Who learns the most at — or from starting — a design school?
Here’s why we discontinued the Codaisseur Design Academy after doing 3 classes and changing 20 people’s lives.
The beauty of the Codaisseur pledge is the job guarantee. It motivates students to work hard so they learn a lot in a short time; it’s a great value proposition for a company; it’s brilliant when graduates get hired; it did not go as planned with the Design Academy.
We started with the hypothese:
“We can achieve for digital designers what we do for developers; train talented people into work by facilitating a complete career switch in less than 6 months, ”
I only wanted to do this when we made the pledge to train people into work; make it a hollistic model. We promised the job guarantee and we did not deliver on that promise, I feel responsible for this, I poored a year of my life in this venture, and I apologize for making people believe we could do it.
We really tried, but I can imagine people feel disappointed. The first people that joined are pioneers for jumping into something unproven like this–which I optimistically call an adventure.
The relatively low performance
160 people applied to the design bootcamp, 26 got accepted, of which 20 have finished the program, 8 of them found work, and 5 are still looking.
We started with a top notch curriculum. We used future focused design tools like the multi platform and collaborative Figma — the newest methods like Design Sprints 2.0, Hook model and the Lean UX Canvas — as of the more standard methods like User/Customer Journey mapping, surveys, interviews and the Kano Model.
The industry confirmed time and time again that our courses were top notch and relevant. We had 3 classes in total, and after each class we tried to do a better job than the previous one by implementing feedback, iterating and experimenting.
We changed lives with facilitating an intense training experience. Some graduates now work for Rijkswaterstaat, Figma, and ABN-AMRO.
Our Key Performance Indicator (KPI) was graduates getting hired after the bootcamp, and the faster the better. After 3 months we could track this KPI, we were on a good track throughout the 2nd class, during the 1st class employment phase. But just before the holidays in december we started to notice that too much graduates just did not get hired in time, so as per our contractual agreement, we had to release them.
I personally felt every rejection, and there were a lot; some 21 on average per graduate.
Like with digital products we can usually see in the direct data where things go wrong, and adjust accordingly. In digital, we can do small experiments and iterate quickly. With a training of 10 weeks and an employment phase of maximum of 4 months you can make adjustments, but you can’t test quickly. Additionally, we train and service people, not apps or websites; this complicates things exponentially.
Our experiment took about 6 months in total, that’s pretty long for us ‘digital product people’.
In the long run it proved too complex to understand what factors make that graduates do not find work early.
A school is a place for learning, but who will learn the most? Is it the students, teachers, or initiators? Every day we tried to unlock the secrets of our experiment, every day we tried to open another ‘school locker’ — with or without the key or code — it was something new, and it was super complex.
I enjoyed every bit of it, every laugh we made together and tear we shed. It’s all worth it we you make an impact and challenge yourself and the people around you.
Here’s my perspective on what I think influenced the relatively low performance of the design academy:
Codaisseur is the best, largest and fastest academy for developers; why should that work for design too?
When we look at the identity of Codaisseur, it’s built by developers and pushed forward by developers. For starters, it took a while for the systems and people at Codaisseur to get used to the difference in teaching design.
So much is different: where we target our ads; how we admit people; what we need in a classroom; how we execute projects, what is required to get a job.
For the people interested in our programs; at our open evening, we found that people were some times confused about design and that we also taught design. People said:
“Design is not that important, it’s just how it looks. Right?”
“I’m not creative enough for design as a logical thinker, I’ll do code”
This deflected most good logical thinkers to switch to our development academy instead of design; while we really wanted those people to join to learn digital design. Logical thinking is great trade for a designer.
We noticed positive changes in mindset with the developers, working with designers. We sparked more of a designers mindset in the developers, asking questions like: “How can this work better for the user”. We also observed that the User Interfaces became cleaner and more mindful in their (real world) projects and at their new jobs.
The model of Codaisseur works for junior developers because they are in insanely high demand. We have trained more than 250 people into work, working at 190 partners and the numbers are growing rapidly. Do these companies understand that Codaisseur can now also supply great junior digital designers? What does the industry need in terms of design? The misunderstanding of the goal of design to make things ‘desirable’ or ‘pretty’ was common at employers.
We needed to constantly explain the different product management roles and important decisions designers could make for the user/customer.
We trained people to become the ☝ above ‘purple’ UX Designers.
For our 4th — eventually cancelled — class we wanted to focus more on the UX Engineers, also referred to as a UX developer or Full Stack Designer.
