Learning UX: Perspectives from the Classroom and the Boardroom
I have taught at the college level for over ten years now, including several classes in UX. During that time, I’ve also mentored a lot of new teachers. The question that comes up time and again is: “how do you balance it all?” In this post, I’ll explain why this question is key to not only teaching, but UX as well.
I like to show new teachers this image:
Most people get teaching wrong, I tell them. It’s about listening, not talking. What are your students telling you? What are they trying to say? What are you missing?
The same goes for UX, my umbrella term for the field that contains everyone who is building websites and other online applications, but who isn’t doing code. The best way to learn UX is to pay attention to your users. What are your users telling you? What are they trying to tell you? What are you missing?
UX Is Contextual
When I introduce people to UX, whether that is as a consultant or a teacher, the first thing I tell them is that UX is about understanding the contexts users are coming from. Whether you are creating prototypes for the next big application, writing content for a website, or curating knowledge for skilled experts, you have to understand the contexts of your users.
This includes all parts of the design process:
- Preliminary research
- Usability testing
At each point in that process, you have to understand what your users are thinking. What are their expectations? What are their needs?
There are a variety of methods to help you answer these questions, but this is essentially my workflow for answering them:
- Figure out your business model. Here’s my favorite template for this stage. Essentially, you need to think what your application provides to people, and how that translates into tasks users will perform with the application.
- Figure out who the users are. What kinds of people are they? What are their basic demographics (age, technology preferences, ethnicity, languages spoken, etc.).
- Interview some people who fit these demographics. In order to understand your users, you need to talk to some real people about what they like, what they dislike, and in general understand how the kind of technology you’re dealing with fits into their life. This information then becomes the basis for personas.
- Create a prototype for the application. This can be paper, or you can use a drawing or prototyping tool. I like UXPin, and I’ll talk about why in an upcoming post.
- Test the prototype with some users. Once you understand who your users are and how they interact with your business model, you’re ready to test.
- Repeat as needed. This process never ends. If you want to keep doing well, keep getting new users, and keep improving your business, you have to keep doing this process.
But, I Don’t Get It: How Do I Become a UX Designer? Or What If I Need One?
This will be the topic for an upcoming post, but feel free to ask any questions you have about the current post below.
I’m also doing a webinar next week with TryMyUI on some of these topics, so feel free to check that out as well.