Predatory Education Ruined UX

A look at how the capitalist education market can ruin an entire design practice in just a few years.


Jared Lkes

1/11/20242 min read

In the ever-changing realm of User Experience (UX) design & research, the journey from the rise of the UX bubble to the current complexities in hiring practices reflects a narrative filled with both innovation and missteps. As a seasoned UX professional for over 15 years, I've observed these shifts firsthand at dozens of corporations, start-ups, and agencies.

The Rise and Ripple of the UX Bubble

From 2016 to 2019, the UX industry experienced explosive growth. Companies rapidly expanded UX teams, with ambitious hiring goals. This period, the UX bubble, was marked by a surge in demand. Unfortunately, this led to a hasty response from educational institutions and bootcamps, eager to meet this burgeoning need.

The Misguided Approach of UX Bootcamps

UX bootcamps sprang up, promising quick entry into the field. However, their approach was fundamentally flawed. They focused on teaching methodologies without instilling a deep, contextual understanding of UX principles. This led to a generation of UX professionals who were methodologically aware but practically inexperienced, contributing to a growing distrust in UX hiring. The bootcamps, while well-intentioned, failed to grasp the essence of UX – a field that thrives on depth, context, and real-world application.

The Pendulum Swing: From Bootcamps to Master's Degrees

Reacting to this influx of underprepared professionals, the industry swung its preference towards candidates with master's degrees. This shift, however, sidelined many skilled UX practitioners who started before such formal qualifications existed but had rich, hands-on experience. It's a telling example of how educational credentials became overemphasized, overshadowing the practical wisdom gained through years of work in the field.

Ageism in UX: A Counterintuitive Bias

In this landscape, another issue stands out starkly – ageism. Ironically, UX is a field where age should be an asset, not a hindrance. UX design is fundamentally about empathy and understanding a diverse range of user experiences, qualities that often deepen with life experience. Older UX professionals bring a wealth of perspectives that are invaluable in creating empathetic, user-centric designs. Yet, the industry often favors younger candidates, overlooking the immense value that experience brings.

The Specialist vs. Generalist Dilemma

The current market also leans towards specialization – UX for gaming, fintech, healthcare, etc. While specialties have their place, this overlooks the versatile and innovative potential of generalists. As a professional who has navigated various sectors, I've seen how cross-pollination of skills can lead to groundbreaking solutions, challenging the notion that only specialists can thrive in niche areas.

What you can do to hire better UX.

First, understand you are hiring something multifaceted and steeped more in user empathy than "skills." If your company is technically focused, understand you should be hiring someone who will make everyone else scratch their heads. If you are a design-focused company, maybe take a look at a UX'r who came up through dev to help you keep some guardrails to your product. Tell your HR team that UX is like design for IT. They get special considerations and you can't explain why, but they do. :)