Three Big Reasons Why You Should Learn Python

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As a data scientist, my work is contingent on knowing and using Python. What I like about Python, and why I rely on it so much, is that it’s simple to read and understand, and it’s versatile. From cleaning, querying, and analyzing data, to developing models and visualizing results, I conduct all these activities using Python. 

I also teach data science in Python. My students learn Python to build machine learning models but I’m always excited to hear of the other ways they’ve leveraged the programming language. One of my students told me they used it to web-scrape online basketball statistics just so they could analyze the data to win an argument with friends. Another student decided to expand on her knowledge of Python by learning Django, a popular framework, which she uses to build web apps for small businesses. 

Before taking the plunge into data science, we all had fundamental questions (and concerns) about learning Python. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Before I started learning Python, I spent several months convincing myself to start. Now that I’ve learned, my only regret was not starting sooner.

If you’re interested in learning Python, I want to share my biggest reasons for why you should. Two of these reasons are inherent to Python; one of them is a benefit of Python that I experienced first-hand, and some of the examples I discuss come from things I have researched. My goal is to give you enough information to help make an educated decision about learning Python, and I really hope that you choose to learn.

1. Python is easy to learn. 

Long before I learned Python, I struggled to learn another object-oriented programming language in high school: Java. From that experience, I realized that there’s a difference between learning to program, and learning a programming language. I felt like I was learning to program, but what made Java difficult to learn was how verbose it was: the syntax was difficult for me to memorize, and it requires a lot of code to be able to do anything.

Comparatively, Python was much easier to learn and is much simpler to code. Python is known as a readable programming language; its syntax was designed to be interpretable and concise, and has inspired many other coding languages. This bodes well for first-timers and those who are new to programming. And, since it typically requires fewer lines of code to perform the same operation in Python than in other languages, it’s much faster to write and complete scripts. In the long run, this saves developers time, which can then be used to further improve their Python. 

One observation I’ve made of Python is that it’s always improving. There have been noticeably more updates to the language in the last 5-10 years than in prior decades, and the updates have often been significant. For example, later versions of Python 3 typically benchmark faster completion times on common tasks than when carried out in Python 2. Every release in Python 3 has come with more built-in functions, meaning “base” Python is becoming more and more capable and versatile.

Learning is not an individual process; often you will end up learning a lot from “peers.” According to various sources, Python has one of the largest and most active online communities of learners and practitioners. It’s the most popular programming language to learn; it’s one of the most popular programming languages for current developers; and among data scientists, it’s the second most common language known and used. All of this translates into thousands of online posts, articles (like this one!), and resources to help you learn.

Speaking of online learning, Python is also tremendously convenient to learn. To learn the fundamentals of Python, there are a lot of learning tools out there — books, online tutorials, videos, bootcamps — I’ve tried them all. They each have their merits but ultimately having options makes it easier to learn. Once you start learning, the resources don’t stop. There are dozens of really good tutorials, code visualizers, infographics, podcasts, and even apps. With all of these resources at your disposal, there’s really no reason why you can’t learn!

2. Python is versatile.

Python’s popularity is also tied to its usability and versatility. According to O’Reilly, the technology and business training company, the most common use cases for python are data science, data analysis, and software engineering. Other use cases for Python include statistical computing, data visualization, web development, machine learning, deep learning, artificial intelligence, web scraping, data engineering, game and mobile app development, process automation, and IoT. 

To get into any of these use cases would require another post. Regardless, you might be wondering what allows Python to be such a versatile programming language? A lot of it has to do with the various frameworks and libraries that have been built for Python. 

Libraries are collections of functions and methods (reusable and executable code) with specific intents; and frameworks more or less are collections of libraries. If you ask any Python developer, they can name at least a half-dozen libraries they use. For example, I often use NumPy, Pandas, and Scikit-learn — the holy trinity for data scientists — to perform math and scientific operations, manipulate and analyze data, and build and train models, respectively. Many Python-based web developers will name Django as one of their preferred frameworks for building web applications.  

While it’s true that libraries are written for most programming languages and not just Python, Python’s usability, readability, and popularity encourage the development of more libraries, which in turn makes Python even more popular and user-friendly for existing developers and newcomers. When you learn Python, you won’t just be learning base Python, you’ll be learning to use at least a library or two.

3. Python developers are in demand.

Many people learn to program to enhance their current capability; others to change their careers. I started off as one of the former but became the latter. Before data science, I built digital ad campaigns and a lot of my work was automatable. My only problem was that I didn’t know how to code. Although I eventually learned how, in the process of learning Python for my work, I was presented with different job opportunities where I could use Python, and learned about different companies who were looking for people experienced in Python. And so I made a switch.

There are a lot of Python-related roles in prominent industries. According to ActiveState, the industries with the most need for Python are insurance, retail banking, aerospace, finance, business services, hardware, healthcare, consulting services, info-tech (think: Google), and software development. From my own experience, I would add media, marketing, and advertising to that list.

Why so many? As these industries modernized, companies within them have been collecting and using data at an increasing rate. Their data needs have become more varied and sophisticated, and in turn, their need for people capable of managing, analyzing, and operationalizing data has increased. In the future, there will be very few roles that won’t be engaged in data, which is why learning Python now is more important than ever — it’s one way to bullet-proof your career and your job prospects.

A lot of top tech companies value Python programmers. For instance, to say that Google “uses” Python is an understatement. Among Google engineers, It’s a commonly used language for development and research, and Google’s even released their own Python style guide. Google engineers have developed several libraries for the benefit of the Python community including Tensorflow, a popular open-source machine learning library. YouTube uses Python to administer video, access data, and in various other ways. Python’s creator Guido van Rossum, a Dutch programmer, was hired by Google to improve their QA protocols. And most importantly, the organization continues to recruit and hire more people skilled in Python. Other notable tech companies who frequently hire for Python talent include Dropbox, Quora, Mozilla, Hewlett-Packard, Qualcomm, IBM, and Cisco. 

Lastly, with demand often comes reward. Companies looking to hire people skilled in Python often pay top dollar or the promise of increased salary potential. 

