Is a UX/UI Bootcamp Right For You?

Won J. You
10 min readOct 29, 2016


In recent years, coding bootcamps like Hack Reactor and Dev Bootcamp have contributed to the rise of a new form of professional training. For the uninitiated, a bootcamp is an accelerated, immersive learning experience that promises career readiness usually in a particular field in as little as 3 months. It’s become a favorite way for many people to pursue a career in software development.

Following this tide, Designation was opened in June of 2013 to bring the bootcamp concept to UX/UI design. In this article, I’ll address the question of how to determine if a design bootcamp like Designation’s is the right choice for you. For full disclosure, I’m the curriculum director at Designation. However, my goal is to present a balanced look at this decision-making process to help prospective students make an informed decision.

At first glance, the promise of a bootcamp seems too good to be true. It offers the advantage of being both cheaper and faster than alternative paths to entering the world of design. For comparison, the cost of a 2 year Masters degree in HCI or visual design can be anywhere between $40–$80K when considering the cost of tuition and living expenses together. A bootcamp, on the other hand, may cost somewhere between $15K to $20K including living expenses. When viewed through a purely quantitative lens like this, it may seem like a no-brainer. However, the choice is much more complicated than just looking at the numbers. The cold hard truth is that a bootcamp isn’t the right path for everyone.

You really need to have a good self-awareness of the kind of learning environment that you need. What many prospective students forget is that there are implicit trade-offs that come with a bootcamp. For one, by attempting to condense all the training into such a compact period of time, you will be faced with a proportional increase in not the only intensity of the experience, but also, the velocity of learning that is expected of you. Are you comfortable consuming and learning large volumes of content in a relatively short period of time?

Not everyone is good at picking up new software and simultaneously familiarizing themselves with new concepts and terminology. And before you become a student, you need to have a clear picture of what your goals are. What kind of designer are you trying to be? Do you know in advance if you want to be a UX or UI designer, product designer, or front-end developer?

In all of my time at Designation, I can’t tell you how many students apply for our program without even knowing what UX design is. This is not a good sign. I would never recommend someone to join a bootcamp without having at least a modicum of knowledge of that field. There’s a wonderful course at Stanford called Designing Your Life, and in it, they teach students how to apply design thinking for designing one’s life and career.

DESIGNING YOUR LIFE by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

In one story, the professor tells of a woman who decided to open a restaurant without first knowing if she’d really enjoy the realities of owning that kind of business. As it turned out, she realized that there’s a difference between enjoying cooking food and actually owning a restaurant. The lesson here is that this woman could have benefited from testing that decision before making such a large investment. Instead of sinking much of her life savings into that venture, she could have simply worked at a restaurant for a few weeks and discovered for herself if that was the right choice for her. This anecdote speaks to the power of using the principle of prototyping to discover what makes you happy. Rather than make a large investment into a significant life decision, you can try to test it out in small scale in order to learn if that’s the right answer.

The reason why I think this anecdote is so apropos is because I would encourage anyone who’s even casually interested in design to start by prototyping that life experience first. Take an online Lynda course, read books on UX design, watch Youtube videos, go to a Meetup for designers, befriend professional designers and ask them questions about their work and day-to-day life.

To help prospective students explore the world of design, I created a course that I call Design Essentials for this very purpose. But you don’t need to attend Designation, you can try any number of other online options as well. For example, Springboard has a free online UX curriculum. UX Pin has a number of free ebooks on UX. The point is simply to make a small investment in learning before joining a bootcamp.

Once you know for sure that this is something that you’re passionate about, then join a bootcamp. Because the intensity of the experience is not for the faint of heart. You really need to have a 100% commitment in order thrive in that environment, because you will have many moments of self-doubt, exhaustion, and stress. To repeat, if you’re not sure, then you’re not ready for a bootcamp.

With that said, assuming you do know for certain that you want to pursue a career in UX or UI, you should next consider what kind of learner you are. What is your preferred learning environment? How do you learn best? Do you like learning in a group or do you prefer to learn on your own? Do you need lots of individualized attention or are you a self-directed learner?

Every bootcamp is structured slightly differently and you will want to research and discover for yourself if their approach fits with your learning preferences. In the same way that a bootcamp isn’t right for everyone, not every bootcamp will be right for every person. There’s bootcamps that are purely virtual and online, and there are ones that are only in-person, and then there’s programs like Designation that is a hybrid.

Speaking from experience, I know that students who are very shy and introverted may find an in-person experience a lot more challenging. There’s very little space for you to hide from your classmates, because in an immersive environment, you’re surrounded by them 10-12 hours a day. If that type of environment depletes you, then you may prefer a purely online bootcamp like Bloc or DesignLab.

On the other hand, if you find that you need social interaction to play an integral part of your learning experience, then a program like Designation’s or General Assembly may be a better fit.

Be honest with yourself. What is your preferred learning style? Do you like learning in groups or would you rather be tutored one-on-one? I have always maintained that I would probably not choose a bootcamp education for myself, as ironic as that sounds. I personally like having the time and space to process information over a longer period of time, and to be able to think deeply about a problem space. Moreover, I prefer to have the freedom to pursue my own independent study. If you’re the same, then a bootcamp may not be right for you. You may actually be better off getting a Masters degree, where some amount of independent study is encouraged and fostered.

