Three gaps between design education and design practice in the industry
I graduated from design school 6 years ago and when I joined the industry as a fresher, I found a difference between how I practised UX in college vs how it’s practised in the industry. I realized it even better when I hired my college juniors as interns in my team.
Here, I am listing common gap areas that I have observed-
1. The design process will not be the same always
We may not even follow the entire design process.
Double diamond, Empathize-Define-Ideate-Design-Test — We learn and follow the standard design process in college. But, in real projects in the office, this doesn’t hold true. Each project has a different problem and requirement thus, a need for a different process. So, we may not be able to fit these standard design processes everywhere and every time.
When I started my career, I took the process like a checklist where I ticked and crossed items based on what I could and couldn’t do during the project, just like how I did it in college. But, as I progressed in my career, the process became more and more intuitive where I worked on design projects based on project requirements on what needed to be done and steps I could skip. In all the projects I have worked on in my previous and current roles, I have experimented with a lot of different approaches to solving problems. In industry, one should even expect an extension of the standard design process involving more steps which weren’t in textbooks.
2. We will not have the liberty of time
Industry works on sprints or quarters and not semesters.
When we do college projects, we don’t have strict timelines. Even when we are doing real projects there, we are given full liberty of time to do our research, create questionnaires, do all possible types of primary and secondary research and deliver design solutions after 3–4 months.
But, it doesn’t happen like this in the industry. We get timelines based on OKRs/goals, work with multiple stakeholders, and have to optimize what we can do within the limited time frame. Depending upon the projects, we have to rely on existing data or knowledge available from previous projects and sometimes rely on our intuition skipping steps that can’t be executed in the given time frame. In an agile environment, when we have to deliver designs in a two-week sprint, it’s almost impossible to conduct primary research and ask users thus in such cases, we rely a lot on data analytics.
3. The process is cyclic and not linear or determinate
Delivering designs once is not the end.
Even though we study the design process to be iterative in nature — cycling between testing and ideating, we never get to do that in college. The first designs are the last designs. And, unfortunately, it’s the same for the majority of projects in consulting firms.
While, in agile and product setups, one has to deliver designs, and iterate based on user feedback and the results of the previous iterations with the intent to improve and scale up the product or experiment.
You are not the only stakeholder in a design project.
In college, we take full responsibility for projects from end to end thus limiting the feedback from other folks. While in industry, one project could have multiple stakeholders from design, product, data, engineering, research, sales, marketing, and more thus, enabling multiple feedback channels and giving an opportunity to hear many sides of the same story.
How can students bridge the gaps?
Get industry exposure during education itself. Actively look for internships. If internships are not part of the curriculum, then try to get a senior mentor who could help you do side projects on real-life design problems following the process practised in the industry. Try to speak with seniors already working in various companies which will help you get ready when you actually start your career.