring a number of Designation students. Then my involvement grew and so did my mentoring. At one point about 18 months ago, I would meet with a student every weekday to help them get their career started. I think that kind of mentorship is really important because it's not a resource I had when I started doing design work more than 14 years ago now. User experience didn't even exist then.
Later in my engagement with Designation, I've been able to help get a number of designers hired because I see a lot of talent through the mentoring program. When you see somebody who clearly “gets it” beyond their education, that's always a great thing. So I help connect students to people I'm connected to within the community so that companies can hire great talent.
Are you still mentoring Designation students now?
Yes. It's lessened significantly because I'm helping others get involved. At Allstate, at least half of the product designers and UX and UI practitioners mentor designers from Designation. Actually, I think Designation got to the point where they had too many mentors from Allstate and not enough students! We also present once a month at Designation to give students an opportunity to learn about something different outside of their schooling and it gives us a chance to practice our consultation and presenting skills.
I see it as an opportunity to help a very lean, scrappy program at Designation where designers are learning very rapidly, hands-on, and almost in a very gritty fashion. I have a strong appreciation for that.
How many Designation grads have you actually hired and what kind of roles are they in?
I have hired six so far, but there were other Designation hires at Allstate before I started in Chicago. My co-manager, who handles our Northbrook location, has a number of Designation folks on his team too. Needless to say, we hire from them quite a bit.
The Designation grads on my team are all product designers, which are purposeful generalists. We work in a pair design model and they do everything from visual design to architecture, to research. They do their own content creation, planning, and strategic work at the product level.
What are you looking for in a new hire? And what was it about those Designation grads that got them the role?
What I'm really looking for are people who shine in regards to soft skills. How do they communicate, how do they present themselves, how are they working, are they collaborative, do they have a sense of community? It's that kind of stuff because our model drives a need for soft skills. Whatever hard skills someone might be lacking, we as a group can help train them.
I mentored two of my Designation hires myself before hiring them. So I already had a sense of their communication style and skills. My own personal mantra is to hire personality and train skill. I fully recognize that anybody coming out of Designation has merit anyway, because they have the ability to learn quickly.
I think there's a spectrum of practitioners out there. On one end, I find the best designers have a broad sense of their skills. They've got a firm understanding of what they know, and an acknowledgment of all the stuff that they don't yet know. People with that mindset are more open to grow and learn. The opposite end of the spectrum is somebody who knows what they know but doesn't have an acknowledgment of what they don’t know. That limits their growth because you can't present them with new information and knowledge because they think they know everything already. But even at 15 years into this career, I'm still learning.
What kind of interview process do you put new hires through? Do Designation designers go through the same kind of interview process as any new hire?
I use the same process regardless of where somebody's coming from. It starts with a half-hour video conference where I describe our working model. I'm also interested in communication skills, focus, personality, that kind of stuff. If somebody is interrupting or asking what the salary is, that indicates to me they don't have a sense of the big picture. Then if I feel there's merit there and mutual interest, I’ll invite them in for an interview.
Part of the interview is a discussion to get to know the candidate and their background. Part of it is also like a showcase – I want to see a piece of work that people are proud of or learned a lot from. I'm looking to see how they articulate the process they went through, and then the pros and cons. Anybody can tell me about the great things they did on a product, but when somebody tells me, "We made this decision and it didn't work so well,” that's the kind of person I want to work with. Someone who isn't afraid to share that something didn't work, and acknowledges that design is a gritty process.
What are you looking for in candidates? Any tips for the interview process?
One of the key elements we do is a design exercise. We role play with the candidates where I act as a business owner, give them a client brief, and they have to act as if they were a consultant. I'm looking for how the person speaks and how they present themselves. Were they pacing, do they have their hands in their pockets, are they focused on the problem or are they talking about solutions already? Are they are asking questions and if so, are they good questions or are they superficial? So it's not the work itself, it's more like the “how”.
My most recent hire, we were doing the design exercise and it was 11 minutes in. I just started laughing and I told them, "You're hired." My guidance to everybody is just be yourself and do what you would normally do. It's not an assessment of skills. It's assessment of working style.
How important are candidates’ backgrounds from before Designation? Do you factor their previous backgrounds into their suitability for the roles?
It's always cool to hear about, but I don't consider that so much in hiring. It matters to me more that they got through the program successfully, and that they've got a good mindset. Then usually I can speak directly to Mike Joosse, Designation’s President, and find out more about an individual. I’ll get the intricacies of how they worked, where they worked, and what their challenges were. That means far more to me than what their background is. I like to mentor a lot because, unfortunately, the people who didn't come with some kind of background that's relatable to UX and UI have a harder time getting their first jobs. So I work with them to help them showcase their portfolios, resumes, and their interview skills, to try to help them get that first role.
When those Designation grads first start at Allstate, how much training do they need? Are they quite well prepared for the job already when they start or how much training do you have to give them?
Because of the way that we work in product design, I would say that everybody needs leveling up, not just Designation designers. Because of our unique working model, it takes all new hires about a month to really get into a good routine. The Designation grads bring a good mindset; they are eager to learn and they approach things with curiosity.
We also do a week-long product design bootcamp periodically for everyone. The Designation designers are excited when they hear that we have a product bootcamp, that we are investing in them, not only in their future here but elsewhere as well. A true mark of success for me is if any of these practitioners down the road says, “Dustin really set me up for my career." That would be awesome because I know this likely isn't an endpoint – I want to make sure they get set up in their careers.
How do you ensure that those employees continue to be supported in their learning as they progress? Do you have any kind of mentoring or apprenticeship-type programs going on?
We do. As I mentioned, our working model of pair design involves two people working from the same computer, with a monitor each, looking at literally same thing. It's difficult to find people with a generalist background in UX, UI, content, and research. So I often pair somebody from a UX background with somebody from UI background. Then that UX person will teach the UI based person about architecture, and that visual knowledge of the UI person is transferred to the UX person. So through that way of working, they are leveling up their skills constantly.
We also have the notion of pairing with a specialist. In some of our product teams, we have data scientists, so instead of a product designer pairing with another designer, they sometimes pair with a data scientist. It's all about mutual sharing of information so that the data scientist learns about the product, and the product designer learns about the data, how to use it, and what it means. There's a lot of learning that takes place.
I’m also very thoughtful when I put together management and reports. I’ll take a senior project designer with a very strong UX architect background and have them manage somebody who's visually based. And I'll do the same vice versa. Allstate is one of the best places I've ever seen for investment into employees – we do all kinds of training.
Since you've hired those Designation grads, have any of them switched roles or been promoted or do you anticipate that might happen in the future?
