Learning UX Design through the Interaction Design Foundation — A Review
As an aspiring UXer with a background in Web and Graphic Design I am currently halfway through the ‘UX Designer’ Learning Path offered through the Interactive Design Foundation (IDF). The following is a review intended for people that may be interested in studying through the IDF. A quick disclaimer — my only affiliation with the IDF is as a member/student. I have not been paid by the IDF for this article.
What is the IDF?
Founded in Denmark in 2002 by Mads Soegaard and Rikke Friis Dam, the Interaction Design Foundation (IDF) is a not-for-profit educational institution. The mission of the IDF is to create accessible and affordable Ivy League-level design education.
They aim to democratize UX education with open-source academic courses taught by experienced industry leaders and university professors.
The IDF board is occupied by industry heavyweights such as Don Norman — who coined the term User Experience — Bill Buxton, and Irene Au.
I signed up for a Professional membership in May 2019 and payed for a year upfront which cost $168 AUD. Since then the IDF have increased their fees and at the time of writing a yearly membership now cost $276 AUD which can be paid yearly or at a cost of $23 AUD per month. A Professional membership provides access to all courses, encyclopedias, articles, the IDF community and local meetups.
I believe this is the first time the IDF have increased fees in several years and considering the vast amount of content available I think it is still value for money. Student and Design League memberships are also available at different price points.
What’s on offer?
The content on offer is exhaustive with five open-source books, around thirty courses organised into different learning paths and articles updated daily.
The Books — One of the books offered is The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction whose 4,000+ pages cover the design of interactive products and services such as websites, household objects, smartphones and computer software. Having access to this one document is almost worth the price of a years membership alone. Other titles available include:
- Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software;
- The Social Design of Technical Systems: Building technologies for communities;
- Bringing Numbers to life; and
- The Glossary of Human Computer Interaction.
The Learning Paths — contain various courses arranged into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. I am currently on the ‘UX Designer’ path which include courses that provide a foundation on the wide range of disciplines required to become a UX Generalist. If you are new to UX but are unsure of what discipline you’d like to specialise in I recommend starting with this learning path. A few of the courses covered in this path are:
Once you find a discipline you’d like to focus on other paths are available including:
The Courses — Courses are organised into lessons with most courses consisting of between 7–9 lessons. Lessons are a mix of video, text, images and group discussions. The first two lessons are immediately available upon signing up with a new lesson being released every week.The courses consist of both multiple-choice questions, which are automatically graded and open-ended questions, the answer of which are graded within about two weeks.
To obtain a course completion certificate you need to score at least 70% for that course.
The Course Instructors
Courses are designed and presented by industry leading designers, bestselling authors, and Ivy League professors. The five courses I have taken to date have been delivered by:
Professor Alan Dix (my personal favourite!)
Professor Ann Blandford
The IDF Community
As you progress through the lessons there are opportunities to participate in group discussion with fellow members.
In addition to the group discussions the option to join local IDF groups for in-person real-world study sessions and networking exists. I have joined the Sydney, Australia IDF group but have unfortunately not yet attended a meet-up so can’t comment on the turn-out, how they are run or what is discussed.
There are currently 481 local groups spread across 96 countries with over 73,000 members so it shouldn’t be hard to find a local group.
I have completed six of the ten courses in the UX Designer learning path which has taken me about seven months. I allocate about 30–60 minutes a day, five days a week to the courses. Those that can dedicate more time will obviously be able to get through lessons quicker.
My motivation levels have stayed consistent throughout. The IDF uses a Leader Board design so you can compare your course result as you progress against others in your country, wider region and the world. I find this brings out the competitiveness in me and provides an incentive to continue my UX journey.
I’m yet to put together a UX portfolio (I’ll be starting this in a few months) but feel I now have a solid understanding of the core concepts of UX and feel comfortable discussing these concepts with others in a business setting. The Design Thinking course was a particular standout and should be a ‘go to’ for companies looking to provide their employees with the tools to solve ‘wicked problems’ using innovation while keeping the users interests at heart.
I can’t say I’ve tried any other UX course or learning platforms so don’t have a point of comparison but I’ve been impressed with the course content, structure and instructors. It’s not all roses though — the negatives are that some multiple-choice questions are ridiculously easy. I’ve read that if you cancel your subscription access to your online certificates is removed. You can download your certificates before you cancel though. There has been a significant price hike this year and if this occurs on a regular basis maintaining a membership may become too costly for some, particularly student that aren’t working full-time. I believe the current pricing of $24 AUD per month is still pretty good value, all things considered.
If you’re looking for an online learning platform solely focused on UX and its many disciplines that has quality content which is delivered by instructors that absolutely know their stuff I’d recommend the IDF.