Is Designation a design bootcamp?
While we began as a design bootcamp, we’ve evolved beyond a traditional bootcamp structure and curriculum. There are many places this change manifests, starting with the fact that everyone admitted into the program is called a “designer,” not a “student.” Bootcamps often base their complete experience on an educational student/teacher relationship, but we’ve found tremendous value in using a more professional designer/team/creative director relationship. The first half of our program is still academic, so we call our creative directors who lead those phases “instructors,” because our curriculum reflects the idea that the first half is about learning how to design. The second, in-person half is about learning how to be a designer. These are two very different but wholly important halves of being a professional designer.
We believe someone called a “student” will act like a student, but a “designer” is given authority and purpose to own their skills and act like one. We believe our past graduates chose Designation because of this differentiator—and succeed as professionals today because of it.
How much does Designation charge?
The fee for the full 24-week program is $15,800. All designers accepted into the program must pay a $1,000 nonrefundable deposit for the six-week Design Essentials (DE) phase. Every designer must pass DE in order to proceed to the rest of the program. If the designer doesn’t pass, they pay no additional fees beyond the $1,000. If the designer passes, the $1,000 deposit is applied to the full-program fee, so their next payment is $14,800. See the Paying for Designation section for answers to related questions.
Please note that this fee doesn’t cover food, room and board, or transportation costs. See the Financing page for more detail.
What’s the average salary for Designation graduates?
We’ve found that graduates earn an average of $60,000–$65,000 in their first year after finishing the program. This number varies greatly due to location—it goes up to an average of $95,000–$100,000 for graduates in San Francisco, for instance, but also down to an average of $40,000–$45,000 for graduates in cities like Omaha. It also varies by industry, company type, company size, cost of living, and several other factors.
For graduates who work as freelancers, contractors, or interns, the average hourly rate is $35–$50.
What qualities does a strong Designation participant possess?
There are a lot of qualities practiced frequently, if not perpetually, by designers in the program. Having a growth mindset is the number-one quality, and which best prepares all designers in the industry for a successful career. Iterative learning, problem-solving, measuring self-growth, asking intuitive questions, dealing with failure, adapting to change and pivots, analyzing insights, and synthesizing data are all practiced heavily. Experience on teams, in customer service, with creative thinking, with time and project management, and with constructive criticism are very valuable. Good communication—interpersonal, verbal, presentational, and written—is a necessary part of success at Designation. And showing up on time, being open to new ideas, staying healthy, and keeping a sense of humor are just as important.
Does Designation offer the full curriculum as an online-only program?
No. The first half of the program—Design Essentials and the Virtual Phase; 12 weeks total—are virtual, meaning designers work from wherever they live and use collaboration tools like Hangouts, Zoom, Canvas, and Slack to communicate with each other and their creative directors. The rest of the program can only be completed in person, at our campus in Chicago. Working in a studio environment alongside colleagues is a big part of what most professional designers around the world experience. So it’s a truly vital part of the Designation experience too.
Where is Designation located?
Our campus is at the beautiful WeWork State Street, at the corner of State and Monroe in the Loop. We’re within a couple blocks from every L train line that passes through downtown, two blocks from Millennium Park, and a few blocks from the Chicago River. It’s remarkably easy to get here from just about anywhere in the city, and both O’Hare and Midway Airports.
Where are online reviews of the program?
There are a number of third-party sites that publish reviews of programs like Designation. The three most-used are Course Report, SwitchUp, and Quora. Between these sites are dozens of reviews written by Designation graduates that speak honestly and openly about their experiences in the program. We strongly encourage all interested applicants to read them.
But remember: Designation staff modifies the curriculum with each cohort, and the program has changed in many big and small ways since we began. So the experiences mentioned by graduates in their reviews may not reflect the current experience at Designation.
Is Designation licensed or accredited?
Designation is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Students may register complaints with the IBHE here or by writing to:
Illinois Board of Higher Education
Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools
1 North Old State Capitol Plaza
Springfield, IL 62701
Designation is not accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency.
How is “Designation” pronounced?