Conclusion

In summary, there are lots of reasons to learn Python. It’s easy to learn, there are many ways to learn it, and once you do, there’s a lot you can do with it. From my experience, Python programming is a rewarding skill that can benefit you in your current role, and will certainly benefit you in future ones. Even if Python doesn’t end up being the last programming language you learn, it should certainly be your first.

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9 Top Prototyping Tools for UX Designers

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The right tools can speed up your UX process and enable collaboration.

Prototyping is one of the key phases of the design thinking process, and UX designers have a wealth of tools to help them create rich prototypes.

Prototyping tools not only help UX designers create something real enough to test with users and stakeholders, but they can also speed up the process—especially if design tools are used throughout design, and not just before handing off to development. 

Why UX Prototyping?

When UX designers prototype designs early and often in the design process, they can understand how real people will react and use the product. Then they have an opportunity to iterate and make their designs even better. This iterative process of prototype, test, and repeat leads to stronger ideas and designs that are more likely to succeed in the long run. UX prototyping also has many other benefits:

Interactive prototypes help designers explore ideas.

By prototyping interactions and animations, designers can flesh out ideas that show what they want the final design to look like. It helps designers externalize the ideas in their head so that they can smooth out the rough edges of an interaction. 

“Prototyping is the conversation you have with your ideas.”

— Tom Wujec, TED speaker and founder of The Wujec Group 

Prototyping tools enable real-time collaboration.

Tools can also help teams collaborate more effectively. Many app prototyping tools allow designers to easily share files with teammates for feedback and real-time collaboration.

Using prototyping tools also helps designers communicate the design vision to stakeholders and other team members. Showing, rather than telling, strengthens the communication and lowers the risk that other people won’t understand.  

Drag and drop tools help us expedite our process.

There’s a reason UX focuses on rapid prototyping. Moving quickly lowers risk and overall cost of a project. Prototyping moves more quickly using tools that use drag and drop interfaces. 

Many prototyping tools allow designers to add interactions with a simple click. When designers can spend more time thinking about how to improve the design, rather than struggling with manual tools, the design process improves.

What to look for in a prototyping tool.

With so many UX prototyping tools available, how do you choose? Here are some things to keep in mind as you decide.

Can you try it for free? 

Some UX prototyping tools have a trial version to let you take the application for a spin before committing. This is a great way to test drive the tool and see how it works with your design process.

Adoption

How many people are using the tool? How large is the community that supports and contributes to tool plugins or support forums?

Some of the newer tools will have far fewer users than those that have a well-established user base. If you’re wondering how good a tool is, adoption rate can tell you a lot. Tools with a lot of users tend to be strong.

Learnability

How long will it take for you to learn the tool? You might not have a lot of time to spend learning a new interface. If you struggle with a prototyping tool, you might want to move on to another one. When you find a tool hard to use, you’re less likely to use it later on. Focus on finding one you feel comfortable with. You also might want to explore a prototyping workshop like this one. 

Integration into your process

At the end of the day, any UX design tool should fit your process, or at least allow your process to easily adapt to it. If it’s not easy to add to your process, it won’t be valuable to you. 

Top 9 UX Prototyping Tools

Fortunately, UX designers don’t have to look far to find a good prototyping tool. There are so many options out there. Here are just nine of the top prototyping tools to explore. 

Sketch

Sketch is one of the most mature prototyping tools available for UX designers. It was released in 2010 and grown into one of the most common tools for UX designers. Designers use it for creating digital interfaces from websites to apps and icons.

Sketch allows designers to create vector graphics, user flows and interactive prototypes, and teams can sync through a shared cloud workspace. Sketch enables the entire workflow, and it also has a number of helpful integrations with programs like Invision, Zeplin, and Flinto. 

It is only available for Mac users.

  • Learn more about Sketch
  • Prototyping with Sketch 
  • Sketch tutorial

Figma

Figma is a cloud-based design and prototyping tool. Designers use it to create user interfaces for websites, apps, and smaller devices. It’s similar to Sketch, but it can be used cross-platform. In other words, you don’t need a Mac to use it.

Individuals can use Figma for free, although the free plan has some limitations. You can only add two editors and create a maximum of three projects.

Figma has a number of strong features for creating UI designs. Once you are ready, you can turn your designs into a prototype by creating connections between frames. UX designers can set the interaction, apply animations, customize overlays, and more.

Figma prototypes can be previewed using the Figma Mirror app or desktop app. Figma also has a library of tools that connect it to a number of other applications for productivity, design, and delivery to development teams.

  • Figma guide to prototyping
  • Figma prototyping tutorial
  • Take a Figma tour

Adobe XD

Adobe XD is Adobe’s answer to UI design and prototyping. Similar to Sketch and Figma, it includes familiar tools for creating wireframes, prototypes, and interactions for websites, apps, and other digital screens. 

It can also be used across platforms, and collaborators can access and use it on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android.

XD released new features in 2019 to better enable team collaboration, including coediting, document history, and share mode. Like Figma, XD also allows designers to import Sketch files. And now, designers can also turn existing Sketch libraries into cloud documents in XD.

XD’s prototyping interface is also similar to Figma, and designers can create connections, overlays, animations and more.

  • Prototyping in XD 
  • About Adobe XD
  • Get Adobe XD

Webflow

Webflow is a relative newbie on the scene, but more and more designers are using it in their day to day practice. Webflow gives designers the power to create entire websites and apps without coding. Once you’re done, you can export the project into production-ready code.

It’s possible to host an entire project on Webflow, which means you just need to navigate on the website, and you’re in. You don’t need an app to preview or test your design. 

There are a few things to consider. Webflow works only in Chrome or Safari. Also, while you can get started for free, you’ll need a membership to create more than two projects.

Webflow can also take some getting used to. It doesn’t move as quickly as other prototyping tools, but it can save you time once you’re ready for development.

  • Webflow crash course
  • Webflow interactions 

Invision

Invision has come a long way since it was first released. At its core, Invision is a prototyping tool that allows designers to upload screens and quickly create interactive prototypes. The Invision prototyping tool won’t let you create designs directly in the app. However, its UI allows designers to sync screens from Sketch or Photoshop or import static images. Then, using the Invision build tool, you can arrange and build links between the screens by creating clickable hotspots. You can add transition states and mobile gestures, and even create hover states for any design element.

