For a practice with its roots in cognitive psychology and ergonomics, UX design has blossomed on one side to include, more visual aspects of digital experience, that touches on but shouldn’t intrude on the visual design space. Additionally, the advent of more dynamic interfaces has started to bring front end developers into the fold. Which leads to a wide spectrum of expectation by employers and collaborators. I often find myself talking to other UX’ers about what skills and experience one should have in this field and what additional study, if any, should one sign up to.
This is my view: we all have core skills that form the foundation of what we can offer and are likely to be our strongest suit. Mine happen to be design-oriented but, like I said before, others start off with quite different skills. You need to factor in inclination (what you are able to stretch to, essentially), to establish what you could add to your portfolio of abilities. In my case, having mastered very basic HTML very early on, I soon realised that my innate ability for programming was never going to take me very far. Then the rest is an open field.
Every year, hundreds of students pour out of under- and post-graduate courses, like hungry larvae, looking for jobs. Coupled with the fact that they are digital natives, the level of teaching they get gives them a hell of a head-start when it comes to doing great, creative work. Of course they need to get used to the rather more pragmatic world of work, but that doesn’t take long and soon they are pole vaulting themselves into rather amazing positions, often ahead of their slightly older alumni.
What to do? I am a big fan of formal education. I know it is expensive and time consuming and can sometimes load you with information you know you’ll never use. But, UX, as practised on the ground, can often veer into the pseudo-scientific and it helps to be able to tell one from the other.
There are lots of options, starting with a vast array of undergraduate courses all over the UK. The OU do some short courses and I am noticing more and more short courses being offered by companies like Syntagm, Webcredible, Interaction Design Studio, Econsultancy and HFI in London covering basic UX skills. Please note, I have never attended any of them so this is not any kind of endorsement or otherwise, from me.
I got a lot out of a masters degree from UCL in HCI with Ergonomics: what attracted me to the course was the chance to get my head around ergonomics and cognitive psychology. I knew a bit about each of them before I went there, but having a formal approach filled in a number of gaps. I personally find it hard to absorb that level of information on my own, despite the text books being freely available to all. I guess I like the lecture format, with the ability to ask (in my case, stupid) questions until it is all clear in one’s mind. I hear good things about other courses in London and around the country.
What you also get out of attending any course, is new links with like minded people who are in your field, who are (usually!) doing really interesting things. That helps form a virtuous knowledge circle, as they go out in the world and then share what they know with their fellow students.