3 Ways To Learn About UX Design, Technical Communication, Digital Marketing, and Content Strategy

How do I learn about UX design? This is a question I get frequently from students, clients, and fellow practitioners alike. With UX becoming an increasingly hot field in the last five years–and with related fields like technical communication, digital marketing, and content strategy as close contenders for the digital spotlight–more and more people want to learn how these professionals are leveraging exciting new tools to create memorable experiences for users, and how they can do so themselves.

Learn about UX design: A photo of a Mac keyboard with a "learn" key

Image source: http://bit.ly/1cNVOhn

Why Is Learning Important in an Increasingly Digital World?

At the same time, I’ve heard more than one person in my professional network bemoan the pace at which knowledge moves in the current economy. Whether these are first-time job seekers or small business clients trying to keep pace with a dizzying array of new design trends, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Why do we constantly need new terms for things? Why can’t we just say usability instead of UX? Why do marketers have to change their minds all the time about the best ways to reach customers? Why can’t content just be textual like it used to be?

My answer: why is a good question to ask. Why denotes a curiosity, as much as a lamentation, about trends in the world of technology. You don’t have to complain, though, to keep pace with knowledge, nor is complaining particularly productive. Knowledge has a way of outpacing many of us. That’s just the way it is.

To avoid being left in the dust, however, here are three ways to learn about UX design and related fields.

First Way To Learn: Online Resources

As both a researcher and a practitioner, I am increasingly getting my learning from digital sources. These include a mix of blogs, e-magazines, webinars, the feeds of individual professionals, and social networks. I like to place all these sources in one place, like my UX and Content Strategy Library page.

I also love services that push information my way, like Hootsuite’s RSS Syndicator, Twitter Lists, and email listservs. Having been online for about twenty years now, I’ve also noticed that there is an increasing amount of high quality information on the web about previously niche topics like UX.

To vet an online resource (or any resource, really), think about the following:

  • Currency: When was the source last updated? Does it reference industry realities that are still important to you? Or does it draw on examples that are no longer viable?
  • Relevancy: Does the source contain information that is relevant to the questions you are asking? Is the context of the source similar to the context you are trying to enter?
  • Authority: What is the expertise level of the source’s author(s)? What experience do they have that makes them an expert? Why should you listen to them?

Second Way To Learn: Professional Networks

Professional networks, which can range from formal organizations to informal meetups, are a great way to learn about a new field. I find a lot of groups through LinkedIn. Every time I make a new connection on LinkedIn, the first thing I look at are the groups that person is part of. If they’re part of a group I’m unfamiliar with, I send them a message asking them what they think about the group and why they became a member. If I’m really interested in a group they’re part of, I request to join the group or message the group’s moderator.

Local, in-person meetups and organizations are also a great way to learn from fellow professionals. The first thing I look for when I land in a new area is local branches of national organizations like the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA), the Information Architecture Institute, and the Association of Computing Machinery. If none of those are handy, I look for meetups, coffee hours, and brown bags hosted by local individuals or associations. And if none of those are handy, I start a local group myself! In my experience, most national technology sector organizations provide support for industrious people who want to help like-minded people connect.

Third Way To Learn: Universities

As a higher education professional with over 10 years of experience in that realm, I am shocked by how often colleges and universities are overlooked by people trying to learn about something. Many universities contain student organizations, host workshops for the public, and even provide continuing education classes on a variety of topics. With the growing popularity of online classes, webinars, and distance education programs, this knowledge is now more accessible than ever.

Kent State’s UX Connect is a shining example of such a program, which brings in speakers from around the country and makes webinars available to the public for free.

Pretty much every university I’ve ever heard of also contains a library, which has an Interlibrary Loan program that gives you access to pretty much every book in existence. If the university is public, it also makes library cards with limited privileges available to anyone with a driver’s license and a credit card, but many private universities also provide similar services. WorldCat is leading the way in this regard by giving patrons an invaluable tool to find books and other items in nearby libraries.

I’m also continually shocked by how under-utilized people like me are: professors! I’ve spent the better part of a decade teaching classes in topics like UX, digital marketing, and content strategy. I’ve also posted every single one of these classes online. My course sites get a fair amount of Internet traffic, and students and fellow professionals from a variety of contexts have contacted me to ask me for advice on a wide range of topics, to collaborate on research projects, and to hire me as a consultant, but I encounter local job seekers, organizations, and professionals on a daily basis who are slogging through complicated processes like landing a job, building a company, or marketing a product, and who know me personally, but who never think to ask me for help!

Regardless of how you learn: the important thing is that your needs as a learner are met. If you’re an introverted person, maybe a nice book is the best way to start your exploration of a new field. If you learn best from other people, finding a meetup or organization is probably more your speed. Each individual will probably desire some mix of these different learning methods. The point is that you get out there and find answers to those burning questions you have about UX and all its relations. These fields are simply too exciting and too important to ignore!