Designers can share their prototypes across devices or in real-time for live sketching. It’s an intuitive collaboration tool that lets you easily share a link to the prototype with teammates and clients, who can leave comments on any specific area of the design.

Invision’s strength is in its speed and versatility. It has a low barrier to entry, so designers who have never used prototyping tools can quickly create and share working prototypes.

  • Invision prototyping 
  • Create interactive prototypes with Invision

Balsamiq

Balsamiq Mockups is more of a wireframing tool than a prototyping tool. That said, it’s a great first step into quickly creating low-fidelity mockups.

Balsamiq is a drag and drop tool that’s easy to learn and fast to use. It doesn’t have any fancy animation capabilities. But it does allow you to link between screens to create a basic prototype and check for flow and functionality. Designers can also export screens and upload them into Invision to create interactive prototypes.

Balsamiq offers both a cloud and a desktop version of the tool. The cloud version pricing varies based on space requirements and how many projects you create.

  • About Balsamiq
  • Creating Balsamiq prototypes

Axure RP

Axure RP is a very robust tool, and design teams can use it for wireframing, diagramming, and creating interactive prototypes. 

Teams have the ability to view your design mockups from mobile devices as well as annotate and create animations.

Axure RP has dozens of features, and it tends to be built more for application software teams.

  • About Axure prototyping

Framer

Framer is a prototype platform ideal for team collaboration. It has a new web platform that enables browser-based design, much like Figma.

Framer allows designers to create simple transitions and microinteractions, as well as advanced animations. No code is required, so it’s easy to get started using it. Plus, you can try it for free.

  • About Framer
  • Framer tutorials

UXPin

UXPin is often overlooked, but has a lot to offer UX designers for website or app prototyping. It includes vector drawing tools, the ability to create components, and the ability to collaborate in real-time with your team.

It also has some additional features that make it really special, like its accessibility features, which check for WCAG contrast standards. On the code side, it has the ability to sync React.js components to UXPin, so you don’t have to redraw patterns.

UXPin is available cross-platform, and it’s free to sign up.

  • About UXPin
  • Prototyping with UXPin

Things to keep in mind

Simply by creating prototypes, designers can quickly gather valuable feedback from usability test participants, teammates, and clients to iterate and continuously improve the design. 

Remember, these aren’t the only prototyping tools available for UX designers, and it’s important to explore and find the right tool that fits your process. If you haven’t started prototyping yet, try out one or two tools that look promising. Most tools have a free option so you can see what works best for you. 

New to UX? Create designs that consider users’ needs and practice prototyping this remote User Experience Design workshop.

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How Long Does it Take to Learn Python

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Python, an essential programming language, has taken the programming world by storm. Much of this attention has followed from the interest in machine learning and AI. Python has become the default programming language of Data Scientists and Machine Learning Engineers all over the world. Python’s versatility has also gained a loyal following amongst diverse fields like Bioinformatics, Astronomy, Gaming, and of course, Data Science.

But utility alone doesn’t explain why so many developers love using Python. From its humble beginnings in 1991, Python was designed by Guido van Rossum to be a programming language that emphasized code readability. Or in Guido’s words, “Computer Programming for Everybody.” This ease of human interpretability pairs with an open source ethos that makes it available to developers everywhere for free! So with a few short lines of code you can import packages and libraries that professional developers from companies like Facebook, Google, or AirBnB have spent thousands of hours building _(for free)_.

It’s low-entry cost and ease of reading programs has rightfully garnered Python an immense and passionate following.

1. Where there is talent, there is an opportunity, especially, in Python programming.

Python has rapidly become a deep learning skill that is in high demand within the job market. Jobs sites like Dice and Glassdoor have seen near-exponential growth in postings looking for candidates with Python skills over the last few years because making pivot tables and wrangling data in spreadsheets is no longer enough to get you noticed for data analyst positions. As the variety, velocity, and volume of data has exploded, developers have had to scale their analysis pipelines to match — this means that the people pouring over those numbers must develop a deeper skill set to deal with the enormous amounts of data piling up in their databases.

2. Speed and flexibility are the names of the game!

Python is ideal for handling the heavy-lifting required for today’s computationally intense data analyses used by most businesses today.

OK, so now that you’re sold on its value, how long does it take to learn Python? Like any language, practice and muscle memory are the name of the programming language game. The more time you can immerse yourself, the quicker you will see gains.

It also depends on how much you intend to learn. You can have a simple “Hello World” program running in a matter of minutes, i.e., _Seriously; it is only one line of code!_, etc. To get an understanding of deep learning, a subset of machine learning, or data scientist techniques may take months of focused study, but to get your foot in the door as a Data Analyst, it takes about 40-50 hours of studying and practicing — in my experience.

Some of the rudimentary skills from loading required packages, the underlying data structures, and some simple data manipulation take some effort to put into practice. Remember that learning anything takes motivation and attention. With our focus being pulled in many directions at once, sometimes having some guided learning can be a huge help — especially with data analysis and data analysts.

How often have you had a problem you spent hours trying to solve by Googling every corner of the internet, only to have the solution explained to you in three seconds by an expert? You can have industry professionals help guide you through this exciting learning adventure to help make sure you are spending your effort in the right places rather than sift through all the YouTube videos, blogs, or StackOverflow posts.

3. General Assembly Python programming FTW!

Often you get back what you put in. So if you are thinking about getting started on your programming language journey of learning Python, General Assembly has several great ways to get you started.

Free Introduction to Python workshops are held regularly. The aim here is to get you set up to start learning and developing in a couple of hours.

There is a 10-week part-time Python course that give you all the programming language skills you need to start a new career as a Data Analyst or Python Developer for those that are ready for more structured and in-depth learning. These classes are held for two hours, twice a week, over 10 weeks.

For those who like to jump in and learn as much as possible in concentrated, full-time sessions every day, General Assembly offers a 13-week Data Science Immersive as well, which covers all the essentials of putting Python programming into good use for Machine Learning and Data Science.

4. Dive into Python programming + a Python course.

If you are on the fence about learning the programming language Python, I strongly suggest you dive in and don’t look back! I have found the transition from being a Data Analyst in a cancer research lab to becoming a Data Scientist at an InsureTech company, one of the best experiences of my life. All the nerdy things I loved, i.e.,  _(computers, stats, data visualization)_, all banded together in an amazing career path. 

