Meet Our Expert: Katharine Hargreaves, User Experience Design Instructor, GA Los Angeles
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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 categorise your content. Once participants organise a set of topics on cards into categories, you’re able to better build a more effective and intuitive digital experience.
Customer Journey Mapping
Jared Rogers, User Experience Design Immersive instructor at GA Austin, says, “Customer journey mapping (also known as customer experience mapping) is the strategic process of capturing and communicating complex customer interactions. User experience (UX) designers seek to illustrate the customer’s processes, needs, and perceptions across their interactions with our services, products and organizations. By focusing on a customer’s experiences throughout their journey with a product or service, rather than jumping ahead to the end solution, designers can deliver positive experiences and form a deeper understanding of their customers.
“At General Assembly, students in our full-time User Experience Design Immersive course learn customer journey mapping as a way to validate their user research and apply a broader understanding of previously defined personas, another tool in the UX toolkit. In their class projects, both with real-world and fictional clients, students use the user data they collect to validate their team’s assumptions about a user’s journey and add new findings from their research. Students break the journey up into steps, indicating the touch points and emotions that users experience during those steps.”
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.”
Jared Rogers, User Experience Design Immersive instructor at General Assembly Austin, says, “There are several digital prototyping tools available for today’s UX designers, each with different capabilities and outputs. With new options being released and older mainstays evolving on a regular basis, however, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one.”
“Across General Assembly’s global campuses, we use a variety of prototyping tools in our UX courses, some chosen by instructors and some by students. Product Management students also leverage these tools when they learn to bring their wireframes and storyboards to life.”
Phil Bolles, User Experience Design instructor at GA Washington, D.C., says, “Responsive web design — the design of layouts and hierarchies that preserve visual emphasis and change as a screen changes size — has reshaped the modern web. We now think of the web as a spectrum, a range of screen widths corresponding to a wide range of devices. A website shouldn’t care whether the user is viewing it on a phone, laptop, or flat-screen TV via a Playstation 4. Instead, a website should respond to its viewer’s screen width, preserve content structure even as the layout changes, and maintain readability at any size — all of which leads to a positive user experience.
“In GA’s full-time User Experience Design Immersive and part-time User Experience Design course, instructors frequently challenge students to think about how their digital products will look at different screen sizes and give them tips on maintaining visual priority. Recognizing that they can’t guarantee which device their audience uses, students learn to think of the web as fluid. When it comes to bringing responsive designs to life, you can learn the fundamentals in our part-time Front-End Web Development course or online HTML, CSS & Web Design course, or launch a career building seamless, responsive websites in GA’s full-time Web Development Immersive or Web Development Immersive Remote program.”
Read “A Beginner’s Guide to Responsive Design” by Phil Bolles.
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."
Susan Wolfe, User Experience Design Immersive instructor at GA San Francisco and Sydney, says, “Usability is about matching products, systems, and services to users’ needs and requirements. When we, as members of a project team, focus on usability (and we should always focus on usability), we’re concerned with supporting people in accomplishing their tasks. This shouldn’t be confused with ‘functionality,’ however, as the mere presence of good features and functions has little bearing on whether people are able to use them.
“Usability is at the core of everything UX design students learn at General Assembly, be it in our career-changing User Experience Design Immersive program, part-time on-campus or online courses, or design-focused short-form workshops and events. It’s baked into students’ work in researching users’ needs and goals, learning synthesis techniques to develop insights, and translating those insights into hypotheses and requirements.”
User & Usability Testing
Shebani Saxena, a UX Design Immersive instructor at General Assembly 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."
“UX seemed like the perfect path to be able to combine past skills and also work in new industries. You also get to wear a lot of hats, from research, to sketching, to building prototypes, which keeps it from getting boring.”
Allie Williams, User Experience Design Immersive Graduate, GA Denver