UsabilityGeek
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How I Taught Myself UI/UX Design

Tips for a self-taught adventure

Picture of a person walking in a dense forest.
“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” — Dante Alighieri

When I decided to go into design, the decision was not an easy one. Like many people transitioning into tech from a different area of study, the question is, “Do I need to go back to college for this?”

Trust me, my wallet was not going to be happy.

I battled with the idea of attending General Assembly, CareerFoundary, Springboard, and other bootcamp alternatives, but the inner-resourceful part of me harped me not to. So loud, it was barking. Complying to the wishes (demand) of my inner self, I chose to muster up all my tools (me and my brain) and began my journey into the world of design. I am self taught in the sense that I never attended a design course in school. Some of the methods I wrote, you probably have read in other “How I become a UX designer” articles, while others might be novel.

Hey, you have to get creative sometimes.

The internet is my only friend meme

The Internet is your Amigo (friend)

I believe the biggest perks about living in the 21st century is the Internet. I used to wonder why many college students study in the library (I love to work from my dorm room). After speaking to people who went to college pre-Internet, I realized that books = Google. Now, things we want to learn are within our fingertips.

One Man’s Bootcamp
Using the resources available on the Internet, I created my own curriculum. Many universities and bootcamps make their syllabus visible for the public to view. By gathering a number of these syllabus, I had a picture of what I needed to learn. The advantage of creating my own education was that I only focused on what was ESSENTIAL to learn for UX design.

Free online education (yays)
In addition, I used Skillshare, an online learning community for all sorts of topics. By using a referral link, I got my first 2 months of Skillshare for free. It gave me a foundational knowledge of design. If you’re interested in trying out Skillshare for 2 months for the price of FREE, here is my referral link: https://skl.sh/2N7gNzc

Other online educational platforms that helped me become more attune with this fields are:

Coursera — Many of the courses are paid. However, as long as you audit (a small button labeled “audit”) the course, you can have access to the course materials for free, minus the ability to participate in projects or receive a certificate of completion at the end.

Medium — TONS of articles related to the beginning to the end of UX design

Youtube — Tutorials about UX process, Photoshop, Illustrator, prototyping softwares. Here are a list of my favorite go tos

Quizlets — curious about what HCI (human computer interaction) students are studying, but not in HCI school? By looking through various quizlets from various HCI classes, I became aware of knowledge nuggets from those classes indirectly.

Dribbble, Behance — for design inspirations and ideas

Library — You can borrow books or ebooks related to design (Just don’t forget to return them on time; they can get interesting). Don’t Make Me Think and Design of Everything are popular books. I recommend reading them, but I believe it is better to read UXUI design-related things off the Internet.

Online design communities — There are Facebook and Reddit groups dedicated to UX design. You can ask them for critiques or just to share your enthusiasm for the tech field.

Become a Lurker
No matter how disturbing as that sounds, designers put their work on the Internet to showcase to others. By looking through other designers’ portfolio, I reverse engineered the process (portfolio, case study content) to construct my very own. General Assembly has a page that exhibits projects from students in the UX immersive program (and other GA courses as well). These are literally their babies! However, make sure to look at case studies from experienced designers also, because they will have more insights and experience their work.

Meme — I’m not sure if I’m always at home because I don’t have friends, or I don’t have friends because I am always at home.

Offline Learning (some human Amigos)

While learning online is important, don’t rely only on that. Get out and talk to other design thinkers. Who knows, you might find your first job through someone you befriend there. One website I used was meetup.com.

Tips

Get Organized
I kept all the notes organized so I don’t need to dig into an endless abyss for a specific topic. I did this by 3 methods. It is not required, but it worked for me:

Screenshot of my Facebook wall
  1. Facebook
    What, Facebook? Isn’t that procrastination material? It can be, but I had a FB account dedicated to design learning. I uploaded a photo for each topic of UX (research, tools, graphic design, interviews, etc) that I used as a shortcut thumbnail. Under each picture, I post any website links that I believe are good to read about as comment posts. This allowed me to save a massive number of links without an overly cluttered bookmark tab. (image above)
  2. Google drive
    I created folders dedicated to each UX process. Here, I saved pdfs and word documents from other designers. In addition, I use my google drive to store all my (digitally) written notes. I type faster than I can write, and digital copies of my notes are more accessible.
  3. Binder
    The effectiveness of learning any topic first starts from knowing yourself. Although typing notes online is much faster for me, things imprints better in my mind if it involves tactile cues. There is something about pressing a pencil against paper that gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I would draw diagrams, mix colored gel pens, and make little doodles and sketches in ways that are not as convenient online. My UX education binder is also divided into the separate UX process. Before jumping into my first project, I made sure to obtain some foundation knowledge about each area of the design process.
Procrastination meme

Stop waiting. Start creating.
When I began my journey, I took many notes and watched numerous videos on Skillshare and Youtube. I practiced drawing the best journey map and made pretty personas with horizontal scroll bars. However, I was not getting my hands dirty. I felt productive because I was dancing around the idea making projects in the future.

I just need more foundation knowledge, I thought.

Thinking about doing is not doing. I was stuck in what Andy Sterkowitz referred to as “Tutorial Purgatory.” I felt like I was learning through bookwork, but bookwork only get you so far. Therefore, I recommend you jump in and practice solving design problems, even if you don’t think that you’re ready.

Get Inspired and Stay inspired
The beginning is the most exciting part. There’s so much novelty and I felt like a happy kid diving into a sea of fruit-roll-ups (I love those). However, once you make some progress, the learning may get less enjoyable and you might find yourself unmotivated to stick it through (I definitely did). During this time, I build a Youtube playlist of motivational videos and inspirational figures to keep me going:

Last thoughts

My journey was full of sweat, blood, and tears (figuratively speaking). There are a lot of doubts throughout this time. “Will it be good enough? Am I comparable to someone with a 4 year design degree or bootcamp experience?”

The mind likes its comfort zone.

I reminded myself of the numerous people who became UXUI designers without a design degree. If it is possible for one person, it is possible for me (and you).

I can’t say my case studies are top-notched (they are not, because there is always room for improvement), but I learned so much about UXUI design now than I first considered it. I still barely scratched the surface. It’s not an easy journey, especially if you are transitioning from an unrelated career. Whether you decided to go the university, bootcamp, or self taught route, just keep going. One step at a time, and you’ll get there.

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to become an expert in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic, then consider to take an online UX course from the Interaction Design Foundation. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research — Methods and Best Practices. Good luck on your learning journey!

Thank you for reading!

That’s a wrap — image showing a burrito with a wrapper

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