Meet Jared Rogers, User Experience Design Immersive Instructor at General Assembly Austin
How would you define UX design in one sentence?
User experience design is the act of studying the world, its people, and its environment; thinking critically to uncover problems to be solved; and fostering creative exploration to get to a solution via validation by the real world.
What do you love about UX design?
I love that our focus is on humans. While the role of user experience designer is a technology job, we get to be the connectors between human perception and cognition and new technologies.
Why should someone learn UX design at GA?
GA offers students a broad understanding of the many facets that make up user experience design, including user research, information architecture, usability, interaction, and visual design. We also offer students the opportunity to choose their own specialization in the field and dive deep into an area that interests them and resonates with the local job market. GA offers opportunities for students to work with real companies, solving real problems — a definite competitive advantage for any junior UX designer.
What are the most exceptional strengths in GA’s curriculum and community?
GA’s curriculum is fresh. Working in tech, there is only one sure thing: It changes. At GA, I get to teach emerging methods and hot topics that have literally just hit the presses. I was able to buy a new book from Smashing Magazine, Design Systems, and plan a lesson for it only a month after it was published. We also emphasize practice and “doing” instead of pure lecture. We know from research on adult education that adults learn through engagement, so team learning activities are a core tenet of our classrooms.
GA also has such a supportive community. I was at an Austin Creative Mornings event and serendipitously sat next to a GA grad, whom I had never met before. He told me his story and I felt honored to be a part of such a life-changing service. Before I got up to leave, I chatted with the woman behind me — a very recent GA grad who had just gotten her first UX job. It was enlightening and exciting to know how many folks get their start in tech because of General Assembly.
What personal qualities will set someone up for success in UX design?
The first skill is the ability to separate themselves from their work. It’s not easy, as students inevitably fall in love with some aspect of their creation, either in research or design, perhaps the layout, the typeface, a particular finding (usually an early assumption), or a persona. The first day of class, I have the students repeat three times, “I am not the user!” to get them on the right foot. Of course, throughout the program, we’re always encouraging them to kill their little darlings.
Social intelligence and IQ don’t indicate success in the course. The biggest indicator of success is passion and perseverance — or grit, as it's often referred to. It’s believing that failure is not a permanent condition. Students with a solid work ethic and motivation are far more likely to stick with it day by day, week by week, and ultimately through their UX career, getting better jobs and doing more passionate work.
What challenges or surprises have you overcome to become a teacher and leader in UX?
While I come from a design background focused on interaction design, I had to expand my knowledge of research practices on the job. My first big user interview was with Academic Staff - Research (AS-R) at Stanford University. Talk about imposter syndrome! What was I doing interviewing research scientists!? It was an immense opportunity that forced me to get comfortable asking big questions and perfecting contextual inquiry. Since then, I’ve acquired clients solely for UX research projects, so now I’m comfortable in the moderator’s seat.
The biggest surprise for me in my teaching journey came after the lecture portion of my classes. I thought that while students were working on projects I would have some down time to prepare for upcoming lectures or review students’ homework. I couldn’t have been more wrong! With a classroom of 18 students, that “down” time is used for clarifications, additional questions, and student reviews. Staying on top of every student project and tracking their progress requires strict organization and copious notes. I’m grateful for my students’ curiosity — it keeps me engaged in their learning.
Why did the opportunity to teach at GA appeal to you?
The opportunity to teach appealed to me because I’m deeply passionate about mentoring other designers and clients on how I solve problems. I’m also enraptured by new UX practices and methods, and learning from others is one of my strengths. My appetite for constant learning lends itself to networking with leaders in the field at global UX conferences like An Event Apart and IA Summit, or locally at South by Southwest and Austin Design Week. It’s exciting to bring those experiences to my students in UXDI.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
My teaching philosophy is to first provide a positive and safe environment for students. The class culture is critical for students to get out of their comfort zones, open up and collaborate with other students, and be in a place where they can fail and learn from it.
Secondly, it is to provide value through practice. The GA Immersive courses afford students the time in class, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for 10 weeks, to not just learn about a skill, but to put it to use through practice. I put students to work immediately following lectures to try out these newly learned skills, using it as practice before their class projects.
What has been your favorite memory as a GA instructor?
We recently had an improv instructor come into the classroom over lunch. It was a blast. It got loud, messy, and everyone laughing! The students benefitted by breaking from their normal routines and could just play. The rules of improv are fantastic for a classroom environment: fostering a no-judgement zone, clapping for mistakes, saying “Yes!”, and adding to one another's ideas. Don’t get me wrong: There is a place for critique in UX design, but we need to create in an open and positive environment.
How do you help struggling students break through to meet or go beyond their minimum GA course requirements?
I help struggling students by providing additional assignments and links to resources and books. I lend books from my personal collection and the students seem to love them. There’s something about the tangible that resonates; it feels more like a personal gift than simply sending a link to go learn more yourself. Also, because everything is accessible online, giving a book on typography, layout, or research sets up some constraints and focuses their attention on one particular skill that could be improved.
What does a superstar student in UX design look like?
You get what you put into it. With such variation in students’ backgrounds and starting skill levels, superstars are hard to identify in the beginning of a course, but there are some signs. Great designers are inquisitive by nature; they’re as interested in the question as they are the answer. It also takes hard work, and superstar students are willing to put more effort into learning something new. These designers are the ones who not only keep up with new methods and design practices, but become the future leaders in the industry.
How do you push high-achieving students to go beyond the minimum GA course requirements?
If I clearly see a student is excelling in a particular area, I’ll recommend more self-guided learning by giving them a few thought leaders to follow and pointing out advanced methods and skills they can practice.
If I have a group of students who are excelling, the most likely case, I offer optional lectures during weeks 9 and 10 of the cohort. I recently provided an optional lecture on Style Tiles for students who wanted more content on visual design. I booked a conference room to make it feel less formal, and the outline of the lecture was loose to allow students to ask more questions and practice together.
What are a couple examples that embody the best of what the skills you teach can accomplish in real life?
There are some amazing recent products that uncover and solve human needs, particularly during a humanitarian crisis. One such solution, MapSwipe, discovered that during a crisis, it’s critical to know where vulnerable people are located. Yet, surprisingly, millions around the world are not represented on any accessible map.
By using MapSwipe, users can identify where communities are located, and it also gives mappers the ability to map the villages and towns in remote areas. MapSwipe puts valuable data directly into the hands of field teams, an example of improving accessibility and designing for social good.
Between taking the course and finding a job, what is the best way to get practical, real-world experience in UX design?
Freelance! Volunteer! Join a hackathon! UX roles are already common at larger companies, and many small to medium-sized businesses have reached a point where they’re actively seeking quality UX designers, too, if not full-time then for contract or part-time hire. Startup accelerator programs are great places to start looking for work, too. Often during their seed round, they aren’t able to afford to hire an agency but they can hire one or two UX designers.
What are some free resources and tools a student can use to stay up to speed in the field?
Usability.gov is a great online resource for definitions of UX terminology for new students. For free books, go to the library! Our local public library has loads of books on UX design.
And, while social media is fantastic at revealing our connections to others, there’s no excuse for not networking. Use LinkedIn to make connections and set up some coffee meetings. It’s not as difficult as it seems to find those in the field to have one-on-ones with.
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