Oh, they definitely will. We have three levels of product designers. The first two levels are product designers, and we treat them the same. If you're in the more beginning stages of your career, you're in the first level. If you're at the higher end of experience, equating to a mid-level practitioner, you're probably going to be in the second level. The third level is the senior product designers, who typically have five years of experience or more. So eventually those Designation grads will progress through the ranks.
Other than Designation, what other talent pipelines do you have for UX and UI and product design hires? Are there other bootcamps or university programs that you look at?
If I'm looking for an entry-level practitioner, Designation is my first go-to. I will consider other bootcamps and other practitioners who are experienced or just starting, but I think because of my knowledge of the way Designation works, I feel more confident when I make a Designation hire. With Designation designers, I know what they're learning, and I know who they learned it from.
At any point when you were first thinking about hiring from a bootcamp, did you have to convince anyone else in your company?
I'm pretty transparent about that kind of thing, and everyone knows I'm a big fan of Designation. I advocate for the students whenever I hear an opening suitable for a fresh Designation graduate. I’ll give them three or four different candidate names and letters of recommendation from the people at Designation.
Are you able to give feedback to Designation and influence their curriculum if you notice any areas that your UX and UI hires might be under qualified in?
Yeah, I do look for that. Mike and I meet on a periodic basis and talk through those things and I give him a lot of direct feedback. When we walk away from those sessions, I know Mike is going to do what he feels is right for his students. I used to teach a class to every Designation cohort about mindfulness design critique. The students and staff reacted so positively to that, that they actually integrated it as part of their curriculum. So it's neat to be able to say that I can help influence what their students are learning to make them even better candidates.
What kind of relationship is there between Allstate and Designation. Do you have to pay a referral fee when you hire their graduates?
No. I would say it's semi-formal. We do a lot of work with them. We mentor a number of their students, and we do monthly presentations. One of the cool things about the relationship is my access to the Designers in Residence program. For every cohort, they pick one student to stay on for three months to be the Designer in Residence and work at Designation teaching other students. You could argue that the top designers out of every cohort get that role. What I do, which has benefits for me and the students, is meet with every Designer in Residence personally for an hour here at Allstate. And it's not necessarily a hiring thing for me; it's getting to know who is the top talent coming out of Designation and entering the design community, and helping get their careers started. I work with them to make sure that once they finish, they hit the ground running and get a good job.
Getting to know those Designers in Residence means that when I end up with staffing needs I've already got a roster of the top recent Designation graduates. I can just make a few phone calls and see if anybody's interested in making a switch. That really goes a long way in shortening the hiring process.
Will you hire from Designation in the future and if so why?
Absolutely. I like to say that Designation is a very meaty program, and when you come out of that program you've got one of the best baseline skill sets that you can grow upon. It really allows the students to have their personality shine to show that they have the soft skills to back up their hard skills. Designation is one of the first places I look when I'm looking for a fresh graduate, then also I'm keen to meet alumni as well.
Have you hired a Designation grad who's already had another job in design?
Yeah. Sometimes I will simply reach out to Mike and say, “I need somebody that's got two or three years of experience. Who is your best?" And he'll give me a list of two or three designers and a detailed synopsis of what they've done and how they did. That's an amazing resource to have.
What is your advice to other employers or hiring managers who are thinking about hiring from a design bootcamp or any kind of technology bootcamp?
Designation is a meaty program where the designers come out with that solid baseline set of skills. They know how design really works and that design isn't a pretty process. They come with an eager mindset to not only show what they know, but to learn what they don't.
The reason that ‘bootcamp’ is an alarming word is that it's so loosely defined. For instance, another program here in Chicago is one hour each week for four weeks. So you're learning UX and design in four hours. My advice to employers is to look deeply at differences between the bootcamps. Look for schools that have assessment or intake processes and don't be afraid to ask about placement rate. Designation doesn't take just anybody who applies, and they have a very high placement rate. Look at all aspects of a bootcamp and know that they're not created equal, and the terminology is often not the same.
As the co-founder of Designation, I have talked to a lot of aspirational designers. At last count, in the 3+ years we’ve been around, I have personally interviewed about 2000 candidates for the program. And in that time, I’ve identified some distinct patterns about the types of people that are well-suited to a career in UX or UI design. If this is at all a career path you’ve been considering, check out this list to see if you have these characteristics:Continue Reading →
Zoe Sinner learned the foundations of UX/UI Design at Designation in 2014, and has only continued to skyrocket as a designer since graduating. After freelancing and working at TaskRabbit, Zoe recently landed a coveted job as a Product Designer at Facebook. Zoe explains why great design is a journey, how to go beyond the foundations you’ll learn at a bootcamp like Designation to perfect your craft, and why an alumni network can help you battle imposter syndrome as a new designer.
What were you up to before Designation?
I graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in Arts and Communications and worked for two years in marketing for a medical association. I found that I was drawn to creating and knew I wanted to pivot to a creative role, but didn't really know how to get there.
I thought about pursuing a master’s degree in graphic or web design but they just didn't feel like the right kind of design for me. I felt like there was a lot of learning materials online in which I could teach myself at a fraction of the cost. This was in 2013, and “UX Designer” was not in my vocabulary nor did I know what that kind of design entailed.
How did you teach yourself?
I started looking for ways that I could get the experience or skills to go into a design role. I started with a little bit of Codecademy and thought that front end design was cool, but I also took some self-paced, online Photoshop courses. I watched so many YouTube videos about how to use Photoshop and Illustrator. Once I started thinking about how to get to a design role, I considered going back to school to get my masters degree. But after all the learning I had done online it just didn’t make sense in my mind to spend 2 more years plus thousands of dollars on a masters degree when I had made some progress. I was ready to make this change now.
Why did you choose Designation?
I discovered Designation in 2013, and at that time, there weren’t any other Design Bootcamps in Chicago. What really attracted me to Designation was that I would be able to immerse myself in design and knock out the course in a few months. I knew I was passionate about this career, and I could put in 100% to pivot my career in a shortened timeline. In college, you spend a few hours per week on a subject, but I wanted to learn foundational design skills, plus get the experience of building a portfolio. To me, Designation was the perfect combination of skills and experience that I needed.
Were you able to carry the skills from your degree in Art and Communications into Designation?
I did take a little bit of what I learned in college into Designation. If you're starting from scratch, there's definitely a lot of basic foundational material you should learn before you go to a bootcamp. Because I had taken classes in college and was doing some creative work in my marketing job, I knew I would enjoy a career in design. Some of that background just naturally carried over into UX Design. Later, I learned that some of what I did in my first job was actually UX, but I just didn't even know it.
I think it does help to have a little bit of a foundation, if only to validate to yourself that you understand the concepts and want to pursue it as a career.
