The amount of recommendations for newcomers to UX who want to learn and grow is daunting. The number of articles recommending bootcamps or courses, books, thought leaders to follow, and tools to try out, grows every day. At the same time, more people are becoming interested in UX careers. With this, educators are even more expensive and more competitive with one another. But the ability to learn user experience and work in UX design is, as ever, very flexible. Tons of free and inexpensive UX guides or classes are available. I’d like to share a few of the affordable UX training resources that have impacted my transition into UX writing and product design.
What Led Me Here
About two and half years ago, I started to re-examine my career path while planning a website redesign at a new marketing job. I came upon an unread email interview with Sarah Doody, a user experience designer and educator. Almost immediately, the foundations of UX design that she described appealed to me. It reawakened a deep desire to create something! In a mere couple of weeks, I was looking for ways to learn UX and meet design professionals. I craved a better understanding of what my new career would be like. Soon, I had met and discussed UX with dozens of people. All of them in one way or another helped me understand the UX writing job. Over time, they suggested literature, reviewed my portfolio, and even one hired me for a side gig in UX content strategy.
Fast forward a year and a half, and I’m now a content designer (aka, UX writer). In the last few months, a few people have reached out to me to ask about how I moved into UX from my former field, marketing and market research. These are always pleasant conversations, hearing what work they do now and what interests them about UX . My eyes must light up like I have a fresh G&T in hand!
During the days when I called myself a student of UX, I also reached out to professional designers to ask if they could help me wrap my head around this discipline. Luckily, I found a former colleague in my LinkedIn network, a UX designer, who kindly answered my big questions about where to start. He shared an excellent list of links to books and articles. I then answered a Twitter call for connecting UX students with mentors. My mentor was in the middle of a move and job search, so we communicated for a short time. He explained some characteristics of his job and gave me invaluable career tips.
It’s fascinating to hear about the backgrounds of others interested in UX. The people who have asked to speak with me are in law, health science, or copywriting. When they explain why they’re interested in UX, they often express that it’s sort of part of what they already do. But user-centered design is not an official value or convention of their job. I’m impressed that they recognize the connection with UX in their current responsibilities. I’ve realized only recently that I’ve used UX principles in my work, especially in writing, for a decade or more.
Turning onto the UX Career Path
These folks have many questions and feel they need to become more equipped to even get a job in UX. They want to know the same things I asked when I started out:
- How did you get more experience?
- Are there any resources that you learned from the most?
I start off by encouraging them to jump into practicing and learning however they can, right away. I tell them about the unfounded hesitations and worries that made me very slow at starting. The main recommendation is that it’s better to practice in bits and pieces. If one thinks too much about how much effort needs to go into a practice design project, not much progress is made. All the little steps still amount to self-training.
And I share with them some of the ways I held myself back when it came to options for education. It was overwhelming but, in retrospect, I wasted too much energy. I kept coming back to the idea that I should sign up for a bootcamp, even with all my doubts about their cost and value. Every few weeks I’d stop whatever other learning I was doing (reading a book, taking a free or inexpensive course) to re-read the reviews and curricula. I’d again and again deliberate whether or not I could use up most of my savings to pay the fees. Eventually, I also became uncertain about the time commitment while working full-time. Ultimately, I urge them to weigh the factors and make a decision, then move forward. Anyone can still make the career transition into UX without completing a bootcamp.
Starting a UX career change oftentimes leads to a number of tasks. One might create a list of 50 books to read, become bombarded with bootcamp/certificate marketing emails, or get into a skimming daze on articles about mock projects and portfolios. It can be overwhelming, but it’s possible to shut out the noise for a little while and make a few decisive steps! It’s a delight to share the key points that came up in those conversations: practicing and learning UX through beneficial low-cost resources.
Point 1: Get UX Experience
The best advice I can give about getting experience is to see where one can apply UX practices in their current job. During my job interviews at my current company, I told my (former) manager about my interest in UX. He kept it in mind, and would check in with me about it from time to time. I felt comfortable bringing it up when talking about annual goals or planning a few market research projects, trying to fit in some real UX training.
