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Training or self-learning: which is best?

·1294 words·7 mins

It’s been a long time since I did any professional training to improve my career. The last time I went to a class in person was almost 8 years ago for HFI. After that, I tried a few online courses, but they just weren’t the same as being in a classroom.

Looking for Training: #

I decided it was time to get some training to improve my career. With over 10 years of experience in product design, there were a few things I really wanted to learn:

  1. How to start a product from scratch.
  2. Leading a team to build a product efficiently.
  3. Expert knowledge in making products people love.
  4. Creating products that users find really important.

After thinking about it, I realized I wanted training that would give me practical experience. This would boost my confidence and help me handle any kind of product, even if it’s something new to me.

One reason I wanted this was because I’ve been working for a big company for a long time. I’ve mostly been adding new features and fixing things that already exist. In big companies, it’s rare to get the chance to start something completely new.

Looking at Training Options #

When I looked for training courses, I found things like UX foundation skills, design thinking, project management certifications, and tool training. But none of them were exactly what I was looking for. There were a few that offered practical experience, but they were online and at different times, plus they were really expensive.

Learning by Myself #

I thought about it for a while. Then I realized something important—I’m a self-taught designer. Even though I didn’t study design academically, I still chose to be a designer. During my job, I competed with designers who went to top schools, and I could keep up with them. If I could learn on my own when I had no idea about this career, why can’t I do it now?

My goal for training is to learn a new skill and become more confident in what I do. I’m not really interested in getting certificates or credits to show off on LinkedIn. That’s not really my thing.

So, I’ve decided to teach myself and come up with a plan. Since I wanted a more practical approach, I wanted to build a product on my own and learn as I go. I wanted to create a small project that would be useful for a small group of people and learn how to make it better for them. In the end, it’s not just about learning—I’ll also have a product that I can proudly show off, and if I’m lucky, I might even make some money from it.

Not simple as I thought #

I have to be honest, things were trickier than I expected. At first, I didn’t realize what I was getting into. I didn’t realize how much money and effort it would take. I hired the wrong freelancers and didn’t manage the project well. Even though there are lots of freelancers available in India, it’s really hard to find ones who are good at what they do. I’ll write more about this later. But after some struggle, I was able to find the right people and build something I liked. It was a big learning experience for me. Here’s what I learned.

1. Start Small #

One mistake I made at the beginning was trying to do too much at once. I had this big idea for a SAAS application that required a database, AWS, and a lot of technical support to build it. But soon, it became too much to handle with my limited time. So, I switched to a smaller project that I could manage better. This allowed me to plan things more effectively and also helped me expand my network.

2. ChatGPT is Like Another Developer #

Thanks to ChatGPT, it’s like having an extra developer on my team. It helps me explore technical possibilities and refine my ideas.

3. Humans Aren’t Machines #

People aren’t like machines. Just because you pay them doesn’t mean they’ll automatically deliver what you need. You have to work closely with them every step of the way and make sure they understand what needs to be done. Otherwise, you’ll likely run into problems.

4. Design Improves Over Time #

I’ve come to understand that “Design is an iterative process.” This means that as we start building a product, it evolves and improves over time. Initially, it might be rough around the edges, regardless of how much research we’ve done. Everything is open to change, and the goal is to create a product that users will find valuable. It’s important to be open to user feedback if we want to create something truly valuable.

While having a structured process is important for easy collaboration and tracking, it doesn’t guarantee the value of the outcome. Value comes from continuously improvising and iterating. In a corporate setup, we often miss out on this. We confine ourselves within the design phase, and any iterations identified afterward have to wait for the next release, competing with a new set of priorities.

5. Feeling of Ownership #

Now, I have my own small product. It’s something I created and own. Instead of just saying I work for a certain company, I have something tangible to share. Even though it’s not making money or breaking records, the time and money I invested were worth it. I’m now prepared to take on bigger projects. I can also improve my product and make it more valuable, looking for ways to monetize it further.

6. Achieving Pixel Perfection #

Developers would typically use a framework like Tailwind CSS or Bootstrap, or something similar, to code the UI. These frameworks come with their own utility classes and design tokens. While they are highly customizable, it’s not a bad idea to follow the design tokens they offer for typography, color, space, etc. This way, developers can adapt the design quickly and achieve pixel perfection even in responsive states..

7. Delivering in Batches #

My style was to complete 100% of the design before moving to development. I would involve the developer in the review process and expect them to commit once we agree. Usually, I would only iterate on the design without making any major changes that would require a redesign. This approach often led us into loops and we easily got lost without delivering anything.

One flaw in this approach is that developers have to wait for the complete design to be done, and secondly, they are under pressure to commit only to what they can at the time of review. Consequently, they may avoid things they feel unsure about.

A better approach would be to create the key screens and share them with the developers to start development. We can observe how they are executed and improve the process, delivering the next batch of designs. This way, we have an opportunity to refine the process, and developers can achieve more without feeling too pressured. However, we can still explain the overall design to them so they can plan the structure accordingly.

Summary #

In short, I would say it was a wonderful learning experience. It was definitely worth the investment of both money and time. Now that I have a product, I can further extend my learning by refining it and observing user behavior.

I believe self-learning is not just for those who lack access to formal training; it’s for everyone who wants to delve deeply into a skill. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the learning process and improved my design skills. Additionally, I was able to challenge some of my preconceptions, turning theory into experience.

Thanks for reading.