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Teaching UX Design: There and Back Again

Our three-part series of articles about teaching long-term UX course is getting close to the finish line. In the first article of the series, we told the story of how and why we designed a UX design course. In the second article, we highlighted the key concepts and ideas our students learned during the 11 weeks we spent together. And now the time has come for our final installment: The one where we describe how it went and, most importantly, how we dealt with the few unexpected aha! moments of teaching that we encountered during the course. 


Let's talk numbers

The  Basics of UX Design class of 2019 was full of smart apprentices. From the 30 students who enrolled in the course, 22 completed it successfully and were awarded a certificate. That’s a much higher success rate than we expected. Three class graduates are currently working as junior UX designers, and a few more are currently looking for a UX career opportunity. We're so happy for all of them, and we wish them the best of luck in their careers! 


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Even though we tried to prepare for our new roles as teachers the best we could, we still experienced a few unexpected classroom moments. Working through those hiccups helped us to improve as teachers a lot. We decided to share the most challenging course obstacles with you below, together with some ideas that helped us to overcome them. We hope that these observations will help you slip easily into the role of teacher, should you ever try your luck at teaching. 


“Abstract answers are frustrating,” said every student ever.
Pretty obvious, right? But if you ask a UX designer any kind of question, there’s a high chance their answer will start with: “It depends...” During our UX course, “it depends” became less popular than another well-known UX cliché: “You're not the user.” And, boy, did we use “it depends” a zillion times! 


Our students tried to, more or less successfully, hide their frustration when we answered their very specific questions (“How many questions should a good user interview scenario have?”) with seemingly vague answers (“It depends on what information you need to obtain from your participants.”). To minimize their frustration with our “it depends” answers, we learned to follow the vague phrase with as many practical examples as we could. That way, we were able to illustrate why there's not a single correct answer to their questions. Examples also helped to further describe the conditions and background UX designers need to consider beforehand. As the course went on, our students slowly learned themselves that UX design is a context-heavy discipline; as a result, the phrase crept into their vocabulary too.

 

The design process will make sense. Wait you must.
If you are a professional UX designer, you might forget what it feels like to take a class in a discipline outside of your area of expertise. Or at least, this is what happened to us. Although we explained the concept of design process in the first lesson, most students fully grasped its meaning only at the very end of the course. And that’s perfectly fine. In UX design, certain methods and procedures are learned gradually and start making sense only after you collect all the necessary information. Then, when you look back from the finish line, it all suddenly clicks, and you finally come to understand the hidden power behind the design process and the many possibilities of employing the process in your everyday life.

To make it look less intimidating, we had to openly talk about the fact that the lightbulb moment might happen later than expected and there's nothing wrong with it. And so we repeated “It‘ll all make sense eventually” over and over to help our students overcome the initial confusing period when nothing really makes sense. Once our students realized they’re not alone in thinking they’ll never get it, things got better. “Not getting it” became a shared topic of interest. And feeling lost in an uncharted territory suddenly became fun. After all, finding your way out of a dark maze is not a scary task if you have company.

 

UX design is much closer to other areas than it may seem.
The borders between UX design and other areas—especially marketing—often get a bit blurry. UX professionals are already well familiar with this fact. Beginners, however, do not necessarily know how to distinguish UX design from marketing.  We learned this the hard way: By watching our students unintentionally steer away from designing to creating marketing campaigns. When it happens over and over again, you know it is a problem you need to fix.

We had to draw a clear line between UX design and marketing to prevent our students from trying to solve their users' problems with a major leaflet campaign. That’s why we came up with a simple rule that helped to keep our students on the right track: If you’re creating something that your users will use and not just passively consume, we’re talking UX design, and if not—toss it, it’s probably marketing. 

 

Doing something you’ve never done before? Beware of overconfidence. 
Assignments that didn't require much of the so-called hard skills left a surprisingly high number of our students with the impression that they must be easy to complete. We expected our students would be scared by the sheer amount of work that needs to be done and the knowledge that needs to be learned. And some of them were scared. But there was a group of students who thought that, for example, a user interview is “just asking people a few questions.” In other words, it can't be that difficult if you don’t have to learn a new software tool or a statistical method to conduct it.  

Unfortunately, in this case we had to leave our students to their own devices, watching from afar how they’d grapple with the consequences. The best we could do was provide a suitable treatment for their bruises caused by a collision with reality. Continuous motivation, appreciation of their work, and a piece of chocolate worked best! Another simple yet effective trick was to add a “buffer lesson” right in the middle of the course. There was no regular class for once and the time was dedicated to consulting purposes only. Some students stopped by to discuss anything they wanted to individually, some stayed at home catching up with their work and recovering from their previous time-management errors.

 

What's the perk of thinking like a designer?

In the end, not all our students wanted to change careers and become full-time UX designers. Some of them joined the UX design course simply to learn some new skills and broaden their horizons, some changed their mind during the course and decided to pursue a different path. Was it a waste of their time and energy? Spending three months learning the basics of UX design when you don't even plan to break into a UX career? No way, we say! 

Design Thinking is a way of identifying and solving problems. When combined with one of the frameworks, it is a powerful tool you can use in professions that aren't even remotely related to design. Do you need to establish a new process in your company? Create an easy-to-use guide or a form for your colleagues? Remodel your grandma's country house? Yep, you're right, these are just a few situations in which you can benefit from newly acquired design thinking skills. 

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Acknowledgment 

We would like to thank all our fellow UX designers and professionals from related areas who participated in the course as lecturers and coaches for creating such an inspiring and friendly atmosphere during the course. We are truly glad we had an opportunity to work with you during those three months and share our own knowledge and experience with our students together. 

Big thumbs up for the Czechitas organization for providing a platform that gathers girls and women with strong aspirations and interests related to IT and gives them an opportunity to find their place in an area that is still, sadly, not diverse enough. 

We would also like to thank our employer, Y Soft, for opening its gates to our students, letting them explore our work environment and welcoming them with delicious breakfasts. 

And last but not least, let's make some noise for all our students who sacrificed their free time and energy for the sake of self-development and made us proud with their incredible results. Woohoo!