When it comes to UX certifications and bootcamps, it seems there are new ones cropping up every day.
Companies at lower levels on the UX Maturity Scale increasingly want to see “official” qualifications that can certify the UX designers they hire went through some sort of rigorous formal training.
Companies at the higher end of the maturity scale may be looking for advanced training programs that will help them integrate UX more fully throughout their organization.
Wherever you are on the maturity scale, you’re probably asking yourself, “Are these programs worth it?”
Let’s start with a basic truth: there is no industry-standard universally-accepted UX design certification.
That’s not to say there aren’t great certification programs and bootcamps out there, but it does make it harder to separate the wheat from the chaff.
That’s why we’ve put together a quick guide to help you understand the difference between certifications, bootcamps, and training programs so you can choose which one best fits your needs.
Method or Format
Traditionally offered in-person, these are increasingly available as online courses through private companies or academic institutions. They usually end with an exam to test your knowledge of specific UX topics to then earn the certification.
Who They’re Good For
New UX designers or career changers trying to break into the field with a basic certification, or experienced UX designers who want to distinguish themselves with an advanced-level certification.
Certifications can establish credibility and open doors for job opportunities, especially for those who don’t already have a foothold in the field. Some UX design leaders have predicted, and increasingly called for, the establishment of a standard UX certification program to create consistency in the field and because they believe that government regulation will eventually require it (similar to other professions like attorneys, accountants, realtors, etc.)
Without a clear industry-standard certification, it can be difficult to decide which one to invest in (and they can get expensive). Many focus on only one aspect of UX, which requires multiple programs and certifications and more money. Research analysis compiled from a survey by Measuring U suggests that (as of 2017) there was no real increase in salary for UX designers with certifications. That could all change, of course, but it’s still a bit of the wild west out there.
How to Choose a UX Certification Program
It’s important to remember that a formal UX certification is not currently necessary to get into the field. There are plenty of great self-taught UX designers, researchers, and product strategists getting jobs every day. It may be best to wait until the industry decides on a standard certification before investing in a particular course.
That said, there are some industry-leading safe bets that won’t be going anywhere soon: Nielsen Norman Group runs probably the best-known certification program in the industry that claims to have certified more than 10,000 professionals from more than 500 organizations across six continents. These programs are traditionally tied to their in-person conferences, which have been held virtually because of the pandemic.
Human Factors International offers two tracks, one for beginners and another for experienced professionals. They claim to have more than 8,000 Certified Usability Analysts (their beginner certification) around the world. You can get the certification simply by passing their CUA certification exam without any prep, but they offer four courses to give you the knowledge to pass the exam.
Universities offer the most expensive way to earn a “certification” through UX-focused degrees that are offered at increasingly more schools. These are great for new UX professionals but not as practical for those already in the working world.
Method or Format
We separate bootcamps from certifications because they come in such a wide variety of styles, shapes, sizes and formats that it’s hard to lump them in with the best-known certification programs. They can be in-person or online, last a few days, weeks or even months, be self-paced or classroom-style, and cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $10,000 or more.
Who They’re Good For
Depending on the focus of the bootcamp, these can be good options for either new UX designers or experienced professionals who want an intensive hands-on experience that will quickly give you projects to add to your portfolio. Some bootcamps offer career counseling and job placement services as a sweetener, though the quality of these likely varies a lot. They’re probably best if you already have some UX design experience or an academic degree or certification, but want to dive deeper into a specific skillset.
Bootcamps are popular because they’re relatively quick and they focus on practical skills that give you a taste of what it’s really like to work on a UX-focused project from beginning to end. Many of them offer “certifications” that can look good on a resume, though as we discussed above, these are not likely to be universally recognized unless they’re well known in the industry. Some universities offer bootcamps as a quicker and less expensive way to get the prestige of a university name without the time and cost of a full degree.
With so many bootcamps out there, it can be difficult to choose the right one or to be confident the one you choose will be the best for your needs. While they’re great for getting a quick overview of topics or concepts and some hands-on experience, they’re designed to only last for a limited amount of time and often don’t offer the level of in-depth mentorship or training that can help reinforce concepts and make sure they stick. There is some doubt in the industry about how effectively bootcamps can lift you from a novice to job-ready UX professional.
How to Choose a UX Bootcamp
The most important thing in choosing whether or not to do a bootcamp, and which one to choose, is to be clear about your goals. Do you want to learn specific skills, tools, or concepts? Do you need a general overview of the UX design thinking process? Of course, you’ll also want to make sure the organization offering the bootcamp is well-respected in the industry.
Your best bets are to choose established organizations like General Assembly, DesignLab, Springboard or Interaction Design Foundation that have a long track record of offering high-quality bootcamps. There are many other options for those on a budget, but you’ll want to do your research to make sure they’re worth the time and effort based on your goals.
UX Training Programs
Method or Format
Formal UX training often comes in the form of custom-designed programs targeted to companies and teams who are looking to cover specific UX topics with a large group. They’re usually offered on-site at your company with several trainers who have designed a 2-3 day workshop or course based on the priorities of the company or team.
Who They’re Good For
These are usually best for teams and organizations that are ready to make an investment in building UX practices and a design thinking mindset across the company. It’s rare to find custom UX training programs designed for individual UX professionals that don’t fit more into the certification and bootcamp categories above.
For organizations with the resources and time, UX training programs can efficiently get a large number of people up to speed on basic UX concepts or a little more in-depth on specific techniques and tools. The custom focus usually allows leaders to fine-tune the training and exercises to what they feel is most important for their teams. They can also be scheduled and planned around the needs of the business.
Like bootcamps, most UX training programs are designed to provide a quick overview in a short amount of time. They sometimes include mentorships, but often these are limited in scope and don’t last much beyond the initial training involvement. They can also be prohibitively expensive for smaller organizations or individuals and may not be cost-effective for teams that don’t already have an idea of the specific areas they need to develop.
How to Choose a UX Training Program
Because of the customization and cost, a clear understanding of your goals is even more important when choosing a UX training program for your team or organization. That means you need to know where you and your team members stand today, have a prioritized list of topics or skills you want to focus on, and the time and resources to set aside for the training. Established organizations like Nielsen Norman Group offer on-site customized workshops. Some other organizations that offer individual online training give discounts for groups of three or more, which can be a good option for resource-limited organizations.
Looking for a well-rounded UX training program? We can help.
Our approach to UX training takes a little of all these elements and puts them together into a customized approach designed for your specific needs.
Need a quick workshop or bootcamp to get your team (or yourself) up to speed on a specific tool or concept? Want a more robust thought-out training program that adjusts to your evolving skills, abilities and priorities over time? We can help.