What hard skills did you learn at Designation?
You get to choose your weapon of choice: Sketch, Illustrator, or Photoshop. In UX Design, there are certain deliverables like “journey maps” that you use on the job, so we learned how to structure those. You also learn UX/UI methodologies, like product thinking, research, hypotheses, and layout for UI. I also took away soft skills like collaborating and presenting, especially during the client work phase.
Designation also has pre-coursework, where you’ll get to know how to use a tool before your first day.
Do you suggest that people get familiar with tools like Photoshop before they even get to the bootcamp?
Absolutely, because it’s going to be much harder to learn a software program while also trying to learn the principles of design. On top of that, by playing around and getting to know the software, you’ll get a feel for the job. Learning your tools as much as you can before you start at Designation is really going to help you in the long run; you'll set yourself up for more success.
Could you tell us about your client work project at Designation?
The most successful project I worked on was with WeDeliver. We worked on their marketing landing pages to fix usability issues and make the brand more clear. We actually needed to do user research to understand the pain points of the current site, and then we redesigned it so that it better communicated their mission.
How did Designation prepare you for the job search?
Designation helps you build a great portfolio and they teach you the tools and tricks of interviewing well. They also have a great alumni network, and a support network that you can reach out to.
They’re not telling you to apply for certain jobs, but they really help you figure out jobs that you want to go after, what kind of company you want to work for, how to network, how to prepare for interviews, and how to structure your portfolio. But when it comes to actually getting the job, that's still on you.
Tell us about your career progression after Designation; how did you land a job at Facebook?
The first job after graduating is the hardest job to get, but after that, it becomes much easier. Designation actually connected me with a recruiter, which is how I got my first job. I worked with that recruiter to apply and find roles that were right for me. The first company I interviewed with was originally looking for a Senior UX Designer, but it was such a good interview that they decided to bring me on as a freelancer, which then turned into a full-time UX Design role.
One of the things that Designation emphasizes is the power of networking. After getting some experience in my first job, I was able to get my resume passed around, and made a connection with the Design Director at TaskRabbit. That's how I got my second job as a Product Designer at TaskRabbit. And from there, I was approached by a design manager at Facebook and went through the recruiting process.
I probably wouldn't have been able to land a job as a Product Designer at Facebook right after graduating from Designation, but because of the foundation and skills I learned, combined with the real-life experience of working at two companies, I had a successful recruiting process with Facebook!
What is the difference between a Product Designer and UX Designer?
In this world, the terms are so generalized. At Designation, I majored in UI, but my first role was a UX Designer. Actually, when I was interviewing for my first UX role, I realized it was really a hybrid of UX and UI. The takeaway there is that job titles are just job titles. You have to dig in to find out what the actual role entails.
To me, a UX Designer thinks about user needs and the correct user experience, whereas a Product Designer takes into consideration the visual side and more of the business side as well. I don't think there is a hard line to differentiate those two roles; as with all design roles, they all exist in an overlapping Venn diagram.
What is a UX Design job interview like?
There were some commonalities between each interview process I went through. First, you need to know how to tell your story and how you got to this point. You should also be able to talk about your past work. In every interview, I had to go through my work, and I think the trick here is telling a story and conveying intentionality.
Secondly, this is not a requirement for all interviews, but you should expect some type of problem-solving or design challenge. That may be a take-home design challenge where you need to create a visual interface or an in-person work session.
My Facebook interview involved all of the above, app critiques, plus a whiteboarding session where I actually worked with my interviewer through a problem on the board.
What are you working on now at Facebook as a Product Designer?
I'm part of the Growth Infrastructure Team at Facebook; I essentially work on internal tools that affect the end user as well. That could mean anything from a visual update to pushing a new feature, to researching current users, to cross-functional work. Day-to-day, my job is a combination of all different types of skills. I could be pixel pushing more one day and brainstorming the next day.
On my team, I'm the one Product Designer supporting seven Engineers, a Product Manager, and an Engineering Manager.
Did you learn everything that you needed to know for your job at Designation, or have you had to learn on the job?
This is a great question. I tell everyone that Designation will give you the foundations, but it's up to you to really foster those skills. For example, at Designation, I learned about the methodology of how to build a page with good UI and how to lay things out, but it was only after I graduated that I’ve become more confident in those skills. Likewise, you start to learn and practice the product thinking methodology at Designation, but in the real world, you’re getting better at that thinking and fostering those skills.
For me personally, my advice to bootcamp grads is to never stop learning. After Designation, my whole world has become reading design books, going to design meetups, reading blog posts, and understanding trends.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned as your design career has evolved over the last 3 years?
On the job, I would say owning my own personal process and improving that and tailoring it for the job. Another thing I had to learn on the job was how a tech company actually works and how to work with other roles as a designer. At Designation, you learn in a perfect world where design is highly valued, but in the real-world, it's very rare to find a company that really values design the way you value design. You need to learn how to work with other roles that don't have an understanding of design.
One common theme I find myself talking about with other designers and Designation alumni is, "How do you evangelize the value of design in different companies?” It's certainly been a challenge to realize that there isn’t this perfect way to apply design in every company. Getting frustrated about that fact will only stress you out, so you have to really own your own design, and then get buy-in from the right stakeholders at the right time.
What has been your biggest challenge in terms of your journey coming into your role as a UX designer for the last couple of years?
Imposter syndrome! To combat this, you have to find other designers either inside or outside of your company (even your bootcamp alumni network). For me, the Facebook design team is huge, and are all so very different. Finding designers or product managers who I can confide in and express that too is so important. You have to find a design mentor or buddy that you can lean on and get support from. And learn to be okay with being vulnerable and asking questions. You're new to design and you don’t want to seem too junior, but find the right balance between being vulnerable and asking the right questions.
Are there a lot of alumni in San Francisco that you keep in touch with?
Not at first, but now there's a healthy alumni network. We actually still communicate through the Designation Slack channel, and sometimes meet up in person too. In my previous role, I was on a design team of only four people, so I relied on my alumni group a lot more to chat about design trends and questions. I try to meet up regularly with the alumni group in San Francisco to talk about our issues and our challenges. It's good to vent to each other and talk about how we’re dealing with certain things.
Looking back on the last few years, could you have kept self-teaching, working in marketing and gotten to where you are now three years later?
It's very unlikely that I would have been able to get to where I am today without Designation. That’s mainly because it gave me the foundations I needed in design, networking and taught me design methodologies, all of which I've continued to build upon as I've grown throughout these jobs. And that would have been really hard to do on my own.
Any final advice to future designers who are considering a coding bootcamp?