Some managers aren’t willing to make room to apply UX principles to a task or project. In other cases, the job is so distant from UX, that there are few chances to even hint at UX. Without such autonomy or opportunity, the next option is to start a personal project.
The web has plenty of step-by-step advice about design projects for UX newbies. I’ll simply echo them here. Redesign a business’s web page or one flow in a favorite app. Design a new product, like an app for a hobby or other personal passion. Sign up for a design challenge.
I always suggest beginning with research into user needs, and then create something fun! There is no reason to wait to practice UX, and it only delays progress to listen to worried thoughts like, “I don’t know how to do this.”
Point 2: Get UX Training
When I decided to switch careers, I signed up for the Interaction Design Foundation, an online UX educator headquartered in Norway. For various uninteresting reasons, I couldn’t afford the financial or time demands of a UX bootcamp. IDF costs about the same as Netflix. I completed a couple introductory courses, and nowadays dip into others on occasion.
I also invested in a UX portfolio course produced by the one and only Sarah Doody, who I mentioned before. Portfolios are a must in applying for most UX jobs, so this should be part of the learner’s path. There are tons of articles that help point people in the right direction, but a portfolio course typically provides full checklists, examples, and ideally, real feedback.
There are a growing number of free, high quality UX training avenues online. Learning UX is only one web search away from an intro guide from a professional UX agency, or starter lessons from an online educator. And UX comprises many vocations. I’ve found superb educational resources in user research, interaction design, and content design!
One little warning I give to newbies to UX is not to get sucked into Medium.com, and focus on studies instead. This blog site isn’t entirely avoidable for long. Medium is a way to keep up-to-date with the experience design world. I’ve discovered a few UX folks who write well and teach me new methods that I put to use. Some excellent UX organizations and tech design teams publish their blogs through Medium. But besides those nuggets, there’s better educational content available elsewhere. I suggest putting more energy into formal, in-depth learning, first.
Learn UX, Affordably
Free Courses for UX Training
Yes, we can study UX without paying a dime! Here are some high-quality fundamental courses.
- General UX: Springboard UX Design Curriculum
- UX Research: UserInterviews User Research Field Guide
- Content Design & UX Writing: UX Writing Hub Foundations of UX Writing
UX Career-Focused Education
Newcomers to UX don’t need to go much further than either Sarah Doody or Oz Chen for the full gamut of advice on changing careers. They’re both UX professionals with online courses about creating portfolios and preparing for job interviews. Sarah also offers a research course and Oz offers a general UX fundaments course, plus one-on-one career coaching.
- Sarah Doody’s Online UX Courses – begin with her free master class
- Oz Chen’s UX Beginner – begin with his MVP (portfolio) article
Sarah and Oz also have wonderful blogs and active social media groups to join.
Other Great Ways to Learn UX
I’ve mentioned IDF already. It’s also useful to share a link to one of Joe Natoli’s course on Udemy.com. I still need to finish the course, but recommend it because it’s rich in detail. Joe is also a well-respected UX practitioner and leader in UX training. Keep an eye out for Udemy’s frequent sales in case you want to purchase Joe Natoli’s courses on a discount!
As a member of IDF, I’m signed up to self-paced courses in user research, design thinking, and more. All are available when I need inspiration from an expert and want to explore specific skills. My personal link below gives 25% off the annual fee.
So far, no one I’ve spoken with about their career change mentioned any interest in bootcamps for their UX training, so we moved onto other topics. However, I’m sure one day someone will ask. In that case, I’d share the UX Beginner article I worked on in 2019 about top UX bootcamps.
I mentioned above that before I began studying UX, I was already practicing some of its basic properties for many years. I’m gradually rediscovering my skills, working out what I’ve been doing already and becoming emboldened inch by inch. It’s important to absorb the core elements of user experience design and practice new skills, but also test and continually develop my own prowess. It’s far better than mistakenly believing that becoming a UX designer means starting from scratch because the job title is different!