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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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What It’s Really Like to Change Your Career Online

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Going to work used to mean physically traveling to a workplace. Whether by foot, public transit, or car — a job was a specific location to which you commuted. But with the advent of the gig economy and advances in technology, telecommuting has become more and more prevalent. In fact, according to a 2018 study, approximately 70% of workers worldwide spend at least one day a week working from home.

So, why should education be any different? Learning from the comfort of home saves you the time and money you would’ve spent commuting, allows you to spend more time with loved ones, and encourages a much more comfortable, casual work environment.

That’s why we’re now offering all of our career-changing Immersives online. We’ve transformed over 11K+ careers — so whether you’re interested in becoming a software engineer, data scientist, or UX designer, you can trust our proven curriculum, elite instructors, and dedicated career coaches to set you up for professional success.

We sat down with three experts on GA’s Immersive Remote programs to better understand how they work — and more importantly — how they compare to the on-campus experience.

Breaking Barriers

GA Education Product Manager Lee Almegard explained the reasoning behind the move: “At GA, the ability to pay tuition, commute to class, or coordinate childcare shouldn’t be a barrier to launching a new career, she said. “Our new 100% remote Immersive programs are designed to ease these barriers.”

Obviously, saving yourself a trip to campus is appealing on many levels, but some interested students expressed concern that they wouldn’t receive enough personalized attention studying online as opposed to IRL. Instructor Matt Huntington reassures them, saying “Our lectures are highly interactive, and there is ample time to ask questions — not only of the teacher but also of other students.” 

Staying Focused

It’s not always easy to stay focused in a traditional classroom, but when your fellow students have been replaced by a curious toddler or Netflix is only a click away, distraction is a real concern. 

GA graduate Alex Merced shared these worries when he began his Software Engineering Immersive Remote program, but they quickly disappeared. “The clever use of Slack and Zoom really made the class engaging. It leverages the best features of both platforms, such as polls, private channels, and breakout rooms,” he said. “This kept the class kinetic, social, and engaging, versus traditional online training that usually consists of fairly non-interactive lectures over PowerPoint.”

If you’re concerned about staying focused, you can use these simple, impactful tips to stay motivated and on track to meet your goals:

  • Plan ahead. Conquer homework by blocking off time on your calendar each week during the hours in which you focus best.
  • Limit distractions. Find a quiet place to study, put your device on “Do Not Disturb” mode, or find a productivity app like Freedom to block time-consuming sites when studying or working independently.
  • Listen to music. You might find that music helps you concentrate on homework. Some of our favorite Spotify playlists to listen to are Deep Focus, Cinematic Chillout, and Dreamy Vibes.
  • Take breaks. Go for a short walk at lunch and change up the scenery, or grab a latte to power through an assignment.
  • Ask for help. We’re here for you! Our instructional team is available for guidance, feedback, technical assistance, and more during frequent one-on-one check-ins and office hours.

Most importantly, listen to yourself. Everyone learns differently, so take stock of what works best for you. Find the strategies that fit your learning style, and you’ll be well on your way to new skills and new heights. 

Getting Connected and Getting Hired

Another key component of learning is the camaraderie that comes from meeting and studying with like-minded students. How does that translate to a virtual classroom?

GA Career Coach Ruby Sycamore-Smith explains that both students and faculty can have meaningful, productive relationships without ever meeting in person. We’re a lot more intentional online,” she says. “You’re not able to just bump into each other in the corridor as you would on campus, but that means you’re able to be a lot more purposeful with your time when you do connect — way beyond a simple smile and a wave. Merced agrees. “Breakout sessions allowed me to assist and be assisted by my classmates, with whom I’ve forged valuable relationships. Now I have friends all over the world.” And as Huntington pointed out, “There is no back of the classroom when you’re online.” When you learn remotely, every seat is right next to all of your peers.

When we piloted the Software Engineering Remote bootcamp, we took extra care to make sure that our virtual classrooms felt exactly like the on-campus ones, with group labs and even special projects to ensure students are constantly working with each other,” Huntington explained. “A lot of our students form after-hours homework groups, and nighttime TAs create study hall video conferences so everyone can see and talk to each other.” 

And with students from all over the country, you’re going to connect with people you never would’ve met within the confines of a classroom. These peers could even be the very contacts who help you get you hired.

By recruiting industry professionals who are also gifted instructors to lead courses, students are taught how to translate their knowledge into in-demand skill sets that employers need. Sycamore-Smith explains that the involvement of GA’s career coaches doesn’t end after graduation; they’re invested in their students’ long-term success.

She says, “Career preparation sessions are very discussion-based and collaborative, as all of our students have varied backgrounds. Some are recent college graduates, others may have had successful careers and experienced a number of job hunts previously. Everyone has unique ideas and insights to share, so we use these sessions to really connect and learn from one another.” 

