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Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Berlin Liew

By Academy Xi

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Being introduced to UX design was a defining moment for Berlin; one that changed her career path and set her on a journey of self discovery. Berlin spoke with us about her experience studying UX Design and her ongoing passion for mentoring.

What was happening in your life before Xi?

I worked in digital advertising as a media buyer for 6-7 years. A manager from a previous life had met up with the user experience design team at AGL and she got in touch with me as she thought that I would really like the industry. She said ‘I think it lends itself as a discipline to your skills and if you haven’t already looked into it, I really think that you should’. And for me that sparked a whole journey of self discovery and finding out what UX was – at that point I didn’t know anything about it. It was just an acronym to me. So that’s how it started.

I studied UX Elevate in 2018.

UX is just an acronym for many people. In your own words, how would you describe UX?

I haven’t quite nailed it yet, which I think speaks for itself. There’s not one definition of what UX is and it depends on who I am speaking to as to how much I break it down, but a go to description of what it is: ‘helping digital experiences feel less clunky, more user-friendly and intuitive based on the customers’ needs, but also balancing what the business’ needs are and what tech can build’

I think that’s the best explanation I can give – otherwise it can lend itself to terms that the public may not understand. I don’t think my definition is perfect, but I think it can explain to others what I do.

Can you tell us about your experience of studying at Xi?

I completed my training in-house in Melbourne part-time, with classes twice a week after work. It was sometimes pretty tough balancing study and working full time. I was working at an agency back then, servicing NAB as our client, that alone was quite time-consuming. I was very busy so it was challenging and I did my work on weekends. 

The more I studied UX, the more I fell in love with it and I soon had the goal to switch careers into the UX field. I pushed myself to work harder to achieve that outcome for myself. Regardless of how busy work got, I found the time to make the balance between study and my job work out. It was an intense few months for me because I couldn’t let the ball drop at work and I really didn’t want to waste the Xi opportunity either.

Did the training enable you to achieve your goal?

Yes, but not at my existing workplace. In advertising as a media planner and buyer, it’s very numerical and quantitative. That environment is a great training ground for spotting trends, data analytics and stakeholder management, all of which I took on board when I moved into UX. What the course taught me was how to dig in deep to understand user needs, pain points, and then communicating that to a wider business. More of a customer focus. So the qualitative side of research and how you can translate it to any product or service you might be building. That mindset, I found, wasn’t always aligned in the advertising space. I felt if I wanted to switch careers into UX I would need to work elsewhere to make that happen.

The course helped solidify terminology, the process, and it exposed me to a lot of thinking that I perhaps wouldn’t have gathered on my own. That’s my learning style – I like being guided and I love the classroom experience when you don’t know anything about the topic. I loved studying UX, big time.

What did you do after your training?

About 5-6 months after finishing my course, I left the agency and then moved over to work in-house with NAB as an Experience Designer. They were one of the only companies at the time in 2018 that were hiring juniors, or people with less than two years’ experience in UX, so I jumped at the chance. Those opportunities were hard to come by then, they were very scarce in 2018. It just so happened I was familiar with them from my previous work.

Did you feel the training at Xi enabled that to happen?

I used what I learned in the training to get through the interview process. NAB asked for a design challenge to be completed. Had I not done the training, I’m honestly not sure I could have responded to that design brief. I basically had to reflect on what I had learnt and put it into a real-life context in this interview process. 

I didn’t have specific UX experience, but I could show that I was passionate and my existing skills transferred well with my training. I interviewed that morning and got a call that afternoon to learn I had landed the job. I think it was one of the best days of my life. It was such a tough transition, but I did it. Really the start of a whole new journey.

Where are you working now?

I was at NAB for about 8 months, then I left for a Telecommunications company called Belong. An opportunity opened up there and it was too good to pass on. Despite me moving companies, I left on good terms with my team at NAB. I stayed at Belong for a year and a half, and then moved onto Xero, which is where I’m at now as a Product Designer.

Was there a particular training highlight for you at Xi?

I was one of the earlier intakes of students for UX training. Back then, I think I was most excited by what I was learning. It was a whole space that was new to me. It opened my mind to a totally new way of looking at problems. The course content was delivered in a way that was consumable, it wasn’t too overwhelming and I truly loved it. I lapped it up! 

How did you find changing careers?

I think changing careers can be a very vulnerable time. It’s hard to explain or describe to someone. It can be a scary feeling to look at what you do and realise it’s not what you want and to make that call to change it. For those who define a lot of their identity with their work particularly that can be quite confronting. Taking a course is an investment, with no guarantee of what that will provide.

Xi provided great support during that transition, as did the mentors that I had while I was studying. I still keep in touch with them today, in fact I spoke to mine just a few days ago. This experience encouraged me to become a mentor myself.

Can you tell us about your mentoring experience?

