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Team collaboration on design

Academy Xi Blog

Four types of design training – how to choose the best fit for a team

By Academy Xi

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Team collaboration on design

You know that good design leads to better team performance, enhanced creativity and a closer connection to your customer, but what is the best way for your team to learn its practises? There are a number of providers offering a range of design disciplines, including Human-Centred Design, UX Design, Design Thinking, Service Design, Customer Experience Design… Where is best to start?

We’ve pulled together a list of goals that we think a manager might be looking toward in order to help their team achieve and mapped these goals against our various learning experiences. Hopefully this will help you navigate some of the most effective digital design options currently available. 

For raising design awareness and building lasting confidence

 Good design principles can be applied in any team – but first we have to demystify them. Unfortunately, design often lives in a ‘black box’. Insider jargon and complex methodologies  can make it seem inaccessible. High functioning design doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it works best when it is uncomplicated. If we strip it back, design is a vehicle through which creativity and innovation can be systematically nurtured. We know that when this is properly implemented, it will inevitably impact the bottom-line. According to a study conducted by Adobe, companies that foster creativity enjoy 1.5 times greater market share (2016, Adobe, ‘Design-Led Firms Win the Business Advantage’ report). Short introductory experiences can illustrate how good design can remedy static BAU thinking. With this in mind, we’ve developed a suite of intro courses and upskilling workshops designed to build lasting competence and confidence in foundational skills.
 
Matched learning experiences:

For tackling real business challenges and building technical capability

In pre-pandemic times Australia was already in the early stages of a digital skills crisis. The sudden halt imposed on skilled migration has led to shortages in certain roles (product managers, software developers, UXers and other digital specialists), particularly at a senior level. If and when you do manage to find people with the right talent, they often demand  very high salaries and can be poached by other companies trying to solve exactly the same problem.
 
Businesses undoubtedly need these kinds of digital experts to carry their growth strategies forward. When struggling to access the talent they need, they are often forced to be creative, cultivating their technical capabilities in-house. 
 
 Matched learning experiences:

For scaling and embedding organisational change

Many of the biggest challenges facing businesses are essentially design problems. Design maturity and digital maturity come when innovative ways of working take root and are used reflexively across an organisation. Every modern business has this forefront of mind. When done well, this looks like obsessive customer focus, creativity across business functions and  a collaborative ability to respond appropriately to rapidly evolving competitive environments. The impact of these kinds of agile organisational behaviours are consistently felt at the bottom-line level too. According to a recent McKinsey report, design-driven organisations outperform their competitors by 2:1 (2018, McKinsey & Co., ‘The Business Value of Design’ report). Having supported major corporates and government departments with their transformation programs, we’ve learned that the most successful approaches will incorporate everyone, from front-line staff through to executive teams. You want your people to excel instead of being left behind.
 
Matched learning experiences:

For addressing changing talent needs

Sometimes training your people in new design practices comes off the back of shifting priorities. These changes can impact hiring practices, development programs and talent management. Maybe Design Thinking is fast becoming an organisation-wide priority and you’d like every new-starter to receive foundational training so they are immediately brought up to speed. Perhaps a group needs to be deployed and their focus trained on digital design initiatives. Read our digital workforce transformation piece on how we developed the Australian Department of Health’s new team of digital leaders. 
 
Interviewed by the Harvard Business Review, former PepsiCO CEO Indra Nooyi claimed that design had a voice in nearly every crucial decision the company made while she was at the helm. The impact was enormous, as sales increased by 80% throughout her time in the role.  With these kinds of results, design in its various forms is here to stay. The question is, where is your organisation going to start?
 
Matched learning experiences:

 

Interested in learning more about how your team can harness good design and make great decisions? Get in touch to discuss how we can help you achieve your innovation goals.

Academy Xi Blog

What does a UX designer do, exactly?

By Academy Xi

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Before we dive into what UX Designers do in their day to day job, let’s start by taking a step back to understand what UX is. 