Merced is enthusiastic about his GA experience and quickly landed a great job as a developer. “Finding work was probably the area I was most insecure about going into the class,” he confessed. “But the prep sessions really made the execution and expectations of a job search much clearer and I was able to land firmly on my feet.

Conclusion? Make Yourself at Home

After years of teaching in front of a brick-and-mortar classroom, Huntington was a little wary about his move to digital instructor, but his misgivings quickly gave way. 

I was surprised to feel just as close to my virtual students as I did to my on-campus students, he said. “Closing down our virtual classrooms and saying goodbye on the last day of class is so much more heart-wrenching online than it ever was for me when I taught on campus.” 

Huntington’s advice to a student wondering if online learning is right for them: “Go for it! It’s just like in person, but there’s no commute and it’s socially acceptable to wear pajamas!”

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Put Your Career Front and Center: Meet Our Upgraded UX Design Immersive

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We’ve evolved our career-changing bootcamp to help get you hired in 2020.

Now more than ever, companies are recognizing the value of user-centered design. According to InVision, 92% of the mature design organizations can draw a straight line from the efforts of their design team to their company’s revenue. 

That’s why we’ve given our User Experience Design Immersive program a full revamp, evolving our tried-and-true curriculum to meet 2020 hiring priorities.

Keeping our programs tightly linked to market demand is at the core of our mission. It’s part of our commitment to ensuring our graduates can secure great jobs using their new skills — and it’s why more than 16,000 Immersive grads in six countries have trusted us to help them launch high-growth careers.

To stay ahead of rapidly changing industry needs, we do our research, working closely with employers, practitioners, and students to make impactful updates that help grads launch new careers. We dive into questions including: 

  • What roles are employers looking to hire? 
  • What skills and tools are required on the job?? 
  • What are broader trends across the industry? 
  • And, most importantly, how can we synthesize all of this to ensure our students have the most relevant, in-demand skills they need to succeed? 

Armed with this knowledge, we invested in expanding this full-time, three-month program in a few significant ways — including the introduction of a new Remote format.

What’s New

1. Two additional weeks of expert-led instruction.

Developed with guidance from our User Experience Design Standards Board — a group of design executives from companies like Tigerspike and WarnerMedia — our upgraded UX bootcamp curriculum is primed for industry relevance.

The now 12-week course now dedicates a full week to user interface and visual design topics, enabling students to build high-fidelity prototypes by Week 4. In addition to touching on hot topics like service design, design operations, and design leadership, we’ve also curated the best material from our global network to provide an expanded library of elective lessons.

2. Sharpened focus on real-world collaboration. 

You can take a crash course in UX to learn the foundations, but what makes new designers employable is how they work with developers, product managers, and business stakeholders to drive impact with design. 

Our upgraded UXDI program offers more opportunities to experience on-the-job realities, including UX/UI handoffs, team presentations, and design critiques. Prepare to work cross-functionally by learning Agile methodologies. Then put them into practice, teaming up with classmates to research and prototype a professional client project in a three-week sprint.

3. A sixth passion project.

Throughout this Immersive, students gain hands-on experience with each step in the UX process, compiling a portfolio that showcases fluency in research synthesis, information architecture, user flows, wireframes, and more.  

For their final solo piece, they have the opportunity to distinguish themselves as designers (and job candidates) by choosing one skill area within the UX discipline to hone — for example user research, visual design, or interaction design. Start in the classroom with expert guidance and polish it post-course to demonstrate continuing growth.

4. Online and in-person Immersive options.

For career-changers who don’t live near a GA campus, have a busy travel schedule, or just want to skip the commute, we’re expanding access to UXDI with a new Remote format.

Offered throughout the United States,* the Remote learning experience mirrors GA’s on-campus offerings but allows you to learn from the comfort of home. Connect with expert instructors, guest speakers, and classmates in our interactive classroom setup, powered by 

Zoom and Slack.

You’ll still get access to the expert instruction, learning resources, and support network that GA is known for. Work individually with your career coach to understand your local job market, find opportunities, and connect with the local UX community.

* Remote courses are not available to non-U.S. or New York state residents at this time.

What Hasn’t Changed

Our proven approach to developing industry-relevant curriculum remains the same: We partner with top employers and practitioners in the field to ensure our offerings are tailored to meet today’s needs. A-list companies like Apple, Google, and Fitbit have all hired UXDI grads.

As with all Immersive course participants, UXDI students receive dedicated support from expert career coaches from their first day of class to their first day on the job. Diving deep into personal brand building, design interview prep, exclusive networking events, portfolio development, job search roadmaps, and more, we’re there at every step of the job hunt with guidance to keep grads motivated and accountable.
Read all about UXDI and its new features and dive deeper by checking out the syllabus here. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with us at admissions@ga.co.

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5 Ways to Inspire Your Design Teams

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2018 99u Conference General Assembly

Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead for General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course, leads a session at the 2018 99u Conference. Photos by Craig Samoviski.