There's something to be said about perfecting your craft. I didn't graduate from Designation magically able to produce beautiful designs. It's been a work in progress. Learning a craft like design is like playing the piano – you have to continue to work at it to get better. Once you graduate from a bootcamp, take the foundations that you've learned and continue to practice it to get to the next level or perfect your craft and feel confident. I'm passionate about helping people get into UX/UI Design because I went through it and I know what it's like. It’s a journey.
Anne loved helping people as a college counselor, but she always felt like there was something missing in her own career. After a friend urged her to think about UX design, Anne realized she could combine her creativity and psychology skills, so she enrolled at Designation UX Design bootcamp in Chicago. Anne tells us how the pre-work phase prepared her for the Designation bootcamp, how her background in psychology impacted her design skills, and the importance of a great design portfolio. Plus, we hear about her new UX Design job at Accenture!
Tell us about your pre-Designation story. What was your educational and career background before you decided to get into UX design?
I studied psychology and French in undergrad, then I went on to a master's degree in counseling. I was working as a career counselor for college students prior to Designation. I always wished I had done something more creative because I took some graphic design classes in early college, and absolutely loved it. But I went the psychology route.
In my career as a counselor, I loved the creative aspect of helping to uncover people's goals, helping them find their direction, but I always felt like there was something missing. So I career counseled myself out of it! A good friend who's a developer said, "Hey, have you heard of UX?" So I looked into it, and he helped me look at different bootcamp programs. I was initially deciding between front end development and user experience. I chose UX because I loved that it incorporated my psychology background and design into one.
Did you research any other UX bootcamps?
When I started my research, I looked at both front end development and UX Design bootcamps. There are more web development bootcamps out there than UX courses. I wanted to stay in Chicago because that's where I was already based. I would’ve been willing to go elsewhere for the perfect bootcamp, but Designation seemed to fit all my criteria.
I wanted to go to Designation because you actually get to work with real clients, so you get hands-on experience right away. Having that access to UX designers who have so much experience is so valuable to learning. After visiting the classroom in 1871 and meeting a couple of the people there, I decided that I wanted to learn UX at Designation.
Did you think about going back to college to study UX Design?
DePaul has a great program, so had I not already gone to grad school, I might have considered it. I did talk to a couple of people who had done that DePaul program, and it seemed like an amazing program, but I wasn't ready to spend another three years in grad school.
Could you share with us how you were able to pay for the tuition? Did you use a financing partner or get a scholarship?
I had known that I was going to switch careers in some capacity for a while, so I saved up and was able to float myself for those few months. I was very fortunate. I think that's definitely not something that everyone is able to do. A lot of the people I went to bootcamp with did get some sort of a financing or student loan.
What was the application and interview process like for Designation’s UX bootcamp?
There are different admissions processes at Designation depending on if you come from a graphic design background or not. Since I didn't, I did the pre-virtual session. It was a self-paced design course to get you familiar with the Adobe Suite, and some prototyping tools. We would submit feedback online, and there was an instructor available if I had any questions. After that, they review your portfolio and you get firmly admitted into the program.
For the interview process, since I was in Chicago, I came in and met with the Admissions Director Will Shandling. We talked for about 45 minutes, he showed me the space, answered all of my questions about the program, and gave a general overview. One of my big questions was "What are the chances I'm going to be successful in doing this?" After the interview process, I felt really reassured and confident that I wanted to do Designation.
So you do the pre-virtual phase, and then once you’re admitted, what’s next?
After the pre-virtual phase, there was a six-week online virtual program with the cohort that you're going to be with on campus. It’s almost a full-time remote program to get everyone ready to jump in on day one of the bootcamp. We did readings from a textbook, and we built our own prototype for an app. That's where I started to get more familiar with prototyping tools, and what it meant to do low-fidelity, mid-fidelity, and high-fidelity design. For people with graphic design backgrounds, that phase was their first bootcamp experience. In my cohort it was about 50/50 in terms of people who had design backgrounds versus people who didn’t.
My favorite part of the online virtual phase was the interactions with people in my cohort. We would have regular meetings with everyone once a week, and we also had smaller groups of four people with whom we would check in, work on projects, and ask each other questions. It was really nice and it felt like we already knew each other when we arrived in person.
How many people were in your cohort and what kind of diversity was there was in terms of gender, and race, and background?
My cohort around 20 people and it was a pretty good mix. I mainly had younger classmates- one person was just out of college. I was probably on the older side and I'm 31, but there were a few of us in our early 30's. My cohort was about a 50/50 gender ratio.
About a third of my cohort was from Chicago, with other people from all over the US. People had all different backgrounds; some came from graphic design and architecture, some from business, and one person was an actor.
I was really lucky with my cohort. It felt like we were all family. We looked out for each other and cared about each other. After the first two days being there for so many hours, you get to know everyone and quickly get comfortable. One of the greatest benefits of coding bootcamps is going through it with other people, having that support, and learning from each other.
Once you were all on campus, what was the structure of Designation?
For the first six weeks, we would get in at 10am every day and have a standup meeting. We stayed in class until at least 9pm. There were many nights when we stayed a lot later than 9pm and I was there until 2am plenty of times.
The day was a mix of lectures and hands-on work. We were put into groups where we worked on an app together. During the first part of the program, we built an app based on a problem statement that Designation gave us to get that experience of going from concept to high fidelity prototyping and doing testing. At the end, we presented our apps to professionals in the field, so you get that experience before the real thing with clients.
Did you learn any kind of web development or a programming language in the UX Design bootcamp? Was that necessary?
We had optional coding lessons on Fridays, which I (and the majority of us) chose to do. We had an HTML workshop and then a couple of CSS workshops. Each week, we were given an assignment, and our ultimate assignment was to create a portfolio website. Learning some programming really helped me understand what developers are going through and how to work with them. Before this program, I would not have known what a <p> tag was or anything like that.
Designation is unique because you actually get to work with a real client- who were the clients that you worked with?
Primarily, the clients are other startups who are based in 1871, which is a startup incubator in Chicago. One of my clients was from 1871, and the other was an external company. One client was in the financial industry, and then one project was a video camera lens prototype company. We got to work on different projects in different industries. You work with each client for three weeks, so the client phase is six weeks total.
What was your favorite project that you built?
I really enjoyed all of the projects that I did! During the final client project, we were almost given a blank slate. This company had come out with a new VR video camera lens that could connect with GoPros, and they wanted to create an app for their users. They were pretty open-ended about what they wanted. We had a lot of fun brainstorming ideas, exploring, and doing research before bringing our final idea together. I really enjoyed the creative formula of that project: the user research, interviews, and throwing different ideas out there.