UX stands for User Experience. It encompasses the complete journey, including all of the related interactions that an individual has when they engage with a company and its products or services.

To understand the role of the UX designer, we will cover:

A brief history of UX

The term User Experience was coined by cognitive psychologist and designer Don Norman, the director of the Design Lab at the University of California and author of the bestselling The Design of Everyday Things. Norman joined Apple in the early 1990s as their ‘User Experience Architect’ – the first person to have a UX job title. 

“I invented the term because I thought ‘human interface’ and ‘usability’ were too narrow: I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.” – Don Norman

Norman’s approach to design and the success of the innovations coming out of Apple’s (then) three-pronged approach to product design (user experience, engineering, and marketing), saw the UX process widely adopted in product design. 

The rest is history.

What is UX design and the role of the designer?

UX Design is the process of creating a user friendly experience that is intuitive and empathetic to the users needs. Ultimately, the UX designer works toward improving the customer’s experience of a product or service by making it as satisfying and enjoyable as possible at every step they are engaging with it.

The UX design profession today has a focus on human-centred digital experiences and is often associated with designing for websites and apps. It’s important to note that designers work in emerging tech areas too, for example:

  • Conversational UX (designing for Siri or Alexa)
  • AI driven UX (bot design)
  • Smart homes
  • Wearable technologies

Regardless of the medium, the UX design process is geared toward improving the user experience and therefore their satisfaction through high quality, human centred design.

What is UI and what has it got to do with UX?

You may have heard the term UI used in connection with UX. UI stands for User Interface design and focuses on the aesthetics of the product or service – the visual elements that a customer engages with.

Think: colour palettes, animation, images, fonts and buttons.

A UI designer hones in on the visual aspects that allow the user to interact with the product.

In addition to User Interface, there’s also User Interaction, which is essentially how the user acts when using the system and how the system responds. Combined, interactions and interfaces provide an intuitive UX experience. 

UX designers need to be capable in both areas – art (UI) and architecture (interactions) – of digital product design in order to take a project from user research through to wireframing and prototyping solutions, and handover to developers.

Download Academy Xi’s UX UI Design: Transform course guide and discover how you can graduate job-ready in 12-weeks.

What is human centred design?

Human centred design is a mindset and toolkit developed by the design and innovation company IDEO that puts humans and their needs at the centre of the design process. They used the term ‘design thinking’ to describe the elements of the human centred design process they felt most learnable and teachable – empathy, optimism, creative confidence, experimentation and embracing ambiguity and failure.

UX UI design is simply research-driven human-centred design, applied to the digital space.

What kind of skills do UX designers need?

As you might be able to imagine by now, it’s a pretty wide scope of skill and responsibility for the UX Designer. Their remit covers all aspects of the product or service development, design, usability and function.

In order to give the UX design process a definite structure, various frameworks have been developed. The Double Diamond is one of the most common UX frameworks and provides clear, comprehensive and visual description of the design process. 

The two diamonds alternate between exploring an issue (a ‘problem space’ or ‘design challenge’) widely and deeply – known as divergent thinking, and then taking focussed action, known as convergent thinking.

Within this framework a wide range of skills are required and fall into two categories known as applied and soft skills. 

Applied skills

When someone has an applied skill, this refers to having knowledge of a specific area of competency, like being able to use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, for example. The following applied skills are just some of those worth any UX Designer mastering:

  • Research

Understanding the target audience needs, wants and pain points is vital for a UX designer to effectively do their job. By using a mix of research methods, designers can plan, conduct and analyse their findings to discover how their market views the world. This analysis forms the foundation of the experience design, improves the understanding of the audience and makes the final outcome stronger.

Research is fundamental to the entire process and the analysis and outcomes from it underpin the overall design approach.

