How Interaction Design Foundation Has Been Crucial to My UX Design Career Change-A Review
Changing careers at any age can seem like an insurmountable task, especially in the current global job climate. This becomes increasingly challenging when the perceived distance between where you are with your current skills, knowledge, and experience and the career that you hope to obtain is greater than any ground you have ever previously traversed. If that’s the case, you may wonder, “Why bother at all?” For me, the prospect of feeling truly satisfied and fulfilled by a career that I look forward to waking up for every day was all the motivation I needed.
When I first learned the term UX Designer, a lifetime of confusion about my purpose and direction suddenly felt pointed and organized. In a few short days, I had scoured the web for all that I could find about what UX Designers did every day and knew that it was right for me. But while I was initially joyous in this moment of enlightenment, I also feared that it was too late for me to change careers and I really had no idea where to even begin my UX journey. I wish that I had discovered Interaction Design Foundation then, but my path required a few stops before that could happen.
Growing up, my dream job was to be a professional hockey player, but the realist in me knew that a backup plan was always going to be required eventually. I had always enjoyed the rewarding feeling of helping others so I thought that maybe being a teacher might be my path in life. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling and found myself enjoying German and French classes much more than the other offerings in high school. When I entered college, I decided to merge these passions to study French Secondary Education but quickly realized that being a high school teacher in America just wasn’t for me. I then became overwhelmed as I learned of all the incredible majors on offer at my university. So overwhelmed, in fact, that I graduated with a degree I would never use as I stepped into my first full-time job as…..a travel agent.
Being a travel agent taught me a lot about working independently to solve problems for clients and there was a great sense of happiness when I helped make their dreams come true. At the same time, working for a brick-and-mortar agency that refused to accept the modern advances in online travel planning was an experience that left a bitter taste in my mouth. What it did do was encourage me to explore the world for myself so I left America for the last time and went to South Korea to finally try being a language teacher, only this time I was teaching English. Again, it was a great experience that even led to meeting my wife, but ultimately not one that scratched my metaphorical “career” itch as the financial returns weren’t great enough to support me and my new bride in Seoul.
We decided to leave Korea for Prague, Czech Republic where I continued teaching English but in a freelance capacity. When the Coronavirus started, the reality about my lack of direction hit me hard but I still didn’t know what to do about it. That was until my wife encouraged me to take a personality test, which included career recommendations in the results. There it was, eight black letters on a white computer screen that would change my life forever: “UX Design”
My independent research made me realize there were three ways I could try to make this change. The first was through a proper university or design school but as an expat in his 30’s who already has enough student loan debt, this didn’t seem feasible. There was a lot of content from those ambitious self-starters I envy so much about how they taught themselves to be UX Designers successfully, but a common thread was their previous experience with some design or tech-related field which I lacked. Finally, boot camps were the topic of hot debate on nearly every forum that UX career change discussions were taking place.
When researching long-term boot camps, the most common argument I heard against them was that they didn’t give enough hands-on experience, foundational knowledge to succeed, or they were not suited to prepare students for the actual challenges of a real job. As I continue to participate in these communities, I can understand all of these points of criticism. However, as somebody with no background in design or tech, a boot camp still seemed like the best approach for me. I chose my program because the cost of the program includes access to a tutor, a mentor, a Slack community, and job mentors. This community of support has been instrumental in removing impostor syndrome and the fear of not being good enough. However, the problems with boot camps that critics outlined, remained with me.
My mentor has never sugar-coated the realities of how difficult a career change can be and in an effort to help me be better equipped for the transition, he recommended Interaction Design Foundation to me. Interaction Design Foundation (or IxDF) has been the best discovery of my UX journey by far! While my boot camp does well to set solid deadlines, has course projects to create a portfolio, and offers the community support mentioned above, it is still light on the academic side and it sometimes paints a rosier picture of jobs than I am inclined to believe. IxDF has served as an amazing supplement because of the wealth of knowledge in their online, self-paced courses and the vast communities of real designers all over the world.
While I may get a good overview of processes, theories, and methodologies from my boot camp, IxDF truly dives into the history, best practices, potential problems, and implementation of these processes. So far I have completed the Become a UX Designer from Scratch and the User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide courses. They were fantastic for learning how to adopt a “Design Thinking” mindset and showed me how the skills I gathered as a travel agent and a teacher are very applicable to the world of UX Design. Now, I am building the foundations of my visual design skills with the UI Design Patterns for Successful Patterns course, which has already improved my application of visual hierarchy and my wireframes drastically.
What I especially love is that lessons are supplemented with a wealth of outside sources for extended learning, videos from respected designers who explain things with clarity and real-world examples, and discussion forums where you can reflect on what you’ve learned with peers. As I mentioned earlier, their courses are also self-paced so the stress of a deadline is never present. The best part about the IxDF courses is that completing them results in a certificate that can be shared with the world. I personally strive to answer every question in each course because higher grades result in more distinctions for your certificates as well.
Aside from the courses, IxDF’s community of professional designers, students, and career-changers like me create a warm and inviting atmosphere of support. There are communities devoted to cities all around the world that organize meetups and carry on discussions about trends and news in their area. I look forward to the day when I can finally meet some of the IxDF Prague designers in person!
What IxDF has done for me through its courses and community has been incredible. When I first began my journey, I genuinely believed I didn’t possess the skills I needed to succeed in this career, I was nervous at the thought of becoming a student again in my 30’s, and I still wasn’t sure about the path to take. IxDF alleviated my nerves about my skills with their detailed analogies about how things I have done in other jobs are directly applicable to many stages of the Design Thinking Process. The discussion threads in the courses made me realize that I am not at all unique to be making this kind of career change at my age. Finally, the “Don’t Know Where to Start?” feature on their Courses page gave me clarity on what steps to take in this process.
I can’t imagine being on this journey without Interaction Design Foundation. Although my transition is still in progress and there is so much work to be done, I am confident that the education I am gaining from IxDF, coupled with the countless benefits of being in their community, will lead me to be more than prepared for the satisfying and fulfilling career I’ve always dreamed of waking up for.