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The AUX Program (the U stands for “unicorn”)


Everyone talks about the fabled designer-developer “unicorn”, who can bounce between code and Photoshop, pulling off any and all aspects of building a web product. We think that a true unicorn should also understand the fundamentals of user psychology and UX strategy; the “why” behind the “what” and the “how”. These cross-disciplinary beasts can define the big picture while executing on the details.

These people are hard to find. That’s why we created the Fresh Tilled Soil Apprenticeship in UX (AUX), a high-intensity program to turn talented designers and developers into UI/UX superstars. Our goal is to help new talent break into the UX world, and to help fill the Swiss-army-knife roles in high demand across businesses that touch the web.

We started by seeking out ambitious professionals with a passion for web technologies. Their industry experience ranged from advertising to information architecture, but they all were looking for one thing: to become bloody brilliant web & mobile product experts. We ultimately selected four of them to come out to our studio, where they would work alongside us for 90 manic days.

The apprentices balanced real-world client work with specially-built “challenges”. From crafting beautiful typographic systems, to coding progressively-enhanced HTML5 web forms, to owning and executing a client-facing design project, the apprentices took all the punishment we could dish out. In the meantime, we’ve watched them transform from promising designers to all-round UI/UX experts, slinging code, pushing pixels, and meticulously crafting every aspect of the user experience.

Apprentices at their desks
Tim tackles a JavaScript challenge while Laura writes PHP code for a client project.
Apprentice working on a computer
Standing desks: healthy choice or result of chair shortage? You decide.

It’s been so much fun, we felt the need to share. In our upcoming series of posts, we will detail the weekly AUX challenge assignments, as well as each apprentice’s individual approaches and solutions. The challenges came from our designers, developers and UX strategists, and are based on a curriculum of skills we consider critical in our industry.

Challenge 1: Redesigning an Experience

During the first two weeks, the apprentices went through a “Bootcamp” where they were drilled in the basics of UX strategy and user-centric thinking. They put these lessons to the test in their Bootcamp project, which required them to identify a poor user experience in a web site or application, and draft a redesign proposal. Beyond just suggesting improvements, the apprentices needed to consider what decisions might have gone into the current design, and who might have a stake in keeping it that way:

  • Laura tackled an energy utility’s consumer-facing billing and account management application.
  • Yifan wanted to make it easier to go to the movies.
  • Nicole worked to improve the Massachusetts jury deferral process.
  • Tim took on Twitter, proposing some feature tweaks to improve clarity and usability.

This was just one challenge of many. Keep an eye on the apprentice challenges every week and see what else we threw at them!

Looking for awesome UI/UX talent? The current apprentice class will be graduating soon and is ready for hire. To apply to join us as a hiring partner, contact

Author Geordie Kaytes

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