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Academy Xi Blog

Why UX Design is a Mindset, not just a Process

By Academy Xi

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When it comes to User Experience (UX) Design, people often ask, “What skills do I need to learn?” or “What tools should I familiarise myself with?”

In an exclusive interview with our UX Transform instructor Ben Gilmore, we’ll unravel some of the misconceptions, in-demand skills, and trends that you should be on the lookout for when it comes to UX Design.

Q: So Ben, on a high-level, what makes a good UX Designer?

Ben: A good UX Designer is not defined by your proficiency or aptitude with different software but through the adoption of a UX mindset. As a UX Design teacher, it’s these soft skills which are most challenging to teach.

Why UX is a mindset

Q: If we take a step back to basics, how would you define UX Design?

Ben: At its core, UX Design is about producing things that are useful, usable, and meaningful. To create an experience that meets all of these criteria, it’s important to speak to users and understand their needs at an empathetic level. Once you’ve identified a user’s goals and drivers, it’s essential to iterate on that research to refine your solution.

Q: What misconceptions or false beliefs do people have when it comes to UX?

Ben: A common misconception is that UX requires specific artefacts at different phases of your solution. While there is value in creating artefacts such as customer personas or wireframes, the purpose of these deliverables is to communicate a story — to paint a picture of what you’ve uncovered. No artefact is useful in isolation but they collectively add value when used in the context of the solution.

My UX Design philosophy is this: Design is a verb, not a noun, thus any artefacts produced in the process of UX is an output of design itself.

A second misconception is that UX Design is the sole responsibility of one person: the UX Designer. This is not ideal as UX Design should be a collaborative process that involves end users, business stakeholders, and any other parties involved in the experience.  

Attributes of a successful UX Designer

Q: What advice or tips would you give for a student or potential student looking to pivot into a UX career?

Ben: For students or anyone looking to embark on a career in UX Design, curiosity is key to developing a UX mindset. As the three main drivers for humans are autonomy, mastery, and purpose, having the willingness to explore and understand the problem space will help students develop mastery over their UX craft.

The best UX Designers are able to blend both creative and analytical thinking and switch between modes quite rapidly. This allows the production of a lot of ideas, in the process known as Divergent Thinking. Through Divergent Thinking, UX Designers are then able to refine their multitude of ideas into one refined, tested, solution.

A little tip: To test a junior UX Designer’s curiosity, I always ask what books they’ve read recently. If you want to become more curious, you have to ask more questions. Gaining knowledge about UX and the outside world is invaluable to creating human-centred, customised solutions.  

Trends and methods of UX

Q: What trends should UX Designers or UX students be on the lookout for?

Ben: With close to 20 years experience in UX, one fundamental trend hasn’t changed: understanding people. Whether it’s disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), or Mixed Reality Design, if you don’t understand that the essence of UX Design is centred around people, you won’t be able to create an optimal solution.

If I had to call out one emerging UX Design trend, it would be UX writing. UX writing is a discipline that seems to have risen to recent prominence with more roles popping up. A second trend would be the increase in voice interfaces rather over traditional Graphical User Interfaces (GUI).  

As brands speed to market accelerates, adopting agile methodologies is crucial in helping UX Designers obtain validated learnings as quickly as possible. One method I teach is called ‘Jedi’ or ‘Just Enough Design for Iteration’.

Jedi abandons the need for perfection, effectively decreasing the risk of waste when a designed solution is not fit for purpose. Thus one of the biggest takeouts for a lot of students is how to prevent designing too much upfront.

The importance of gaining UX experience

Q: Could you explore one area that students struggle with in UX Design, and how would you recommend working through this?

Ben: I think the major challenge that UX Design students face exists within the education system itself. At school, we’re taught to colour within the lines and that there is a black and white answer to everything. In design, there are no right and wrong answers, instead, you progress towards the ‘right’ direction through research and iterations of work.

Increasing your experience through projects and developing a portfolio enable students to gain more confidence and insight in forming solution hypotheses. As students become more experienced — just like a muscle — they begin to strengthen their UX mindset.

Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets to this process: it comes with exposure and time. There’s no discrete formula for creating a universal experience as every situation and client is different.

Q: Can you tell us about your career journey to date? 

Ben: Unlike students today, my journey into UX Design was less structured and involved a lot of self-learning. After having completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art in London, my foundational programming skills landed me an internship working on sitemaps and Information Architecture.

It was through my Master’s Degree that I became exposed to usability and user experience, ultimately landing my first job as a hybrid UX Developer.

