UX as an independent study

I’ve always been inclined to design my own educational experiences. I took independent study courses in school and designed my own major in college. When I started a remote web development bootcamp, I opted for the learning plan with the most autonomy. It's not a surprise I decided to study UX independently as well. However, I was only able to choose this path for myself because of free and lower-cost resources that have flourished on the web. I’d like to share my self-study "curriculum", and I hope that it’s useful for anyone who wants to explore the field.

From web development to UX

At first, I planned to transition to tech in web development. I learned to build front-end and full-stack web applications using technologies like React, Node.js, and MongoDB. As I developed these projects, I couldn’t help but focus on how features could better serve user needs. One of my projects, "My YouTube Scrapbook", used a walled-garden approach to create a calmer, quieter space to view videos. In due course, I realized that my place in tech lies not in writing code, but in shaping end-user experiences.

If I have a guiding principle to learning UX, it’s that no one course, book, or bootcamp will teach me everything I need to know. I approach learning as a process that will continue throughout my career.

A non-exhaustive UX curriculum for self-study

Table of Contents

  1. Courses
  2. Essential UX Books
  3. Articles
  4. Podcasts
  5. Tools


Intro to the Design of Everyday Things

This was a great little free course that sparked my serious interest in UX. Don Norman explains introductory concepts from his seminal text The Design of Everyday Things. It includes short exercises to get you thinking about design from a more inquisitive perspective.

Coursera’s User Experience Research and Design Specialization from The University of Michigan

This specialization is a series of six courses on UX research and design. While they do have strong material, I used the courses as a jumping off point to investigate UX methods. For me, it was important to put in the effort to extract all the value I could from each assignment. My projects included:

  • A heuristic evaluation of the Coursera platform using Nielsen’s usability heuristics
  • Conducting a user needs assessment of the My Notebook feature on Ravelry, a fiber arts website
  • Usability testing of Momondo, a flight booking site with some novel search features
  • Sketching, creating wireframes, and testing a paper prototype for a group streaming organizer I thought up called Watch Together
  • Writing a methodologically-sound survey to gauge user satisfaction for a company intranet system
  • Testing how the format of cookie notification content affects comprehension
  • Researching and designing an application for farmers watching the commodities markets

Essential UX Books

I’m an avid reader, and I love exploring topics in depth. I researched what the most formative UX texts are, and this is what I’ve completed so far.

The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman

This is the perennial recommendation for good reason. Norman pioneered the concepts and language that we use to think about our interactions with technology. I frequently think about the concepts of affordances, signifiers, mapping, feedback, and discoverability when I encounter analog and digital designs.

Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug

Here's another classic book that stresses anticipating user needs based on their behavior. Krug emphasizes the need for simplicity through removing extraneous detail and text. He explains how even a small amount of user testing can reveal a design's most critical usability issues. Plus, it's entertaining, with pithy headings like "Happy talk must die" and "Conventions are your friends."

The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond, Jesse James Garrett

This is the third text that is almost universally recommended for UX beginners. Garrett breaks UX into five “planes” that describe UX as a process and a product artifact. The book shifted my thinking around how both functionality and content need to be considered in many areas of UX design. His description of navigation design is particularly interesting, and it's a crucial area of the field that I personally don't seem to see a ton of material about.

The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide, Leah Buley

Buley describes the challenges of integrating UX into product teams that are still building their UX maturity. She explains how bringing stakeholders into the process of creating deliverables can improve organizational buy-in. After reading, I started thinking more about the many ways in which UX requires relationship building. She also includes a list of deliverables that pare down time-intensive practices without undermining their efficacy. It's well worth the read, even if you're not the only UX practitioner in an organization.

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works, Janice (Ginny) Reddish

Reddish covers everything that makes web content discoverable and digestible. She frames websites as a conversation in which content answers users' questions. To that end, she models questions that people would have about example websites. You could use it as a guide to comb through your site and edit your content to maximize ease of use.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal

Eyal’s popular (and controversial) book exposes the psychological tactics that drive users to come back to a product again and again. He’s gotten some criticism for essentially writing a playbook to model the triggers of addiction. Still, his description of how technology influences people's behavior is accurate. Eight years in retrospect, his perspective does come across as overly optimistic (and he offers a remedy in his 2019 book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life). Regardless, one of the most salient points is that a product's most engaged users don’t return out of muscle memory - they invest themselves into the platform.