Like the lowercase word: dez-ig-nation. We get this question a lot in interviews, because a lot of people think it’s “design-nation.” While we love that play on the name, there’s only the one pronunciation. (And we’ll mention this upfront: If anyone interviews with us and pronounces it the wrong way, it’s a pretty good sign they haven’t read this page or done their research on us yet!)
When does the next cohort begin?
Designation starts a new cohort every seven weeks on average. Read our apply page for the dates of upcoming cohorts. We only accept applications for the cohorts we advertise on this site, so potential applicants interested in joining a future cohort beyond what’s shown here must check back for those dates.
Is there a deadline to apply for a specific cohort?
The due date for applications is always listed next to every cohort’s start and end dates on the apply page. It’s usually 1–2 weeks before the cohort starts the Design Essentials phase. After that date, all applicants will be automatically redirected to apply for the next open cohort.
Do cohorts sell out before the listed due date?
Sometimes. When this happens, we update our site and application materials, to make sure all potential applicants are kept informed. The subsequent cohort is usually available to join.
What’s the application process like?
The process requires several steps. The first is to submit a brief application here. It takes only a minute or two to fill out the application. Once it’s received, Designation’s admissions team contacts each applicant and schedules a 45-minute, in-depth interview, which can be in-person at our Chicago campus or via phone or Google Hangout. There are four potential outcomes from that interview:
1. Acceptance. The applicant is sent an acceptance letter after the interview, followed by an invoice to pay the $1,000 Design Essentials deposit.
2. Further action required. The applicant is told they’re a promising candidate, but needs to take additional steps before the final decision about their acceptance can be made. Those steps may include a second interview or completing a design challenge within a set number of business days.
3. Entry into self-paced DE. The applicant shows a minimum viable level of potential for the program, but needs to demonstrate greater understanding of UX or UI design. To do so, they’re offered to complete the self-paced Design Essentials module, which is completed without a time limit. Successful completion of that module and a recommendation from the DE instructor results in the designer being offered the chance to continue into the next scheduled cohort’s Virtual Phase. Once the applicant joins the self-paced DE module, they’re sent an invoice to pay the $1,000 DE deposit.
4. Rejection. The applicant is told in the interview they don’t meet the minimum viable level of potential for the program, and will not be accepted this time. The applicant may be given the chance to reapply in the future and is given a list of recommended books and resources about UX or UI.
The length of this process varies by applicant. Some applicants have gone from application to acceptance in a week; others take several months. We encourage all applicants to understand the dates for upcoming cohorts and plan accordingly for a multi-step process. In other words: We encourage everyone not to expect the process to be immediate, nor expect they’ll be admitted into Designation without hesitation.
Can an applicant skip or test out of Design Essentials?
DE is an extremely important phase of the program and provides not just an incredible amount of foundational information and skills, but many opportunities for interpersonal communication and bond-building between designers in a cohort. Thus, as of 2018, we no longer allow designers to skip DE. Those designers who enter the program with a clear, existing understanding of UX or UI principles and practices will be encouraged to take on leadership roles within their cohorts, and help to strengthen others around them.
What are the professional backgrounds of designers in the program?
Just about every profession has been represented among our designers: Lawyers, chefs, ballet dancers, baristas, options traders, architects, preschool teachers, biologists, and many, many others. Any professional experience focused on practicing the soft skills needed for a design career—teamwork, customer service, research, storytelling, client management, project management, creative thinking, a desire to learn—is pretty easily transferrable at Designation. And any past experience with design helps even more, but some of our most successful graduates had no design experience before applying.
How can people learn about Designation before applying?
Read this site! We intentionally provide a ton of information about the program across many pages, and we answer a lot of questions, not only in these FAQs.
Another valuable way is attending a Designation Info Night, which occurs every other month at our Chicago campus. Info Nights introduce the full curriculum phase by phase, and provide a lot of experiential detail about the program. A number of applicants make the decision to apply based on attending an Info Night. We advertise upcoming Info Nights on social media and our blog. Anyone can also attend an Info Night virtually; just contact the admissions team.
How can applicants prepare for Designation before applying or starting the program?