How long does it take to learn Python? The answer is up to YOU. 

Are you ready to start your next chapter?

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UX Principles Every Designer Should Know

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I hold the role of Experience Design Lead for a technology company. Every day, I talk about theories and projections of how other people will experience something, which is ultimately impossible to know. Human behavior is unpredictable and ever-changing, nowhere more rapidly than in tech. Confounding variables affect how individual users might react to a planned experience. The best user experience designers I know are great at guessing—educated guesses, based on research, which then go on to inform crucial decisions in the technology development process. An experience designer’s job involves predicting how interactions will unfold, and how users will perceive them psychologically and emotionally. 

Designers do their jobs by challenging project ideas, providing counsel to stakeholders, and advocating for users’ best interests. Along with the role comes an obligation to serve the user through principled action. Bad interaction design can have consequences ranging from slightly frustrating to severely harmful. The UX design space is rapidly evolving, and designers must take a holistic view of all the various touchpoints, interactions, and environments—real and virtual—that the user navigates on their journey. Design artifacts, such as wireframes, personas, and all the other UX deliverables you commonly find listed, are just expressions of the user journey. They’re all different ways of answering the same question: “What will it be like for the user?”

With so many resources available on UX technical skills, it’s important to direct more attention toward essential human-centric concerns. Every successful UX designer needs to grasp the foundational ux design principles of empathy, clarity, feedback, and inclusivity.

Empathy

If you’ve spent time with UX teams, you’ve likely broached the subject of empathy. Particularly in the field of tech with all its innovations and disruptions, project contributors are accountable for the impact of their work. Empathy simply describes the act of considering that impact on people’s feelings, situations, lives, communities, and on society as a whole. It’s about seeing things from someone else’s perspective.

The field of user experience design contains common methodologies for building empathy with users. Based on research, user personas serve to focus project contributors’ attention on realistic user traits, so they can understand whose needs to meet. Those personas play central roles in user journey maps and problem statements, ecologies, blueprints, and storyboards. Design thinking activities and workshops bring subject matter experts together with stakeholders to focus on the user journey. All of the methods primarily serve as empathy-building tools for the contributors to better understand the user. The technology community through decades of collective trial-and-error (and more error, and even more error) has largely conceded that projects tend to fail when they don’t prioritize user needs. Empathy helps to divert the team from complacently executing software requirement specifications, and to instead focus on doing the right thing from the user’s perspective. 

Misunderstanding the principle of empathy can curtail a design process. Anyone who has ever scuffled with a frustrating product can attest that the creators should have spent more time talking to users. Building empathy isn’t just a box to check off in an early phase; it’s a principle that ensures meaningful impact through the development lifecycle.

Clarity

User experience design problems often revolve around the clarity of information and instruction. Successful designs make information as intelligible as possible, with clear indication of how to perform the actions you need to take. Designers make sure people can access and understand the interaction as it’s happening, and remain sensitive to its effect on the user’s cognitive load. Lack of clarity could have serious repercussions, as in the case of a healthcare application being used by a patient to access their treatment. 

A working knowledge of visual communication goes a long way. Design artifacts, even reports, benefit from a clear visual hierarchy. Even if the visual design of a user interface is a separate concern than the UX, in practice, UX designers have to collaborate with their counterparts in UI design to ensure that the interface communicates the right effect. To engage effectively on a cross-functional project with multiple team members, UX designers need to at least wield a practical knowledge of typography, color, and composition. Thinking in terms of these visual communication fundamentals allows contributors to establish a shared design language.

Clarity of communication can’t be underestimated. My company, like many global tech organizations, uses English as a primary language for everything from business discussion, to code documentation, to design critique. My international colleagues exhibit remarkable communication skills, especially considering English may be a second, third, or even eighth language. In today’s climate of remote work, it’s more important than ever to use video to enhance real-time communication—employing body language and facial expressions to underscore our words.

UX design is wrapped in written communication. The extent to which hiring managers weigh writing skills when evaluating UX candidates may surprise job seekers. It makes sense that client-facing discussions frequently focus on UX artifacts, and only astute writing can successfully document design ideas. For user research specialists, as well as generalists with user research among their responsibilities, writing is even more of a daily requirement. They design through the medium of research reports, interview takeaways, and executive summaries. Clear writing permeates the work, all the way down to the microcopy—the small bits of guiding UI text used in forms, prompts, buttons, and messages throughout an application. 

Feedback

Great user experience designers are still wrong all the time; they just use more feedback. Everything is a prototype, even early notes and doodles, that can evoke enough reaction from helpful sources such as usability test participants to inform improvements. All design fields solve problems through making things, actively creating new ideas to fill an existing void, and ample helpful feedback guides the solution in the right direction. Seasoned UX designers learn to apply this principle throughout their process, always scanning for meaningful feedback on everything they contribute.

Everywhere you look, there are products with design flaws that could have been improved through more user testing; not just apps and websites, but also physical experiences like vehicles, household items, or specialty equipment. Whenever a project is fast-tracked past user testing too hastily the consumer has to deal with the resulting deficiencies. Successful projects take a structured approach, testing prototypes methodically to identify problem areas. Product teams establish a feedback loop by observing user reactions, hypothesizing improvements based on those reactions, and rebuilding prototypes with new ideas to introduce into the testing cycle.

Accepting product design feedback and applying its learnings to a prototype may be a skill that takes time to develop; it’s easy to get emotionally attached to work we create, as if it were some precious thing to defend. When we ignore valid design criticism it’s the user who loses. Designers learn to separate themselves from their ideas, gathering feedback early and often, and become skilled in objectively discerning how to improve the work to make it even more clear and useful for others.

Inclusivity

People often base their first understandings of users on the lowest common denominator—mapping out an ideal “happy path” experience for a generic user. That ideal rarely reflects the multifaceted reality of human life, and that generic user is too often a reflection of the designer’s own personal traits or their company’s business goals. To design excellent user experiences, we need to step outside our own biases and recognize the diversity of human experience.

