When I began my job as a faculty member at Center Centre, the UX design school, I knew I would help my students learn many UX skills. What I didn’t know is that my students would teach me plenty of UX skills in return.
I’m an educator, but I’m not a traditional teacher. My role is to be the students’ manager, project manager, and coach. What I do is very similar to what UX managers do in the industry.
I’ve learned that, as an educator and a manager, people with less experience than me have many things to teach me. Here are three of the many skills I’ve learned from my students:
- Write on the board without standing in front of what you write.
- Have a backup moderator for user research sessions.
- Remote design studios aren’t just possible — they’re effective.
Write on the board without standing in front of what you write.
One of the critical elements of facilitation is public recording. I use public recording while facilitating activities with my students. I stand by a whiteboard and write down key phrases of the conversation.
My students also record publicly while they facilitate. One of my students, Ella Nance, told me that before attending Center Centre, she learned how to write on a whiteboard without blocking what she writes.
I immediately thought, “That’s a great insight! I should be conscious of that when I’m writing on the board, so I don’t stand in front of what I write.”
Shortly after that conversation, Ella facilitated an activity. I watched how she stood off to the side of the board. She wrote legibly without blocking what she wrote.
It amazes me how Ella can stand on the side of the board and still write neatly. When she publicly records this way, people in the room can see what she writes as she’s writing it. This helps everyone follow the conversation as it’s happening.
Try this sometime. If you’re right-handed like me, you’ll find it much easier to stand on the left side of the board and write without blocking what you write. It’s much harder to stand on the right side and write without blocking what you write. (The same thing goes in reverse if you’re left-handed.)
Have a backup moderator for user research sessions.
My students work on actual team projects. These projects have real clients, real budgets, and real deadlines. Students conduct multiple rounds of user research on each project, including user interviews and usability tests.
During each phase of the project, one student moderates the research sessions or the usability sessions. Another student moderates at the next phase of the project.
Because students work on real-world projects, they encounter real-world problems like the sudden absence of another member. There were several instances where students had to call out sick or leave suddenly to address a family issue.
One day, several students realized they could plan for unexpected absences by having a backup moderator. A backup moderator is someone who is prepared to moderate the user interviews or usability sessions if the primary moderator is absent.
When students told me about their backup moderator idea, I thought, “This is brilliant. Why didn’t I think of this?”
Before I worked at Center Centre, I led user research studies with my team members. I was usually the only moderator. I never thought to have a backup moderator ready in case I had to miss work. Had I been absent for from studies, my team would have scrambled to moderate sessions without me.
From now on, whenever I moderate research sessions, I’ll make sure to prepare my teammates so they can fill in for me if I’m absent.
Remote design studios aren’t just possible — they’re effective.
One of my students, Glad Beltran, facilitated a remote design studio for a recent client project. The design studio activity was a huge success.
Because design studio involves multiple iterations of sketching and critique, most UX teams conduct them only when all participants are in the same location. Running a remote design studio is not easy. Many UX teams struggle to do it well. Until Glad ran one at Center Centre, I doubted if it were possible to conduct an effective remote design studio at all.
Glad worked with the client to plan and execute the remote design studio. The client team was used to working remotely with each other. They suggested tools they use for remote collaboration that would work well for the activity.
With the client’s help, Glad chose remote collaboration tools, assigned team members into pairs for the activity, and structured the agenda.
The activity went very well. It produced actionable insights for my students and the client team. It was a win for everyone.
Glad inspired staff members and other students to run remote activities. Ella, whom I mentioned earlier, facilitated a remote critique with the same client just a few days later. Other students and staff members have conducted remote meetings since the design studio.
I talked with Glad at length about her process and what made the activity so successful. I took good notes. I plan to use her techniques in the future if I facilitate a remote design studio or a similar activity.
I Continually Learn From My Students
Working with students hasn’t just made me a better educator. It’s made me a better designer.
I look forward to learning more from my students before they graduate this October. I also look forward to harnessing the wisdom of whatever team I’m working with for the rest of my career. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as an educator (and as a manager) is to open my mind to what others have to teach me.
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