UX Academy Foundations is our newest course offering here at Designlab and, as someone who has no technical UI/UX design experience, I put myself forward to participate in one of the early beta cohorts to see what it was all about!
While I’ve worked in the UI/UX design education space for almost 4 years, I’d never personally learned the design tools or physically designed any webpages or app screens prior to taking UX Academy Foundations. I was therefore keen to immerse myself in all the lesson material and, more importantly, all the practical work involved.
To help you learn a little bit more about UX Academy Foundations and what you could gain through taking the course, I’ve pulled together 8 lessons I learned during my time studying — a few of them were quite unexpected, but in the best kind of way :)
1. As adults, we don’t doodle enough
One of my favourite aspects of the UX Academy Foundations course was that we were encouraged to spend some time away from our screens to physically sketch. In the unit about icons and logos, this was actually part of the coursework in fact!
Sketching, drawing, and doodling seems to be a big part of our lives as children, however these creative tasks often get sidelined as we get older, start higher education, and/or begin our working lives. It was therefore a really refreshing experience to actually be asked to doodle and sketch out ideas in quite a free flowing manner. It not only felt expressive but also had an element of mindfulness about it which is something we all could benefit from, especially at times like this!
What's really important to remember is that your raw sketches do not have to be pieces of art, and you don't need to have natural artistic talents to be a UI/UX designer. I'd recommend getting yourself a dot grid notebook, a few nice pens and pencils, and seeing where your mind takes you!
2. Not all UI design is super "creative"
Even though the UX Academy Foundations course incorporates sketching and a wealth of other creative and practical tasks, it was good to realize that not all UI design is so traditionally creative (in the logo/icon/illustration kind of way).
For example, we focused on multi-step forms in one unit — the kind you'd fill out if you were signing up to Netflix or applying to UX Academy — and it dawned on me how much I underestimated and appreciated the work that goes into designing these "simple" and more understated screens.
The multi-step form assignments always stick in my mind because they were the point at which I realized:
- Designing a form that is consistent, well-aligned, user-friendly, and on-brand takes much more work than you think.
- I'd never taken a moment to appreciate that a designer had poured their time, energy, and brain power into creating the forms we try our best to whiz through and submit as soon as possible.
- As with all jobs, not everything you do as a designer is necessarily going to be super exciting, but the task is important nonetheless.
The varied projects and assignments in UX Academy Foundations mean you get a taster of many different forms of visual and UI design. Even though they're not all likely to be your favorite and what you'd necessarily expect, they're all crucial to helping you build a solid foundation in UI design. I'd encourage you to embrace them with an open mind, be eager to get stuck in, and you'll never know what lessons you'll learn along the way!
3. I like UI Design much more than I thought I would
One important thing to note is UX Academy Foundations is pretty much solely focused on visual and UI design. While this might sound a little counterintuitive as a prerequisite to our UX Academy bootcamp, what’s good to remember is UX Academy is actually a combined UI/UX design program.
UX Academy includes an in-depth module on UI design which has proven to be the trickiest part for students to complete if they have no prior experience in that side of the field. We’ve therefore always gone with the approach to teach students a foundational level of visual and UI design before starting the bootcamp (and base our admissions criteria on that type of work) to ensure students have a smooth ride through UX Academy. That’s where all the visual and UI design work in UX Academy Foundations is helpful!
Coming from a scientific background, I assumed I’d be way more interested in the more analytical side of the UX design process and that UI design wouldn’t really be my thing. Boy was I wrong! I loved getting stuck into the more “traditionally creative” side of the UI/UX design industry and mocking up all the user interface designs in Figma. Trying to make things as pixel perfect as possible was not only super satisfying, but also very technical and much more mathematical than I’d originally anticipated.
4. It’s best to upload your work sooner rather than later
Talking about making designs pixel perfect, that's something which is not entirely recommended for the majority of the UX Academy Foundations course.
Your Foundations mentor will provide written feedback on all your project submissions within 48 hours, and one easy mistake to make is sitting on your work and pondering over it for too long, all in the hope to make it "perfect".
