Comparing UX Courses & Why I chose Designlab

As the lockdown for COVID-19 closed down local businesses, my job as a marketing salesperson started to fall apart. At the end of April, I quit my job and decided to pursue a new career in the field of user experience design. After a quick search, I realized there’s a lot of great courses offered online. It was time to research my options.

To make things easier for some future UX newbies, I’ve compiled my findings. I also share some insider info about my top choice, Designlab. Keep in mind that each of these courses has success stories, so my experience is just one perspective. Look for what works for you, but to give you an idea this is the criteria I based my decision on.

Student desk with laptop showing Designlab curriculum on the the screen

Breakdown of the courses

I started my research by gathering key info from each of the course websites. I focused on these top six options:

Note: I’m located in San Antonio, TX, so I looked into courses that were being offered online during COVID. See if you also have local alternatives available in your area.

Mentorship — Springboard offers 30-minute sessions every week. CareerFoundry provides a mentor for feedback on your portfolio and a tutor for weekly projects. As a full-time student, Designlab provides two 1-hr sessions every week.

Career Services — All courses advertise having a career coach to help with interviews and job searches.

Job Guarantee — Some of these courses would offer tuition reimbursement or a job guarantee. Be aware that it only applies to certain cities or regions, typically metropolitan areas. Read the fine print of the guarantee before using this as a deciding factor. To qualify, you have to follow pretty strict guidelines and apply aggressively to jobs.

Outcomes — This is a good indicator of how career-ready students are after the course. The UTSA Bootcamp is a fairly new course in San Antonio and did not have graduate statistics or info on graduates on their site. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad program but in a way, there’s no way of knowing without seeing outcomes. I found it encouraging that Designlab has a live feed of their hires and listed someone as hired just a few days prior.

Update: I found out that my new manager at USAA, (Frank) is one of the UX instructors for UTSA’s bootcamp. He’s an expert and a wonderful mentor, so I would recommend their program based on their teacher. Even without outcomes. Their first cohort just graduated in 2021 and they have had hires happen.

Portfolio Building — Each course will challenge you to complete projects that to prepare a portfolio that’s ready for job applications. I highly recommend looking at the portfolios of past graduates and examining the quality of their projects.

Student Community — Some of the courses have a huge alumni network and can connect you to other grads while within the course. Designlab uses Slack to connect all the students and encourages networking and interacting with other students with group sessions.

Reaching out to past graduates

Next, I wanted to hear first-hand from graduates about their experience and how it impacted their job search post-graduation. I reached out to grads on LinkedIn and private messaged them to see if they were willing to chat or schedule a phone call. I reached out to grads from several courses, but only heard back from two. I recommend trying to reach out to more people, especially grads currently working in the same city as you.

Graduate 1: A Designlab graduate. He’s now employed full-time as a product designer and said he would recommend Designlab to anyone. He’s also a current Springboard mentor and mentioned that he doesn’t feel Springboard has as active of a community as Designlab yet.

Graduate 2: A General Assembly graduate. She’s now employed full-time as a UX researcher. She shared that she felt that GA’s name didn’t carry any extra weight when applying to jobs and though they have career services, most of the heavy lifting in finding a job was still done by her.

A few other things to consider

CareerFoundry — Their programs have UX and UI listed as separate courses. I found this a challenge to pick between the two and choosing a focus before truly understanding the material. Being a new designer, I wanted to do a more generalized course to learn both before investing completely in one. Though they can be two different focuses, a lot of companies want someone well-rounded.

General Assembly — By far the most expensive UX course available online and the shortest completion time. According to a GA graduate, her coworkers that graduated from other courses were just as well-versed in UX design. She felt maybe she shouldn’t have spent so much to get the same training.

What led me to choose Designlab

Design101 Trial Course
Making a career switch can be scary and paying for a bootcamp is a big investment. To get a taste of the UX world before paying for a full-course, Designlab offers Design101. You can take it as a complete newcomer to design and UX. It is essentially a prerequisite to their full UX course — UX Academy. It costs $400 and you can apply that to your UX Academy tuition if you move on.

Update: Their prerequisite course is now called “UX Foundations.”

Great format for learning
I loved Design101 and worked with a great mentor throughout the month. They use the same learning platform and mentorship system in both Design101 and UX Academy. The lessons are short articles combined with hands-on projects. I don’t like learning off videos or long readings, so their format was enjoyable and easy for me to get through the material. You work through projects at your own pace, but have to complete a certain section each week. You don’t have instructors, just a mentor to guide you through the coursework. My mentor challenged me with constructive criticism on my projects and provided additional links to resources outside of the course. (Note: I’ll be writing another article on working with a mentor and how to find one, even outside of a course.)

Student Perks
As a Designlab student, you will get discounts on common UX design tools such as Figma, Sketch, Invision, etc. These applications are used by designers throughout the industry and it’s great to get some practice on each without paying full-price.

Feel free to reach out for more info!

Please hit the clap icon, if this helped you out. :)

I’ve completed the full-time UX Academy course and was immediately hired for a UX Designer position at USAA. You can message me on Linkedin or comment on this post. Good luck with your UX journey and I hope reading this helped you get a step closer to deciding what works for you!

UX Designer with a focus in user interface design. Figma and freezer-pop fanatic.

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