How Colleges and Bootcamps are Failing Designers

What designers need to do instead

Written by Gyeongwon Kwak, social media content writer at Path Unbound. Edited by Stella Guan, Founder & CEO of Path Unbound.

You finally finish that college degree in design or get that design certificate after spending weeks on a bootcamp program — what’s next?

Many people in this situation assume that they have all of the resources, knowledge and skills to become a successful designer.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Kerry McPhearson, a UX designer earning 6 figures, believes that it takes more than a degree or certificate to stand out to employers.

Video version of Kerry McPhearson’s interview

McPhearson and Stella Guan, founder and CEO of Path Unbound, had an opportunity to talk about his journey as a designer and what he learned from this experiences in the design industry.

Initially, McPhearson worked in tech support and music, and realized that he couldn’t make things happen with his current career path. He decided to go into UX design where it offered a hybrid role that utilized psychology, creativity, product design and problem solving.

Cover photo for Kerry McPhearson’s interview episode

McPhearson graduated from a design bootcamp where some of his peers from the same program are still looking for a job while McPhearson was able to get hired.

Practice Interview Skills Through Real Interviews

He credited his ability to get hired to going through numerous rounds of interviews where he was able to encounter every type of design challenge imaginable, and competing against other candidates with more years of experience than him.

He knew that he wasn’t ready for those types of jobs but still had a great learning experience from the process.

Listen to the podcast version

Bootcamp Grads Need To Over-Deliver

He also had experiences in working with product managers and developers whereas his peers didn’t, which set him apart from the rest. These were all skills and experiences that he developed on his own time outside of his bootcamp program.

McPhearson mentioned that as a bootcamp grad, he understands the inherent disadvantage of not having a degree in design. To make up for the lack of a formal degree and still stand out in a tough hiring landscape, he said the only way is to over-deliver.

To make up for the lack of a formal degree and still stand out in a tough hiring landscape, he said the only way is to over-deliver.

Misalignment of Design Education and Industry Expectations

The misalignment with design education and industry expectations is something that McPhearson dislikes about design.

He mentioned the lack of support for entry level positions and young, aspiring designers in the design industry.

Guan agreed with this sentiment and added that many employers just want to get things done and that they don’t seem to care about the next generation of talent.

Many employers just want to get things done and that they don’t seem to care about the next generation of talent.

Creative Ways To Gain Real-World Experience

Some suggestions that McPhearson has for design schools and bootcamps is to tell aspiring designers the truth and to encourage students to gain practical experience instead of focusing on speculative projects.

Gain practical experience instead of focusing on speculative projects.

Schools and bootcamps can also partner with non-profit organizations like Year Up where students learn about ethics, public speaking, cold emailing and interviews.

Presenting Design As A Viable Career Path To Under Represented Communities

McPhearson also believes that the UX community has a long way to go in terms of accessibility to a more diverse range of people, which can be in terms of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, geographical location and more.

He stated that in theory, design should be open to everyone but in reality, it’s ethnocentric, elitist, and close-minded. This raises the concern of designers not being able to cater to a diverse group of users since the designers themselves are a homogenous group.

To counter this problem, he suggested that businesses and senior designers have to educate the public, especially children and younger generations, about how design can be used to make a change in the world.

They can go and speak at high schools, colleges and low-income communities to actively outreach for new talent. Starting the conversation can be a step in the right direction.

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Path Unbound is democratizing creative education one student at a time. We offer a free, full-length visual design course with 120+lessons, 50 exercises and on-demand 1-on-1 mentorship for anyone to get started on their design careers.

We believe in training students in individualized ways, unlike the typical bootcamp approach that resembles assembly lines. That’s why we launched Portfolio School, a 6–12 week bespoke and intensive program designed to help students elevate their portfolio to the highest industry standard so that they can stand out among a sea of cookie-cutter portfolios.

We will be launching School of Creative Business next, where we pair students with successful industry professionals and independent creatives who have achieved commercial success, who will mentor students on their career and business development. We strongly believe in making a great living doing what we love and we will help every student that join us achieve that goal.

We are democratizing creative education one student at a time.