I decided to sign up for the UX Academy 8 week course to further my knowledge as a front-end developer and a product design. I found the course to have been a lot more than I thought it would be and I was pleasantly surprised. I came out with a better understanding of UX altogether.

Week 1 – HCD or UCD

Week one opened with the 9 member sheepishly greeting each other and finding out about one another’s backgrounds, from Developers turned Designers, Marketing executives, and Graphic Designers all wanting to learn more about UX. The class size was a good number which allowed everyone to participate without feeling intimidated.

The first week run by Charlotte Gauthier the Lead UX Designer from The Guardian was focused around Human/User centred design. Starting by showing the various teams we would be working with throughout the course. Each team being split to give a wide range of backgrounds and experiences from the different participants, we then proceeded with the first exercise.

Charlotte then focused the talk on what User research methods and processes were needed to validate the ideas. Towards the end of the class we were separated back into our teams and given the brief for our course project.

Week 2 – Ideation

We were then greeted with our tutor for the next two weeks Hara Mihailidou who is currently Head of UX at Just Giving with a whole wealth of knowledge from experience at Microsoft and O2. Today we started to look at Ideation using a few techniques to develop the concept from week 1, Ready to make a proposal that would be ready to pitch. We were taught a number of great tools to use, that helped take the initial ideas and expand on them. The ones that sprung out to me included Journey maps, where you take a persona and map out the user’s day, helping to find where the situation would be useful for your users

 

Week 3 – User Experience, Sketching, and story boards

Within our team we had found that our initial idea was too broad to focus on within the time frame. Whilst also finding it would be very difficult to help mums and families because of the trust you need with the person may help with giving the kids a lift to school or babysitting. So we eventually settled on focusing on first time buyers and helping them with DIY tasks. It was good to see the other teams present and how their ideas had been developed into one pitch.

We then came to one of the most enjoyable parts (for me) which was sketching, and creating storyboards, learning some quick techniques on how to quickly draw people to help get across the story we want to portray.

 

Week 4 – Journey mapping, Information architecture and Wireframing sketching

Jiri the Principal Interaction Designer currently at Intruit was our tutor for week 4, bringing with him his experience from working for the Telegraph, National Rail Enquiries, among others.

The first activity of the night was to map out our user’s Journey using the storyboards and personas we had created from previous weeks. Quickly noting down all the activities our users would go through from initial problem to using our application. A great activity that really allowed us to dig into the detail of every process of our product. Then mapping out subtasks under the initial notes and then creating our User Flows, discussing as teams how the users would move around the activities and subtasks.

Week 5 – Prototyping and Rapid Experiments

First looking at the Double diamond diagram created by the Design council. Methodology suggesting that the design process consists of the 4 phases Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver. With Jiri saying that prototyping can fit within every phases as you look to evaluate your designs. Learning how Prototypes have many different guises and can be used to understand the problem space you are about to move. Showing examples of Rapid experiments where you jot down your interface on a piece of paper to test with a potential user.

Jiri started to go into detail of the various test he had carried out giving us lots of examples of Low fidelity test like sketches and dry tests. Another test that Jiri recommended was the diary study, getting users to use a prototype for a period of time whilst keeping a diary of when they used the product.

Week 6 – Inclusive & responsive design

Today we met our tutor Sophie Lepinoy who is currently teaching Lean User experience and has mentored start up businesses at Google Launchpad. Sophie showing some insightful videos of people who are visually impaired, and what tools they use. Showing us how to consider the page is structured so that the screen readers can run through the page in a flowing manner.

The first exercise of the night was looking at the wireframes we have already created, and seeing how they should be restructured to include what we had learnt from the day’s session. We also looked at responsive design and grid systems, looking at the differences between Native, hybrid and Web. Sophie finished by giving us some great resources to help decide a grid and setting a task to adapt our mobile apps to desktop.

 

Week 7 – Validating with usability testing

Looking into Usability testing methods and techniques. First making us aware of how prototypes can save millions in industry. Really highlighting the need to test your assumptions before pushing them into the real world. Whilst showing how building up knowledge in the area to gain empathy with the core users, as without this our designs are pretty much wishful thinking.

First we looked at the initial research we needed to gather to help validate our idea. Taking the brief that came from the client and beginning to understand:

– The users situation,

– Their motivation

– Their desired outcome.

Week 8 – Stakeholder management and UX portfolios

The topic for the night being Stakeholder Management and Portfolios learning how important it is to know who they are, what they want, emphasising the need to take these people with you whilst doing the project. Giving us a few key ways to keep people on board with workshops like Hackathons, Design sprints, and storytelling. Which all help to change attitudes in terms of how UX might be thought of in other parts of the business, with a major example coming from the book Sprint by Jake Knapp and Game storming by Dave Gray.

The talk then moved into how best to set up a portfolio, and how to use the work we had done throughout the course, and build a case study that would allow us to show the processes we have gone through when designing.

As the night came to a close a few of the students finished off with a couple of drinks with both Naveed and Sophie joining us, where we could talk about the academy and share ideas and what groups and events to join to continue learning.

Final thoughts

As someone who has been a front end developer, and product designer I really enjoyed the 8 weeks, which seemed to go in a flash. My highlights definitely being able to sit down with the tutors on a one to one basis from getting thoughts on masters degrees, to usability tests. I think it’s great if you’re new in UX or a beginner, in giving you the right structure to follow or just cementing what you may already have learnt whilst at work. Although what I would say is you get out of the course as much as you are willing to put using the nights sessions as a way to give a direction to the work you do outside of the academy.

A definite highlight is the tutors who have amazing backgrounds in UX who give a great insight to what they have learnt over their careers as well as Naveed who makes you feel at ease and is more than willing to answer any question you have, and always looking at ways to see how he can improve the academy in the future.