You don’t have to pay tuition fees to get a UX education in London in 2011. Everything that you need to educate yourself is already out there.
I’m not downplaying the value of an academic education. The Human Computer Interaction courses at UCL and City University are amazing experiences and their students will graduate with skills that are impossible to get elsewhere.
But there are alternatives thanks to the generosity of London UX professionals. Their work provides educational resources of such good quality that many ‘real’ students are using them to supplement their existing courses.
You don’t believe me? Let me talk you through the Open UX University…
Enthusiasm creates unforgettable lectures
The best lecturers are people so excited about their subject that they simply cannot contain their enthusiasm.
London is full of these people. And they love to talk.
Jason Mesut ripping apart the interaction design of music tech at London IA. Martin Belam showing how digital communications smashed boundaries between the media and audiences at World Usability Day. Cennydd Bowles, Harry Brignull and Jonathan Kahn at Lightning UX. Bruce Lawson talking us through HTML5 at London Web and Mark O’Neill explaining the government skunkworks at UK Govcamp. Plus genuine academics – the best talk this year was Dan Lockton’s whirlwind tour of choice architecture (London IA again).
To this you can add world experts via podcast such as Karen McGrane, Stephen P Anderson, Luke Wroblewski, David Rivers and Peter Morville who contribute their thoughts on dealing with the challenges they face every day.
Passionate experts giving great talks free of charge means plenty of material to create a lecture series tailored to your specific interests.
It’s good to talk
The second staple of a university education is the group discussion. This is all about participation, an area where the UX community excels.
First, people want to be there. No one goes to UX Bookclub London to get credits or pass a semester. You go to talk about books like Gamestorming and Sketching User Experiences. So discussion flows much more than it ebbs.
Secondly, there’s a heady mix of experts, beginners and everything in between. If you’re new to Agile you can go to Agile UX and hear from people who use it all the time. Whereas in a university, the only real expert is the tutor (and possibly a self-appointed ‘expert’ who hasn’t actually done the reading).
So in many ways these discussions are even better than university seminars.
Practical work develops your skills
Of course university is more than just lectures and discussions. You have to put serious effort into team projects, presentations, essays and practical assignments. Who on earth would give up time to set this kind of work for free?
Design Jam London for one. Designers come together and work to solve a design challenge, honing their team working, practical techniques and presentation skills in the process. And it’s not only Design Jam – Global Service Jam London took place over three days and there are hackdays everywhere.
And essays? You’re reading one. It doesn’t take as long (or provoke the same dread) as 5,000 words on the causes of the 100 Years War. But blog posts help crystallise your ideas and the feedback you get – both qualitative from friends and quantitative from analytics – is amazingly useful.
You can make websites too. Whether it’s for your blog, a favourite band or your friend’s dad’s charity, building a site helps you put your learning into practice. You can even arrange a placement by taking time off to work as an intern.
The opportunities are there – it’s what you make of them.
The best careers advice
But the area in which the Open UX University really outperforms traditional universities is in careers advice. It’s just incredible.
What better way to find a job that suits you than to listen to people who are already in those jobs? Or better still, recruiting for those jobs? Learn what your portfolio should look like. Discover which skills are worth talking about and which are not. Find out what kinds of jobs are out there.
It’s never a replacement but…
None of this is to say that choosing to go to university is a bad choice. It’s never a bad choice and I loved my university education. And there are some things – like learning to appreciate design criticism as part of your process – that a specialist university course seems better placed to deliver.
But there are more opportunities now to learn your craft outside university than ever before, particularly for disciplines related to the web. It feels like we should start to recognise how powerful these really are.
Just remember – it may be free, but you still end up in debt. The difference is that you owe this debt to your community and not the government.
This post is a massive thank you to everyone who has helped educate me over the last year. Let me know what you think on @myddelton. And finally – I studied History which might (or might not) explain a lot and I’m talking about London because I know London, but I get the feeling this applies worldwide…