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Learning by Teaching: User Experience Builds Community of Practice

Since practitioner education is such a closely held value within Factor, we believe in taking an active role in the UX community. Last fall, when I was approached by School of Visual Concepts to teach User Experience Level 2, I was humbled by the opportunity to join an institution in the Pacific Northwest creative community. Plus, I was excited for my opportunity to give back and be a part of building this community.

When SVC offered their first User Experience course in the fall of 2000, I found a way to enroll. Even though I already had years of experience working with users and designing interfaces, I learned new techniques from instructor Matt Hulbert, who later became my colleague and peer. Larry Asher and his team at SVC have instructed some of the brightest lights in our community over the years.

I have guest-lectured and led workshops at conferences and meetups for many years, but teaching a three hour class every week is much more demanding. It requires structuring a class-long arc of assignments and activities that culminate in a something students can use to market their skills. It also requires delivering 15 solid hours of high-quality content, because students are paying  for actionable instruction.

Teaching the class reinforced my belief that great ideas can come from anywhere as long as design exercises are well structured. While some of the design challenges my students came up with were archetypal –  such as creating a better group calendar or microwave oven interface – my students were able to think completely outside the established patterns and paradigms to come up with innovative design solutions.  Seeing how students tackled exercises showed me new insights into design problems I’ve spent years grappling with in my own career, such as smart remote controls. The bottom line is that there’s always room to innovate on an established, even mature, set of design patterns.

As I expected, meeting these students demonstrated there is a lot of potentially great UX design talent out there waiting for opportunities to emerge. Talented students are eagerly absorbing instruction and material from great resources such as SVC.

But there are also hard working, talented and extremely smart folks already working in job functions not traditionally associated with UX who are developing a passion for user advocacy and evangelizing for it in their organizations. If there really is something like a UX or Design Thinking “revolution” going on, it’s these grassroots activists who are helping it achieve critical mass. Communities like SVC and practitioners who are teaching and learning from each other will bring the grassroots into the mainstream business environment.

I’d like to express my gratitude to Larry Asher, Linda Hunt, and the whole team over at SVC. I’d also like to thank Kevin Wick of frog for trusting me with the curriculum he developed, and Michael Hinnant of Smith for picking up the charge in the Spring quarter.

Have you had an education experience, as a student or instructor, that has changed your perspective on your practice? I’d love to hear about this in the comments or connect with us on Twitter at @factorfirm.

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