Including a broad radius of users in the design process isn’t only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. When a service makes the effort to consider its customers with special needs, it tends to benefit a wider swath of customers. Wheelchair-accessible spaces provide a great example of this principle: the same rampways and automatic door openers which allow people in wheelchairs to navigate also make it easier for people pushing strollers, carrying armloads, and with other momentary physical restrictions.

Website design similarly recognizes the range of users navigating the virtual space. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a standard for designing interfaces which can be understood and used effectively by people with disabilities. Web and app designers rely on that guidance to ensure the display can be understood by users with a spectrum of visual impairments and blindness, and who may access the information using screen reader programs to synthesize speech or output to a braille display. Users with motoric impairments benefit from various assistive technologies such as a trackball mouse or voice recognition software. Across both physical and digital spaces, there are ample opportunities to design a better, more inclusive user experience that considers all possible customer scenarios.

The aim of inclusive design is to demonstrate respect for users by allowing them a dignified interaction with your service. Project teams would do better by incorporating the principle of inclusivity throughout their process. Upfront research and cooperative design with target users will help to avoid the pitfalls that lead to inaccessible products. Designers, engineers, and managers are all responsible for adhering to accessibility guidelines in the creation of useful tools, displays, and controls. Rigorous usability testing continuously refines the experience, and helps produce genuinely positive, inclusive interactions. 

Conclusion

The practice of user experience design challenges abstract notions and raises important ethical concerns. As UX designers, we essentially design actions, and all actions have consequences. Multiply that by the masses of users who are touched by scaling technology, and our design decisions become exponentially magnified. All designers should consider that gravity whenever approaching their work, and take conscientious actions based on human-centered design principles.

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User Experience Design Impacts Everyone — But What Is It?

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What is user experience design General Assembly

People often associate the term “user experience design” with visual design or the design of a digital interface, like a website or mobile app. But the truth is, user experience (UX) design is bigger than that, and it’s used across every industry, from software, to business, to schools, and beyond.

Successful UX design is why shopping on Amazon is addictive, ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft took off, and binge watching TV shows from any number of services has become the best way to spend a weekend indoors — skillful UX design has made it insanely easy to do. Even physical spaces—from retail stores to the checkout line at Trader Joe’s to office spaces—are impacted by UX design. And during COVID-19, UX has played a pivotal role in how we envision safe return-to-work and school policies.

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Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts (Part 3)

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Key insights from Caitlin Davey, Manager of Learning Experience Design at
General Assembly

We’ve reached the last segment of our three-part blog series on managing remote teams. We hope our experts’ advice has been useful for team leaders who are transitioning to working from home and adjusting to this new normal in the world of work.

For our final installment, we sat down with General Assembly’s very own Caitlin Davey, Manager of Learning Experience Design. Caitlin has managed a remote team for 2 years and has deep experience designing remote learning experiences in data for GA’s enterprise partners around the world. 

Read on to hear Caitlin’s insights on:

  1. Leading remote meetings.
  2. Encouraging team participation while remote.
  3. Being supportive of your team during a remote transition. 

For additional perspectives on remote team management, check out part one and part two.

GA: Thanks so much for the time today, Caitlin. In your role, you’ve participated in many conversations with our partners who are shifting to remote work. What are some of the top tips you share on leading remote meetings?

Caitlin: First and foremost, set a clear agenda with time chunks. If minutes tend not to work for you, then try to estimate time based on the percentage of the meeting you want to spend covering a given topic. Also, keep meeting times manageable and allow for stretch breaks every 30 minutes to allow participants to physically stretch and refocus their attention. As a team leader, you need to model active engagement and bring strong energy to amp up the energy of participants. 

Second, if there are key decisions that need to be made or input that is required, consider sending a pre-read of materials along with your agenda so participants can come to the meeting prepared. When your meeting comes to a close, name owners of action items and send follow-ups with the highlights of the meeting, and a video recording if available. Follow-ups ensure that everyone is clear on the next steps and can review what was discussed.

GA: Staying organized seems to be key! On the flip side, what are some of the top mistakes you see people make when leading remote meetings?

Caitlin: When leading remote meetings, try to prevent the “No, you go ahead” loop as I like to call it. As a leader, you need to own facilitation and direct the conversation. This can look like nominating the next person to speak, asking for the opinion of a team member by calling on them, or determining the order of who will speak in advance. This keeps the meeting moving and increases the comfort of team members because expectations are clear. It also prevents lags where no one is responding to broad questions. Then again, get comfortable with some silence. The fidelity of remote meetings can mean that participants need time to think and respond. Don’t rush to fill the silence as participants may just need some time to formulate their thoughts before chiming in. 

Pauses in conversation can feel less natural in remote meetings and people often fail to leave time for ideation or questions — it’s important to build this in. Name ways participants can contribute, whether that’s asking people to come off mute and speak, inviting comments through the chat, or using the raise hand feature if your conference platform is Zoom. If you have challenges leading the meeting while following the chat, nominate someone to raise any critical questions, and make sure that you build in time to pause and answer instead of interrupting yourself to address comments. 

GA: I’ve definitely experienced those “No, you go ahead” loops before, and love the tips to address it! Switching gears a little bit, what are some norms you like to use to engage a remote team?

Caitlin: Team bonding and preventing feelings of isolation are especially important for teams that are working remotely. Plan to connect through icebreaker introductions or get remote coffee. These may sound corny, but leaning into the corniness can actually unlock a greater sense of connection and make calls feel less like a checklist. One of my favorite icebreakers is to ask participants to quickly hold up something nearby that shows their personality. For example, my pack of stamps is always handy because I love sending mail to friends and family. 

Teams should also collectively decide on remote working agreements. These can go beyond sharing preferences for communication channels and even include mindsets to adopt as you work together. One example of a working agreement we hold at GA is “Be present,” which means we all agree to minimize multitasking during meetings and practice active engagement. Another example is “Take space, make space,” meaning that as we take time to talk, we also intend to make time for others to speak. 

GA: Oftentimes, we hear that it’s hard to encourage participation in a remote meeting in the same way you would in a conference room. How do you encourage your team to speak up?

Caitlin: Inherently, whoever called a remote meeting feels like the owner, leader, and facilitator of that meeting. To allow individual contributors to feel ownership think about nominating leaders for various meetings and give them a chance to step into a leadership role. Breakout groups can also be a great way to divide large teams into more manageable groups to connect. Zoom has a breakout group feature, but you could also consider smaller sub-groups for projects. 

