Featuring in Glassdoor’s “Best Jobs in America” list year after year, UX design as a career gains more and more traction. As a result, many are left wondering how to enter the field and learn the trade. So, can you teach yourself UX design?
While there are many schools, bootcamps, and online courses to help show you the ropes, taking a formal course may not be the best or most feasible option for all prospective UXers.
Rigid time requirements, commuting to and from a classroom, and difficult financial commitments are just a few reasons some people interested in UX might be questioning whether a formal course is for them.
Luckily, it’s not impossible to teach yourself UX design. After all, the original UX designers that pioneered the field did something very similar to the self-taught designers of today, but with even less resources than are available now.
We’ve created this in-depth guide to help you answer the question, “To school or not to school?” and go over the pros and cons of being self-taught, how to do it, and other options available.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Benefits of teaching yourself UX design
- Challenges of teaching yourself UX design
- How to teach yourself UX design
- UX design schools and bootcamps
- Can you teach yourself UX design? Key takeaways
Let’s get started.
1. Benefits of teaching yourself UX design
Teaching yourself a whole new discipline can seem daunting. But, there are actually a lot of positives that come along with being a self-taught designer.
A UX bootcamp can be anywhere from $3,000 to $16,000 USD for 9-28 week programs. By teaching yourself, your only costs would consist of the online design tools, books, and software needed to learn the UX fundamentals and create your design portfolio.
Many of these resources are costs many students in bootcamps end up paying for on top of their tuition anyways. Therefore, teaching yourself UX design is a great option for interested learners on a budget.
Go at your own pace
Many aspiring UX designers are already professionals looking to undergo a career change or that have full-time jobs. Becoming a self-taught designer allows you to set your own schedule and develop at your own pace.
Therefore, illness, family responsibilities, or second jobs are less likely to interfere with your education, as there is no time limit or rigid schedule.
Freedom of course structure
The ability to create your own UX curriculum allows you the freedom to put more focus on areas of interest or quickly move through concepts you may already understand.
This can help many product developers, software engineers or other tech workers who already have a base understanding of UX to expedite their education. Or, perhaps you want to apply for a job in UX research or another sub-specialty and need your training to reflect certain, specialized skills.
2. Challenges of teaching yourself UX design
Now that we’ve laid out the benefits, let’s take a closer look at how teaching yourself UX design can be challenging.
Limited access to feedback
One of the most obvious problems with not attending a formal bootcamp is limited access to professors and other UX professionals that can give you valuable and important critique and advice.
Teaching yourself can feel difficult as you may not know where to start, if what you’re doing is correct, or what steps to take next. Furthermore, the wealth of online UX knowledge makes it easy to become overwhelmed or “lost in the sauce”, so to speak.
Hard to stay motivated
For some personality types, the lack of set deadlines, timeframes, or testing schedules can make it hard to stay on track. It requires a lot of discipline to be a self-taught UX designer and it can often take about six months to a full year longer than simply attending an expedited bootcamp.
Additionally, a lot of teaching yourself UX design consists of a lot of reading. That may feel like a long time to keep yourself motivated and working consistently.
Isolation from UX community
One of the benefits to attending an in-person UX course is the interaction, camaraderie, and socialization you get with other aspiring designers and professionals. Teaching yourself can be isolating and you may be more prone to feeling lonely throughout your UX journey.
Not only might you miss out on precious information about UX events or resources, but you may also lose the opportunity to make some good friends who are going through the same thing you are. We’ve created a full guide explaining why mentorship is key to the UX design industry more so than many others.
3. How to teach yourself UX design
If you’re feeling like being a self-taught designer will work out well for you, you still might not know where to start or how to do it.
The following tips should help give you a better idea of what teaching yourself UX design looks like and how to do it effectively.
Set a rough schedule and course outline
Treating your education process as much like a real school (or even like a real job) will be the most beneficial way to approach it.
While there is more room for flexibility, keeping a regular schedule and having an idea of when you want to complete your education experience can give you a concrete goal to work towards and help you stay motivated.
Next, you’ll want to layout what topics to cover and skills to work on. There’s a wealth of UX knowledge out there today and it can be easy to fall down the rabbit hole of information. Here are some topics you’ll definitely want to cover:
- What is UX design?
- Design principles and heuristics
- The design process and each stage
- Research methods
- User psychology, user personas, and user flows
- Wireframing and prototyping
- User testing methods
- Data analysis/analytics
- UI design, typography, color theory
- Graphic and motion design
- Designing for web and mobile
Gather your books and resources
With your topics and schedule all laid out, it’s time to gather what resources you’ll be learning from. It’s best to have a mix of media (ie. books, articles, videos, short certifications etc.) to learn from so the information you’re getting is varied and so you don’t just feel like you are reading for hours on end.
When getting started, you’ll probably being doing a lot of reading and researching. But as time goes on, make sure you have a good mix of understanding the material and putting it into practice with different exercises to test your knowledge.
