UX Workshops: What Works and What Doesn’t

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by Janice Pang – Designer – Grow

A reflection on leading UX workshops at ODU

So far this year, UXPA Norfolk has focused most of their efforts on student outreach in the form of UX workshops for students enrolled in Old Dominion University’s Design program.

When we first met in January, Kyle and I bonded over a mutual discontentment with our undergraduate Design programs. While we attended universities on opposite sides of the country – Kyle at Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, VA; me at UC Davis in Davis, CA – our experiences were similar: We graduated with inoperative understandings of User Experience (UX), a component of design that now permeates all aspects of our careers as digital designers.

Having kept in touch with former professors and current students, Kyle noted that not much had changed with ODU’s Design program in the three years since he had graduated. We wanted to change that. By February, following discussions with ODU Design professor Ivanete Blanco, Kyle and I developed an actionable plan:

Beginning in March, we would co-lead UX workshops for Junior and Senior Design students at ODU. Our goal would be to familiarize students with the principles of UX design, and to equip them with the vocabulary and the tools to practice it. From March 3 to April 26, we hosted five workshops covering: 1) An Introduction to User Experience; 2) Information Architecture; 3) User Interface & Visual Design; 4) Prototyping; and 5) Analytics & Feedback.

Over the course of our workshops, Kyle and I continually reflected on what was working, what wasn’t, and what we should change the next time around. I’ll summarize the highlights:

What works

  1. Providing students with the resources & enabling them to do the rest. In the first workshop, Kyle and I introduced the students to Slack and discussed how we used it both in our professional and personal lives. In the following workshop, one student announced that a group of students had created a Slack team for the department, and that they were using it as a platform to share their work with one another for feedback. The students invited me and Kyle to their Slack team, and we were encouraged by how quickly they made the platform their own – creating channels for specific courses, organizing social outings, sharing photos of their classmates falling asleep in class, etc.
  2. Providing multiple environments for learning. Each week, Kyle and I designated a local spot for a post-workshop hangout. These smaller group outings provided a more casual environment for us to chat with our students and learn more about their interests both in and outside of design.
  3. Setting an overarching goal to measure learning. As I mentioned earlier, our goal in leading these workshops was to familiarize students with what UX is, and how they could apply it to their own design. By the end of the workshop, we achieved this goal! To illustrate: During our first session, one student had a difficult time discerning between “user experience” and “user interface”; in our last session, however, the same student was able to fluently discuss how design decisions in an e-commerce interface affected the user experience.

What doesn’t work

  1. Giving solutions rather than asking questions. When we presented the students with the DMV website and asked, “How could we simplify this navigation?”, we began to give them our own solutions rather than allowing the students to think through the problem. Bothered by the silence that followed our questions, we didn’t consider that the problem could have been with the questions themselves, rather than the students’ inabilities to answer. In the case of simplifying the navigation on the DMV website, we could have broken down the question into more manageable questions: “How is the navigation currently organized?”, “How does this navigation affect usability?”, “What could we do to simplify the way it’s currently organized?”, etc.
  2. Doing one-off activities. Throughout the workshops, we talked about the importance of documenting process. Yet, each week we would follow the lesson with a one-off activity that didn’t encourage the students to be iterative in their designs; really, there was no process to document! Ideally, we would have one cohesive project through which each lesson could be iteratively applied.
  3. Basing all lessons off of one survey. In the first workshop, we asked the students to take a survey; this provided us basic information on students’ grade-level and past experience with UI/UX. Rather than spending time formulating metrics (qualitative or quantitative) to measure students’ week-to-week learning, we used the interests and shortcomings stated on the initial surveys to determine any changes to our lesson plans. As teachers, we should be more intentional with our students’ progress – identifying each student’s personal goals, as well as group goals that should be regularly reinforced throughout the workshops.

What to change

Support the workshops with a continuous project. For example, a web-design workshop should be a time & space where students can take their pixel-perfect designs, and get their hands dirty building it with HTML / CSS / Javascript. In doing so, students would apply the design concepts of hierarchy, typography, and color theory to create a fully functional and responsive site on web. An actionable scope for these workshops would be to familiarize students with the Document Object Model (DOM); to create a visual representation of their website using the DOM; and, ultimately, to translate their visual representations to create the backbone of the website with HTML, style them with CSS, and make them interactive with Javascript.

What’s next

Co-leading these workshops has been an incredibly positive experience — one that I would recommend to any designer. For me, teaching has always been the best way to build confidence as a designer: to test whether I truly understand a concept in my ability to convey it to others; to develop new ways of communicating that information. I look forward to the next opportunity to teach, and to learn.

Special thanks to UXPA Norfolk, Ivanete Blanco, Noel Miciano, Brand Journey, and Grow for their support.


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