Through a Designer's Eyes

How being a Product Designer helped me understand from a student’s point-of-view

What I've learned during my time as a university lecturer at University of Maryland Baltimore County

Understanding the Course Topic and Student’s Needs

Art and design have always been an enormous part of my life, ever since I was a little girl. Being a creative person constantly daydreaming ideas; I have always found it fascinating with technology making it accessible to visually express design ideas. Whether it's expressing design ideas via pencil and paper, creating a unique design layout with typography through Adobe InDesign, or mapping out a user experience flow for an app. Understanding how to express creative ideas is extremely important. As I plan and create an outline for any new design course, I always make sure that I research the topic. Even though I feel very comfortable and familiar with the topic, I need to make sure that I am touching every aspect of the topic. We live in this ever-evolving tech world while affects the design world; we have to always update with the newest design trends, techniques, software features, etc. I always envision it from a student’s perspective. First, who are the students; grade level (Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, or Seniors), what were the prerequisite classes, if any. If there was a prerequisite, I would schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with the professor of the prerequisite course to grasp the knowledge of what the incoming students learned in their course. Which helps me figure out parts of the course topic I should include in my course. Understanding who the students are helps me break down the course goals and topics, so I can show what this course means in relation to becoming a designer out in the real world. Ideally, I want my students to consume the course in milestones/modules. So I break down the course, making sure the module order makes sense and flows in somewhat of a course story that's building up as the semester progress.

Quality Over Quantity and Realistic Deadlines

One of my goals is to not rush my students. Being a design student is very different than in the real world after a designer graduates and becomes an employee at a design firm or any company. In a real job, time is money, there will be tight deadlines that need to be met and mistakes can cost them their jobs/livelihood. During their time as students, I believe that it's important for the professor to help train, nurture, and prepare their minds in a realistic mindset. I don't want to be one of those professors that throw assignments and projects with an unrealistic timeline to design students that are still trying to comprehend how design works when that timeline is suited more for a post-graduate designer with a few years of experience under their belt. I want to help my students blossom and learn from their failures, rather than getting burnt out and discouraged. As an educator, you need to nurture their creative minds and encourage them to improve. Their time as a student is to discover who they are as a designer, not a minion producing design work fast. What I want from my students is to produce quality designs, and not quantity or speediness. Especially as they are learning general design and the foundation of it. Understanding design and how it works is extremely important at this stage, so by the time they are towards the end of their senior year to their very first work experience; they will start to find their own groove and get comfortable producing designs. They will naturally produce designs faster in time.

Design Thinking

During their time as students, I believe that it’s important for the professor to help train the student’s minds. Design thinking and understanding the design thought process will become second nature to come up with not only great design but also great creative solutions. In comparison from when they were a freshman to senior level, students will produce better design quality, also as they become more confident with their quality. I try to engrain the 5 Stages of Design Thinking, to help them process any project (1. Empathize, 2. Define, 3. Ideate, 4. Prototype, and 5. Test).

Stage 1: Empathize

There is more to design than just making a project visually beautiful. You have to design deeper than the visual outer surface. It’s great to design with your brain, but also design with your heart. Design is a feeling and experience. Think about a project through the eyes of the users/target audience. In order to understand who the users are, you need to research the user’s needs, wants, how does their everyday look like, their type of lifestyle and etc.

Stage 2: Define (the Problem)

Analyse your collected observation to understand what is the problem. It’s best to understand the problem as a human-centered problem, instead of a business-driven problem. Why do they need or want the services of this app? How will they benefit? Focus from their point of view.

Stage 3: Ideate

Produce ideas to solve the problem(s) from the previous stage. Brainstorm. Challenge your ideas and evaluate which is the best solution.

Stage 4: Prototype

Build your ideas; create user flows, wireframes, digital mockups. In this stage, you are bring your ideas to life. There may be some adjustments, since developing the UX in your mind can be different than visually seeing your UX scenarios in real life.

Stage 5: Test

It’s important to test out your design (user interface & experience), to better understand what is working and what doesn’t. Which areas of the app are confusing to the users? What are the first impressions of the app from the user’s point of view? Which areas/screens are they spending the most time on? You will typically get these answers via A/B testing, focus groups, and/or beta testers. After testing, you will most likely make adjusts and then circle back to the ideate stage with a new customed solution to the new app issue. Break the app till it’s the best version it can possibly be.

Design Level Spectrum: Nothing is a one-size-fits-all

Organizing and developing a well thorough course foundation is very important. I always keep in mind that all of my students will naturally enter at different design levels. Naturally, some are more artistically talented in visual design than others, even at pre higher education. There’s nothing wrong that everyone is at different levels at design and in multiple aspects of life in general, that is what makes us human and not robots, perfectly imperfect. There will be others that need more educational guidance to grasp how to design organically. What we need to understand as educators is how to help individuals improve from their baseline foundation, by providing structured content and personalized feedback. With that in mind, I do not have a one-size-fits-all “cookie-cutter” approach when it comes to design critiques.