While many emerging schools and bootcamps have begun to develop strong programs around web development, fewer have set out to make digital design the center of their curricula.
DESIGNATION, a Chicago-based bootcamp, is one of the first organizations to offer an immersive "Full-Stack Design" course, focusing on skills like user experience research, interaction design, and user interface design in addition to front-end development.
We spoke to Director of Communications & Admissions Will Shandling, who gave us insight into a day in the life at DESIGNATION.
Will, run us through a typical day at DESIGNATION.
That’s one of the best things about DESIGNATION; there are no typical days. Some days are heavily structured, featuring group workshops and partner-based labs right up until the evening class session. Other days are left wide open, free for students to focus on any of the numerous projects they might be working on at a given time.
The bootcamp/immersive program is a recent trend, and new courses continue to pop up everyday. Tell us about DESIGNATION's unique design focus.
While we originally set out to distinguish ourselves by focusing on design in a world of development programs, as we mapped out the curriculum, it became clear pretty quickly that we were talking about something much, much bigger. We realized our program was centered not just around design, but “design-thinking”, which is to say that instead of only learning the what and the how, we devote just as much time to the why.
What backgrounds do you find your applicants usually coming from? Is there a particular kind of student or learning style that excels in your programs?
Our typical student has some amount of professional design experience, but for whatever reason hasn’t found the success or done the kind of work they set out to do. We also see lots of candidates come from fields that are design-adjacent (architecture, industrial design, interior design, etc.)
But by far the two most important qualities a student can have in DESIGNATION are natural curiosity and a willingness to try new things. Students who aren’t afraid to fail, to make a mess, to get their hands dirty and to go through a variety iterations in search of the perfect execution, those are the ones who do well here.
If you have those qualities, everything else, including prior design experience, is largely irrelevant.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing DESIGNATION, as well as the industry at large today?
Our program is capable of producing the best results with a full-time, full-immersion commitment from students. But convincing talented, hungry designers to leave a paying job, no matter how mundane, in pursuit of something new requires a lot of trust in us and the results we’re going to generate.
Since your first cohorts, how has the direction of DESIGNATION changed over time, if at all?
The largest changes we’ve made have been less about the curriculum itself, and more to do with the culture in the classroom. Facilitating a supportive, vibrant, creative environment is essential. And even though convincing strangers to come together, collaborate, critique one another and rely on one another for learning can be a challenge, it’s one we’ve embraced whole-heartedly.
What kind of roles, jobs, and/or companies does your program ready your students for?
We stress the importance of versatility in your skill-set. That’s why our graduates are best suited to start-ups or boutique agencies that need people who can wear lots of hats on any given day.
What’s the best advice for students who want to attend DESIGNATION?
The most powerful skill in the world is the willingness to keep trying. People who work hard and apply themselves succeed. The ones who get frustrated and give up don’t. It’s that simple.
What’s the best advice for people who want to start a bootcamp?
Stay open to change. Our program stresses the importance of iteration and revision, and we try to practice what we preach. Every cohort works a little bit differently than the previous one as we adapt and evolve the program details.
How do you see the learn to code movement and the bootcamp industry changing over the next one to five years? Where do you see these programs fitting into the larger picture of education?
In many ways, the traditional higher education system is failing a lot of young people. Colleges promise students a career and connections that more and more, they’re not following through on. Going forward, bootcamps will only grow more numerous as young people discover viable alternatives to the college system.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Good design can change the conversation, but great design can the world.