Wendy Johansson on Designing a UX Academy in Mexico

Hiring UX designers remains a huge challenge - inside and outside of Silicon Valley. How do you solve that problem?

The success of user-focused experiences such as the iPhone and the maturity of users from consumers to prosumers have paved the way for the field of user experience design to grow quickly in Silicon Valley, with a 250% growth in UX Designer jobs within a year of the iPhone launch, and over 3,000% growth to date. Silicon Valley’s influence of user-centered technology has also inspired companies around the world to refocusing their products towards users. However, despite the normalization of user experience design as a critical function for building successful products, hiring UX designers remains a huge challenge - inside and outside of Silicon Valley. So how do you solve that problem?

Having built and led UX teams in Mexico since 2010, my best UX designers from my previous company began as talented graphic designers and learned to employ user-centered practices over years of tenure through mentoring, online readings, conferences, and knowledge sharing. But by the middle of 2016, almost 2 years into my new startup Wizeline, I had only hired 3 full-time UX designers in Mexico for a team of 60 engineers, despite having reviewed hundreds of candidates.

Rather than adding more recruiters to solve the problem by volume, I decided to approach it as a UX problem to solve: reframe the problem and iterate on a solution. Taking a step back, I realized my core hiring problem was that I had a much higher bar than the community could supply in terms of experience and education - I was seeking an experienced mid-to-senior level UX designer with solid foundations in user-centered design principles.

But user experience design in Mexico was living in the 2008 of Silicon Valley: a not-yet-realized, but much-needed role within product companies. While Mexico has a saturation of graphic design talent that has evolved from a rich artistic culture of influencers such as architect Luis Barragan and muralist José Clemente Orozco, it’s simply lacking the proper education or opportunities to teach the modern designers to think user-first when designing digital experiences, and focus on solving user problems, rather than aesthetic ones.

Determined to kick start the maturation of the UX skillset in Mexico, I decided to focus on education as the solution. The framework for a six-week Wizeline UX Academy course came together quickly based on the product design process our team utilizes today, and some research into existing courses — online and at universities — validated the syllabus. Our UX team of 4 split the lecture topics amongst ourselves based on expertise, but we wanted to Wizeline UX Academy to offer more: 1:1 mentorship between the students and lecturers, as well as offering the course for free.


Photo credit: Wizeline

The concept of a free course was the largest cultural barrier I have had to face in all my years working with teams in Mexico. Free in Mexico means it’s not good enough to charge for, or there is some trick where you will charge for it later. To overcome this hurdle with social credibility, our first Wizeline UX Academy was only promoted through the social networks of our company and team members in Mexico - leading to 90 applicants in the first week alone!

Over the course of six weeks working directly with our students 1:1 on a community-based problem, the Wizeline UX team was able to gauge students for their potential to learn and grow into skilled UX designers, rather than expect them to already be experienced. More importantly, we have been working with other technology companies in Mexico to hire graduated students so they have the opportunity to practice their new user-centric thinking skills to build products.

Today Wizeline UX Academy has successfully graduated two classes of students, run shorter UX crash courses for over 100 students, and we are about to kick off our first course in Vietnam next week. It has even kicked off the entire Wizeline Academy program – now offering courses in Artificial Intelligence, Technical Writing and Sales, as well! Through the UX problem solving approach to my hiring problem, we have been able to create a solution and constantly iterate on our courses based on feedback. With this pedagogic approach, we hope to fuel the maturation of the UX skillset in Mexico and Vietnam, and replicate Silicon Valley’s product design growth.

Originally published on Design.blog

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