I was pretty psyched to be starting the 12 week UX course at General Assembly. I had a taster session last week focusing on key UX principles for e-commerce sites which jumped straight in and broke down how a successful user journey should function where the goal is to achieve some sort of purchase. So I was keen to step back and look at the basics of UX before reaching that level of detail again.
The GA website helpfully makes the learning objectives for Unit 1 ‘UX Foundation and Process’ pretty clear:
- Describe what the UX Field encompasses and how it relates to other disciplines
- Identify the different roles within UX and the responsibilities of each
- Outline the stages of a traditional design process compared to newer processes (lean, agile, etc.)
- Identify the different stages of the design process and the deliverables for each
Simple right!? Well not really… the main thing I took away with me from this first session was the breadth of UX Design and the fact that the larger part of the UX process is almost invisible when looking at the final outcome.
It was interesting to realise that people come to UX Design from so many different backgrounds and for so many reasons, here are a few that stood out when we all got to introduce our selves at the front of the class eek!
- Digital Producer
- Business Student
- Front End Developer
- Digital Content Consultant
- Project Manager
- Strategic/Integrated Planner in Advertising
- Copy Writer
- Designer/ Digital Designer
- Strategy Consultant
- Operations Manager
- Spacial Information Analysis
- Business Analyst
- Sales Rep
Reasons for doing the course included:
- Desire for data driven qualitative skills
- Enlarge skill set
- Practice & Portfolio
- Build projects from the ground up, linking companies and people
- Learn about design
- Express ideas
- Learn as much as possible, know each step!
- Develop career/ Career change
- Use data better
- Client Facing
- Help managing a UX team
We kicked off by writing our thoughts about what UX Design means to us is on post-it notes. Unsurprisingly given the breadth of everyone’s working backgrounds some pretty diverse definitions cropped up:
Research, empathy and user needs were immediately hi-lighted after this task. A nice definition is bridging the gap between user and business/ development. The reason I like this definition is because it makes the need for UX design so blatantly obvious. We were also introduced to Donald Norman who wrote a seminal piece in 1988 about how design serves the communication between object and user, he said that:
“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
Jesse James Garrett’s famous diagram ‘The Elements of User Experience’ came up; he became popular in 2000 in the the web design and development community with its publication and rightly so, what a genius! It was really helpful to have it de-coded by our in house expert Matt Ishwood and this is where the bomb began to drop for me about how valuable the research side of UX is.
To be successful as a UX Designer you will need to be aware of different types of individuals, social groups and cultural influences that govern everyday life. I hadn’t fully recognised this before, so again research in to the user is pretty key with UX!!
Next we were introduced to different types of design processes, beginning with an example of an outdated Mad Men style ‘keep going till the client likes it’. I liked the Double Diamond Process Model as it emphasised that the definition of the problem is as important as good design decisions. Similarly with the Design Thinking Model where ethnological research was mentioned as key in the ’empathy’ hexagon .
We were introduced to Lean which seems popular in ‘start-up’ companies because it is a process that can be followed by fewer people to achieve a progressive result through live testing and iteration cycles. Agile was also introduced and championed because the whole team have fixed ‘sprint’ periods to work on design and development, where testing is done concurrently – before the next iteration is deployed. Ideally the designer and developer are able to work at the same pace using this method. It seems as if it is easy to slip in to the ‘waterfall method’ however and fall behind, where testing does not keep up with design and development decisions. A common reason for this is because management are always keen to get things signed off ahead of time and don’t see the value of making sure a decision is user validated at each step.
All of these processes/ models can be summed up with: Research the problem space ‣ Focus on the opportunity and define the constraints ‣ Explore possibilities (within constraints) ‣ Decide the best solution.
To bring this post back to the career path discussion, it was mentioned by one of the learning mentors that, the specific combination from the melting pot of UX skills you will need to whip in to shape will entirely depend on what niche needs to be filled in an existing team. Its essential to be practised in all of them even if you specialise over time. These different skills can be generalised on a line from researcher ‣ crafts-person. I believe that I currently sit on the right hand side of this line – craftsperson; since I come from a design/illustration background. My immediate task therefore is to hop on over to the left and see the view from there!
There is plenty to engage with as a researcher. Such as the need to collect non emotional data/ evidence gather around the ‘problem area’. Tasks will include writing reports and setting user tests.
Next on the line is the Information Architect, now that the qualitative and perhaps quantitative data is sourced it needs to be expressed, this is the place where decisions around the content and the structure of the system are made, the concern is with information related behaviours.
Following this the Interaction Design decisions can be made; so user flows and the creation of prototypes and initial wireframes. This is the bit people mostly associate with UX design. Many ideas and options will be played with here.
Finally the UI Designer’s role comes to the forefront. This is the bit that is viewable to the audience/ user. A UI Designer is concerned with layouts, typography, colour schemes and the creation of high end visual mock-ups/ wireframes,
This journey from left to right can also be outlined by discover, define, design and develop which is based on the four stages in the double diamond diagram (so many d’s!) which I mentioned earlier. The UX responsibilities fluidly run through these ‘d’s’. I am most intimidated by the discover stage, excited by the define stage: i.e. project brief time and looking forward to the design stage, so Info Architecture and UI time.
Right time to find a problem to solve! We have a week to come up with some project ideas and were informed that a fairly conceptual issue is fine, one can pivot, wiggle and iterate ideas! Last year a really interesting project arose out of someone’s frustration with not being able to track all of their subscriptions, nice! At this stage I think the main thing is not to be overly precious about anything. Some interesting proposals were all ready being discussed at the end of the 2 hour session, I can’t wait to see them develop!