A CareerFoundry Student Advisor taking our own UI Design course: Online study tips learnt along the way

My mentor, Amy, and me, Cicely — UX Student Advisor and aspiring UI designer

I’m currently a specialist in online course motivation, learning experience, study skills, and community at CareerFoundry, helping our UX students reach the finish line. Alongside my work, I’m taking our very own UI program to aid my own transition into design, having noticed what high praise our students bestow upon this course. Not only am I gaining confidence, knowledge, and new skills, but my experience is also generating endless empathy for my students who face the same challenges posed by an online course, therefore teaching me how better to advise them.

Why the UI design course?

In a previous life, I was a content writer and translator. A French literature and art student before that. I draw, paint, collage, and shoot black and white film outside of work. I hunt down and lap up art and design wherever I can find it. All this to say: I’m drawn more and more strongly to work in a creative field — preferably in a role focusing on visual aesthetics.

I know from our Career Services team that our UI graduate placement rate is soaring at 96%, so this course feels like a safe choice. I work closely enough with our in-house designers to have caught a glimpse of the UI design working day, of the tangible and aesthetically pleasing output, of the deliciously meticulous attention to detail. I’m armed with an arsenal of my own study tips. And having previously been the UI Student Advisor, I’ve seen how much our students enjoy this course. So I decided to step onto the design path myself.

How do I manage to study alongside my work?

If I were to say only one thing about taking an online course it’d be: keep sight of your end goal. Not the end goal of completing the course. I mean the real end goal — a career in design. Regularly visualising myself working as a UI designer is proving crucial, because (unsurprisingly) finishing my job for the day and then doing more work does not come naturally.

From experience, I’d say the hardest part of taking an online course is self-motivation. This is the main struggle I’ve noticed during both of the online courses I’ve taken, and while advising e-learning students for over two years. One might think time management is the main challenge. No: rather than focusing on the number of hours or a fixed study schedule, I concentrate on the outcome. I remind myself what I want in life, and imagine myself already there. Despite having to fit in the course around my full-time job, hobbies, and social life, that vision looks so good that the X hours of study time then come naturally. Time management issues evaporate. Suddenly, my coursework is done.

My first lo-fi wireframes ever, using good old pen and paper

So if you’re doing an online course yourself, work out what your end goal is. Do what I did: write it down and stick it on a Post-it somewhere visible at home. When you “don’t find time” to study, just read and visualise this goal. If it isn’t enough to motivate you, then maybe you aren’t taking the right course.

If you are studying the right field but are still not motivated to sit down and work on your course, this may be because you don’t have the confidence, you’re not sure if you can do it, or it feels overwhelming. This is where it comes in handy to have a mentor and tutor. Ours at CareerFoundry answer any questions you have about the course content and real-life UI design work, and remind you to take the course step-by-step, to compartmentalise. They also remind you that you can do it if you want it enough and that you’ve already learnt a lot! Goodbye imposter syndrome. Hello UI confidence.

One last motivation tip which worked for me is attending networking events. This can be scary at first. For example, I talked to no other humans at my first UX/UI design Meetup. I listened to the talks. I learnt. Aforementioned imposter syndrome was strong. The more I attended, the weaker it got, and something replaced it. I saw what I want to be. People doing what I want to do. A community to which I want to belong. And that motivates me as much as my Post-it.

How not to waste time

A piece of advice I frequently give to my students is to submit their coursework early rather than waste hours not sure if they’re doing the right thing. You don’t have to get it right first time. On our platform, your tutor can mark your coursework “Nearly There” and explain what to do to reach “Approved”. If I feel I’m taking too long or suspect I’m spending my precious time doing the wrong thing, I submit an MVP version of my task with a message to my tutor and find out. This way I don’t waste time going off on a tangent, and my tutor guides me in the right direction to finish my task.

Another time-saver of mine? If I have a question, rather than waiting for an answer from my tutor, I just Google it. Independent research is something we’ll all have to do in our design jobs, so we might as well get used to it now. I often find what I need there and can continue with my coursework, then discuss in more detail with my tutor later. This expedites my learning, plus I discover go-to sites for next time I have a question.

My first ever medium-fidelity wireframes on Sketch for my first student project, a music player app

Don’t fall down a rabbit hole!

I’m finding our curriculum’s original UI course content fascinating and interspersed with links to equally interesting further reading. Which inspires yet further reading. Which inspires yet further reading. So it goes. This is not necessary to complete the course! It is supplementary. I learnt this the hard way: being an information addict, I don’t know when to put the brakes on my internet surfings. Therefore, I’m not nearly as close to my UI designer goal as I could be, had I not fallen down a rabbit hole. Now I bookmark further reading for after my graduation, for when I’ve completed my portfolio, for when I’ll need the deeper knowledge and revision during my first real design project. For now, let’s reach the finish line!

Favourite parts of the UI course so far?

I’ve particularly enjoyed learning about design principles, creating my own icons, and the lesson on colour theory and palettes which was familiar to me from my background in art. I also delight in perfectly spacing and aligning everything always. My favourite moments so far have been when I completed my own first medium-fidelity Sketch wireframes, and when I saw the practice app prototype I’d created on my actual Android screen!

On the flipside, pixel precision and I don’t get along. But we’ll try to make friends.

And finally, how was dogfooding i.e. using our own product?

As you can see, eating our own dog food has helped me discover more study tricks, and to better empathise with our students. Both of these things improve my advising abilities. I’ve got to know and given feedback on our curriculum and platform from a student’s perspective. I’ve also developed a deeper pride in our product, discovering how in-depth, well-written, challenging, and enjoyable our UI course is.

Now, back to my studies I go!