We were working in groups of three or four people. Then we would have our creative directors who would step in and help us, and be there for all the client meetings. We met with the client once a week to present our progress.
Your portfolio must be pretty important as a UX Designer- did you have a portfolio before Designation?
Generally speaking, your portfolio is very important. I never had to have a portfolio before, because I applied for previous jobs with my traditional cover letter and resume. But your portfolio is what shows off what you can do as a designer. It should be a combination of visuals, your research, pointing at different posters during your affinity mapping, or a PDF of your final prototype.
We also include case studies that describe your entire process because people want to know how you think and how you execute a project. They want to know from beginning to end what you did, what you did well, what you may have failed at, and what you learned.
Did Designation help you develop your portfolio?
Designation has changed the structure a little bit since I went through the program. We had a career counselor who worked with employer relations and would do lectures once a week during our client phase. The current students now have two weeks devoted to portfolio development. We would have lectures on resumes and portfolio building and with an assignment each week. Those lectures were meant to prepare us to be able to build good case studies to apply for jobs when we leave. It was extremely helpful to get that advice. You also continue to have access to the Designation course material after you graduate.
Tell us what you’re up to now! Are you working as a UX Designer?
I am a UX Designer working for a division of Accenture Operations called the Accenture Operations Innovation Network. We are actually also based in 1871 right next door to my Designation classroom.
Shortly after I graduated, I was working on my portfolio and I hadn't really started the job application process. Mike, the employer relations and career counselor at Designation, talked to my current supervisor here at Accenture, and they were looking for somebody to join their team as UX/UI designers, and I was on a list of candidates.
At Accenture, are you using the skills you learned at Designation or have you had to learn some new skills as well?
Both. I'm definitely using the skills I learned at Designation. In spite of being a part of Accenture, we're actually a very small team– less than 20 of us. I am one of two UX/UI designers here. Our tasks can totally change by the day. This week, I've been doing a lot of wireframing and some high fidelity designing. Next week, I'll probably be working on personas, journey mapping, and initial low to mid fidelity prototyping. That part is great because you really get to experience the whole gamut of design based on your projects.
We also do some design thinking workshops when we meet with stakeholders. We actually recently went to our Bangalore office, and we'll be going to our Manila office next week to visit and do some workshops there as well.
Do you think that your background in counseling and psychology has been useful in learning and working in UX design?
A lot of UX research ties incredibly well into counseling. When you're interviewing people, a lot of the job consists of knowing what questions to ask and getting a sense of who the client is, what they value, what motivates them, and what frustrates them. A lot of that can be tied into counseling.
Later on, once you get to the actual design process, design is not necessarily just making things pretty. It's about making them usable and giving people a product that operates within their mental model. So psychology and counseling definitely tie into the design process as well.
How have your first few months been at your job and how did the company make sure you were ramping up and continuing to learn?
I'm coming up on my six-month mark now. When I first got to Accenture, Patrick, the other UX designer, was awesome. He basically showed me the ropes, and got me onboarded. In the Chicago office, you get to know everybody really well. I get to work across the table with our business analysts and innovators; I am currently sitting in a room with one of our developers. So it's great having everybody working together so that you can really go over projects in person. Everybody was incredibly welcoming and answered all of my questions.
What has been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to becoming a UX designer?
When I was initially deciding whether or not to become a UX Designer, it was hard to have confidence in myself and force myself to take that big risk. Switching career fields entirely was the scariest thing, but the best decision I made. You have to take that initial leap, and then dive in and not being afraid.
How do you stay involved with Designation, and have you kept in touch with other alumni?
One of my favorite parts of being a Designation alum is that we have a giant Designation Slack network with tons of different channels. For example, I was recently looking for a new design thinking book so I asked other alumni for suggestions and got tons of responses. It's an awesome network of people. If you are going to a design event and you're looking for people to join you, anything like that gets posted on Slack. I love having that as a resource.
What advice do you have for someone who's thinking about making a career change and going through a UX Design bootcamp?
First of all, talk to people who are in the career that you think you want. Ask them about their daily life. Ask them for their advice. UX Design is an incredibly welcoming field– at least in Chicago the design community. I've had people find me on LinkedIn and ask me if they can just chat about whether or not a bootcamp is the right decision for them. It's really an individual decision, so it's not going to be right for everybody. If you do think it's right for you, then it's very much worth the risk.
Do your research in terms of what program is the best fit, not only in terms of skills, but in terms of culture. Then take the risk and do it.
Do you want to be a front end developer or a back end developer? Understanding your career goals at the end of a coding bootcamp can make it easier to narrow down which school is best for you. This can be a tricky task if you aren’t familiar with these terms – but no need to worry now that you have this guide. Let’s dig into the difference between front end web development and back end development: which programming languages you’ll learn, which coding schools teach them, and what to expect from a career as a back end or front end web developer!Continue Reading →
Founded in 2013, Designation offers an immersive bootcamp for aspiring UX and UI designers. Mike Joosse, their new Community Director, tells us about his transition from the design world to Designation, the most important ingredient for a successful UX designer and how Designation prepares students for post-bootcamp careers.
Tell us about your background and what you were doing before Designation.
I come from a design background. I went to design school a long time ago and was a practicing designer for a while. I took a few different turns until I eventually came to Chicago and worked as a Communications Director for a local brand and marketing agency called VSA Partners.
One of my duties was promoting the agency’s digital services. They were long known in print, design, branding and typography, but they had this amazing digital team doing UX, content strategy and front end/back end development. When I got to know them and their passion for wanting to mentor and be involved with educational opportunities, I thought about Designation.
I had friends who were part-time teachers and mentors here. Their name kept coming up, so they were the first people that I talked to while I was at VSA and said, “Our digital team would love to get involved with you guys, how can we do that?” That started the conversation that eventually led me here.
Your role at Designation is Community Director; what does that mean?
It has a few different meanings. We’re still a small startup and our roles are diverse. We cover a lot of ground and that’s very exciting to me because I’ve always been a person who loves having multiple responsibilities. It’s mainly defining and engaging our community. That’s everything from graduates to current students and companies in the communities where we place graduates.
For companies, it means finding ways to bring awareness to all Designation has to offer. How do we get them to understand the great things that Designation graduates can offer them? How can we provide mentorship opportunities for their employees? How can we get them involved in all of the other educational opportunities that are here in Chicago? I also manage external events and partnerships, interfacing with organizations like AIGA Chicago, IXDA Chicago and chiDUXX.
I’ve been working in the design community for a long time, and I love being able to work with so many people to promote a wonderful program that I was a fan of before I came here.
Did it take some time to be convinced of the bootcamp model?