As design educators, we at General Assembly prepare students for their careers — but how can we ensure designers continue to grow their skills beyond the classroom? Industry-leading work emerges from teams that persistently enrich themselves by fostering new skill sets and perspectives. But between deadlines, client fire drills, and day-to-day trivialities, a focus on growth can often be put on the back burner. In the long-term, this can result in uninspired designers who don’t grow to their full potential, and teams that opt for the easy way out instead of taking on risks, challenges, and explorations that drive innovation.

When Adobe approached General Assembly about leading a session at the 99u Conference — an annual gathering for creative professionals to share ideas and get inspired to help shape the future of the industry — we knew it would be a great opportunity to guide leaders in creating natural spaces for learning within their teams and workflows.

In our sold-out session “Onboard, Engage, Energize: Tactics for Inspiring a Crack Design Team,” Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead of GA’s full-time User Experience Design Immersive course, and Adi Hanash, GA’s former head of Advanced Skills Academies, shared insights on how directors and managers can structure spaces for learning within their teams, and encourage new approaches to problem-solving. The presentation was developed in collaboration with Senior Instructional Designer Eric Newman and me, GA’s director of product design.

At the event, we outlined the following five ways leaders can encourage their teams (and themselves) to keep learning and improving throughout their careers, including an exercise to spur creativity, reflection, and action. Read on to learn more, and find out how you can perform the exercise with your own team.

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The Best Prototyping Tools for UX Designers in 2018

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Best Prototyping Tools 2018After synthesizing user research and thoroughly uncovering problems to solve, user experience (UX) designers begin their design by ideating on a number of solutions. This is where the creative magic happens! Designers sketch to explore many workable solutions to user problems, then narrow them down to the strongest concept. Using that concept, the next step is creating a workable prototype that can be tested for viability against the user’s goals and business needs.

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Making It in UX: New User Experience Designers Share Lessons From the Field

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UX Design Denver Jobs General Assembly Students

Every industry — from tech, to finance, to retail — needs user experience (UX) designers. These master problem-solvers work to create on- and offline experiences that put users’ wants and needs first.

Harnessing skills like user research, wireframes, and prototyping, UX designers have a unique perspective when it comes to understanding the interactions between users, business goals, and visual and technology elements. For companies, their work fosters brand loyalty and repeat business. For consumers, it means frustration-free online experiences, intuitive mobile apps, efficient store layouts, and more.

When you have the perspective of a UX designer, “you start to see design gone wrong everywhere,” says Beth Koloski, who teaches the full-time User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) course at General Assembly’s Denver campus. “You stop blaming yourself for not understanding badly designed software.” She says she admires when someone gets design right because she knows “how incredibly hard it is to make something easy and seamless and actually get it out into the real world.”

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InVision on Creating GA’s User Experience Design Course

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UX Design Invision General Assembly IBM

A user experience design student at General Assembly student works on a user flow.

There have never been more opportunities for user experience designers: In 2015, U.S. companies posted nearly 30,000 openings for user experience roles — up 15% from 2011 — at an average salary of $99,177.

The market demands top-quality talent, and training toward industry needs has never been more vital. At General Assembly, we accomplish this by partnering with industry powerhouses like IBM Design and prototyping platform InVision to build curriculums that directly serve the needs of companies while empowering individuals with relevant skills. Our full-time User Experience Design Immersive leverages our partners’ expertise across market and content to ensure the most effective learning experience available in the field.

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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 are thriving, 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 are impacted by UX design: Think strategic layouts of department stores with enticing buys at every turn or the always-moving checkout lines at Trader Joe’s.

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Founding a Company Entirely on UX Design: How GA Grads Started Jewelry Company Vrai & Oro

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General Assembly grads Vrai and Oro

For years, Chelsea Nicholson and Vanessa Stofenmacher felt that the fine jewelry on the market just wasn’t for them. They wanted to make a statement with pieces that were classic yet attainable, and had an inkling other women felt the same. After graduating from General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive program in Los Angeles, they decided to do something about it.

The pair, who were friends before they were classmates, teamed up to launch Vrai and Oro — a Warby Parker-style fine jewelry startup that embodies UX principles its core. Vrai and Oro means truth (in French) and gold (in Spanish), and the name is reflected in the company’s values: quality, simplicity, and transparency. Chelsea and Vanessa produce their jewelry with ethically sourced materials in downtown Los Angeles — without designer markups. And, true to their UX-driven brand, their website and eCommerce platform is minimalistic and image-driven for easy use.

We caught up with Chelsea to learn more about Vrai & Oro, the site’s user experience, and how GA helped the co-founders achieve their goals.

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UX Design Explained in 60 Seconds

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User experience (UX) design is one of the tech industry’s core disciplines: Considering users’ potential actions is a key component of designing a website, application, or other products. UX is a skill that just about every type of company needs in order to grow — and demand for it is only increasing.

But what is UX design, really? To get to the heart of it, we talked to design experts from The New York Times, PayPal, Zola, and more.

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