That brings me to the next finding:
Most employers want junior (freelance) unicorns; and need senior (non freelance) specialists
When I say unicorns, I mean full stack designers, they have the whole package; the mythical creatures that may or may not exist. With ambiguous job titles like UX/UI/Visual designers; that means that people need to be able to do the research and make things useful (UX), make things useable (UI) and also desirable (visual).
The above junior job description is mostly needed on a freelance or project basis, not as a full time position, while it’s actually 3 jobs in one. Most designers are not capable of doing the UX, UI and visual part really well, this is perfect for finite projects or small experiments.
Our designers got 500 hours of experience in 10 weeks, you may master the tools and the different ways to deliver a project with or without coders, but you’re still a junior without in company experience.
Our graduates got a lot of rejections because they lacked the relevant experience, but they are generally older and already have in company experience, but not relevant one.
I made an assumption that my graduates would get hired easier because they already had 3–10 years of ‘other’ work experience.
A lot of companies I talked to have a 1 (UX) designer to 3/4 developers ratio. When you form teams like this, the responsibility of the designers is substantial, they make important decisions about the product, marketing and the business.
Therefore, the decisions designers make are too important to have done by a junior.
Although we were teaching people to become UX designers, the terminology in design related job titles/descriptions was all over the place. Based on 200 entry level design job openings we crawled (with the people from CV Compiler), UX was in 83% of the job openings, and UI was in 64%.
From the 200 junior design jobs we found that almost 3 out 4 included UX ánd UI — and almost half mentioned coding languages.
In this space we were competing with the 8+ Communication and Multimedia Design (CMD) Bachelor studies in the Netherlands. It’s a popular educational program, where 1000+ new graduates enter the the market every year. I did it myself at the University of Applied Science — dare I say it one of the better ones — I was definitely a junior unicorn when I graduated in 2010. I had and still have a lot of hard skills, but I don’t excel in one specifically.
From 3 years of experience, people tend to specialise more in the field of digital design, getting to know the different directions and roles. If you stay a freelancer — like me — you can fall in the pitfall of remaining someone with a horizontal skillset.
What I learned here is that we needed to have more in company experience and collaboration, real world experience that translates to not making the beginner mistakes. Our real world projects program was good, but it did not convert to people getting hired; unlike with our developer graduates.
We started big, by doing classes back to back
When entrepreneurs/startups have the financial and operational support — in this case from the thriving Codaisseur — they tend to go a step further earlier, instead of doing small iterations and test hypothesises.
In hindsight, maybe we should have started with a simple one/three week bootcamp, and see how people landed. I really admired the ‘Codaisseur Model’ with the job guarantee, that’s why I opted to do a full stack design academy from day one.
When Codaisseur started with two and a half FTE, without an external investment, they needed to know for sure their trainees found work, because else they would not earn anything. I respect Wouter and Rembert deeply for achieving that, they did not have the luxury I did. Most people of the first class found work, but that does not mean you have product/service market fit.
I chose to launch a new class immediately after a class ended, instead of completely focusing on helping all first and second graduates to work.
From the second class only 1 out of 7 graduates found work. They were admitted because they are talented and smart people, with an interesting background. They did not find work within the promised time of 4 months, so we had to let go their obligation to pay the tuition fee. This hurt the business, and mainly disproved our hypotheses.
At this point we were in about 6 months, December 2018, finishing the third class. We needed to contemplate to push new classes forward, create new plans for a better landing in companies and what we should do in general to make this work.
Everything slowed down after that, and Codaisseur made the wise decision to focus on becoming the even better coding school it is now.
Starting a school, where the initiators learn the most.
From day one this was an experiment, I owned this project, I owned this experiment, and we constantly adjusted and improved, tweaked and changed.
My life is changed, because we changed 20 people’s lives, even after the program some found work, and we educated people. They are the bold pioneers that trusted us with their time. I’m truly thankful for all the students that went on this (ad)venture with us.
Thank you for everyone believing in this adventure, thank you to Wouter de Vos and Rembert for daring to partner with me. Thanks to everyone at Codaisseur for their support, friendship and candor; Alienor de Haan, Arien Kock, Irene De Nicolo, Johan Krüse, Lisa Scorzon, Mimi Magusin, Rein Op ‘t Land and Pierrot. 💙❤️💙❤️💙❤️💙❤️💙❤️💙❤️💙❤️💙❤️💙❤️
Many of you told your friends about the design program, thank you for that too! Thank you for believing in us. You can send them this article to help them understand why we discontinued this chapter in the academy.
What’s next for me? I just can’t stop with starting initiaves.
I will continue to freelance and since this year I’m making Ultimate Frisbee BIGGER THAN FOOTBALL with Windmill Tournament and ulti.TV, I’m also working on the side to achieve co-living community concept with Maakplaats3,