Today we’re delighted to officially launch the new version of Design 101, our most popular 4-week design course.
Most people first find Designlab because they’re looking for something more than the passive watch-this-video-and-read-this-article kind of experience.
And for years, Design 101 has been successfully kickstarting people’s studies through a philosophy of learning by doing—as well as connecting design students with expert feedback through the magic of 1-on-1 mentoring. But, having originally launched four years ago, the course was due for some updates.
The new Design 101 offers students a huge step up on three fronts: the depth of the curriculum, the number of projects, and the industry-relevance of the skills it teaches.
Read on for an overview of the changes. For extra insight, check out this guided tour of both those course and our unique bespoke learning platform!
The Story of Design 101
We launched v1 of Design 101 back in 2014. The original course was as an introduction to the fundamentals of visual and graphic design, with examples, exercises, and projects focused on web design in particular.
For example, the assignments included getting to grips with visual hierarchy by designing a social media timeline and a blog layout, and the final project for the course was to create a landing page design.
Even before today’s launch of v2, Design 101 was a best-in-class product, enabling beginners to learn—affordably—by working 1-on-1 with a professional designer over the course of 4 weeks. Hundreds of happy customers took the course each month, leading to thousands of successful student outcomes over the past few years.
However, four years is a long time in the world of tech and design. The job title of “web designer” has given way to both greater specialization (think “UI designer”) and to the need for greater breadth of design skills (think “UX designer”).
So the time had come for us to not just update Design 101 with a few tweaks here and there, but to go completely back to the drawing board and understand what our customers needed from an introductory online design course in 2018.
TL;DR: Here’s The New Curriculum
Before we dive into some of the details, check out this “before and after” course outline.
The original Design 101 curriculum leapfrogged between different design principles, whereas in v2, all of the work builds up in a crescendo that culminates in a final piece. All of the work during the course exposes the student to all the important design principles, but the projects add to one another so that everything can be assembled for a substantial final project.
Learning about design as a process is now built into the flow of the units, and there’s a greater focus on idea generation, sketching, and how to use photography and illustration. There’s now total of 16 hands-on projects, compared to 8 in the old course.
Here’s the original Design 101 curriculum:
Unit 1: Getting to know design
Unit 2: Visual hierarchy
Unit 3: Layout
Unit 4: Typography
Unit 5: Color theory
Unit 6: Process
And here’s an outline of the new Design 101 curriculum:
Unit 1: Learning to see design
Unit 2: Ideating and sketching
Unit 3: Color and typography
Unit 4: Imagery
Unit 5: Layout and composition
Unit 6: Designing the details
Unit 7: Going hi-fi
Unit 8: Design teams and handoff
Pain points in the old Design 101
At Designlab we gather feedback on every course every month. This is through both quantitative measures (mainly Net Promoter Score—NPS) and qualitative surveys (detailed comments about what people liked and disliked).
Analyzing this feedback, there were certain points that came up repeatedly. We wanted to ensure that the course rewrite addressed these pain points, and that we could see the improvement through an increased NPS score. Here are some of the issues that came up repeatedly in student feedback, and how the new course addresses those issues.
🤔 Too much too soon: People were introduced to aspects of UX, UI, and visual design all in one 4-week course. Some students found this overwhelming, particularly if they were complete beginners.
📈 Inconsistent difficulty: Some projects seemed significantly more difficult than others, and the learning curve therefore wasn’t smooth enough for everyone to get the best learning experience.
🔠 Piecemeal projects: The projects and exercises that people completed in Design 101 were too standalone, and didn’t add up to a big final piece.
💻 Not enough in-house material: We built v1 of Design 101 by creating a mixture of in-house lessons and other curated material from books and the web. People preferred a fully customized in-house curriculum.
How we’ve acted on this feedback in the new Design 101
✅ More in-house content
The change that we’re most proud of in the new Design 101 is the quantity and quality of in-house materials. Written by expert educators with a background in academic writing, these pieces not only introduce design principles authoritatively and in depth—we’ve actually created a huge amount of optional secondary reading to help support learners who want to get extra value from the course.
🗒️ New learning formats
Design 101 now includes longer, in-depth lessons, shorter how-to guides, notebook activities, as well as new interactive content types like quizzes to help students self-assess their learning and progress.