There are many excellent resources out there that explain UX and UI, or give excellent examples of them. We cover some within our curriculum, and applicants and accepted designers are encouraged to read or use them before starting the program. Typically, the more knowledge applicants have about digital design, the better their chances of being accepted into the program. And if a designer is rejected from the program or asked to reapply later, these resources are an excellent next step.
The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman
Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams, Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug
About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design, Alan Cooper and Robert Reimann
Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services, Kim Goodwin
A Designer’s Research Manual: Succeed in design by knowing your clients and understanding what they really need, Jenn and Ken Visocky O’Grady
UXdesign on Medium
Does Designation help with the visa process for international applicants?
Although we welcome applicants from any country, we’re not able to provide any assistance with the visa process. Applicants are responsible for obtaining a student visa to join the program; and if they wish to stay in the United States after graduation, they’re also responsible for obtaining a working visa or arranging sponsorship from their employer.
Paying for Designation
When are program fees due?
For Design Essentials, the $1,000 deposit is required to reserve a seat in a selected cohort. During Week 5 of DE, each designer has a mandatory performance evaluation with the instructor, who makes a determination of the designer’s ability to continue to the rest of the program. When accepted, the balance of $14,800 is due before the start of the Virtual Phase.
Is there financial assistance available?
Designation has long-standing partnerships with Skills Fund and Climb Credit, two companies that offer loans with payment plans and options specifically created for attendees of design programs like ours. A number of graduates have worked with one or the other, and reported good experiences.
Skills Fund can only work with US citizens and permanent residents; Climb Credit only allows international applicants to apply with a co-borrower who is a US citizen or permanent resident.
Does Designation accept GI Bill education benefits?
Not at the present time.
Does Designation offer need-based scholarships?
Not at the present time.
What is Designation’s refund policy?
Cancellation: Any applicant who wishes to cancel their acceptance into the program after paying their $1,000 Design Essentials deposit must provide written notice of cancellation to the admissions team within three (3) business days of payment. A full refund, less processing fees, will be issued. No refunds of the deposit will be granted after this period.
Withdrawal: Any designer accepted to the program who chooses to withdraw from Designation within 24 hours after the first session of DE is entitled to a refund of the $1,000 deposit, less processing fees. No refunds are issued after the first 24 hours after the first session of DE takes place.
Deferral: Any designer accepted to the program who chooses to leave DE for personal reasons and return for a later cohort may do so within six months to avoid paying anything beyond the $1,000 deposit. Returning after the six-month window requires another $1,000 deposit.
Ejection: Designation reserves the right to terminate a designer’s status in the program at any time, if the work, effort, or professionalism they put forth is incommensurate with expectations outlined by Designation. When this occurs, Designation will provide a prorated refund on program fees paid, less processing feed.
All refunds will be issued within 30 days of the determination of your cancellation, withdrawal, or ejection date.
What are the additional fees a designer can expect to pay when attending Designation?
Aside from housing, food, and transportation costs, which vary depending on the designer’s situation; every designer needs an Apple laptop and licensed copies of necessary software. Designation has partnered with a number of companies to offer discounts to every designer in the program on software and hardware. See the partners page for more information about those discounts.
Do Designation’s fees count as qualified tuition for tax purposes?
No. Designation is not an educational institution as defined by the IRS in its guidelines, so fees paid to attend are not tax-deductible. Designation also does not give copies of Form 1098-T to graduates.
What’s with the cohort names?
We name all cohorts after colors. Sometimes they’re actual colors (Gold, Magenta, Fuchsia, Celadon). Sometimes they’re plants or flowers (Basil, Dahlia, Lavender, Yucca) or gems (Peridot, Amethyst, Garnet, Ruby, Diamond—yes, we’re fans of Steven Universe). And sometimes they’re…a little more abstract (Xenon, Viridian, Water). We also name cohorts in alphabetical order, and we’re currently on our second complete run through the alphabet.
The unique name gives each cohort an identity and a bond among the designers within it. Each cohort also gets a t-shirt in their color.
What’s the time commitment at Designation?
