Last week I shared how I came to be a UX Apprentice with The Nerdery. This week I thought I should talk a little about why I chose to become a UX Designer, and how the apprenticeship has been a unique experience. I will also go into how apprenticeship has been key to helping close the experience gap between just entering the field and jobs that require experience.
For me, becoming a UX Designer began with the Design and Factors of Human Perception course taught by Ange Wang @angetank at the University of Minnesota, followed by the course, User Experience in Design. From these, I gained a broad familiarity with UX methods and principles. In addition, we heard from professionals working in UX about their experiences. Each time I heard them talk about what they did, I found myself thinking, “I want that job!” It seemed like an excellent way to do something positive, a way that I could use both sides of my brain, the creative and analytical sides.
These courses and encouragement from Ange, guided me to UX Design, and eventually to the UX Apprenticeship with The Nerdery. A lot of people confuse the apprenticeship with an internship, but it feels very different from the internships that I have had. In my experience, internships have been about trying on a particular career, whereas with the UX apprenticeship, I already knew that I wanted to be a UX Designer. When people ask me how it is different from an internship I say, “I’m not shopping for a hat, I’ve already purchased it and am looking for somewhere to wear it.”
I’ve had an internship as a UX Designer elsewhere, and The Nerdery’s apprenticeship program is unique in a variety of ways.
First it’s much more structured, and there is a lot more being invested by The Nerdery and our mentors in our success. Second, our Apprenticeship is centered on methods, rather than projects. Finally, we have the opportunity to observe how processes are created based on a variety of factors.
It’s been a fast-paced whirlwind working with a variety of mentors on various client projects, one-on-one workshops with Fred Beecher, a manageable but massive amount of reading (including required and optional reading). The Apprentices: Claire Bailey, Maddy Settle, and Heather Wydeven, and myself, are also working on an internal UX project. It’s a lot to juggle, but it hasn’t been difficult because each week Fred emails us and lets us know who we are going to be working with, the project, and methods we will be working on.
Another difference between my internship experience and being an apprentice is that we aren’t focused on one or two projects and seeing them through from beginning to end. The Apprenticeship is designed so that we experience as many different methods as possible, we frequently spend only a day or two at a time with one mentor, on a single project, and a single method. Methods include: business discovery and stakeholder workshops, contextual inquiries, user interviews, content strategy, site maps, card sorting analysis, process flows and wire-framing. What makes this special is that with the combination of client work, workshop exercises, and our internal project we are experiencing methods that some of our mentors have little experience with. As we track the number of hours with each method, we look forward to the emails from Fred that begin with, “Ding! You’ve just leveled!”
One of the most unique aspects of The Apprenticeship is observing process and how there are many factors that effect the process. This is something that hasn’t stood out for me in my education or internships because the problem, solution and process were laid out for me. Because we work on a variety of projects, we’ve seen first-hand that while there is a framework, the process can look quite different depending on a client, their goals, their budget, their timeline, and so forth. A lot of strategy then, is determining the process, the methods within the process, and even the order that methods are done.
The apprenticeship has been a unique experience in both expected and unexpected ways. It’s been much more than an internship, as we’ve had a chance to practice many methods across a variety of clients at different stages of the projects. It has also given us a great opportunity to see process adapted to many varied situations. It’s been an incredible eye-opening and educational experience. As I continue the apprenticeship I look forward to reflecting on my whole experience both personally and professionally.
To Be Continued…