Beyond structure, when you’re looking for participants to speak in a given meeting, call on participants by name to share input. You can also message participants ahead of time to preview the specific question and see if they’re comfortable sharing. Knowing your team’s working styles is key, as some people prefer to think through a question on their own rather than respond on the fly.

GA: All the insights today have been great so far. One final question for you, Caitlin: What advice can you share around supporting your team during this difficult transition?

Caitlin: It’s important to know the channels of communication that work best for your team. For example, if you’ve decided that not everything needs to be a call, think twice before scheduling a call rather than sending an email. Or, if you decided not to email after hours, don’t break your own rule.

Also, ask what your employees need. You should check in with your team more frequently than normal to make sure that they feel supported and remain engaged. I’d stress that you should be checking on their goals and if they need support rather than to monitor attendance. 

A real benefit I see to remote meetings is the many ways for participants to share. Features like a meeting chat can allow more perspectives to surface than in an in-person setting. As we’re all transitioning to more virtual connections, there’s an opportunity to take time to set new norms, make employees feel supported, have fun as a team, and realize that in remote settings, we can still connect.


We’re so grateful to Caitlin for sitting down with us to discuss top tips for leading and supporting teams remotely. This post concludes our Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts series — we hope you gained some helpful insights! For more perspectives from GA, follow us on LinkedIn, where we’ll always share the latest.

Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts (Part 2)

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Key insights from Adi Hanash, VP of Product at Tempest, and Original Remote Program Product Owner at General Assembly.

Last week we kicked off our three-part series on managing remote teams. As many companies transition to working from home for the first time to help curb the spread of COVID-19, we wanted to offer some advice to help our community navigate this adjustment. GA has deep experience working with a distributed team and has also helped thousands of learners upskill and reskill through live-online formats. With these things in mind, we’ve tapped into our network of experts to answer top questions we’ve received from our partners, and to share tips and tricks that you can use with your remote teams.

For our second segment of this series, we sat down with Adi Hanash, VP of Product at Tempest, an organization focused on building a digital support platform for people recovering from alcohol use disorder. Adi is also a former General Assembly colleague and built the remote learning experience at GA as the original live-online product owner. Adi has transitioned 10 courses to be delivered online and also has 4+ years of experience working remotely himself.

Read on to hear Adi’s insights on:

  1. Engaging your distributed teams.
  2. Getting into the work mindset from home.
  3. Motivating your team remotely.

For additional perspectives on remote team management, check out part one and part three.

GA: Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Adi. We’ve heard from our community that one of the biggest remote work challenges is tracking teams. What is the best way to track attendance and engagement? 

Adi: There’s a piece to attendance worth addressing that is “How do we know someone’s in the office from nine to five or for the prescribed hours?” Having worked on product teams, we start every morning with a quick check-in to set the goals for the day and then hold an end of day check-in. You need to be comfortable allowing a little bit of freedom to do the work in the middle of the day. 

Another piece to attendance is making a decision as a team about what it means to be attending a meeting. For me, the number one thing is being on camera. So, if I’m using a video platform, my expectation is everyone who’s in that meeting is on camera for that meeting. If you turn off your camera, I assume you’ve walked out of the room. Being visible also prevents someone from just listening in while doing other work; it forces them to be more present.

GA: What do you talk about during those daily check-in meetings?

Adi: My product team has a ritual called “stand” that we practice every day. It can be held over a chat platform or in live sessions, but every morning, the team will go around and talk about what they did yesterday, what’s on deck for today, and any blockers or external constraints. At the end of the day, we check-in again and cover what was done that day, any blockers that still exist, and what’s queued up for tomorrow. It’s a really quick check-in that should take 10 to 15 minutes total.

The key is to focus not on the meetings or activities a person will have during the day, but the deliverables for the day. That’s where, as the team leader, you can be very clear on what your expectations are for the work that needs to get done. Or, if you are an individual who is now working remotely, you’re aligned with the rest of the team on what your workday entails. It’s a really helpful way to get everyone on the same page and to make sure that you are setting expectations around deliverables — even in this remote environment.

GA: How do you get into the work mindset before that “stand” check-in at the start of your day? It’s definitely a little different starting your day from home versus going into the office.

Adi: Establish what your rituals are for starting and ending work in your remote environment. This may sound silly, since I know one of the benefits of working from home is being able to be in pajamas all day, but my ritual was that I very consciously decided that when I started work, I put on a collared shirt. I was still in shorts, and that was fine, but the act of putting on the shirt meant I was at work, and the act of taking that shirt off meant I was no longer at work. I’m not saying that’s the right one for you, but I would just encourage everyone to establish rituals.

GA: You also mentioned giving the team a little bit of freedom to do the work in the middle of the day. What do you think about flexible work hours when working from home?

Adi: The most important thing is to not conflate remote working with flexible working  — you have to address them independently of each other. Remote working is the ability to do the work that you have to do from home or in various locations. Flexible work hours mean that you allow a person to set their own schedule for when they are working and when they aren’t. The question of flexible work schedules needs to be addressed in its own way.

When I worked remotely, I was working eight hours, but my mistake was spreading those eight hours over 14 hours, which made me feel like I was working the entire day even when I wasn’t. So when you work remotely, you should be very clear on what is okay to do with your schedule in your day (for example, leaving for lunch) and what is not (for example, cleaning). Do not make the mistake of spreading eight hours of work over too long of a period. The way I’ve managed this is to be very clear on my calendar about my scheduled time. You have to create  boundaries for yourself and for your team to make this work successfully.

GA: What about when you have team members who treat everything as an emergency? How do you deal with that if it falls within an unavailable slot in your schedule? 

Adi: This can be especially challenging for remote workers. I think the number one thing is defining the levels of emergencies with your teams. There should be some version at the top, which is that the business cannot move forward unless the emergency is solved. If it is a company-wide blocker, then everyone has to stop what they’re doing and help solve the problem. Then down at the bottom, there are things like a typo on the website. At that level, you need to ask, “Is it preventing us from doing anything? How many people have reported it?”