Research methods and techniques can include:

    • Interviews
    • Surveys
    • Observation
    • Review of existing literature, data and analytics
    • User testing
  • Synthesis

After completing your research, you need to bring it all together, generate insights and make sense of the problem space: what is the problem we are trying to solve? What is our real design challenge? UX Designers use a variety of techniques for synthesis, including:

    • Affinity mapping
    • Empathy mapping
    • Personas
    • Customer Journeys
  • Wireframing

A wireframe is a mock-up diagram that represents what a user interface (UI) or website could look like. They outline the core functionality of the proposed product and allow the UX designer to define and plan the information hierarchy of the project. The wireframe also enables the designer to give the wider team a visual understanding of the proposed structure of the item that is being developed.

  • Prototyping

An experimental process, the prototype is a model or replica of the final product. Prototypes can be created at various stages of the design process to test on users. It is one of the most useful and powerful tools for UX designers. The feedback from the user testing allows the designer to adjust the product to better meet the needs of the user.

  • Visual communication

Being competent with visual design concepts is key and at the core of UX design. Having an understanding of general design theory, along with concepts of layout, colour, typography, icons and image use benefits the overall design process. It will come as no surprise to learn that many UX designers have a graphic design background.

Soft skills  

Teamwork, time management, empathy and delegation are just some of the skills termed as ‘soft’ that you will need as a UX designer. Ultimately they are character traits and interpersonal skills that determine how a person will engage, work and interact with others. 

You can have a portfolio of work that truly hits the ball out of the park, but it’s your soft skills that will set you apart from the pack. A quick look at the ‘three C’s’:

  • Curiosity 

As well as killing the cat, curiosity is a creative force that drives innovation and new ideas. It urges the designer to ask great questions and engage with stakeholders and the design process in a meaningful way.

  • Collaboration

Design is never a one-person show. From the get-go you’ve got however many stakeholders, developers, product owners, marketing teams, users, CEOs, investors, the list goes on. By being able to collaborate effectively, you can get the information you need to do the job better and faster.

  • Communication

Now more than ever consistent communication is paramount with the design process. Being able to explain your thinking so those receiving your messages don’t have to do more work to understand it can make all the difference to the wider team you are working with. 

What are the top tools used in UX and UI design?

There are many UX and UI design software applications. As a UX designer, what you end up using might come down to personal preference, what you are familiar with, price point, or what type of project you are working on. Here are our top picks:

Figma: great for those totally new to design software, Figma is browser-based and can take designs up to dynamic prototype or mock-up level, with usability testing and handover to developers capabilities. 

Sketch: a very popular mac based UX and UI design tool. Sketch allows for universal changes through a symbols library, layer styles, or text styles, and is known for its resizing and alignment features. 

InVision Studio: creates functional prototypes with dynamic elements and animations, with easy-to-use UI design, communication and collaboration tools. It also features a digital whiteboard that allows team members to brainstorm ideas.

Adobe XD: often the go-to UX tool for designers who are used to Adobe Creative Cloud products and interfaces. It allows for real-time collaboration, plus interactions and other dynamic elements for integration into prototypes or mockups.

Axure: smooth interface, documentation, and workflow tracking elements make Axure a popular prototyping tool, with designs that can be taken up to higher fidelity, both in detail and visuals.

How do I become a UX designer?

Any aspiring UX Designer should be working on building a portfolio. You can do pro-bono or freelance work to get work experience, or study a practical course. 

Academy Xi offers industry tested training in UX UI Design and includes projects with real life clients to help build your professional portfolio before graduation.

If you’re interested in discovering more about the world of UX design, why not:

  • try a Foundations course in UX as a hands-on introduction
  • become a qualified UX UI Designer in 12 weeks, along with Career Support for graduates with 86% landing a role within 180 days of completing their training
  • check out our graduate stories to learn about the experiences they’ve had studying UX UI Design with Academy Xi and where they are now

Contact our course advisor team to discuss your career objectives and establish if UX UI Design is the right path for you. 

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.