After 17 years as a graphic designer, I have decided to learn more about UX Design by enrolling in the part-time User Experience Design course at General Assembly in Boston. I am going to document this course as I go along in order for me to share my experience, while allowing me to look back to see how I have progressed. If you’re wondering what the heck user experience is, take a look at this cool video. Trust me, when a co-worker suggested I look into it, I had no idea what it was either—I thought it was just another term for interactive designer.
I am going to write about this new learning adventure class-by-class, so patience while reading might be needed, as the blog post will be very long. While my intention of the post is to document for myself, it’s also to help anyone else who is contemplating taking this course at GA. I hope you can gain something from my experience. Enjoy!
The first class was a basic intro to General Assembly (GA), teacher and student introductions, and what we should expect during the 10-week program.
I am both excited and nervous to start this new adventure, but happy that I am pushing myself to learn something new. I think I might be most nervous about the last day of class, which will be when we have to present our final projects to the whole class. Public speaking=anxiety for me! Truth be told, I almost did not sign up for the course because of the public speaking aspect.
The focus of this class was user research. I am almost at the point where I wonder if I made the wrong decision taking this program—I already feel like I am in over my head.
The assignment given in class two is to have research goals, questions, script, screener, and six user interviews done in less than two weeks. I know…two weeks sounds like a long time, but time goes by quickly and it seems like a lot of work. Who knows, maybe I am over thinking this and freaking out about nothing. Which is one reason why I am keeping a diary of this course. I want to be able to look back on these thoughts I am having—and when I do look back, I’ll hopefully see how silly I was to feel so frantic. I will end with this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
I am feeling a little better, but still really overwhelmed. This course is a lot different from a class where you just research and write papers. I am a curious person by nature—I enjoy researching, reading, and learning. However, as an introvert, I find the thought of meeting with and interview strangers very daunting. Which is why the one-on-one in-person interviews have me a bit frazzled. I think once I get passed those, I will be feeling much better.
Enough about my self-doubt and on to what I learned about in the third class: Competitive Review (or analysis). This is basically analyzing direct and indirect competitors. Discovering their strengths, weaknesses, objectives, strategies, personality, etc. I am actually looking forward to the homework assignment for this topic, since I find it fascinating. Yes, I am actually enthusiastic about homework. ha ha.
That quote pretty much sums up how I am feeling. The idea of in-person user interviews is still giving me some anxiety, but I know everything will be fine once I get through them. It’s going to be uncomfortable for me, but it will be a learning experience and doing something completely outside my comfort zone will make me grow as a person. You’re probably sick of listening to me complain about this. I swear, no more complaints about user interviews!
Now on to what the fourth class covered. I learned that users move through an experience in different ways to reach their desired outcome. And within that user flow, as it is called, there are both activities and tasks involved. Are you wondering what the difference is between activities and tasks? I was too. An activity is something that a user does to fulfill an objective. Tasks are steps in the process to complete that activity. Baking a cake would be an activity and the steps you take to make the cake would be the tasks. I never really thought about the difference before.
With my limited knowledge, I find that user experience is something that can benefit people in any career field. It really opens your mind to see things differently.
Can’t believe how fast time is going by! In this class, we covered the science of UX design. As a designer, it was a great to be reminded about form, color, movement and space. In addition, it was cool to learn more about affordances, signifiers, saliency, and visual encoding. I walk away from every class with newly acquired knowledge.
Are you wondering about my user interviews? To find participants, I posted my screener survey on Twitter, Craigslist, and Facebook to cover my bases. I had most success by posting in a Facebook group that I belong to. So, if you are a student and find yourself in a similar situation, I suggest utilizing Facebook groups to find people to interview.
With a few user interviews under my belt, I am feeling less stressed. While the experience has been uncomfortable, I learned that if a stranger is willing to take time out of their day to meet with you, it is likely that they are a nice individual and will be easy to talk to. That has been the case for me so far and I am extremely grateful for that.
Best class to date! In class six, we talked quite a bit about creating personas. I am a naturally inquisitive person and love finding out what makes a person tick. Everyone experiences a situation, product, or service differently. So, this particular class was a fun experience. We did an in-class group exercise in order to get used to the process of developing a persona.
With this example, the topic was a shopping experience and we focused on motivations, feelings, actions, tools, and barriers. It was a great trial run before having to create a persona for our own projects.
What I am learning throughout this program is that we must always be thinking from the user’s point of view. As designers, we shouldn’t create products or solutions based on our personal preferences. We are not designing for ourselves, we are designing for the users.
