Since I’m self-taught in what I do for a living, I recently came to a point where I felt the need for deeper and more structured learning. So I took this summer off to combine my two big passions—design and travel. I flew 7400 km to attend the Summer Intensive in Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.
It’s been great to study the theory behind things I’ve been doing intuitively. The teachers have been so inspiring and supportive. The classes I took helped me gain confidence in what I do and the way I do it. I believe that thanks to that I’ll become much better in selling user-centred design to co-workers and clients.
Here are some specific lessons that I learned from each of the amazing teachers whose classes I took.
Tell a story (Drew Cogbill, Mobile UX Design)
Not only your design should be telling a story, but you should be telling a story about your design.
In our class number 2 of 4 with Drew we had to stand in front of the class and present our concept and wireframes for a mobile app. Our theme was “food”, so inspired by the sharing economy, I came up with “What’s for Lunch”. It’s a food delivery service that connects people who work in offices and want to order healthy lunch with people who cook at home.
When giving me feedback Drew didn’t focus on my app IA and navigation. Instead he said he liked how I was calling the cooks “Chefs” and how I had a separate tab for presenting them. I see this as my design telling a story where those people have a leading role. Drew also said that I could do a better job in telling the story of my design. Who could be the people that would use “What’s for Lunch”? What are their specific problems that the app is aiming to solve. So I continued my work for the class with this in mind.
Work on your sketching skills (Carla Diana, The Practice of Interaction Design)
Your sketches could be a means to communicate your thought process and ideas.
I’ve always used pen & paper to think and talk to myself but I’ve never intended my scribbles and doodles to be shown to other people. I do clean diagrams and wireframes for that purpose. As part of our group project deliverables for Carla’s class, we had to present a story board of our product in use (scenario thumbnails). I can’t draw, but I’d heard so many times the teachers say that sketches weren’t supposed to be perfect.
Apparently my sticky figures were so obnoxious that Carla’s first reaction to our presentation was (paraphrasing): “Those sketches were supposed to look better, weren’t they?” I’ve intended to work on my drawing skills for ages and Carla’s remark was the kick in the butt that I needed.
Keep asking “Why?” (Jodi Leo, Research Methods in Interaction Design)
When interviewing people and observing users, you don’t want to leave any statement hanging, so you ask “Why?” all the time. When you’re presenting your work be ready to answer that same question at any moment.
I was first to present on our team during the final class with Jodi. She interrupted me after my first sentence with the question “Why?”. I was already thinking about what I wanted to say next, so I answered with something from the top of my head and it sounded like an excuse. (This led to another important lesson: “Don’t apologise”.)
I’ve noticed that a lot of what I do or say is led by intuition. But once I think deeper about it, I am usually able to back it up with logical reasoning. This extra thinking helps me when I have to communicate my ideas. But it also puts them in a different perspective for myself and stimulates me to elaborate even further. So trust your guts but also think about the reasoning behind your decisions. Then be confident.