How to Make Sense of Any Mess, Abby Covert

Here, Covert lays out her approach to information architecture. The book is about developing a more attentive mindset toward the way organizations communicate and structure information. It’s based around a series of mantra-like tenets such as “There’s distance between reality and your intent” and "The way you organize things says a lot about you." If you like theoretical and idea-driven works (raises hand), you’ll enjoy it. As an added plus, the book is available online for free.

Up next on my list are:

  • About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design, Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, and Dave Cronin
  • Just Enough Research, Erika Hall
  • Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond, Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, and Jorge Arango
  • Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability, Caroline Jarett and Gerry Gaffney
  • Microinteractions: Designing with Details, Dan Saffer


There’s about a billion articles on the web about UX. It's difficult to parse through what’s good, what’s marketing content, and what’s marketing content but is actually good. That being said, I do want to point out two companies that are always consistent. They make at least part of their money by consulting, but they also have a vast amount of free, well-researched material.

Nielsen Norman Group

Nielsen Norman Group is led by UX pioneers Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen, and they’re the most influential company specializing in UX. They regularly post articles and videos on all sorts of UX topics. While a lot of the content teases their paid reports, you can learn a ton from their free material.

Baymard Institute

Baymard conducts an immense amount of research specifically on e-commerce. Like nn/G above, companies pay for their consultation, but they also provide hundreds of free articles on the UX of e-commerce.

Finally, I have a public Notion page with a boatload of articles and videos that I found to be useful.


In the past year, if I’ve been listening to something, it’s probably a UX podcast. They’re great for hearing the stories of professionals and monitoring industry trends. It’s always good to think critically about a podcast's intentions, because a lot of them are trying to sell you something. Nevertheless, they can be a great resource for learning the breadth of what UX folks focus on.

UI Breakfast

Jane Portman hosts this podcast that covers a wide variety of topics in UX and tech as a whole. She’s the founder of SaaS business Userlist, and I’ve appreciated learning more about startups and entrepreneurship. Each episode is an interview where you learn about what a leader in tech is working on.

Suggested episodes:

UX Podcast

Per Axbom and James Royal-Lawson have interviewed many of the biggest names in UX. They cover just about everything under the umbrella of UX, from cutting-edge research to web design to sustainability.

Suggested episodes:

Honest UX Talks

Honest is not a misnomer in this case. Anfisa Bogomolova and Ioana Teleanu speak quite candidly about their experiences as UX designers. I admire their perspective, which is positive yet pragmatic. Their confessional style is a nice change of pace in comparison to the podcasts that only feature interviews.

Suggested episodes:

Awkward Silences

This podcast is sponsored by the company User Interviews, so they have a vested interest in fostering a culture of research at tech companies (an admirable goal!). However, through the podcast I have learned much more about the breadth and variety of research methods. It’s worth a listen.

Suggested episodes:

Bonus: Coding podcasts

As a bonus, I had to give a shout-out to my favorite web development podcasts, Syntax and Shop Talk. On Syntax, Wes Bos and Scott Tolinski will keep you abreast of everything important happening in CSS and JavaScript. On Shop Talk, Chris Coyier (founder of CSS Tricks) and Dave Rupert discuss a variety of web development topics, which includes technologies that are prevalent but a bit less talked-about, like Wordpress and PHP.


My goal is to learn skills that are transferable between tools, as opposed to getting a surface-level introduction to many tools.


Figma is the dominant industry choice for UI design and prototyping. I used it to design interfaces even before my decision to pursue UX. To me, the most important skills to learn have been:

  • Creating reusable components with variants (and now component properties, which pleases the coder in me)
  • Making responsive layouts with auto layout and constraints
  • Incorporating design system assets into the tool, like font styles, colors, and grids
  • Learning to adapt designs to different screen sizes


I’m exploring Miro solo, but I’m anticipating using it for collaborative design work and ideation. There are some nice UX touches, like when I used the bulk entry sticky note feature for affinity mapping. It has a decent free tier and a ton of templates to work from.


I can definitely see the utility in Zeplin as a source of truth for design. I used a plugin to generate Tailwind CSS classes for my custom text styles, which saved a lot of manual labor. It automatically generates optimized assets and can save spacing tokens, which are not yet available in Figma.

Visual Studio Code and GitHub

While building web development projects, I frequently use GitHub and Visual Studio Code. I’m used to editing, navigating, and versioning code, and I hope those skills have a bit of utility in my work as a UX designer.

This list is just the beginning of my UX journey, and I’m looking forward to learning more.

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