It took about five minutes for me to realize that bootcamps are a pretty amazing recent development. It’s an excellent alternative to traditional design education, especially in the areas of UX and UI, which haven’t been around that long. I’ve seen so many people go through a two- or four-year program or more, just to have a never-ending stream of continuing education where you don’t necessarily reach a goal, you’re just observing knowledge. That can very easily go to waste.
Ultimately, I respect hard work and commitment. When somebody agrees to a really intensive bootcamp experience, I see that as a pretty amazing investment that I want to maximize for them.
Is there a traditional UX/UI design education path? Who are Designation graduates going up against when they’re applying for jobs?
There are a lot of different ways to teach and learn UX, especially here in Chicago. There are some programs that are very conceptual and research-based. Graduates from those programs (which are usually two to four-year programs) are leaning more towards strategist roles where they’re all about planning and big-picture strategy. Graduates from other programs are very task-based and there’s not necessarily much conceptual background.
I see Designation as being in the center. We stress the importance of the concept but also putting in the work. We produce people who have to be strong as designers and as creators.
There are a lot of different opportunities and roles for UX and UI designers. The current scene feels like where design was 20 years ago or maybe earlier, because there are so many different types of people entering the field and there are opportunities for everybody.
When we say UX/UI, we tend to associate those together but in your experience in getting people placed and being on the hiring side of it, is there really such a thing as a UX/UI designer?
I think so, but I think we also see some of our graduates go to work at startups that have five or ten people. At that size, the odds of somebody being multi-faceted like that goes way up. I like encouraging people to follow these opportunities. If they really want to practice both, I say, market yourself to those startups and smaller companies so that you can be more of a generalist.
But I warn them – as these startups get larger, they’re going to hire more people and your job will narrow to be more specialist. We already see so many graduates who want to specialize in one area and we say, that’s great. Keep developing your portfolio along that route, but always maintain the other skills. If you want to practice UI, keep developing your knowledge of UX; learn the basics of coding because that’s going to help you empathize with your team, who will also help you become a more conscientious designer.
What companies are leading the hire of UX/UI designers? Is that a first hire in your experience?
I’m not sure there’s a specific size where that’s really important. I’d like to believe that UX and UI – especially UX – are growing in prominence and urgency for these companies. They’re realizing that they need to hire these people much sooner than they did in the past. I think a UX designer has to be at the beginning of the conversation. He has to be in the room to say, “What do you want this product to achieve? What is it supposed to do and who is supposed to do it?”
When thoughtful, conscientious designers get in at the beginning of a process, they can make a big difference. We constantly teach our students – and it’s probably a universally accepted truth at this point – that the problem is not always what the client believes it to be. It’s what you, the researcher and designer who’s looking at this from a bird's-eye perspective see it is. It could be an entirely different problem, so you have to solve that problem instead. The sooner that they realize that the sooner they can make an impact on the process.
Is UX/UI design a career that someone can transition into? Do you have to have a design background in order to transition into UX/UI?
When you’re looking at things like composition and form and structure, having a design background definitely helps. But I think bigger than that, the best students and graduates are the ones who are interested in tackling a problem from a new perspective. They’re ones that value empathy, understanding what someone else’s need might be and how they can do something about that.
We’ve accepted students who work in data science, social work and education. These are people who never opened up Axure or Sketch before. But they come with a fundamental understanding of what UX achieves and what UI achieves and what you can accomplish as a designer at a very basic level. Those are people that have the best opportunity because it’s harder to teach somebody empathy or teamwork or discerning what the client is saying. And if you’ve had experience doing that before, to me, that’s more valuable than a design or coding background.
As the Community Director, you’re connecting students with the professional design world. You mentioned meeting with students to understand their needs and goals. When does that process start at Designation? Are you meeting with students once a week throughout the course?
Our program is 12 weeks and about five or six weeks in is when I pair students with a professional mentor who’s in their area—a UX designer, UI designer or somebody who’s a mixture of those. The one-on-one relationships that I build with the students really start after that mentorship assignment.
We start bringing in guest speakers to talk about their experiences on specific topics like how to build a case study or tips on interviewing. Sometimes it’s very big picture like “here’s what life is like at this startup” or “Here’s what it’s like to work as a UX designer with 50 other UX designers around you.” We also start doing some studio tours and weekly workshops on best practices for finding a job and building a portfolio.
It means a lot of one-on-one work with students. I sit down with them at the halfway point (week six) and start asking about what they’d like to do. Sometimes those ideas are fully formed; other times they’re very general and it takes an ability to discern what they’re actually looking for. When they say things like, “I want a mentor” or “I’d like to be able to keep learning while I’m there” then I can say, “You might be looking for an in-house team environment or a larger product design company where they have that structure built in.” My dad is a guidance counselor and I think he passed on a lot of that curiosity and desire to help students – with their portfolios and personal brands and make introductions with companies they want to work for.
As you are connecting with companies, the biggest question that I get is who actually hires bootcamp graduates?
It seems like twice a week, I send an email to another company just to introduce Designation. We find that they respond very well to these students committing a lot of their lives to shift their career. They're very passionate and excited about how they’re coming out of this program, and they’re very skilled.
We tell them about how unique the Designation curriculum is. So when they do meet our students, they’re impressed with the way they talk about their work and the experiences they’ve had. They’re quantifying those unique things about Designation that put them above graduates from other programs, bootcamps or otherwise.
One by one, we’re reaching more companies and more people who are saying, “Man, there’s something special about designers who’ve come out of bootcamps in general, and Designation specifically. Maybe we need to look at using bootcamps like Designation to source our employees.” I think they realize that when you’re used to working 11, 12 hours a day/70 hours a week for a sustained period of time, you can do anything as a professional. You can learn things very fast because you’re used to that pace.
Since arriving at Designation, what have you noticed that you need to add to this hiring process and how have you iterated on it?
I’ve built my career in the last six or seven years since I stopped being a designer around helping people. That propelled me in a really interesting direction based on doing what I could to help people get to this other stage of their career.
When I came to Designation, I realized this was a perfect opportunity where there were a bunch of students every six weeks saying, “I’m not entirely sure where I’m going. I know that I want to get there and I know that I’m going to be a good UX/UI designer when I get there. What can you tell me about what I can do from here?” Being able to be in that conversation is such an honor and a huge responsibility for me that I take very seriously.
Setting aside time to build a relationship with every student and saying, “Your success is my success” is my priority. And when students go out there and find a job, it’s the greatest feeling that I could have.
Welcome to the September News Roundup, your monthly news digest full of the most interesting articles and announcements in the bootcamp space. Do you want something considered for the next News Roundup? Submit announcements of new courses, scholarships, or open jobs at your school!