Here’s a quick list of helpful resources to get you started:
- 5 UX podcasts Every Designer Should Listen To
- Design MBA
- 99% Invisible
- Design Matters
- The Futur (Their YouTube channel is great too)
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
- The Field Guide to Human Centered Design by IDEO
- About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, David Cronin, and Christopher Noessel
- Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
- 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan M. Weinschenk
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal and Ryan Hoover
- Observing the User Experience: A Practitioners Guide to User Research by Elizabeth Goodman and Mike Kuniavsky
- Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things by Don Norman
- The Element of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web by Jesse James Garrett
Websites and articles
- Google Material Design
- Apple Human Interface Guidelines
- 5 Steps to a Hypothesis Driven Design Process
- What is a Wireframing? A Guide to Designing Your UX Background
- What Font Should I Use? 5 Principles for Choosing and Using Typefaces
- A Simple Introduction to Lean UX
- Asking the Right Questions During User Reasearch, Interviews, and Testing
- 3 Keys to Aligning UX with Business Strategy
- Usability 101: Introduction to Usability
- Making Usability Findings Actionable: 5 Tips for Writing Better Reports
- Color Theory 101
- CareerFoundry UX Design Blog
If reading starts to become tedious for you, there are other more engaging resources such as Coursera, Lynda, Skillshare, and Udemy that offer tutorials across a wide variety of design topics and softwares. These are especially useful when getting a grasp on important design tools like Figma, Sketch, Adobe, InVision and more.
Determine a final project
In order to get a job in the UX design field, you’ll need to show potential employers what your work looks like and your level of UX proficiency. The most common and effective way of doing this is completing a final project for your UX portfolio that shows your understanding of the design process from start to finish.
This project can be a redesign of your favorite app or the creation of a product from scratch. You’ll want it to showcase your interests, UX aptitude, and understanding of the entire design process.
The project should include an overview of the problem, research on the problem, competitors, and potential users, proposed solutions and goals, wireframing and prototyping, usability testing and improvements, the final product, and proposed next steps.
For a more detailed look at building your first UX portfolio and to see some examples, check out our complete portfolio guide.
Get involved with the community
Being a self-taught UX designer can make it harder to find guidance and a community of fellow UX students or other colleagues in the field.
However, just because you are learning on your own doesn’t mean you have to be alone. With a bit of effort and outreach, you can find many in-person and online resources to connect you with people in the UX community.
Here are a few ways to get involved:
- Attend UX meetups or conferences in your area
- Connect with other UX designers on LinkedIn
- Reach out to current employees at companies you admire or want to work for
- Follow UX Discord or Slack channels
During your outreach, it’s important to let others know you are on the lookout for a UX mentor. As we mentioned earlier, having a UX mentor can provide you with a lot of support, resources, feedback, career advice, networking opportunities, and professional references.
Make it fun!
One of the biggest hurdles with teaching yourself UX design is staying motivated and on track. One way to get over this is to incorporate a bit of fun with your studies and keep things engaging.
Think of the different ways you enjoy learning and try to incorporate it into your curriculum. If you’re more on the social side, find UX events in your area and connect with other designers. Or invite your friends over for a usability test party or to present your final project.
More of a homebody? Search for some good design documentaries on Netflix and have a relaxing evening at home while still learning.
Teaching yourself doesn’t have to be a lonely experience full of hours on end of reading. Try to mix up how you are obtaining and integrating your UX courseload to keep things exciting.
4. UX bootcamps
In contrast to teaching yourself UX design, there are many schools and bootcamps that can guide you through the process if being self-taught isn’t sounding like your thing. To help your weight out the options, let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from a formal UX education and some course options.
What is a UX bootcamp?
The bootcamp-style learning method was developed as a way to expedite the transition from complete novice to full-fledged UX designer ready to work in the field. UX bootcamps are intended to teach the ins and outs of UX design as well as how to apply these fundamentals in real life during your career.
They often last anywhere between three to six months and are designed to give you the practical skills you’ll need to secure a UX position. There are many different styles of bootcamps and they can vary in intensity, time commitment, or whether they are remote or in-person.
Benefits of UX bootcamps
UX bootcamps take the guess work out of what is needed to land a job as a UX designer. They are structured learning environments that often provide feedback from other professionals as well as a steady mentor.
Many will also provide career coaching to help you maximize your portfolio and resume when applying to UX design jobs. Some schools even go so far as to provide a job guarantee where they will refund or hire students themselves if they follow all criteria and still don’t obtain a UX position.
UX bootcamps are an accessible option for beginners that offer a clear structure and an easy way to connect with other students or career-changing professionals. Access to these professionals and a structured course can help ensure you are getting up-to-date and practical UX skills.
Choosing a UX bootcamp
The right bootcamp for you should be able to fit within your schedule, values, and learning style. A good bootcamp will be open to new learners, career changers, or other tech-industry workers that want to enhance their current skills.
We’ve created a full guide to UX design bootcamps, but for now here’s a quick list of UX bootcamps to check out:
So, if teaching yourself doesn’t sound feasible, UX bootcamps are a wonderful way of expediting your UX career in a guided, formal way without breaking the bank or requiring too much time.
6. Can you teach yourself UX design? Key takeaways
Taking your UX education into your own hands can be a mix of challenging feats and personal victories. It’s important to assess various aspects of yourself like your learning style, budget, availability, level of motivation, and need for support before committing to being self-taught.
If you’ve decided that teaching yourself is a good option, the next steps would be to plan your course curriculum, gather your resources and materials, and make a rough schedule of when and what you’ll be learning. Then it’s time to start learning all those practical skills you’ll need to land a job.
And if being a self-taught designer doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, there are plenty of valuable and affordable UX bootcamps to guide you on landing your first UX position, such as the CareerFoundry UX Design Program.