Meet Our Expert: Katharine Hargreaves, User Experience Design Instructor, GA Los Angeles
Learn In-Demand Skills in Our User Experience Design Courses and Bootcamps
Rachel Wendte, a UX Design Immersive instructor at General Assembly Chicago, says, "Every great design begins with great research. By using techniques like user interviews, contextual inquiry, and competitive analysis, user experience (UX) designers have the opportunity to learn about user pain points, motivations, and preferences in a very personal way. An affinity map, also known as an affinity diagram, gives designers a complete picture of their early research process. It is a physical, tactile, and editable design artifact that’s invaluable for showcasing trends, themes, and areas of opportunity for discovery and improvement.
"At General Assembly, we encourage learning by doing. In our part- and full-time UX design courses, we introduce affinity mapping as a way to organize and synthesize initial research from user interviews. Students then use affinity mapping techniques to find patterns and key observations to guide the rest of their process. As the course continues and research gets deeper, affinity maps become even more important as a way to keep track of data. By establishing the practice early on, students have a solid foundation in this skill and can move confidently forward."
Similar to affinity mapping, card sorting is a research method that helps you understand users’ expectations and how they categorize your content. Once participants organize a set of topics on cards into categories, you’re able to better build a more effective and intuitive digital experience.
Katharine Hargreaves, a UX Design Immersive instructor at General Assembly Los Angeles, says, "Information architecture (IA) is exactly what it sounds like: how information is structured, from the foundation to the footnotes. Because information architecture lays the foundation for the look and feel of a product, it’s imperative that companies speak with their users to understand their preferences, terminology, and mental models. In the digital world, information can be structured (and stored) in many different ways, like spreadsheets, sitemaps, content schedules, and databases. Designers often use information architecture to illuminate what content or information is mission-critical, where it lives in the system, and how it’s connected.
"Information architecture is a tool that all great UX designers practice, which is why it’s a core skill students learn at General Assembly. While visual design can be subjective to different tastes and perspectives, it’s difficult to argue with an information schema that supports user paths through the system. As an instructor for GA’s full-time UX Design Immersive course in Los Angeles, my goal is to empower designers to develop systems that are accessible, inclusive, and supportive of users. Clear information architecture is the first step in that direction.”
InVision, Axure, and Balsamiq are all examples of industry-standard prototyping tools that can help you bring your design to life before building begins. These programs let you see concepts in action with clickable prototypes and helps teams pinpoint areas that require improvement to improve on before the development process.
With various devices and screen sizes available, responsive design is key to creating a seamless user experience — no matter where you view it. From load time to targeted messaging, it allows for the optimal interface and experience across multiple platforms and makes site maintenance easier over time.
Susan Wolfe, a UX Design Immersive instructor at GA San Francisco and Sydney, says, "Service design is a practice that contributes to delivering a great user experience. In fact, the quality of the service is frequently what makes or breaks a person’s experience with an organization. Whether service design is being used to improve existing services or create new ones, it takes into account the needs of both the customer and the service provider. Service design is a big deal because we engage with services much more than we engage with specific products.
"User experience design students at General Assembly learn to think holistically. UX is not merely user interface (UI) design; it’s about the before, during, and after use. UX design involves applying user-centered design techniques like research and low-fidelity prototyping to ensure that you’re solving the right problem before polishing the solution. When you learn about UX design at GA, whether it’s through our full-time Immersive program, part-time course on campus or online, or a short-form workshop or bootcamp, you learn to think about the overarching ecosystem you are designing for. Students train to recognize that people’s experiences are formed over time, based on interactions across individual and broad touchpoints. They also learn how our roadmaps allow us to focus in on figuring out how to get there from here."
In user experience design, usability refers to how easy a digital product is to learn and navigate. When true usability is achieved, people are able to find exactly what they need on a website or app, avoiding errors and hiccups along the way.
User & Usability Testing
Shebani Saxena, a UX Design Immersive instructor at General Assembly Hong Kong, says, "Usability testing is an integral part of user experience (UX) design that allows us to get feedback directly from users, thereby making a product that’s not only functional and user-friendly, but also provides value. It’s often done at the beginning of a design project, with an intention to check the design structure’s efficiency, the organization of content, and whether the design direction is in line with the users’ 'mental model,' motivations, and satisfaction. When incorporated towards the end of the design process, usability testing helps validate and evaluate whether the product’s design goals are met.
"At GA, usability testing is covered extensively in our User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) program, and on a basic level in our part-time User Experience Design course, on campus and online. Students learn the detailed methodology and relevant tools, and have ample opportunity to practice it in class as well as in projects. In class, students learn usability testing methods through practical exercises; in UXDI, for example, they do this by roleplaying as the moderator (test conductor), the participant (user), and the note-taker. Then they practice testing as part of virtually all their projects, including with real-world clients. By the end of the course, students are able to immediately apply their usability testing skills to new projects."
Read Shebani's "Beginner's Guide to Usability Testing" here.