The following is my take of the Learn UI Design video course. I paid for access to the course when it was in alpha last year. As the course is accepting new students soon, and I haven’t seen too many longer-form reviews online, I thought this post might be helpful to anyone who’s considering the course, but not sure if it’s right for them.
As a programmer, I’ve always been drawn to the visual side of my field. I vividly remember making my first game (pong in Python!) and how amazing it was to watch things move crudely around the screen. Later on I worked at a small startup that didn’t have a full-time designer, and acutely felt the pain of trying to put together styles and imagery that didn’t look awful. As easy as some people make it look, designing user interfaces is a full-time craft, and unraveling its secrets is a challenge for most of us.
Despite chewing through countless articles and books over the years, passable design skills remained elusive for me. While some of these resources were excellent, at best they only gave me familiarity with concepts and terminology. Whenever I tried to actually build something visual, I got the same uninspired (or just plain ugly) results.
I subscribed to Erik Kennedy’s email list after reading one of his excellent Medium posts, as he communicated design concepts in a way that made things “click” a bit easier for me. So naturally when he announced his online design course I was very interested. I signed up for Learn UI Design about a year ago, near the end of the first batch of students.
Learn UI Design is a hands-on video course, with an accompanying Slack channel for discussion and feedback. I won’t rehash the syllabus here– you can a clear overview from the website. The videos are extensive (18+ hours in total), well produced, and easy to follow. Each topic is dealt with thoroughly, and I can’t remember finishing a video and feeling like anything had been skipped over. My only (minor) complaint is that I’d love to see a few more subjects added, like animation basics, and maybe some UX topics. Erik is still adding new content over time, so it’s possible the scope could widen a bit in the future.
If you like Erik’s teaching style from his Medium posts, you’ll find it translates well to the videos. Maybe it’s the cynical programmer in me, but a lot of design instruction out there comes across as overly artsy or “hand wavey”. Erik’s style is the opposite– very direct and pragmatic.
The Slack channel is a really helpful component of the course as well. When I signed up I thought it was kind of a “throw in”, but being active there is pretty integral to getting the most value out of the course. Besides the general banter and tips, posting homework solutions there for feedback has been really helpful. I’m a perfectionist and I hate putting my work “out there” when I’m not confident in it (every blog post here is a struggle), so this was tough for me at first. But the other students have been really friendly and helpful, and Erik’s direct feedback has been invaluable. The level of feedback and mentorship he provides each student is really commendable.
Remember how I said the course has two main components? There is also a third part that I think is perhaps the most important of all: the homework. Looking back at my previous attempts at learning design, my biggest mistake was not getting enough reps in with the concepts I was reading about. Most videos in the course come with one or more related homework assignments, so you can apply your new knowledge right away. Maybe the idea of homework makes you recoil in horror, but if you’re serious about levelling up your skills, you need to do the work to get there.
My personal favourite course section is the one on colour– an area that has historically been my achilles heel. Erik does a great job of explaining why HSB is vastly more useful than RGB for design work, and presents lots of useful tricks and heuristics. Other highlights for me are the videos on grids, imagery, spacing, and alignment.
One “meta” takeaway from the course is the importance of iterating on your work. Erik specifically talks about the importance of iteration early in the videos, and applying this lesson pays dividends as you complete the rest of the coursework. Trying to find multiple solutions to problems and tweaking as you go not only makes your designs better, it’s also applicable to many other creative disciplines.
Is Learn UI Design the best way possible to learn UI design? I don’t know; I haven’t tried every course or method, and the answer probably depends on your background and personality. But I can confidently say that nothing I’ve watched or read has been remotely as helpful for me personally, so I highly recommend it. My recommendation comes with the caveat that you should plan to spend at least 3 hours weekly (ideally 5+) working on the course to get the best results. There’s a lot of material and I found it’s important to immerse yourself and keep your momentum going.
A year after joining, I still get a lot of value out of the Slack channel, and I have referred back to the videos numerous times (the course gives you lifetime access). There were a few new videos added last week that I still need to catch up on. Anyways, I hope this review has been helpful and gives you a feel for the course. I’m @af on the Slack channel and hope to see your work there soon!