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Teaching UX Design: The Journey

If you are a designer experiencing a strong pull toward teaching, you’re in the right place. In 2019, we had an opportunity to design and lead a UX course for beginners in Czechitas. It was a hit; 30 women attended and loved it. We loved it too. That’s why we’ve decided to describe how we designed and led the course so any future UX designers out there can try their hand at teaching.

In the second part of our story, we look at the basics of UX and describe the most fundamental ideas we passed on to our students during the 12-week course. Haven’t read the first part yet? Jump right in; you’ll learn how we designed the course and what our students actually thought a UX designer’s job is all about (fun answers included). Ready for the second part? Let's explore the main concepts behind each of the 12 lessons and learn why they’re important for designer beginners.

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Design is not art and designers are not artists. We had to dispel this widespread myth right away. Many of our students expected to do a lot of purely creative work, like drawing or playing with typography, shapes, and colors. Although having a creative spirit and a good taste for visuals are an advantage for UX designers, it's definitely not the core of their work. That’s why the first and most important message we shared was: Your goal as a designer is to solve problems. Does this beautiful and sophisticated product you created not solve any of your users' problems? Well, we might have bad news for you then: it’s probably not as good you thought.

UX design revolves around people rather than technology, so you have to do your best to understand them. For some attendees, a lesson focused on the psychology of design might have been a surprising detour from information technology. But very quickly they realized that a lesson in psychology fits in perfectly. To communicate effectively with users through design, you need to know how their minds work—be it on a conscious or subconscious level—and consider what might affect their minds in their everyday lives. They might be affected by a different cultural context, cognitive bias or even a temporary or permanent handicap. As a designer, it is your job to acknowledge these kinds of factors and deal with it.

Common sense is a good baseline but often it’s not enough. When first learning UX basics, beginners tend to be confused by the vast number of elusive concepts they're exposed to, with nothing practical to catch and hold onto. That's why we decided to introduce a list of 10 usability heuristics—general rules of thumb that can help you solve a problem—at the beginning of the course. 
Put differently, heuristics are recommendations covering the basics of usability for any product or service. Although you can't be sure your design is perfect even if you stick to them, the rules help you avoid the most common issues. To demonstrate this, we gave our students a seemingly simple, yet complex task: pinpoint which (if any) of the 10 usability heuristics were violated on several different websites. It was the first time our students had a chance to put on their designer hats. And what did they learn? That there are bare minimum requirements any product or service must meet to be deemed user-friendly. 

There's no universal guidebook. Or is there? We knew our students would feel safer if we gave them guidelines they could follow during the course and afterward while working on their own projects. Some of them were surely disappointed by not getting this. Luckily, a designer’s everyday work is based on the Design Thinking concept, a certain way of defining user problems and developing solutions. This concept can be implemented through various frameworks, e.g., the Double Diamond framework. The framework describes the individual parts of the designing process, telling you which one you need to work on and suggesting the goal for each part of the process. Sounds a bit like a guidebook, right? And although not very detailed, it's much more variable and widely usable.  

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A user interview is more than just a chat (but it's cool when you master it so it feels that way!). Some of our students’ heads were bursting with ideas from the very beginning of the course. All they wanted to do was get to the drawing board and start designing. By saying “wait, first you need to perform initial user research”, we forced them, gently but firmly, to step back and explore whether their ideas even solve the problems of their users. 
How to conduct a user interview? How to avoid misleading the participants? How to acquire valuable information? And how to process the data later?  We had to teach our students that it all starts with setting up a goal (why we’re doing this), writing down hypotheses (presumed outcomes of our research), and ending up with scenarios—mock situations that help us draft research questions we should ask our users. It was the first lesson where our students struggled a little. We're beyond happy that, nevertheless, they persisted and user interviews are now something they can tackle.

Designers don't have to master the art of drawing. Really. But, the ability to visualize your thoughts and ideas and sketch them in a few seconds, rather than trying to explain it all with words, is a huge advantage. We taught our students how to create wireframes with just pen and paper, a cheap method that doesn't require any software knowledge. Even with the old pen and paper method, practice makes perfect. You want your sketches to be clear to both you and others. Familiarizing yourself with industry standards of “how to draw what” or using pre-made templates makes your wireframes easier to understand.

Suit your tools to your goals, even the digital ones. It sounds a bit obvious but choosing a prototyping tool based on its popularity among professionals without considering your goals is like learning how to drive a truck to get to the cinema two blocks away. When creating a prototype, a designer usually chooses the quickest solution so they can validate their design with users as soon as possible. While pen and paper can be used for simple user flows, you might need to pick a more robust, digital solution when testing more complex forms with many user inputs and interactions.

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We are not our users. This saying, well-known among the UX professionals, is something we had to bring to our students’ attention—especially during the lesson dedicated to user testing. You have to create your hypotheses and scenarios once again. It might seem scary at first but learning how to perform user testing in a setup as close to the real thing as possible, is vital for any future UX designer.  

Visual design is the star of the show that is the last to enter the stage. “Why do we have to learn about visual design nearly at the end of the course? I'd rather create the entire prototype again!” We heard this from one of our students who was disappointed that she couldn't make her prototype look great right from the beginning. We hope our students now understand why visual design is the last step. Once you're deeply involved in the cycle of prototyping and testing, visually polishing the prototype is simply a waste of time and energy. Put simply, it distracts you from what's important right now. Let your visual design skills shine once you know more about how your perfectly tailored features should be displayed to the user.

UX portfolio is not just a bunch of pretty pictures. Together with YSofters Kuba and Vojta, we set up a lesson dedicated to job interviews. How to prepare for a job interview? And what questions might be asked? The main message of the lesson was “show us how you think”, because no one gets a job as a UX designer when their portfolio is beautiful if they cannot explain the problems they were solving, how they did it and what were the results. 

No two UX designers are the same. What do UX designers do in a big company, in a startup and in a digital agency? Who do they cooperate with? What are those Agile and Scrum things about? And what is hidden behind the term Design System? To complete the UX job puzzle, it was necessary to answer these and many more related questions. During this lesson, our students learned how to navigate the job market better, compare the perks of possible work environments, and determine which one would suit them the best. 

Five minutes is plenty of time. Or not? The content of the very last lesson was created by our brave students! Everyone presented their project, along with their development process ups and downs; all in front of an audience of roughly 40 people. Each student had a 5 minute limit for their presentation—and that’s not much when you need to squeeze everything important in it! Some of our students exceeded the time limit a bit, yes, but they also exceeded our expectations by managing to finish their first UX project and being brave enough to stand in the spotlight and share their experience with others.  

So, that's a nice list of slightly disconnected ideas that formed our lessons. What were the key takeaways, you might ask? In the third and final part of this series, we'll sum it all up and connect the dots. We’ll also reveal the lessons we’ve learned as teachers.