In Design Essentials, our expectation is 15–20 hours per week. We don’t expect designers to quit full- or part-time employment during this phase, and classes and check-ins with the instructor and graders take place in the evenings. In the Virtual Phase, our expectation increases to 35–40 hours per week. This requires a full-time commitment to working, though classes and check-ins also take place in the evening. Once the in-person phases—Immersion, Client, and Career—begin, our expectation raises to at least 70 hours per week. That time is primarily spent on-site at our campus, working within design teams and balancing work on necessary deliverables with research, interviews, user testing, and presentations.
When does a designer select UX or UI as their area of focus?
In Week 5 of Design Essentials. By that point, every designer is exposed to principles and practices of UX and UI, and has enough information about their skills and interest in both areas to choose one. Additionally, the mandatory one-on-one with the DE instructor helps provide external perspective on the decision.
Can a designer complete both the UX and UI tracks of the program?
We allow designers to finish the Virtual Phase in one track and redo it in the other track before moving on to the Immersion Phase. But this repeat costs an additional $4,000 beyond our program fees, and the designer is moved to the subsequent cohort. These phases must be done back-to-back, and the switch from one track to the other is irreversible—if a designer starts in the UI track but switches to the UX track, for example, they’re required to complete the rest of the program in the UX track. This also means the full program takes 30 weeks to complete, not 24.
The Immersion, Client, and Career Phases are not repeatable.
Why do designers have to select a track?
Our curriculum is based on gaining skills through specialization. Earlier versions of our curriculum allowed every designer to select a “major” and “minor” between UX and UI, and as a result, they didn’t have the opportunity to properly nurture a set of skills. As a result, they graduated with a greater number of lesser-developed skills and their portfolios weren’t as strong. We made the change in 2016 to have every designer select their focus early on, then stick with it until the end.
Can a designer be asked to leave Designation?
Because we treat the program like a professional experience as much as possible, each designer’s performance is measured through continuous external feedback from creative directors, TAs, designers-in-residence, and others; and self-evaluation. When issues are found with participation, teamwork, timeliness, effort, attitude, or other areas, they’re brought to the designer as soon as possible, with the hopes of making improvements. If issues persist, more formal performance meetings and steps are taken. Finally, if the staff continues to see no improvement and the issues impact the designer’s team or cohort (or, later in the program, their client), they may be asked to leave. In this case, the designer receives a prorated refund for any weeks they paid for in advance but didn’t reach.
To date, less than .01% of designers have been asked to leave the program, so this is an extraordinarily rare step.
How do UX designers in the program gain UI skills, or vice versa, after Design Essentials?
A surprising amount of knowledge about the other track is gained through the process of file handoff. This happens in the professional design world every day, as specialist designers in different areas work together on the same team, so it happens on every project at Designation. UX designers are taught how to hand off their deliverables—especially wireframes—to UI designers, who often pick up their work and continue it. In doing so, they learn how to prepare for the UI design stage. Similarly, when UI designers receive a handed-off wireframe from which to design, they learn a lot about the UX design process.
In addition, designers from both tracks meet weekly for a peer feedback session where they provide objective, thoughtful critique of others’ work, regardless of their track. This activity helps them analyze design work at a deeper level and improve their own in various ways. Finally, graduates are given the opportunity to study the other track’s curriculum after they finish their own portfolios; this encourages them to more actively become a design generalist and be competitive for a wider range of careers.
Does Designation offer health insurance for its designers?
Who are the designers-in-residence?
DIRs are Designation graduates who excelled in the program in the areas of hard skills, team leadership, and professional growth; and invited to stay on after graduation to work with the next incoming cohort for that cohort’s Immersion, Client, and Career Phases. The role is paid, and each DIR serves as assistant creative director and project manager for that cohort. Designers are encouraged to apply to serve as a DIR and let staff know if they’re interested during the Client Phase; the staff usually selects one UX designer and one UI designer from each cohort.
How do cohorts overlap?
Usually, three to four cohorts run at any given time. One is in Design Essentials, one is in the Virtual Phase, and two are in the in-person phases. Since we start a new cohort every seven or so weeks, and cohorts run for 24 weeks, it means they almost always overlap. In the in-person phases, that means there’s a “junior” cohort and a “senior” cohort that share our campus space and essentially co-work.
What tools do Designation designers use?
