Teaching UX Design
Fortunately, at around the same time that my friend was pointing out my shortcomings as a human being, I had another opportunity to take a step back from my designer mindset and reflect on it. Recently, my boss asked me to develop some training in UX design for a range of my colleagues, including developers and quality-assurance testers. I’ve taught before, and it’s something I enjoy doing, but I’d never before taught design. If you’re of the mindset that “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” please take a moment to watch the video “What Teacher’s Make,” by the beat poet Taylor Mali. In fact, go ahead and do that now—I’ll wait.
Not only is this piece of work wonderfully performed, it imparts so many brilliantly communicated gems. This video is about making a difference. I can’t speak for those who have teaching as their vocation, but I would strongly recommend teaching as a way of developing your own understanding of what you do, whatever that is.
To teach something, you need to go through a process of reflection—thinking about what you know and questioning your knowledge and understanding at each stage. How do you know something is true? Where is the evidence? What challenges can you expect, and how might you prepare yourself to tackle them? In my case, I was thinking back to material that I’d initially learned about 20 years ago—writing that down makes me feel so old!—and trying to couch that information in terms that would make sense to my audience. The hard part was thinking back that far. The benefit of doing this was my being able to draw on experience and examples that I’d acquired throughout those 20 years.
Then, having pulled together all of the content, the next step was to structure it in a way that would make sense to my audience. I’d already taken as my initial premise the view that I needed to establish a scientific basis for design. In part, this reflects my own world view, but it’s also a more rational starting point for any discussion about a topic that can be as fraught with opinion as design is—often, unsupported opinion. To use a quotation that is sometimes attributed to W. Edwards Deming:
In God we trust, all others must bring data.
Experience helps. Rather than just talking about principles in isolation, I can show what they mean through application and, occasionally, demonstration, which helps me to communicate my ideas much more clearly. (I’d like to thank Joel Marsh for inspiring me with his fantastic approach to demonstrating Gestalt principles of organization with rubber ducks.) Particularly when teaching UX design, it’s much more effective to show why something works and connect the dots for people by applying the ideas in a context that makes sense—and ideally, solves a problem for someone.
As a rule of thumb, it probably took me around 15 hours over the course of a couple of weeks to pull together the content and prepare the materials for a 90-minute class session on UX design. I spent a lot of that time writing and rewriting the material. I feel like preparing the class materials has been a huge benefit to me, as well as to my audience. Through this process, I’ve managed to take a step back to understand UX design from someone else’s perspective and, thus, was able to share my understanding of the field of UX design with colleagues.
I still do find myself getting annoyed with badly designed Web sites though. Learning how to break out of that mindset is now a goal for me.