This Week on Course Report:
- Should you learn web or mobile development first? We dive into this question with advice from Atlanta's DigitalCrafts code school!
- Have you tried Thinkful's Workshops? Grae, the Head of Education at Thinkful, gives us the scoop on their newest offering for bootcamp grads and working engineers.
- Mechanical-Engineer-turned-Web-Developer Kacy Ebel talks about her career change and her experience at We Can Code It's women-only bootcamp.
Aquisitions, Fundraises & Regulation
- General Assembly announced their $70MM Series D. This reporter thinks about what the fundraise could mean for their London campus.
- Hack Reactor acquired Chicago-based Mobile Makers Academy, adding iOS to their offerings. They also announced "Hack Reactor Core," the umbrella under which each school will operate autonomously.
- Inside Higher Ed reported on General Assembly's journey through regulation and expansion. Education Dive provides a nice, brief summary of the article.
- The Huffington Post reported on a letter from Jeremy Shaki and Khurram Virani (Founders of Lighthouse Labs) to parliament on code literacy, outcome-based education, and Canadian innovation through technology.
New Campuses + Courses:
- Dev Bootcamp announced they will open doors in San Diego this November.
- Montana Code School's first cohort started class September 28. (Listen to Montana Public Radio's story on the bootcamp).
- ThoughtKite will teach their first Toronto iOS bootcamp in October.
- Code Fellows has overhauled and reorganized their courses (bye bye Dev Accelerators, hello Code 401!)
- Applications for Code Platoon, a Chicago bootcamp geared towards veterans, are now open.
- Global News Canada writes about Toronto's Bitmaker Labs.
- Fortune Magazine explores women in Coding Bootcamps.
- FCW finds that coding bootcamps are 'Very empowering, very transformational.'
- A LinkedIn researcher blogged about the types of jobs reported by bootcampers on the networking site.
- Delaware Online looks back on ZipCode Wilmington's first bootcamp cohort.
- Built in Chicago: How Designation is bringing the bootcamp model to design.
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee computer coding school expands as employers show interest.
- The Street: Future Code Monkeys May Skip College and Head to Boot Camp
Have a great October!
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 knowledgeable and were more than happy to share that knowledge (both in and outside of class). Class structures varied depending on the topic being discussed. Usually there was a lecture component and a workshop/hands-on component. We often did peer review for our visual design, all-day workshops for user experience and live coding classes. They were very open to adaption so if something wasn’t working or a student needed extra help, they would do their best to accommodate students.
Did you ever experience burnout? How did you push through it?
Burnout is pretty standard in any creative endeavor - especially when you’re working as many hours as many of us did while at Designation. Being able to take a walk and get a change of scenery are easy ways to restart your brain. Also, making sure to make time for self-care is really important. Even though it’s a rigorous schedule, there is still time to get away and clear your head. It also helps that there are other people going through the exact same thing you are so you can rely on each other for support and understanding.
Can you tell us about a time when you were challenged in the class?
Tell us about a project you're proud of that you made during Designation.
Near the end of my time at Designation, we worked in teams of three-four to design and pitch a native mobile app to a local startup. It was really a great experience to be given the opportunity to work on real client work. We had to apply everything we had learned up to that point - with some help from instructors as well. For our wireframing and prototyping, we worked in Adobe Illustrator and Omnigraffle. Most of our design work was done in photoshop and then everything was moved into Invision to create a working prototype. It can be viewed here!
What are you up to today? Where are you working and what does your job entail?
I am currently working as a web and mobile designer at Spartz, Inc - a small start up in Chicago. I work with some very intelligent, passionate people and I am given a lot of creative freedom. I currently do a little bit of everything; user experience design, interaction design, interface design and occasionally some CSS. I was connected to the company through one of the instructors at Designation.
Did you feel like Designation prepared you to get a job in the real world?
Designation definitely helped to prepare me for my new job. What I learned there can be applied to everything I do in my new position. I was given a great foundation to build upon. I have never regretted leaving my previous job to go to Designation and pursue something I was really passionate about.
Have you continued your education after you graduated?
I do a lot of reading to continue to build my knowledge base - both books and online blogs/magazines. There is no lack of information and resources out there to be discovered. Some are better than others, but there is always something to be learned from what you read. I also find that the best thing you can do is to keep building. Whatever your craft is, being young or new to the field means that you should always be creating. I strive to create as much as I can. It doesn’t have to be something large or groundbreaking, just something creative that gets my brain thinking.
Designation is a full-time, immersive design course in Chicago with the primary goal to turn you into a hireable candidate for innovative and tech-focused companies. For a limited time, the Course Report community will get $500 off tuition to Designation!Continue Reading →
Designation is a digital design-focused school in Chicago that helps students with a technical or design background make the shift to digital design jobs. We talk with founder Kevin Yun about the differences between Designation and other web-development bootcamps, the types of applicants they look for, and why it's important to learn digital design now.
Kevin, tell us about your background and how you got into this boot camp model of education.
I’m a startup guy, but I didn’t really find my passion until I started doing design work for the startups I was working on. The startup world can be really scrappy, but you have to learn to do things quick and you have to learn a lot of things and wear lots of hats. That’s where most of my self-education and experience came from- just building products with friends and companies. I found that I was interested in design, and that’s when I saw the model for bootcamps coming up. Everyone’s focus seemed to be on programming, which design being treated to the side. There was like, five classes, part-time, but not a real focus on teaching digital design. I wanted to build a curriculum where it was full-exposure, where you’re not expected to be awesome at everything, but at least you would know the whole process. That’s why I started Designation.
How did you learn front-end development?
It took me a couple of years, here and there, of self-teaching and doing what needed to be done, but in the end, this is what I really like doing. Specifically, I like visual design, and going into a text editor to execute the design into code. Digital design is a large field, and there’s a tremendous amount of topics involved. The idea of Designation is really compressing all that knowledge and the insights from people with different experiences in design. Getting them in the same room for a really intense focus on ten weeks of design.
How long has Designation been operating?
It’s actually been a year now. We’ve had two part-time cohorts. But we just shifted into a full-time model a couple of months ago, and are about to launch our first class on April 21st. This is also the first that we’re talking to hiring partners, the first time we’re purposefully taking action to help students get jobs. That’s really the main goal. Our team has doubled within these last two months. There’s a lot of things that need to be changed, revamped, upgraded, and executed on, so we’ve been pretty busy on our end. Adding the hiring partnerships initiative is pretty insane.
How many people are working for Designation?
We have a network of mentors, designers, TAs, and design instructors. Really, the core team is our four instructors. Our setup is that we have lectures at night, and then a daytime immersion portion where students work on projects, assignments, and apply the things they learn in lectures during the daytime. It’s work and effort, when it comes down to it. We expect people to take a self-directed approach; we’ll hold your hand, but this is technology. In five years everything will be different, so it’s really important that student be self-directed and be motivated by themselves to reach their goals.