Teamwork tools include Google Drive, Google Slides, PowerPoint, and Keynote. Productivity and communication tools include Canvas, Slack, email, Google Calendar, and Keynote. Design tools and programs include Sketch, Axure, InVision, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Principle. And everyone uses a hefty amount of Post-its, Sharpies, whiteboards, and sketching paper.
What kind of computer is needed for Designation?
An Apple laptop is a requirement for attending. Some software like Sketch is only usable on Apple computers, and laptops are necessary because designers don’t get a permanent workspace at Designation’s campus and need to be mobile. We’ve found new or refurbished MacBooks, MacBook Airs, and MacBook Pros currently sold or which date back to 2012 are excellent for designers. UI designers in the program use graphic-heavy software that requires more processing speed, so they’re recommended to get MacBooks or MacBook Pros.
All designers accepted into the program are eligible for a 6% discount on Apple products—including iPhones—if ordered through Designation; they must let the admissions team know before ordering to take advantage of this discount. See the partners page for more information.
Does Designation include front-end development?
Until 2016, we offered FED as a third track alongside UX and UI, but we since discontinued it. Designers in the program are given a small amount of dev knowledge, particularly around the process of handing off their files to a developer, but this information supplements the main design curriculum. Older interviews with alums and online reviews of the program may refer to this track, but please be aware that we have no plans of reintroducing it as a track in the future. For applicants wishing to practice FED, we recommend looking at dev-focused bootcamps and programs.
Life in Chicago and at WeWork
What are the working hours during the in-person phases?
We expect designers to be in the workspace 10:00 am–9:00 pm Monday through Saturday. We hold morning huddle each morning with all designers and staff to make announcements and share news; this is required to attend every day, so we ask designers to plan to arrive well before 10:00 am. The workday features workshops, check-ins with creative directors and DIRs, team activities, and other events throughout the day.
We encourage designers to take Sundays off when possible, to keep a work/life balance or sightsee around Chicago. But we know designers sometimes need to work, either virtually or in-person, to catch up on deliverables from the previous week or prepare for presentations in the upcoming week.
Does Designation offer help in finding housing?
Each designer must find their own accommodations. There are a number of options available to incoming designers, including Chicago Apartment Finders, Apartment People, Airbnb, and Craigslist. There’s also house-sharing among the Designation community; alums who are aware of the program’s schedule requirements frequently offer rooms at excellent monthly rates to designers in later cohorts. Those opportunities can be found on the Designation community Slack channel, which designers join at the beginning of Design Essentials.
For designers interested in a hostel, Designation has a special rate with Chicago Getaway Hostel in Lincoln Park. A valid Designation acceptance letter and proof of enrollment is needed to gain the rate.
For designers in the program from outside Chicago, housing doesn’t need to be finalized until the in-person phases begin in Week 13. This usually gives designers plenty of time to search and make arrangements.
Is the program possible for designers living in the Chicago suburbs?
Absolutely. Our campus at WeWork State Street is easily accessible to every downtown Metra station: Ogilvie, Millennium, LaSalle, and Van Buren. WeWork offers a $12/day rate to park at the InterPark garage at 318 S. Federal St, only three blocks away. Other designers work with parking apps to get weekly or monthly rates for city parking—SpotHero offers a discount for WeWork members.
What’s it like to work at WeWork?
The WeWork State Street location is a three-story coworking space, including dozens of companies of all sizes. Designation’s space includes a large room with presentation screens, standing desks, whiteboards, storage, a library, and much more. There are a large number of couches, phone booths, meeting rooms, and other spaces for teams to meet; conference rooms must be reserved in advance through WeWork’s member portal.
Is there 24-hour access to WeWork and the Designation workspace?
Yes. This access is keycard-regulated, and all designers get and register their keycard on their first day in the space. Designers can access the building anytime, day or night, even on weekends, but also need their keycard to enter the Designation workspace. That additional level of security allows designers to leave their computers, monitors, personal belongings, and food in the workspace without fear. We require every designer to keep their keycard with them at all times, not just to gain this access, but to get in the habit when they need to come in after hours or on weekends.
What are the benefits of being situated inside WeWork?