Since then I’ve worked at a number of design agencies and was awarded the esteemed Golden Pencil; the International Design Award with the team at BBC for a London 2012 Olympics project.

Eventually, I jet set across the globe and landed in Australia, where I’ve worked with wonderful companies such as Telstra, The University of Melbourne, Isobar, and of course, Academy Xi.

Q: How has the experience of teaching UX Design been like for you?

Ben: I’ve been fortunate enough to have taught one part-time UX course, and I am now teaching my second full-time UX Transform course (soon to be third) at Academy Xi.

Imagine it.

15 students.

Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.

For 12 weeks.

Three client projects.

One personal project.

Finalising portfolios and a final showcase.

It’s been a thrilling ride, and I have also learned a lot about the process of learning UX as well as teaching it.

____

Learn how you can adopt an empathetic, problem-solving mindset in our UX UI Transform course. Find out more here.

Academy Xi Blog

You don’t have to navigate your career alone

By Academy Xi

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Mentoring programs can greatly benefit all parties involved, presenting mentors and mentees alike with amazing opportunities to develop personally and professionally. We caught up with Designer in Residence mentor Joanna Grygierczyk to hear about  her career journey so far and the experience she’s had with being a mentor.

Q: Hi Joanna! Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background

I graduated from Design in Visual Communication at UTS with first class honours in 2012. It was my dream then to work for a brand agency (…and be ‘in’ with the cool kids). However, dreams don’t always go as planned and my first role was in a property consultancy where I had a fantastic director who encouraged my development and was supportive of my talent. 

I had the great opportunity to travel to various destinations, build brands, websitesall with the support of an external design mentor as part of my career development plan. This mentor was my champion and kept saying that “to grow you need to immerse yourself alongside other designers”.

In 2015, I landed my first role at a creative advertising agency, but I soon realised it wasn’t for me. 

After a night working on a pitch till 4am in the morning and coming in blurry eyed the next day, I thought, ‘I needed a job that energises me and something that isn’t driven by awards or egos’.

I found myself transitioning to a digital design focused agency called Canvas Group, learning how to design websites (in photoshop back then!). 

This is where I fell in love with digital and helping businesses and users navigate the digital realm. 

I landed my first role in UX/UI Design at Vodafone, which opened many doors to similar roles such as BWS where I worked on their e-commerce app. I then settled into a permanent role at Bilue – a mobile and emerging technology company, where I’ve been working on developing my breadth of knowledge in the end to end process. 

Reflecting on my journey, I couldn’t be any happier and also grateful for making the transition from graphic design to product design where I can focus on creating products that make people’s lives easier and daily interactions better.

 

Q: What made you want to become a mentor with Academy Xi?

I’m currently at the stage in my career where I want to mentor and develop my mentoring skills, as well as share my knowledge with others and help young designers navigate what can be a difficult landscape and industry. 

I’m also a natural empath and feel fulfilled giving advice and seeing my mentees grow and become confident practitioners. When I heard about the opportunity to participate in the Designer-in-Residence program, I thought it would be the perfect alignment to my career and personal goals. 

 

Q: How was the whole experience of being a mentor? 

This is my first time being part of the program and the experience so far has been really rewarding. I’ve been having regular catch ups with my mentee where we align on what the goals are and work together on what they’d like to learn. Sometimes I might prepare something before running a session, other times I give feedback on their work or just let them ask questions about what they might be concerned or confused about. 

I also like to help them from an empathic level by reminding them that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that your professional career takes time to develop. I let them know that it’s important to remind themselves that they don’t have to be an expert in their craft at this stage of their career. Making mistakes is part of what makes you a successful designer

 

Q: Has mentoring at Academy Xi helped you professionally or personally? 

Mentoring has definitely helped me on a professional level to build my skills in teaching, advising and communicating. It’s also a good platform for moving towards a lead role as the team grows. Personally, it has been gratifying to help others and see them be so appreciative of your advice and support. Further to this, it builds my network with other mentors and designers in my industry where we share our tips.

 

Q: How can one get the most out of a mentorship program?

I think to get the most out of the program it’s good to take part in the regular Designer-in-Residence catch-ups where we share our mentoring experiences and tricky situations and how to tackle these. You not only build your network, but also knowledge through a Slack channel where all the mentors share resources.

Academy Xi Blog

How a Jobs To Be Done Framework Can Help

By Academy Xi

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Every product or service bought or consumed has a need, a purpose or a ‘job’ that it is ‘hired’ to fulfil. Even a milkshake has a ‘job to be done’. The ‘jobs to be done’ framework is a Service Design tool that helps uncover a customer’s functional, social, personal, and emotional needs that a product or service can fulfil.