Why is it important to learn front end design?
Design has become really prominent, not just in terms of how things look, but the user experience and the research done behind building a product or service for a particular set of people that will use that. It’s not just, “Oh, let’s engineer something and push it out.” It starts with building personas, doing a lot of testing, iterating. Design is a large field, especially digital design- there’s everything from UX, front-end web development, and visual design. But really, the goal at Designation is to get students exposure to all the different types of design- we’re throwing a lot at our students, expecting them to put in the necessary work, follow the program and build an amazing portfolio by the end of the program.
Do students need to have the Adobe Suite to start the course?
We require all students to come in with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop already installed. This is for the prep work involved, and of course, for the main program.
What’s the cohort size that you’re trying to stick to for this first full-time immersive program?
We’re looking anywhere between 18-24, depending on how we build out our space. We have a dedicated space now at 1440 N. Dayton St. in Chicago. The location is actually right off the red line, about a three-minute walk. The red line is one of five lines in the country that never stops running.
What are you looking for in potential students? And how many applicants and what kind of applicants are you seeing for this next program?
This whole week was jam-packed with interviews, as we’re trying to narrow it down for the next class. What we’re really looking for in candidates is a technical or design background. So what that means is that maybe you have experience in back-end or front-end coding, knowing syntax, and semantics of code, or you are familiar with the language of code. We’re pretty serious about our designers learning to code- we believe everybody should learn to code. Our applicant pool has actually been quite strong, and I’ve been pretty impressed by the people we’re taking in. We’re taking in people who have already held UX/UI design positions. Most of them are not junior level- we look for at least, mid to senior level people who want a change in their careers, who do have some experience in design, whether it is Photoshop, Illustrator, or UX. We don’t like to think that we teach people, or we’re a school, as much as we are a group of designers that are showing you our practice.
So, it’s really that we’re looking for applicants that are already experienced. We’ll accept some beginners if they have a really compelling application or interview we need people who can dedicate an intense ten weeks of their life, and have some sort of experience. This is why there’s prep work involved. We want everyone to be on the same page before coming to class, whether they’re advanced or beginners- at least they’ll all have gone through the same topics before entering.
I read on your blog that you have lowered tuition. What was the motivation there, and are you seeing more applicants, less applicants, people from different backgrounds that are now able to apply, or are you going to see any money on 2,000?
The course is really $1,000- if your goal is to get a job after the program and you take a job with one of our hiring partners, we’ll give you a $1000 tuition refund. When we went full-time, the expenses just skyrocketed through the roof. Between building a bigger team, handling admissions, hiring partners, logistics, internal marketing, and everything to make students come in and have a seamless experience. That’s been a full time, day in and day out job just for our internal team. But we lowered the tuition because we believe in the long term vision, which is to place people into design jobs. That’s something our partners are totally in line with. Our business, and the people and services we work for now- our whole team is totally in right now. And I would say that is the most important thing. We have a 100 percent dedicated team to help place our students in jobs.
Do you all have any outside funding?
My mentality has always been to just be bootstrapped. We are closing a couple of very small rounds from friends and family now- anywhere between 5K and 15K investments, just so we can sustain in the short term and focus on the long term.
It’s pretty clear that there is a disparity between men and women in the web development part of the tech world. Women are underrepresented, and minorities are even more underrepresented. Have you noticed, in your experience, that there is the same sort of disparity between men and women in the design world?
If you’re talking programming and computer science, I would definitely say there is a huge disparity. I was a student at the University of Illinois at Champaign, and their computer science program is pretty strong, so I hung around that building a lot, and you could definitely see the ratio. But if you’re talking in terms of creatives and designers, 60 percent of our past students have been female, 40 percent male. Our field is very creative, it is process driven. So I think that’s where it differentiates us. I think the overlap is where you see the coding aspect. I would say our classes don’t have that problem. It might actually be the opposite problem.
You seem to really emphasize the hiring aspect of Designation. Can you explain the relationships that you have with hiring partners?
We’ve been working on it for a couple weeks now, and it started with some companies reaching out and asking to talk to our students. And some of our students were asking us to help them polish up their portfolios. So we took those hints and we realized that we should just go the whole stretch. On top of that, we’ve been talking to companies that are anywhere from 100 person, design driven start-ups, start-ups that are just starting out, some that are VC funded- that need the talent to expedite their growth, and that can pay the commission for that talent. Just to give you a little scope, there’s 30,000 UX jobs open, and this is according to careerbuilder.com, and there’s only 3,000 professionals that can fill up those UX positions. And this is just for user experience design. What we’re trying to do is get designers that are 20 percent there, and get them to an 80-100% level, a point where they can work with these companies. We’re located in the same building as one of the leading UX agencies in the Midwest. Employers don’t care about your background if you came from a boot camp, or whatever else. It’s really, “Can you show us your portfolio? Can you explain your work? Are you a cool person that we could work with on a day to day basis?“
If a student takes a job with one of your hiring partners, then they get a thousand dollar refund, right?
We like to think of it as splitting half the tuition. Our business relies on the tail end, where we place designers into companies.
If that happens, is Designation also taking a recruiting fee, or a hiring fee, from the company?
Exactly. That’s how we’re going to pay the bills. $2000 is a crazy low tuition. We just want to work with awesome people- having a large financial barrier to entry didn’t make sense.
What is a design job interview like? How do you help your students train for those interviews?
Tell us about the tech scene, especially as it relates to design, in Chicago.
I’m glad we started in Chicago, just because things are way too expensive in San Francisco and New York. In terms of jobs, it’s just a rising industry in general. As technology gets less and less complex, as people build more products and develop and push and deploy apps, and work in the data, design is tremendously important in terms of not making crappy products- that means a good user experience.
The California regulatory agency story that came out a few weeks ago has gotten a lot of press. Has it given you all any pressure to become accredited or is that something that’s on your radar at all?
The main reason for that regulation is to keep out the fraud. For example, there’s been thirty boot camps that have just popped up for development and programming across the nation. Whether they’re good, bad, credible, there’ve been more than thirty that have popped out in the last year. In terms of quality and promises and guarantees, the state needs to protect students somehow, so we’re in support of it. We’re in talks with the state department of Illinois, we’re getting our documents organized, which puts good pressure on us in terms of organizational structure, academic calendar, etc.
Kevin, are there any plans to expand into other courses, other locations, in the future?
Our goal right now is 100 percent placement, nothing else. That’s our main focus. Everything we do is revolving around that fact.