Once you get to an understanding of the emergency spectrum, you’d be surprised by how many actually have to be addressed in real-time. So that’s the number one thing I would encourage you to do.

GA: What tips do you have for managing and running large format meetings?

Adi: The most important thing with any meeting, especially larger ones, is to remind people of the opportunity cost of a meeting, and make it clear that there has to be true value driven by the people in the room. So for example, if you have 15 people in the meeting for 30 minutes, you’re not taking 30 minutes, you’re taking seven and a half hours. And if you start to think about it in terms of time as accumulation, you start to become a lot more judicious as a leader around what type of meetings you want to be calling and who’s going to be involved.

Then, if you do decide to proceed with a large format meeting, the number one thing is to have super-clear agendas. You have to be explicit as to what the deliverables for the meeting are. If you cannot define clear deliverables, there are probably better ways to do the meeting than to actually have a meeting. For example, if you need a decision on X, then the meeting attendees have to be defined by who’s responsible for making that decision. So that at the end of the meeting, you’re able to say great, our decision is X.

GA: How can you motivate your team members when everyone is remote?

Adi: For those of you who are in a leadership position, you need to think about what recognition looks like in a distributed room. It’s very easy to say “Great job!” to an individual, but you need to find the ways to publicize their victories and their wins, and more so in this distributed environment because it’s almost a requirement for them to know that even though they’re on the other end of the computer, their work is having an impact and is being recognized.

Chances are, you have some sort of chat platform that you can use. At Tempest we use Slack, and so we have to be creative about how to use it for this purpose. For example, one thing that I love to do with our team is to create a shout-outs time. Every week there’s a certain time where we get onto Slack and just shout out all the victories and wins for the week. Those small ceremonies and rituals help establish the connection, especially with remote employees, that the work they’re doing isn’t being lost to the ether, and that you’re actually seeing it and recognizing it.

A huge thanks to Adi for these amazing tips on rituals and leading a remote team. We’re always here for questions, email cheers@ga.co if you’ve got any!

Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts (Part 1)

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Top tips from Matt Brems, Managing Partner at BetaVector, and Global Lead Data Science Instructor at General Assembly

There has been an unprecedented shift to remote working as companies and individuals do their part to curb the spread of COVID-19. We’ve heard from our global partners that this shift has been a difficult adjustment and that teams could use some tips and tricks to cultivate connections with their remote employees and maintain productivity during this uncertain time. General Assembly (GA) has deep remote work experience and has also delivered live online learning to over 5,000 students and remote workers around the world. With that in mind, we’re sitting down with our experts to get answers to your most pressing questions and the right tools on managing remote teams and adjusting to remote work from home. 

For our first segment of this three-part blog series, we sat down with Matt Brems, Managing Partner at BetaVector and Global Lead Data Science Instructor at General Assembly. Matt has taught 1,000+ students since 2016 and has been working and teaching remotely for the last two and a half years.  

Read on to hear Matt’s insights on:

  1. Identifying blind spots in the shift to remote.
  2. Building company culture and employee engagement in remote teams.
  3. Juggling work and life when they coexist more than ever before.

For additional perspectives on remote team management, check out part two and part three.

GA: Matt, thanks so much for being here with us today. To kick things off, what were some of the concerns you had when you started to teach online, and how might these concerns apply to people transitioning to remote work?

Matt: Glad to be here! One of the challenges in shifting to an online classroom was that I just didn’t know what the blind spots were going to be. I knew the content I was supposed to teach, but the blind spot was how could I ensure my students’ success when everybody was now connecting remotely. Part of it just took some experience, but really, it was about listening to my students. 

As a manager, you know the business objectives that you’ve always had. However, you have an additional blind spot: how do you get your team to succeed with the uncertainty of everyone working from home? Within these unique challenges, you have to create space for your team to share what they need and what isn’t working. Then you have to listen to what your entire team is telling you and act on it. Finally, you need to accept that there will probably be a period where it feels weird and uncomfortable. 

GA: It sounds like it all worked out! We’ve heard a common blind spot is not knowing how to collaborate with teams remotely. Do you have any tips or collaboration tools you’d recommend for managing collaborative work?

Matt: When collaborating with others remotely, it’s important to be as explicit as possible. When I started teaching remotely, I would ask vague questions like, “What’s wrong with this?” or “What do you think about that?” Since my questions were vague, my students’ answers were all over the place. That wasn’t a failure on their part, it was a failure on my part. So when it comes to working collaboratively, I have a couple of recommendations. 

First, break the task down into smaller chunks and make the tasks as specific as possible to your remote employees. Let’s say you need your team to write a report by the end of the day. Instead of just putting the task out there, work with the entire team to divide it up. I’m not trying to encourage micromanagement, but it’s much easier for communication to break down remotely. People jump into their next meetings, people make assumptions about who does what. 

Second, be explicit. Instead of using terms like “end of day,” specify what “end of day” is. Does it mean 5 p.m. or midnight? If you’re managing remote employees in different time zones, which time zone? Being explicit, wherever possible, is a really helpful tool for effective communication.

GA: Really great tips. Another blind spot we’ve been hearing frequently is around cultivating a sense of community while remote — how do you manage to keep your entire team connected?

Matt: When it comes to developing that sense of connectedness in the programs that we teach, we start every lesson with an icebreaker. For example, earlier today, my colleague asked, “If you were forced to be part of a talent show, what would your talent be?” This gets the whole team engaged in social interaction that’s a fun way to share things about themselves that you wouldn’t otherwise know, a promising tactic for building trust. Think about the “water cooler” talk where people share things that aren’t directly connected to work. We can still do that; we just have to be a bit more creative and intentional about creating that sense of a dependable company culture and community.

As another example, General Assembly develops community by doing daily trivia. Katie, our “trivia guru,” announces a time for trivia, comes up with five trivia questions and then asks them in the trivia Slack channel. People compete to be the first to correctly answer the question. It’s a lot of fun because so many people get really into it. Everybody laughs because some people are right on the money and some people are sharing weird, off-the-beaten-path answers. We’re leaning into everything that we would do in-person to build that community; we just have to be more intentional about it when we’re remote.

GA: To expand on company culture even further, what advice do you have for creating norms for your remote teams?

