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It’s time: We’re making a school

By Jessica Ivins

It’s time: We’re making a school

Two weeks ago, we spent a week filming videos for our soon-to-be less-than-top-secret project. This project will help take the Unicorn Institute from a research project to an actual school.

Yes, we’re making a real, bricks-and-mortar school!

If you have eagle eyes that allow you to read the teleprompter (that’s amazing, and we’re totally jealous), you may notice that we’ll be sharing concrete details about our plans for the school’s structure. No matter what you can see, we thought you might want a sneak peak of the answer to the question:

How will we structure our school’s courses?

Unlike traditional educational environments, where students divide their attention and time between four or five courses spread out over three months, our students will only take one course at a time for three weeks. And their school day will be the length of a regular workday.

Our students will attend class five days a week for eight hours a day. This means they focus on new material and learn how to sustain the energy needed in a professional environment.

Our courses will be broken up into three parts: two day industry-grade workshops from guest industry-experts, three days focused on individual mastery projects, and ten days working on small-team projects. These team projects will span over multiple courses and will last three to five months.

From our research, we know structure affects learning. With this knowledge, we’re creating a school that empowers students to become the UX designers companies want to hire.

This is just a little look into our plans to make a school that creates industry-ready UX designers. Over the next few weeks, we’ll delve deep into the nuts and bolts of the school. Follow us on Twitter and on our blog to learn how we’re taking our research and turning it into a UX design school.

Why is there an increase in demand for UX designers?

By Jessica Ivins

Why is there an increase in demand for UX designers?

Design matters. And it doesn’t just matter to designers.

CEOs, CxOs, Vice Presidents, and the rest of the folks in the C-Suite sit around conference tables with their iPads, wondering why their company’s products aren’t as delightful to use as their competitors’.

These folks are beginning to understand that design is a differentiator and a necessity. Design is a necessity for their business not only to survive, but to thrive.

However, they may not understand how to make design happen. They may even believe that it’s some type of magic or secret sauce. They do know that design matters and that they need designers to make their companies, organizations, and products relevant. Executives in the C-Suite realize that design is life for their companies, and so their companies’ lives need to be centered in design.

Hiring managers know that design plays, and will continue to play, a critical role in the success of their companies because: What has been seen cannot be unseen.

And what has been seen is companies like Apple, which are investing a lot of resources in design. We can see how much design matters by looking at Apple’s profits in comparison with their competition.

This understanding is leading to an increased demand for designers, and even more specifically it’s leading to an increase in demand for user experience designers. In fact, in the United States alone, there are around 150,000 job listings in the user experience (UX) field.

That’s a tremendous number. And it’s growing because the understanding that design is critical to business is growing. New design graduates are not prepared for these jobs.

And keeping unfilled positions open isn’t practical. It is an unacceptable solution for companies. If you’re in a large company and have the resources to do so, you can create an internal school to create your own designers.

IBM is planning to hire 500+ UX folks in the next five years. IBM knows they have no other option but to hire people who may not have the complete skill set they need to do well within the company. So, IBM made their own internal school, a six-month program that’s a bit like designer boot camp.

This kind of program is necessary because it’s challenging to find people with the holistic skill set needed to perform well in our industry.

Companies know that designers and developers—UX folks—are part of their business solution. The bottom line is: experience sells. But these companies struggle to find talent with the right type of experience to craft the right type of experience for their customers. So they resort to expending a lot of resources to recruit and train a team.

We get these questions from hiring managers. What happens if you don’t want to bring education in-house? What happens if you don’t have endless resources? Where do you find the talent you need?

Welcome to Unicornicopia

By Jessica Ivins

Welcome to Unicornicopia

Welcome to Unicornicopia. The land of the generalists. This is the land where UX designers survive and thrive in our industry

Every hiring manager we interviewed said they need UX designers to have a holistic skill set. Designers need to be proficient in hard skills like:

  • Front-End Development: Coding valid HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and jQuery
  • Visual Design: Understanding the use of color, grid, layout, and typography
  • Mobile Integration: Creating consistent experiences through responsive layouts, touch interactions, and input techniques
  • Project Management: Incorporating iterative design, agile practices, and software development life cycles
  • Information Architecture: Planning experiences through site mapping, modelling, and wireframes
  • Interaction Design: Building flow, form design, micro-interactions, and transition animations
  • Copywriting and Content Strategy: Writing microcopy, content modelling, and content inventories
  • User Research: Conducting field research, usability studies, research synthesis, and data analysis

Hiring managers also need UX designers to have mastery of soft skills like:

  • Presenting: Sharing thoughts and design concepts with peers and stakeholders
  • Facilitating: Extracting design requirements and project direction from peers and stakeholders, while promoting a shared understanding
  • Critiquing: Receiving, giving, and training peers and stakeholders on constructive feedback
  • Storytelling: Communicating and affirming to peers and stakeholders how decisions were made, how principles were arrived at, and how the design will improve the lives of the users
  • Sketching: Communicating emerging design ideas quickly and exploring problem space with peers and stakeholders
  • Leadership: Providing vision, direction, and passion to peers and stakeholders

Companies need teams of generalists. A generalist (aka Unicorn) is someone who has equal expertise in most, or hopefully all, of these areas.

The good news: Hiring managers don’t always need UX designers to do everything at the same time. And even though UX designers are generalists, each UX designers can be slightly different shape and mold of a generalist. An effective design team will include UX designers who have different strengths and passions but each UX designer will have some proficiency in all hard and soft skills.