Designlab course review: UX Research & Strategy, Interaction Design
In this review I will tell you why I chose the Designlab UX courses to develop my UX design skills, and hopefully after reading this you will get enough insight to decide if this courses are for you or not.
I also recommend reading my article to anyone who is in the online teaching business, there are some great practices Designlab has developed.
There are many UX design bootcamps and courses out there. These vary in intensity, cost, curriculum and methods.
In 2015, I attended an “offline” intensive UX course in my home country, Hungary (xLabs), and thanks to this course I could experience what does it mean being lead by a great UX expert mentor, so I wanted to get a similar experience.
Mentorship: Biggest Gain and Biggest Risk
The true value of the Designlab courses is the high quality feedback, which comes from the one-on-one 1 hour long weekly mentor sessions, and from your mentor’s comments.
Throughout a course, you will have 4 hours with an industry expert, who is there to help you, to answer your questions. Imagine that your mentor’s UX knowledge and experience inside her/his head is a huge picture, and you can zoom-in to any part of it! It is a huge opportunity to learn about the most up-to-date best practices, techniques and methods.
Although it is the biggest gain, at the same time there is a certain risk: what if your mentor is not good/responsive/skilled enough?
Harish Venkatesan, the CEO and Founder of Designlab wrote in a post about their mentor selection process: “We vet all of our mentors thoroughly before they join the platform, looking for strong designers with demonstrated expertise (trydesignlab.com/mentors)”.
But there are certain things they obviously can’t monitor in advance, like the mentor’s personality, responsiveness, punctuality, willingness to follow his/her student’s work and to comment on each and every submission etc.
I had no luck with my first mentor (some examples: he postponed our scheduled first meeting last minute; he did not know what is in the course material; before the second session he made me wait 25 minutes, then he wrote me that he is in a traffic jam and he needs at least one more hour to get to his computer). After all these experiences, I wrote to the Designlab team that I would like to change my mentor. They were exceptionally helpful, and from this point I could work with a great expert.
To sum up, undoubtedly there is risk factor concerning the personality and competence of your mentor, but you can take this risk, because in case of having problems the Designlab Team will solve the situation in a pleasant and satisfying way.
When I enrolled these courses, I already had a strong theoretical knowledge (I attended a one-semester-long Ergonomics of User Interfaces course at a university; I completed the above-mentioned intensive UX course etc.), so the course material did not contain much new information for me, however, I think it is ideal for beginners for these reasons:
- it is divided into little, easily consumable chunks,
- it is well-structured, and it is easy to follow your progress,
- although you can find all of these information somewhere on the Internet, this knowledge base is very well-selected*,
- there are additional links, it is great if you want to dive deeper in a given topic (and it also makes the course material scalable: if you have more time, you can learn more),
- sometimes there are just some sentences, but these are carefully written and chosen sentences, the texts are not bloated with unnecessary words.
So from an UX perspective, they did a great job: the navigation is easy, there are no “wall of words”**, there are enough whitespace and so on.
(* There is a great book on this topic: Tyranny of the moment by Thomas Hylland Eriksen, one of the ideas in the book is that in our information society it is increasingly difficult to select the right — and credible — information.)
(**If you have not read it yet, I strongly recommend reading Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works by Janice Redish, it was published almost 10 years ago, but most of it is still relevant)
And the best parts of the course materials are the tasks. After some theory, you can put what you have just learnt into practice.
As you can see from this case study I wrote after completing the two UX-related Designlab courses, you can create a great portfolio piece thanks to the great tasks. But this requires…
The Right Mindset
In spite of all the good things I have already mentioned, you should not enroll, if you are not ready to put some work into it. It is not just about reading texts and watching videos, instead:
- you will need to invest at least 10–12 hours a week to complete each and every task properly, read the linked materials etc.
- you should document your progress (so then you can show it in your portfolio),
- you should prepare for the mentor sessions with many-many questions to get the most out of this great opportunity,
- you should constantly check out other student’s submissions, and learn from them.
The last point leads us to the next part, which is the
Online Learning Platform
After logging in, you not only can access the course material, there is a section for exploring other students’ submissions. Next to the submitted files, you can also follow the conversation between the student and the mentor related to a certain task. Following these chats is a good way of learning new things, getting some insights (e.g. I gathered many interesting links thanks to this). I also could learn a lot, get inspiration by going through the submission library. I found however, that the students don’t really comment on the fellow students’ work.
So my suggestion is that the Designlab Team should find ways to encourage this, because it not only would help making new connections (the networking aspect of the course), but in my opinion getting and giving feedback is also a very important part of the learning process.
There is also a section called “Student Discussion Board”. It is supposed to be an open forum where the students can talk about anything related to the given course. In my experience, this place was almost empty, sometimes Harish (the CEO of Designlab) posted questions (e.g. “What are you working on at the moment?” or “Do you need more participants for your research? You can recruit here, ask your classmates.”). I think this idea has much more potential.
To sum up, there are some cool parts of the learning platform, but some kind of motivation system should be developed to encourage students to communicate and interact more with each other. A nice community could be built around the Designlab courses.
As a result of successfully finishing a UX course at Designlab, you will get:
- a certificate, which contains highlights of your submissions (basically a nicely illustrated page picturing your progress); you can add the certificate to your LinkedIn profile (if you want to get a job as a UX designer, this can be helpful),
- a great starting point for creating a portfolio piece,
- hopefully some new connections (e.g. your mentor, some fellow students), and obviously
- some useful UX research and interface design knowledge (you can read the detailed syllabus here and here).
To Sum Up — My Advices
- If you are on the fence with enrolling in a UX course at Designlab, because you want to learn but you are not sure about the mentorship concept, don’t think twice! If you have any problems with your mentor, just contact the team, they are very responsive and helpful.
- Start with the UX Research and Strategy, then continue with the Interaction Design course.
During the course
To get the most out of the Designlab UX courses, and the learning process, I recommend considering these points.
- Devote at least 10–12 hours a week to the course, read the additional materials, create more versions of your submissions based on the comments of your mentor.
- If you have a good app idea in mind, don’t work on the default app suggested by the course material. Choose something you are passionate about (e.g. linked to your hobby), or a charity cause, or a tool, which can help your community. Take it seriously, as it would be a real project ordered by a client. After completing the UX courses, it can become your pet project, you can continue working on it.
- Prepare for the mentor sessions with many-many questions, topics you want to talk about.
- Document every step throughout the course (with photos, screenshots, descriptions, thought process, findings etc.).
- After the course, use the documentation to create a detailed portfolio piece.
All in all, I would highly recommend the Designlab UX courses, especially if you want to try out UX research and design methods, and develop your portfolio.
This is not a promotion in any way, I’m not a Designlab employee, and I don’t get any benefit from offering them, it is just my experience :)