About 6 months after I completed my training and was working in-house with NAB, I received a request to mentor for the same UX Design Elevate course at Xi. It was one of three mentoring experiences I had with Academy Xi. I think mentoring is really powerful. I’m still in touch with the first course I mentored, we got together for dinner recently. 

How has mentoring benefited you?

Mentoring challenges me to be extremely self-aware of what my own philosophy and opinions are. It encourages me to ask myself how I want to grow the next generation of designers, and consider what I did not have when I was breaking into the industry and what could be beneficial to others. I have been a part of the Xi Designer-in-Residence program since it started. I’m currently taking a break to give other budding designers an opportunity to mentor – I highly recommend it.

Looking at your career now, what aspect do you most enjoy?

I studied linguistics at uni and loved it – the study of language and how it works in society. I was told that if I wanted a career in this back in 2012 that it would have to be in academia and I didn’t want to work in academia. It’s very niche. Or I could do a masters in speech pathology; I didn’t want that either. 

The milestone for me during the study at Xi were the weeks where we looked into research to understand the benefits of talking to customers – actual interactions to discover their needs, wants and pain points and then translating that into something that you can use. That was similar to what I did in linguistics. Going out into the field, collating your findings, and writing your recommendations. It was an amazing moment for me because I could see that those same skills, that I had learned and loved, could be applied in a commercial sense. It was really exciting. 

I had filed that in my mind as something from my past that couldn’t be applied to a business setting. And now I can and I love that. A big moment of self-actualization that something I love could be a big part of what I do for a living. 

What would you say to anyone considering a career change into UX?

I would first ask myself:

  • What are the reasons for pursuing the change? 
  • What draws you into UX?

You need to listen to your own needs, not just jump because it’s a thriving industry or area to work in. Then you need to figure out how you want to get there. If you’re already working in-house, what are the chances you can explore UX within your organisation? Look for opportunities for a secondment or to shadow someone in the UX team. 

For those who don’t have the chance to explore in-house options, training with Academy Xi  is a great way to get the support and knowledge you need to be great in the job.

That place that I worked at at the time (in the agency) didn’t have an experienced design team. Because self-learning isn’t my strong suit, I knew that I’d benefit strongly from structured learning. Hence the course suited me very well. A pro of doing a course is that it is structured: there is a flow and you’re not always trying to work out what you need to learn next.

What is even better than the content at Academy Xi is their community. Xi strongly believes in support, so they’ve created the Designers-in-Residence program for that purpose, to connect full-time students to mentors. There’s also the alumni community, where you can connect with Xi alumni in the industry. That’s a huge factor with doing a course – getting access to those networks.

“I think what Xi offers as an education institution is amazing. I think they’re very attuned to the current needs and pain points of students and it is forever evolving based on that. To make a career change takes a big commitment, it’s not just about choosing the right training – you have to make sacrifices and it’s hard work. If you’re ready to do just that, I highly recommend Academy Xi.”- Berlin Liew

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

The Future of BodyTech: Will We Become Cyborgs

By Academy Xi

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If you haven’t been living under a rock, it’s likely that you’ve heard the news — That Startup Show is back for 2018. As Australia’s number one show about startup culture, each episode focuses on emerging technologies such as SpaceTech, BodyTech, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

In the latest episode, ‘BodyTech —  Turning Brilliant Bio Ideas into Booming Business’, Academy Xi’s very own Frank Guzman volunteered his body in the name of science — by inserting an NFC chip into his left hand. A Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip can be programmed to perform a variety of simple tasks including playing a song or even opening a door.

Revolutionising the relationship between technology and our bodies is big business — with the health and wellness industry predicted to be worth almost US $4 trillion. Global entrepreneurs continue to look for ways to innovate in health technologies, such as CRISPR; an open source gene modification platform that provides new possibilities on the diagnosis and treatment of genetic diseases.

When developing BodyTech products, companies employ User Experience (UX) Design tools to understand a user’s interests, behaviours, and motivations. For example, both soft and hard exoskeleton technologies are currently being developed to assist paraplegics or those with mobility issues walk again. Similarly, by understanding a user’s pain points and needs, exoskeletons could be designed to reduce the load of manually intensive labour such as work on a construction site.  

At Academy Xi, we strive to transform the world through education — through our short courses in emerging technology and design such as User Experience (UX) DesignService Design, or Mixed Reality Design. We believe that in a world of constant disruption and exponential technologies, people can enhance their skills and employability through investing in high-quality, digital skills of the future.

As a proud partner of That Startup Show, Academy Xi is currently giving away two free tickets to each live filming of That Startup Show. Simply Tweet us and tell us why you’d like to attend the show. Be on the lookout — we’ll contact ticket winners each week.

So what did Frank get programmed onto his NFC chip? The ability to play Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up‘ on command. #rickrolling

You can watch the latest BodyTech episode of That Startup Show here.