UXIM: How Do We Design Designers?

by April 8, 2014

In his How Do We Design Designers? talk at the UXIM conference in Denver CO 2014, Jared Spool shared what companies need from designers and how schools can evolve to prepare them. Here are my notes from his talk:

  • Design test: give a design candidate a poorly designed form and ask them to redesign it. The best designers will ask: "why do we need to ask this information?". They'll ask questions about the big picture.
  • Other designers will focus on best practices and patterns, or what the technology allows us to do? This is a maturity ladder.
  • You start with patterns, then understand technology, and finally focus on the user experience (bigger picture).

User Experience Unicorns

  • It's not easy being an experience designer. They need to do a lot and constantly be learning new things. In fact, the requirements for many experience designers make them seem like "unicorns".
  • But many people have taught themselves a large number of skills. All the unicorns are completely self-taught.
  • Step 1: Find a topic you don't know about. Take in a lot of knowledge: read, listen, etc.
  • Step 2: Practice your new skills repeatedly.
  • Step 3: Deconstruct as many designs as you can.
  • Step 4: Seek out feedback and learn from it.
  • Step 5: Teach others. You don't learn something until you can teach it.
  • Repeat this process for all the skills you want to learn.
  • There's one more criteria: passion. You need to care about the work you are doing -be genuinely curious about your work.
  • Unicorns, fueled by passion, are the great designers of the future.
  • When Westpac changed their online banking password recovery system, they saved $7.5million dollars in support costs. The return on investment on this project was huge. In order to achieve this kind of return, the designers needed some level of knowledge in authentication systems. This requires some level of specialization.
  • A specialist has more experience in one area over overs. A generalist has equal experience in most areas. Most disciplines have both.
  • Compartmentalists on the other hand only do one thing: user research or visual design. Most organizations can't afford to have one of everything and keep them busy. Compartmentalists are going to find themselves in real career trouble in the future.
  • Start by being a generalist, then layer specialists on top of that.

Design Education

  • IBM has invested $100 million dollars to expand their global services (consulting arm). That's an additional thousand designers in addition to the 600 positions they opened last year.
  • There are 25,000 open design positions in the US right now, more openings are coming.
  • User experience positions are hard to staff. They require interaction design, user research, information architecture, visual design, information design, and more.
  • You learn to do design either at school or on the job. Even those that went to school, learned on the job.
  • Today's design schools have big problems: there are not enough of them, they are constrained by old specialities, and the accreditation system. There's a three year period to get curriculums approved.
  • Today, school focuses a lot more on academics than on craft. Academics are focused on creating teachers.
  • We need both theory and craft (practice) in our education. Medical education combines theory and craft. It starts with pre-med, then medical school, internships, residences, and finally fellowships.
  • Are we getting the design education that we need? Have we focused on the mechanics and the theory too much and forgotten the practice.
  • Professional musicians and athletes spend hours each day practicing their craft.
  • Unconscious incompetence: you don't know that you don't know. Conscious competence: you know you don't know. Conscious competence: you can do things but by thinking about them. Unconscious competence: just do things without thinking. These folks make less effective instructors -they just do things.
  • Literacy, fluency to mastery allows you to move from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. Practive moves you up this ladder.
  • In the best conditions, students get 30 hours for projects. But actual projects can take hundreds or thousands of hours. Good judgement comes from experiences. Experience comes from bad judgements.
  • We want students who are makers. They are focused on fluency and mastery. Our workplaces need to accept the idea that learning needs to happen in the workplace.
  • In user experience, we need a culture of learning. Do we have time set aside for practicing our craft?
  • What gets measured gets done, what gets rewarded gets done well. As managers how can we incent this behavior?