Are we gatekeeping UX or are we lacking standards?
Gatekeeping in UX is not the same as quality control.
There’s been some talk about gatekeeping in UX for a while now. I’ve discussed this topic multiple times in private with my friends Trina and Miguel, but wanted to start the conversation here to hear other people’s perspectives.
What’s gatekeeping anyway?
Let’s start with a general definition of gatekeeping:
The activity of trying to control who gets particular resources, power, or opportunities, and who does not.
Applied to the UX field, gatekeeping is the practice of keeping (aspiring and junior) designers out of the field by limiting their access to resources or opportunities. Typically driven by more senior designers in our field, who look at young and inexperienced designer with scepticism and distrust.
Does gatekeeping in UX exist?
I’ve seen gatekeeping in UX happening online and offline. Here are just a few examples:
Experienced designers that are not willing to share good practices and processes with younger designers.
Companies making it near impossible for junior designers to find a job because even entry-level job openings require X years of experience.
Established designers and thought leaders sharing the mindset that younger designers should not take the stage and share their opinions, because they don’t have the experience to back up their views yet.
All these things are hurting our industry. How can a junior designer become better when they don’t have the opportunity to gain experience? How can younger designers learn from their mistakes when we don’t allow them to make mistakes in the first place? Growth comes from dialogue and it’s a dangerous thing when we exclude a younger generation of designers from this dialogue.
Are UX bootcamps a blessing or a curse?
When I decided to become a UX Designer in 2017 I enrolled in an online school and purposely chose one that guided me over a longer period of time (it took my close to a year to finish my studies).
It was important to me to have a set curriculum written by professionals and an experienced tutor and mentor to review my work. Back then there weren’t many reliable resources available online and bootcamps were just getting foot on the ground. UX designers were mystical creatures to me - I knew they existed somewhere, I just had no idea how to find them. Starting my journey with an online course served me really well and I’m still happy I made that decision back then.
As my friend Miguel rightly pointed out, online schools and bootcamps are generally way more accessible that colleges that cost thousands of dollars per semester. A course or bootcamp usually does not require a high school diploma or bachelor degree. And sure, you could teach yourself everything online for free but this will take a lot of discipline and time.
The flipside of this is that the field of UX is nowadays advertised by bootcamps as a way to quickly and easily break into tech. Just invest a couple of thousand dollars and a few weeks of your time and you too can become a well-paid designer at a tech company!
There is this persistent idea that everyone and their mom can become a UX designer. That’s simply not true. Not everyone can become an accountant, mechanic, doctor or professional ballet dancer either.
What’s lacking in the way UX education is currently set up is first of all quality control. There are no admission processes. No applications you have to fulfil to enroll in a bootcamp. No guidance to see if this field would really fit you. There are courses where students peer-review each other’s work. The blind following the blind!
Second, when people do enter a bootcamp, it’s not a guarantee they’ll learn essential skills. I’ve seen people graduating from a UX bootcamp, yet never learned about the importance of research. I’ve spoken to fresh bootcamp grads who found out their portfolio is nowhere near ready to hit the jobmarket. Most of the curricula at bootcamps are set up in a similar way. They provide you an introduction on Design Thinking, the basic principles of UX design and the support of a mentor and student community. It’s not sufficient (anymore) to only rely on the skills acquired a bootcamp to get a job in the UX field.
The 'everyone can become a UX designer’ mindset and the lack of quality control in bootcamps leads to masses of aspiring UX designers entering a competitive jobmarket. The majority have the same portfolio and the same skills - making it hard for them to stand out. I’m reading more and more posts on Linkedin of fresh bootcamp grads getting burned out from an unsuccessful jobsearch. Some of them give up on the profession entirely, after investing time and money in a careerswitch.
Quality control is not gatekeeping
Is it gatekeeping when bootcamp grads with little skills and knowledge can’t find a job in the UX market? Or is it a sad consequence of selling illusions and an oversaturated market?
I think the discussion around gatekeeping in UX should be nuanced. There’s one important thing to keep in mind here: gatekeeping is not the same thing as quality control.
It would help aspiring designers when they would be better informed about the reality of breaking into UX. Finding a job is becoming more difficult and a careerswitch is mentally taxing. Bootcamps can do a better job at sketching a more realistic view of what is takes to become a UX Designer.
Both the industry and careerswitchers would benefit from bootcamps introducing application processes to their courses. This would mean that less people could or would join a bootcamp, but it can help to prevent disappointments later on. It would help to calm down the jobmarket by releasing less bootcamp grads and making sure those who do enter the jobmarket are fit for it.
Wow that was depressing. What should I do now?
If you’re someone considering to become a UX designer or you’re just enrolled in a bootcamp, this newsletter might sound quite discouraging.
I’m convinced there’s room for new designers in this field, otherwise I would never promote our industry so actively on social media as I’m doing now. Our industry needs new designers. So many companies struggle with low UX maturity and are only beginning to understand the value of design. We can play a role in establishing good design practices.
I also don’t think bootcamps are completely to blame for the current competitive market and the disappointments from fresh bootcamp grads. It’s important to realise that these bootcamps are business models that profit from more students enrolling their programs. It’s on you to do proper research and check in with your motivations to break into the UX field. What I hope you take from this newsletter is to think critically about the advertisements you see. UX is an amazing field to work in, but also one that’s becoming more competitive to break into. Prepare yourself for this!
If you are currently enrolled in a bootcamp, please realise that a bootcamp is there to get you started. You are responsible to build upon the foundation and develop deeper skills and knowledge of the field.
Of course this is just the personal view. I’m very curious to hear your perspective on this! Regardless if you’re someone that’s been in this field for decades or someone just starting - I’d love to hear your opinions. You can just reply to this email or comment in Substack.