First of all, design is a very feedback-orientated and iterative industry and no design is ever perfect. There'll always be something that could be ever so slightly better or done in a different way. Essentially, if you have perfectionist tendencies (which many of us do) you're going to have to try and shake them off as best you can. In UX Academy Foundations, done is better than perfect.
Second of all, one of the most valuable parts of the course is the 1-to-1 relationship you'll have with your mentor, who’ll be there to guide you every step of the way. If you spend too long going and back forth over your work alone, you'll not only drive yourself mad and add hours to your weekly schedule, you'll also lose valuable time gaining insights and feedback from your mentor.
Our course platform is designed to allow (and encourage) you to work on multiple versions of each project piece you complete, so make sure to make good use of it!
5. Good design is simple
"Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated." - Paul Rand
An aspect of visual and UI design that's really hard to get to grips with when you start out, is how much you really don't need to include.
It's so easy to cram your screens with text, images, buttons, drop downs, borders, backgrounds, and everything in between (your users want them all, right?!). Really, you don't need half of what you think you do, and your designs can often be most effective when they're pared back to the bare essentials.
I recall one mentor session, where my mentor screenshared and walked me through how my landing page design needed to be about twice the height to ensure I was using enough whitespace.
Your designs look strange at first when you space everything out like that, and there's a constant urge to fill all the gaps. Trust me, you really don't need to and your design work (and mentor) will thank you for it!
6. There is huge value in copywork
During the first couple of modules in Foundations, the units follow a loose structure which involves:
- Learning about a topic
- Recreating an existing design which highlights the concepts of the unit
- Reflecting on this copywork
- Designing your own screens based on everything you've learned
This kind of copywork is crucial to the early stages of your learning journey, and is a great way to upskill in visual and UI design specifically. While it may seem counterintuitive and somewhat sneaky at first to focus on literally copying other people's designs, such practice helps you gain further confidence in the design tool, get practical experience in designing elements based on UI best practices, and also gives you an opportunity to start gathering ideas for your own designs.
With that in mind, I'd recommend taking these copywork Foundations tasks more seriously than they may initially seem. Don't worry if you don't finish them though! A lot of what you need to learn will have been achieved through tackling the project and making some form of progress, even if you haven't technically "finished" it.
7. Design tools have handy features
Throughout UX Academy Foundations you’ll complete tutorials that will teach you how to use your UI/UX design software of choice — Figma or Sketch, for example.
One resource within these tools I will forever be grateful to my mentor for, is him introducing me to Figma Mirror. It pretty much revolutionized how I was approaching my design work (especially on mobile) as it allowed me to view my design work in context.
Figma Mirror really helped me understand how much more whitespace I needed between the various elements and sections of my designs, and also helped to pinpoint when text and content was sized incorrectly.
Once you start designing full screens in the Foundations course, I'd definitely recommend you start to use either Figma Mirror, Sketch Mirror, or the Adobe XD mobile app. Doing so will allow you to load your screens up in context, so that you can make final adjustments before uploading for your mentor to review.
8. You can learn a lot in just 8 weeks
Time flies when you're having fun, and if you chat with anyone who's taken UX Academy Foundations, I'm sure they'll tell you that they can't believe how quickly it went. Whether you aim to complete the course in 4, 6, or 8 weeks, by the end you'll be amazed and super proud of the progress you've made.
In most cases, you'll have gone from being someone who's got little to no experience in UI design, to someone who can create high-fidelity wireframes of web pages and app screens. If that's not 8 weeks well spent, I don't know what is!
You'll have also worked on a final design challenge that aims to meet the prerequisites for UX Academy, and will give you a good chance of being accepted and securing yourself a spot in the program.
I hope the learnings I've shared have piqued your interest about UX Academy Foundations and you're keen to learn more and maybe even start on your very own learning journey into the world of UI/UX design!
You can see all of the UI design projects I worked on during UX Academy Foundations on my Designlab profile.
UX Academy Foundations is the prerequisite course to our UX Academy bootcamp program. To learn more about how we can help you turn your passion for creativity into a successful career in UX/UI design, get in touch via email or book a time to chat with one of our Admissions Reps.