💼 Even more projects to practice new skills
The old Design 101 had 8 projects to work on and upload. The new curriculum has no fewer than 16, each one optimizing the available time and allowing you to put your new learning about design principles rapidly into meaningful practice.
⬇️ Loads of downloadable and bonus materials
The course is now jam-packed with extra cheat-sheets, templates, PDFs guides, checklists, sketching frames, as well as extensive curated lists of further resources and reading.
📱 Optimized mobile experience
Design 101 now has a fully optimized course experience on mobile, allowing you to easily catch up on course reading while commuting or out and about.
✍️ Focus on sketching and idea generation
There’s now a stronger focus on sketching and idea generation, and better guidance on how to do each one successfully. Using software and executing solutions is only half of the story of design work. The other half is about thinking, questioning, sketching, and coming up with possible solutions. These are real skills that need to be learned, and are something that we’re pleased to have thoroughly integrated into the new course.
⭕ Stronger content on visual design principles
Many students are looking to go on to further learning in UX and UI design, and are potentially looking to switch to those disciplines for their career. It’s therefore crucial that Design 101 provide a foundation in visual design principles, like visual hierarchy, contrast, and alignment.
🙋 More information about what it’s like to be a professional designer
There are now case studies on the design teams at Facebook and other tech companies, and detailed information about common roles and functions in product design teams.
What hasn’t changed
These changes come in the context of a product that was already hugely successful in kicking off people’s learning about design, and in many cases leading them on to further study and the beginnings of a career in the design industry.
Here are the best parts of the original Design 101 experience—and they haven’t changed a bit!
👥 1-on-1 mentoring: As with all Designlab courses, Design 101 students are paired with an expert professional designer, who works with them for the duration of the course to guide their learning.
💬 Feedback through the Designlab platform: Our bespoke learning environment continues to provide a space for project assignments to be uploaded, discussed, and iterated on. Written feedback from mentors on each version helps you to rapidly level up the standard of your work.
🎧 4 hours of mentor calls: Design 101 still comes with 4 hours of 1-on-1 mentor calls, during which you can discuss work in more depth, ask any questions that have come up, troubleshoot any difficulties with software, and get insight into what life’s like as a professional designer.
Outcomes from course updates
The new Design 101 has actually been in soft-launch for the past couple of months—and we’re delighted with how it’s been received, and how student outcomes have improved, both in terms of their course satisfaction and in the quality of their final projects.
Here are some of the student comments from our August cohort of Design 101 alone, when the course achieved a Net Promoter Score of 90!
I really like the mentorship that it provides, it really helps elevate my game to a higher level, as well as holds me accountable to meeting deadlines. I didn't think it would be that big of a help, but it really, truly, is a huge deal. I've already recommended the course to friends.
I have had a great experience with this course and learned a ton. I am new to this field, so I don't know if folks who went to design school would benefit from all aspects. I also think no matter what level designer you are being connected with a mentor is super valuable.
It is the best. As someone who went to school for education, it was really impressive to see the great care that was taken to create the lessons and materials. It’s certainly better than any online college course that I have ever taken. Al, my mentor, is top notch and I enjoy each of our calls. Overal, just seriously great.
The course has been clear to follow and my mentor was a great resource.
The course was designed perfectly and I have a solid understanding of the principles of design. I know it’ll take a while to memorize the jargon but I am capable of performing the work..
The mentorship!! Having constant feedback every step of the way makes all the difference!!
The Design 101 class is an excellent introduction to design and has given me exactly what I was looking for. I love how as soon as you learn about a concept, you are given a project to work on applying it. My mentor is very passionate and has great insight in the field. I was able to not only get a solid foundation, but also a solid roadmap of where to go after the course.
It's a very practical course, with lots of assignments, a lot of resources and plenty of feedback from supporting but also demanding mentor. The course is really pushing you to make things not just read about them.
The mentoring system is a excellent. It’s great to see other examples of good work, and the study resources are good
Very interesting and challenging course for beginners in design and anyone that want to brush up their design skills. I've learned a lot from this course. It's a fast-paced course, so it's important to finish all projects required for the week in order to keep up.
Find out more about the new Design 101
Take a look through our in-depth guided tour of the new Design 101—complete with GIFs and screenshots of the course platform, curriculum, and projects. You can also check out the course landing page for more!