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Skill Refresh 2021: IDEO U or Interaction Design Foundation?

October 4, 2021

I consider myself a life long learner. I love to experience and learn about new things. I also dig getting to polish up and expand my existing knowledge and skills.

This year I decided to revisit my roots by digging back into user experience and design thinking. I first began learning about these practices as an undergraduate from 1996 to 2000 while I learned how to build websites. This knowledge was enhanced under the guidance of Kevin Abbott while working as the “Project Lead for Studio I” (the “I” stood for innovation). It was an amazing first job and Kevin was a great teacher. He came from a theatre background and had worked extensively in 3D animation at Disney and in the gaming industry. Together we used the design process and our technical savvy to build custom apps and solutions for researchers and professors at Western Michigan University.

I have been thinking about that first job a lot, and all of the things I loved about it. This inspired me to look online for continuing education and certifications related to the type of work I did in that first job. In a perfect world, I would go back to school and get a few more degrees — but, the problem with that approach is that more higher education costs tens of thousands of dollars AND the process is pretty slow.

My search turned up two possibilities. The first was IDEO U, an online program from the innovative design firm IDEO. They offer complete certificate programs that dig into design strategy, innovation, managing projects, and leading change. Compared to an undergraduate or graduate degree, their courses are quite affordable. Costs range from $199 to $799 for multi-week courses led by experienced design professionals. The second option was the Interaction Design Foundation, who also offer a broad range of online courses. Their value proposition was an interesting one. Namely, become a member of their foundation for $192/year and gain access to their entire course library, earn certificates recognized by top companies (e.g., IBM, Adobe, GE, Phillips, and more), and learn from some of the people who have helped to shape and define user experience (e.g., Don Norman). It’s an amazingly low cost, high-quality solution.

My longterm plan is to explore both options. But, I decided to get started with the Interaction Design Foundation in September 2021. I’m currently taking their “Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide” and “Become a UX Designer from Scratch” courses. Going in, I felt pretty confident about my experience and skills. As I’ve begun to move through their curriculum, I’m rediscovering some great foundational principles but can also feel my knowledge expanding and becoming enhanced. In a nutshell, it’s been worth it so far, energizing, and most importantly: fun!

I’ve also begun work on a new project I call “#ChallengeMVP“. Many friends and colleagues noticed that the initials of my name, Michael VanPutten, are “MVP”. While I can humbly affirm that I’ve never advocated for this nickname, every job I’ve been at has eventually made the observation and selected it a monicker. I must admit, it is a pretty cool one to have. Anyways, “#ChallengeMVP” is going to be a vlog where I take on different design and/or fun challenges that I give myself or receive from others. For me, having a safe place to practice design thinking has always been an important part of being able to be creative and innovative. The process involves being vulnerable to and accepting of making mistakes, trying out ideas, admitting gaps, asking questions, and learning new things. We seem to philosophically recognize that excellence doesn’t happen automatically on the first try. Consider the works of musicians, actors, writers, and more. They don’t just sit down and make something brilliant their first go at a new project. Yes, sometimes magic happens, but usually it’s about hard work. “#ChallengeMVP” is about rising to meet and participate in that process. Experiences and projects bring knowledge and insight. By taking on challenges, you become someone who is “amazing” or “the best” at challenging work.

So, for 2021 and the foreseeable future, I’m choosing to actively learn new things and refresh my existing skills and expertise. I’m also starting a new playground for ideas and innovation in the form of “#ChallengeMVP”. I’m excited and scared at the same time. It’s a new adventure, and one that I hope you’ll enjoy and choose to engage with. See you out there Innovationeers!