The ‘jobs to be done’ framework:

In his book, Competing Against Luck, Clayton Christensen explains the concept of ‘jobs to be done’ with the example of a McDonald’s store that was looking to improve their milkshake sales. After testing various components of the recipe and store experience, milkshake sales remained unchanged. Christensen’s team observed the lifestyle, interactions and consumption choices of every consumer that purchased a milkshake, and discovered:

  • Over half of all milkshakes were purchased before 8:30 am
  • Consumers who purchased milkshakes were alone
  • Consumers always got into a car and drove off after a milkshake purchase

After customer interviews, Christensen’s team uncovered that people who purchased milkshakes did so to keep them occupied during a long morning commute to work, or to keep full until lunchtime.

This simple insight was a game changer. Christensen explains that the milkshake had a specific ‘job to be done’: cure boredom and provide sustenance during a mundane morning commute. It was for this reason that customers ‘hired’ a McDonald’s milkshake and from the customer’s point of view, it was a job that a bagel, banana or other alternatives could not fulfil.  

There is a job out there that arises in people’s life on occasion, that causes them to need to buy a milkshake, and we need to understand this job,” explained Christensen.

You can only understand how to improve the marketing of a product or service when you understand the job that needs to be done.

What are the benefits of jobs to be done?  

Ultimately, the goal of uncovering a user’s ‘job to be done’ is to create, promote or innovative a product or service to fulfil a ‘job’ for a customer. The benefits of understanding a customer’s job to be done include:

  • Delivering true customer value: By identifying a customer’s ‘job to be done’, Service Designers are better placed to deliver value. For example, the desire to eat healthier is often inhibited by convenience and a time-poor environment, meaning more people are likely to get takeout. Making healthier food more convenient and cheaper to access has huge appeal and solves multiple pain points. By exploring a customer’s job to be done, Service Designers are able to adopt a needs-first approach and tailor the best solution that addresses customer pain points.
  • Prioritisation of tasks: With an understanding of a customer’s needs, the ‘jobs to be done’ framework can help prioritise the tasks that deliver the greatest value, such as through the creation of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
  • Reducing waste: Rather than creating ‘perfect’ features, identifying a customer’s ‘job to be done’ removes the production of anything that does not align to a customer’s core needs, and is therefore wastage. 
  • Aligning business functions to a single cause: A customer’s ‘job to be done’ forms a product roadmap that can be used to align the marketing, development, and research into building these solutions to systematically create value, as you tackle customer’s needs.

Understanding a customer’s ‘job to done’ is extremely valuable for Service Designers to understand the true function of a product or service. Expand your toolkit and learn more about Service Design here.

Academy Xi Blog

Creating a User Persona (Free Templates)

By Academy Xi

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Creating a User Persona

The start of the User Experience (UX) Design process involves user research. It’s the process of data collection that provides an in-depth, holistic view of your user’s motivations, behaviours, and ways of interacting with your product.

UX Designer will always rely on user research that can be compiled from a combination of one-on-one interviews, card sorting, surveys or personas.

Arguably, user research is the most important component of UX Design; the user research phase is vital in crafting delightful customer experiences that are user-friendly and human-centric.

One method of user research is the creation of a user persona.

A user persona is:

  • An archetype or a fictional representation of people researched
  • A group of people with similar traits represented as a single person
  • A personified expression of a noticeable trend

Create your own user persona with our free persona template.

The Value of User Personas

By crafting the right user persona, you can visualise exactly what visitors are doing on your website. This gives a greater understanding of users and provides more insight than a survey for example.

Personas help drive design and feature decisions, and their benefit can be summarised as:

  • Helping identify a user’s needs
  • Highlighting a customer’s desires
  • Focusing on your audience’s challenges
  • Creating a User Persona

There are two types of personas; lean (proto) and detailed. Proto-personas engage stakeholders and efficiently communicate a user’s story. Detailed personas are becoming less and less common as they require significant validation and take longer to develop than a proto-persona.

Simplified steps to creating a user persona:

  1. Compile data and insights from your research
  2. Group your findings into a spreadsheet or create an Affinity Map
  3. Identify behavioural traits and the demographics of your users to understand how they interact with your product

Have a go at creating your own persona. Download template here.

Developing UX artefacts and conducting user research is a fundamental UX Design principle ensuring UX Designers are better placed to remove any assumptions and biases, validate a problem statement, and thoroughly test a hypothesis. Detailed user personas remind UX Designers to keep their user at the centre of their work.

Get hands-on and learn how to create a user persona and more. Launch your career in UX Design today.