One thing you have to understand before joining a bootcamp is that the educational experience will be unique and unlike anything you’ve likely experienced in the past. The mental models of many incoming students, unsurprisingly, is that of traditional classrooms and academia. The truth is a bootcamp experience, in many respects, is as far away from a typical classroom model as you can imagine. Yes, there are lectures, and yes, there will be assigned readings, but beyond that, the learning environment is more focused on kinesthetic learning. You will be asked to learn by doing and by extension learn by failing. Students coming from college are taught that failure is bad. You never want to get a D or even a C in a class, because that means you didn’t learn.

In design, you have to embrace failure. You have to become comfortable working in ambiguity. You have to learn to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect solution. You have to try many different approaches before you can arrive at a working product, but also, you must understand that the work is rarely ever finished. Design is iterative for that very reason. You need to have the right mindset in order to succeed in a bootcamp. Failure is not something to be feared, but something to be embraced.

With that said, if you crave having clarity on your own performance via metrics like grades, then again, a bootcamp may not be right for you. You are probably better off in a university environment, where you’ll be given a GPA. On the topic of differences between academia and a bootcamp, another key difference is with the content.

There are compromises that take place with the breadth of material that is covered. As someone who’s had to make decisions on content, I know for a fact how much information I have to leave out. When you only have 12 weeks to teach someone a new discipline, sacrifices must be made. For myself, I have used the 80/20 rule to edit the curriculum. I focus on the 20% of the concepts that I believe students will use 80% of the time. The rest is left on the cutting room floor. This means favoring hard skills like software proficiency and techniques over “book” knowledge.

For instance, there will be less emphasis on theory and history, and more focus on practical concepts and skills. As a result, you won’t necessarily learn about the Bauhaus movement in design or get an opportunity to appreciate Swiss design in typography. You won’t learn about the origin of user experience design in the industrial age, and the way product design evolved throughout the years. This omission may seem appealing to some, but what’s undeniable is that there’s a world of knowledge that you will be missing out on.

Therefore, before becoming a bootcamp student, you must take into account what you want to learn. If you want to learn as much as you can, then you’ll certainly be better off in a university environment. There, each course on design is 10 to 12 weeks. You will have 12 weeks just for research, another 12 weeks for web design, another 12 weeks for UX strategy. The depth of information covered is incomparable.

I can probably summarize the entirety of this article by saying that it’s all about knowing yourself and knowing what you want. Based on those two things you can decide whether a bootcamp is the right choice and then which type of bootcamp is right for you.

Oftentimes, prospective students don’t know what they are looking for, and there in lies the problem. I can tell you a few things that I’ve come to observe as the key traits of successful students:

  • They have clear career goals.
  • They are highly motivated, self-directed learners.
  • They come into the experience with some prior knowledge of visual design and have learned some aspects of UX/UI design specifically.
  • They demonstrate professionalism, which usually comes from working for a few years.
  • They are highly curious and have good study habits.
  • They know they can’t learn everything, so they know how to prioritize what they want to focus on.

If these characteristics describes you, and you value the key differences between a bootcamp and a university, then a bootcamp might be right for you.


Before I end this article, I should probably mention that there are a couple of less common routes to design that I didn’t mention. Those are:

  • Self-study: learning everything on your own
  • Taking an internship or getting an apprenticeship
  • Hiring a tutor or finding a mentor
  • Training seminars

The reason why I didn’t include these less common routes is the following:

  1. Self-study is useful, but will have limitations. You aren’t going to benefit from a professional design critique. You won’t learn how to work in teams. When learning on your own, you won’t discover how to present and communicate your designs. For these reasons and many others, I don’t believe self-study in it of itself is a great way to transition into a career in design. However, if you’re casually interested in design, then certainly, this is a great way to explore the field.
  2. Taking an internship is a terrific way to learn what it means to be a designer. You will likely learn more on the job than from attending a class. With that said, it is usually very competitive to land an internship at a prestigious design firm, say like IDEO, and so this path is not as accessible to many people. Furthermore, you will miss out on the time to learn the theory and foundational knowledge necessary to being a good designer. But if you can land an apprenticeship, this is probably the next best thing to going to school. In some cases, it might be better. It’s just difficult to find opportunities to get one, and I have no good advice on how to find one.
  3. Hiring a tutor is an uncommon but viable option. You can probably pay someone $50 to $100/hour to teach you design. If you like individualized attention, it doesn’t get any more personalized than that. However, the challenge is finding an experienced professional who is also an effective educator. Not all working designers are going to be good teachers, so finding one who can really help you hone your craft will take lot more time to find and will carry increased risk. An individual isn’t the same as an institution with a track record of excellence, and moreover an individual won’t have as much infrastructure to support your learning.
  4. A training seminar like the ones offered by the Nielson-Norman group or Cooper Design are great ways to be exposed to key concepts, but they aren’t usually complete programs. There’s higher emphasis on specialties, which is useful for working professionals looking to acquire an additional skill set. This is more appropriate for career advancers for whom their companies are willing to subsidize their certification and training.

All of this is to say that I don’t believe that these alternative paths are really viable which is why I focused more on the choice between a bootcamp vs a undergraduate or Masters degree.



Won J. You

I’m an over-caffeinated designer, information junkie, gamer, and educator.