In class seven, we learned about user stories (who the user is, the user’s task, and the goal of the user) and how to prioritize features (tools that help a user complete a task). While the above quote is about fashion, it can also be applied to design. Feature prioritization is not a term I have used before, but I can relate to it as a graphic designer. I have often been in the situation where clients (both internal and external) want as much content and images that can fit into a design. However, I think “less is more” is a better route since too much information can be daunting. Editing is essential.
In this class, we learned the importance of sketches and paper prototypes. Isn’t my first attempt (above) beautiful? Low-fidelity sketches are simple black and white sketches used mostly for brainstorming and team discussions. High-fidelity sketches typically have a little more detail with color added. It’s important not to skip this step of the design process. As this article states, low-fidelity sketches enable designers to detect and fix problems early, prototypes can be built easily and cheaply, forces users to think about the content instead of appearance, allows for an agile process, and are easy to transport and present. Here is another great post that gives a more flushed out definition with examples.
This class was more hands-on than any of the previous ones. We broke out into teams of four and worked on a mini-project. I won’t go into the details because I don’t want to ruin the surprise for future students. It was an exercise that involved collaboration, keeping track of time, asking the right questions, organizing thoughts, and presenting findings as a team.
Officially halfway through the UX Design program! In this class, we talked about onboarding and the psychology behind it. I am fascinated by psychology and value a good onboarding process, so this class was of great interest.
I associate onboarding with human resources and how it is lacking in many companies. (Side note: I also have a certificate in human resources) It’s a pretty good comparison…how a new employee views a company for the first time can be vital to their overall experience working for them. User experience is not just for websites and apps—it’s vital to all aspects of a business—both internally and externally.
Speaking of onboarding, I just want to say that my experience with General Assembly, right from the start, has been a positive one so far. I appreciate GA’s attention to detail, especially these cool chalk drawings in the halls:
Class 11 & 12
These two classes were “show and tell” nights. We hung up all of our work-to-date on the wall for a class critique. It was a good way to get feedback on what we’ve done so far and to get ideas on what to take out and what to add. I received some useful observations from both the teacher and other students. I also enjoyed seeing what everyone else was working on. Some really creative solutions! Here is the paper prototype I presented to the class:
We learned a little bit about InVision in this class. This is an app designers use to do rapid prototyping. If you want to know more about what the capabilities are, here is a good resource. At this stage in the game, we had to bring our hand drawn sketches into InVision and make them clickable. It’s a good way to discover what might be missing from your paper prototypes.
This class went over visual design, typography, wireframing, and prototyping. We are at the point where our hand-drawn sketches need to go into wireframe form. Here’s a cool video that explains what a wireframing is and a few tips when creating them:
In this class, we learned what usability testing is along with the different methods. Here’s a good write-up explaining how to conduct testing. I am sure you’ve heard the phrase “quality over quantity.” I have learned that this can also refer to usability testing. If you show just 5 people a prototype, you will uncover 85% of issues. This blog explains it in more detail.
What’s on the horizon:? Wireframing, usability testing and plan, and the final presentation!
Class 16 & 17
We presented our current wireframes to the class for some feedback. It was helpful to get some new ideas and feedback from the group and was cool to see how far along the other students have gotten with their projects. There’s a lot of good ideas from the class. Here are some examples of what I presented:
Class 18 & 19
This was final presentations week—the two nights when each student presented their design solutions. I enjoyed seeing the different designs, presentations, and approaches. The feedback from the teacher and guest reviewers were valuable. I was a little nervous to get up and speak, but I think I did a decent job, considering I am not the best public speaker. I am glad that I didn’t let my fear of speaking in front of people stop me from taking this course.
Here are a few examples of the high-fidelity wireframes I designed and the prototype is also on InVision. There are a few features that I would like to add, but overall happy with what I accomplished so far.
A few take aways from this class…
- This course has reignited my love of good, thoughtful design
- The experience has reestablished my interest in the details and making smart design decisions
- The requirements forced me to go outside my comfort zone by talking to strangers and speaking in front of an audience
- The project deadlines gave me more practice with time-management and organization
- The user interviews and usability testing has reminded me that just because something makes sense to you, does not mean it will make sense to others. Even if you try your best to design with the user in mind, unless you actually get feedback from potential users, you are not seeing the whole picture. Testing is a must!
Our instructor was Shane Patton and I have nothing but positive things to say about him and his teaching methods. I had an awesome “user experience” these past 10 weeks—I learned a lot and would definitely suggest this course if you are interested in learning more about UX design.