On an individual level, Designation attendees automatically become WeWork members during the in-person phases of the program, and experience the numerous member amenities available like discounts, workshops, food and drink tastings, and unlimited coffee and tea. Collectively, each cohort gets to work in a thriving environment—and communicate with the thousands of companies located across the WeWork network. Since WeWork is a modern work environment, it’s important to provide this exposure to designers as a reflection of the professional design world.
Food is important in Chicago. What about food?
Our campus is in downtown Chicago, so there are dozens of food options within a short walk, including the Revival Food Hall. Many are open for breakfast for early birds or late dinner for night owls. For designers on a budget during the program, one tip given by multiple graduates is to cook/prep a week’s worth of food on Sundays. WeWork occasionally offers breakfasts, snacks, and happy hours for members, which designers are welcome to enjoy.
Please note that Designation doesn’t cover costs related to food, so designers must plan to pay for their own.
Graduation and post-graduation life
Does Designation guarantee a job after the program?
A graduate’s employment is based on a large number of factors both external (the health of job market in their city of choice, entry- and low-level design jobs available) and internal (how quickly they can finish their portfolio after graduation, their drive to get a job quickly, how engaged they become in their local design community, their willingness to network and research to find openings). All of those factors contribute to a designer’s ability to get a job that will be fulfilling and challenging. But they also mean every graduate’s job search is a fundamentally unique experience, and one that must be undertaken by the graduate themselves.
We can, however, guarantee that we give every designer in the program what they need—skills, tools, experiences, portfolio-quality projects, and a drive to continue learning—to be truly competitive in the design industry. It’s up to the graduate to use it all.
What’s the purpose of the Career Phase?
The goal is for each designer to produce an MVP—a minimum viable portfolio. This MVP is needed to show a designer’s growth through the program and how they incorporated their design experiences with their life and career outside the program. It results in important career materials like case studies, a résumé, and cover letters. For most designers in the program, the Career Phase is the most difficult phase, because it requires a different skill set from the other phases. This blog post explains much more about the Career Phase.
What resources does Designation provide to graduates?
Every graduate gets four weeks of one-on-one support with the Career Phase creative director, through in-person or virtual meetings. These are in place to keep graduates productive and accountable to finish their portfolios as soon as possible. In the Career Phase, designers are also matched 1:1 with a career mentor, who serves as a bridge of support after Designation and before their first employer. Career mentors offer actionable, specific feedback on designers’ portfolios, and help designers find resources to aid in their job search.
Can Designation provide proof of attendance to a graduate’s first employer?
This is a frequent need for graduates as their future employers verify their professional history. Upon request, we’re happy to provide a letter verifying the start and end dates of a graduate’s time in the program. We also offer employment validation by phone to potential employers—just call us at 833-382-5924.
Where are graduates located?
We have over 500 graduates in cities across the United States, Canada, and Europe. The highest concentrations of graduates are in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. We also have multiple graduates in Toronto, Austin, Seattle, Boston, Denver, Salt Lake City, Madison, DC, San Diego, Minneapolis, London, Berlin, Dublin, and Istanbul.
How long does it take to get a job after the program ends?
We’ve found the average length of time is about three months. That means some graduates will get a job quickly—even in the final weeks of the program—and others will take more than three months.
What jobs are graduates prepared for?
On the UX side, depending on the designer’s interests: UX designer, UX researcher, and interaction designer. On the UI side, depending on the designer’s interests: UI designer, visual designer, and communication designer. The skills gained at Designation form a partial but important foundation for additional roles like content strategist, information architect, UX writer, UI engineer, product designer, and product owner.
In terms of job types, graduates are prepared for full-time salaried and part-time jobs, internships, apprenticeships, and contract and contract-to-hire roles.
How do graduates stay involved in Designation after they finish?
Graduates are uniquely prepared to offer informed, comprehensive support to subsequent designers; no matter where in the world they are, many of them become career mentors, guest speakers and critics, hiring partners, and Client Phase project referrals, because they understand what later designers need most from the program. A large percentage of our applicants also come as referrals from graduates. And we ask them to discuss their post-graduation careers in alumni interviews on the Designation blog.