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UX Ultralearning

As a career-changer, I continue to be astonished by the diversity and possibilities of who works in UX. From librarians to photographers and other roles, everyone seems to have their unique journey entering the world of UX. The possibilities are endless as to how one can bring their expertise together with empathy to build an impactful experience for users.

When researching UX education, including the various offerings by well-known universities and online learning platforms, the options seem endless… Sometimes to the point of overwhelming when it comes to decision-making.

Do I need to enroll in a 4-year UX-related undergraduate degree such as Human-Computer Interaction, Interaction Design, Psychology, Computer Science, Design, Information Systems, or Anthropology? Or should I obtain a 1–2 Master’s degree and specialize in User Experience despite my previous experience? Is it a myth that you need a UX degree?

The growth of online and in-person immersions and bootcamps are sky-rocketing and I chose Designlab’s UX Academy (read my in-depth review!).

And then I read Scott Young’s book Ultralearning, I realized something BIG: I didn’t need a bootcamp to grant me a “certification” that I had achieved credible UX skills.

There are online resources through platforms such as EdX, Coursera, and Udacity that offer access to material from world-class institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, M.I.T, etc. With the ultralearning method, you can learn at a much faster pace, therefore, getting to the fun part in UX or creating projects and designers much faster.

Getting started with UX Ultralearning

There are some steps to get started with Ultralearning. To design your learning project, Scott Young recommends three parts:

  1. Figure out what you want to learn deeply, intensely, and quickly
  2. Choose the format you want for your project
  3. Prepare to start learning

I’ll take this framework and build out a sample UX Ultralearning project.

Step #1: Pick what you want to “Ultralearn?”

This one’s easy: UX design.

But “Learn UX” is too broad a goal. Heck, even “Learn UX in 1 month” may not be realistic because 28–30 hours is not going to prepare you for the UX world.

Instead, consider making it more focused: “learn how to wireframe in Figma” or “learn and master the application of 10 design principles.”

Another tip: be realistic with your goals and deadlines.
Fast-paced learning to get to the fun parts of UX is good but you can also mentally exhaust yourself by cramming concepts that you don’t understand the practical applications of. Find the balance between topics you would enjoy learning and those that would challenge you.

Reverse-engineering UX curriculum:
To begin this project, I scoured the internet for a narrow search of the UX curriculum for 4-year degree programs. While Master’s, bootcamps, and other certifications exist, the nature of fast-paced and accelerated don’t always include basic drawing, design, and humanities, which in my opinion are strong components to developing hard skills and empathy in the field.

Modeling after Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Purdue University, Lesley University, DePaul University, and Bradley University, the general curriculum is as follows:

  • Year 1: Introduction to design principles and user experience concepts
  • Year 2: Data, researching, and practice of tools
  • Year 3: Advanced user experience design, interactive media, and coding
  • Year 4: Capstone project and breath in desired UX skill(s)

If you plan on dedicating 6–12 months to UX Ultralearning, you could probably cover most of these in your project by dedicating 4–6 hours a day to studying. Otherwise, consider breaking up UX into smaller topics and run sprints of 2–4 week learning cycles to learn a particular tool or set of concepts

Step #2: Choose the Project Format

After settling on what you’re going to learn — consider the time you will dedicate to learning. Scott Young suggests that there are three different styles for an ultralearning project:

  1. Full-time projects. This is the most intense, most costly, and fastest project. I’d recommend this for recent graduates, those who took a break from their current day job or are otherwise able to devote full-time attention to a project. I originally chose a full-time track for Designlab’s UX Academy while working part-time to pay the bills and quickly realized that doing both was not a good idea. I constantly was lacking sleep and overall was unhappy with the time I had to dedicate to learning. Make sure you take all things into consideration if you choose this project.
  2. Fixed-schedule projects. These are projects with dedicated hours a week. For example, maybe you dedicate a couple of hours in the evening before bed, an hour before work, or a few hour blocks during the weekend. These projects might take some experimenting to figure out which time blocks would still allow you to be mentally available to study. For example, I am not a morning person so waking up earlier before work to study for an hour wouldn’t be the most productive but I could do a couple of hours in the evening after I go to the gym and have dinner.
  3. Fixed-hour projects. These are projects that don’t have a particular set schedule; it’s similar to a fixed schedule but let me explain. Let’s say I am to study 5 hours a week. During the first week, I might have time during the weekend to do 5 hours on Sunday, but the following week, I’m busy on the weekend so I do an hour before work every workday. I might continue that for the schedule the following week but revert to studying on the weekends. Regardless, 5 hours a week is getting down but there is no set schedule or repetition.

Step #3: Preparing to Learn

Before jumping into a project, take the time to prepare your learning materials, research learning strategies, and test out various schedules. It’s easy to be overwhelmed if you’re not mentally prepared for intense studying.

If you’re UX Ultralearning from the beginning, here are some (free) resources you might look into to get started:

With the resources picked out, you can design a preliminary plan of attack — maybe you need to order from Amazon or borrow from the library books to read, or sign up for an online course. Will you need to install Figma or Sketch? It doesn’t have to be complicated but it also should be prepared so that you can hit the ground running. If it takes 30 minutes to find and install a program in the designated hour a day you have scheduled for studying, half of that time could have been used towards practice or learning instead.

Your turn to Ultralearn

And that’s it! Learning UX could be done at home and almost free if you plan out your time, resources, and energy. Even though I did a bootcamp, I do wish that I knew more about other resources to better teach myself UX. As I continue down my own UX journey, I find myself revisiting ultralearning to create a project to quickly learn a new tool or brush up on some design principles because the learning never really stops.

If the idea of Ultralearning interests you or you want to learn more, I’d highly recommend you read the book or look through Scott Young’s blog online where he’s got a bunch of resources to help you get started.

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