How do we grow the next generation of UX talent?

The Shillington School offers learning through theory and hands-on experience working from briefs under real-world timelines. The founder, Andrew Shillington, observed that it was hard to hire people with all skills necessary to be productive in an ad agency.

“As an employer, Andrew sought to hire talented young graphic design graduates but found it increasingly difficult to find those with high-end computer skills, a practical knowledge of design theory and could meet challenging deadlines. It soon became apparent that students leaving schools and universities were not adequately trained in today’s world of computers and design software. And so Shillington School was born.”

I’ve observed the same situation in the UX field. There’s often a mismatch between academic programs and the demands of employment. As an employer of interaction designers, I’ve had difficulty finding people who have a work-ready skill set right out of school. Most often, it takes a couple years working in a professional environment before someone picks up the necessary combination of design thinking skills, tools use, collaboration and facilitation skills, client interaction and project management, and general knowledge of how the business world works. When evaluating an applicant, I want to see their process and approach as well as finished work. Most junior level jobs only expose someone to pieces of a project, and don’t provide opportunities to experience the end-to-end process of finding insight, creating a concept, constructing a prototype or other artifact and validating that with actual users. It’s even less common that someone’s had that chance to do that work as part of a collaborative balanced team.

How can we create work that’s appropriate for a new interaction designer as they gain the full compliment of skills? In an agency setting, it’s possible to partner a less-experienced designer with a more experienced design partner. I’ve seen this work well, however an agency can only take on a limited number of new people in this way. It doesn’t help the individual practitioner who wants to work in-house, or start his or her own company.

What if we could treat apprenticeship as a form of entrepreneurial exercise? The apprentice creates a portfolio piece that follows an idea from research and concept identification to visualization and validation. With that as a basis, we’d just have to figure out how to extend that individual practice into an ability to participate as a part of cross-functional team. Ideally, we could create cross-functional teams and mentor THEM, but would that still be considered apprenticeship, or an incubator?

Advertising and brief-based training

@ifenn pointed me towards the School of Communication Arts, a fee-based mentorship program for the advertising field.

“The style of learning at the school is andragogical – our students take on a huge part of the responsibility for the learning experience. They behave as if employed in a studio. They pitch for business. They work on real briefs. In many ways, we simulate the culture and patterns of their working future.”

The Shillington School also offers learning through theory and hands-on experience working from briefs under real-world timelines. The focus of the program is to help students produce a portfolio.

I believe that learning through real work is more effective (and more enjoyable), however I’m on the fence about how much it matters that the work be self-originated. I’ve created and delivered a brief-based materials for teaching design studio sessions. This was appropriate for teaching skills in a workshop format to a group of people because it fit in a workshop format of a few hours. It was also helpful for the group to share and learn from each others’ results.

When working one-on-one over a longer term mentoring relationship, I’ve found that it’s better to have the person I’m working with find a domain of interest that they felt passion for, and build the program of activities that help them gain the skills they need related to that space. I think that this leads to more engagement in the problems, because it’s more real, and it also leads to ideas that can tie into meaningful work as they pursue employment.