A UX strategy workshop
led by Jared Spool USA & Europe   ·   2019

Where Do Most Folks Learn UX Skills?

March 15, 2019

In our Creating A UX Strategy Playbook workshop, we do an exercise I absolutely love. It’s easy and fun. You can try it with your own team.

I start by asking everyone in the room to write down a list of five to eight things they’ve accomplished at work over the last week on a blank page. Any major accomplishment they’re proud of works. This usually takes a few minutes, as they go through their calendar and try to remember what they’ve done.

Once they have their list, I ask them to write a number from zero to a hundred next to each accomplishment. The number represents how well school prepared them to complete that accomplishment.

If the things they learned in school completely prepared them for the work involved, they give that accomplishment a shiny 100. If school didn’t prepare them for any aspect of that work, they give it a big zero. Or they estimate some number in between.

What Did School Prepare Us For?

After they give a number to every accomplishment, I ask them to stand up. Once everyone is standing, I tell anyone whose highest accomplishment is a 10 or less, to sit back down. I’m always surprised when one-third of the room immediately sits down. For these folks, school didn’t prepare them for anything they’d accomplished that week.

I then say anyone whose highest number is a 20 or less can sit down. Then a 30, 40, and 50. Usually, by this time, two-thirds of the room is now sitting down.

I continue with a 60, 70, and 80. At this point, there’s usually one or two people left standing. Maybe 4. Rarely more.

I’ll ask them what their highest number was and what the accomplishment was. Often, what helped them with their accomplishment was some advanced course they happened to take. Maybe they learned how to create a user research moderation script, a particular statistical method, or a method for designing a set of icons.

Finally, I’ll ask them what the second highest number was on their list. More often than not, it’s zero. Out of all their accomplishments that week, school only helped them with one.

If We Didn’t Learn At School, Where Did We Learn UX Design?

We learn most of the skills and knowledge we need every day at work. Even for those of us who went to a school that taught UX design, most of what we need can’t be taught through formal education.

So much of what we need is specific to the organization we work in, the people we work with, and the products and services we work on. We need to learn who the users are and what they need from our designs. We need to learn how to best deliver that work.

When someone new joins our team, they need to learn what we already know. When we bring in colleagues from other parts of our organization, we need them to come up to speed on how we got here. Everyone needs to know our process and how we perform our specific UX design techniques.

What we think of as ‘textbook skills’ aren’t the most important or critical parts of our work. It’s everything we learn after we finish school that determines what we’re capable of accomplishing.

Is Our Workplace Designed to Help Us Learn on the Job?

Most of what we learn is picked up on the job. How well have we designed our workplace to support learning?

Design is the rendering of intent. If our intention is to have the best skilled and knowledgeable teams, have we done a good job of rendering that intention?

We’re seeing more design leaders take an intentional approach to creating a culture of continuous learning. They hold design critiques, create mentorship opportunities, and make sure design work is visible and “on the wall” so others can see each designer’s underlying process.

UX designers find accomplishing work is easier when everyone they work with has developed their own design expertise. When our developers, product managers, and stakeholders have a better understanding of what makes a good design good (and what makes bad designs bad), they’re more likely to appreciate our design work and can even help make better decisions themselves.

As our teams grow, design leaders need to ensure everyone can contribute effectively. This means everyone will need to grow the necessary expertise to make those contributions.

Where will everyone gain that UX design expertise? On the job. It’s up to us to make sure we’ve designed the best workplace to make that happen.


Building a culture of continuous learning will empower your team to deliver the best products and services possible. Your team will learn new skills and better practices, making your organization more design mature. Create an action plan to boost your team’s design skills and expertise at our Creating a UX Strategy Playbook workshop.

These workshops fill up quickly. We limit the space so Jared Spool can personally spend time with each team that attends. If you’d like to get Jared’s insight on build your team of self-described unicorns, you’ll want to reserve your spot right away.

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