Matt: To come up with norms, start with a shared blank document and let the whole team contribute their thoughts about what’s important. Then transition to discussing these thoughts in a virtual meeting and have people come to a consensus on norms for the group. Specifically, you want to provide a safe space for people to share what they need out of your team environment, and you want to make space for people who have different experiences than you might have. 

I want to be abundantly clear about this: Once the team agrees on a norm, the whole team needs to follow it. And that includes the team leader. There is sometimes this tendency for people in leadership to say, “Hey, we established the team norms, but that’s for everybody else. Because I’m the team leader, I don’t necessarily have to abide by that.” That can be the quickest way for norms to deteriorate and works against building trust. Being clear and making sure everybody adheres to the norms is huge.

GA: A lot of people have children or parents to take care of in addition to working from home – what are your thoughts on flex hours as part of those team norms? 

Matt: I think that’s really important right now. Everybody needs to come together and be flexible and empathetic because this is a difficult time for a lot of people. Recognize that maybe somebody will be able to do good work from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. before their kids get up, and then there are times during the day when they need to take breaks to play with their kids, and then they’ll be ready to hop back on later in the evening.

This ties directly into setting team norms. Norms can include being explicit about the hours that people are available, as opposed to assuming that everybody is still going to be on the nine to five office schedule while at home. In my opinion, assuming that what you did in the office will simply work at home is one of the quickest ways to set yourself up for failure.

GA: On the flip side, how do you set boundaries with family while you’re working, given remote work and home life coexist in the same place? 

Matt: With my fiancé, we had to have very direct conversations about what worked for us and what didn’t. For example, I said “If you come home and my headphones are in, just wave at me but go into the other room. If I’m able to talk to you, I will take my headphones out and come talk to you.”

Some people recommend even having a little sign, like a yes/no sign. If it says yes, you can come up and tap them on the shoulder, but if they flip it and it says no, don’t bother them at that moment. That can be really important. 

GA: One final question. We know that working from home can be stressful, especially when juggling family obligations and health concerns. What advice do you have for people who are having those feelings right now?

Matt: It is very common and normal for people to feel stressed, to feel isolated, or to feel upset about what’s going on. I read on Twitter recently that this isn’t a normal working from home scenario…we’re working from home during a crisis. I have worked from home for almost 2.5 years, and I still feel like something is fundamentally different, given all that’s going on in the news. One of the things that I personally believe is that community is really, really important. And it’s possible to have community with one another, even if you’re not physically in the same room. 

With my fiancé, we sat down with his parents and did a virtual drink. For the first three minutes, it felt bizarre to talk with people on a computer screen, but after a few minutes, you don’t even notice that they’re not in the room. Virtual connections can happen with family, friends, colleagues and co-workers to the extent that you want. Leaning into my community has been really cathartic for me, and I hope that it is for many of you too.

A huge thanks to Matt for taking the time to sit down with us to share his remote work tips and tricks. As we adjust our everyday lives to our ever-changing world, it’s helpful to know that our sense of work, community, and work/life balance does not have to be compromised. 

Do you have questions about managing remote teams that you’d like to ask our experts? Email us at cheers@ga.co.

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Free Fridays by General Assembly: Our Favorite Online Workshops

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At General Assembly, we’ve been thinking a lot about the current and future state of career development and the skills that will build resiliency. Despite this age of uncertainty, we believe that learning has no limits. Whether you’re looking for a new job or wanting to diversify your skill set to become more employable, our community of experts is still here for you, online.

While our Free Fridays promotion of our most popular paid workshops concluded at the end of June, we always have free intro classes and events coming up. From coding to data, marketing, and career development, explore the tech skills that will keep you in demand and in the know.

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How to Teach Online

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As the spread of COVID-19 continues to transform daily life around the world, we at General Assembly have been paying close attention to how the virus is upending education: 

  • Over 1,000 colleges have been impacted, representing more than 13 million students.
  • Teachers serving students in elementary, middle, and high schools are doing their best to adapt, with varied levels of training and support. 
  • Community colleges and nonprofit training providers, already struggling to stay afloat, are facing existential threats.

And this is only the beginning — we are entering a new world of work that will look radically different as the pandemic progresses. 

Last year alone, we saw a 141% spike in enrollment in GA’s full-time remote programs. In some ways, the rise of online learning means that education providers are better-equipped than ever to respond to these changes. Schools are rapidly implementing online programs, video conferencing has never been more sophisticated, and hundreds of thousands of students are logging on to continue their studies virtually.

But the reality is that converting to an online learning environment isn’t as simple as clicking a button. As Kevin Carey put it in The New York Times, colleges are quickly realizing that “it’s impossible to transform a college course into a virtual world overnight,” — and that teaching and learning don’t always work the same way online as they do in person.

At General Assembly, we are grappling with this challenge as well: We recently made the decision to bring all of our in-person Immersive courses online to support more than 5,500 students globally. The good news is that online learning isn’t new to us. We’ve learned a lot from facilitating online programs for over 4 years, and hope to share those challenges — and opportunities — with institutions around the globe as they enter this new and confusing world.

That’s why we’re offering free access to How To Teach Online to anyone. This short-form course — led by one of our resident experts in online instruction, Maria Weaver — is specifically designed for instructors transitioning to a remote format. Whether you’re a seasoned online instructor or a first-time Zoom user, sign up to access new tools, discover essential resources, and gain best practices for impactful online instruction, including how to:

  • Foster online discussions with students.
  • Cultivate classroom culture through Zoom.
  • Plan for student differences online.

In uncertain times like these, it’s more important than ever to share knowledge and experience with those who can benefit from it. This course has helped hundreds of our instructors acquire the basic skills and techniques needed to lead effective online classrooms, and we hope it provides the same value for other instructors out there. 

Our team is committed to making more of our resources and expertise readily available to the global education community, and we see this as an initial, small step in that direction. We welcome any ideas or feedback you may have and encourage you to reach out to us at impact@generalassemb.ly

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Tom Ogletree is Senior Director of Social Impact and External Affairs, where he leads GA’s public policy, communications, and social impact initiatives. Tom previously held leadership roles at the Clinton Foundation, CCS Fundraising, and GLAAD. He serves on the boards of the Ali Forney Center and the NYC Employment and Training Coalition, and is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.