Week 2: Learning UX Design at Academy Xi – The Process is Fluid!


Day 6: 11/02/19

It’s a fresh week at Academy Xi, but our fearless leader Rob still isn’t feeling so fresh. He’s back on deck, but could probably do with another day off.

Even so, we’re glad he’s here. It felt like we lost the plot at the end of last week without him steering us through our first client project.

When Rob asked what we thought about last week, I wasn’t backwards in coming forwards. I told him I thought it was a missed opportunity to solve more pressing problems for The Client.

Rob explained that in UX design, the “process is fluid”. Things don’t always go to plan. Yes, we could have had more stakeholders in the room last week. Yes, we could have had more data.

Apparently, in the real world of UX design, these situations occur regularly. But under normal circumstances we’d be able to “pause the process” when things are not “well aligned”. As I’ve heard dozens of times now, it’s all about looking for the “learning opportunity”.

Learning opportunity meme
I’m triggered!

All about bias

Next, we delve into some theory on research bias.

When conducting research, it’s important to understand that human behaviour and poor survey design can mess with your results.

From the observer effect (i.e. people change their behaviour when being watched) to confirmation bias (i.e. favouring information that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs … fake news anyone?); and not getting representative samples of your users.

As a former scientist, these problems aren’t new to me. But when it comes to doing qualitative research, like user interviews, there’s a whole bunch of new things I need to watch out for.

A deck of bias cards is passed around the room – must get a pack of these.

A handy deck of bias cards.

How to create ideas

Next, we learned about 6UP-1UPs (or six to ones). They’re often used as a collaborative stakeholder exercise to generate, develop and refine ideas.

We split into groups of four with a task to solve a problem based on our client project. With a time limit of 5 minutes, each person in the group has to draw six solutions to the problem on an A3 sheet of paper (no text allowed).

Next, we each picked our best solution. Then we expanded on it in more detail on another sheet of paper, before sticking it to the wall. We ran through each solution, tagging things we liked with blue post-its … and things we don’t like with red ones. Finally, we voted on the best ideas with red dots.

This exercise was eye opening. While some of us had similar ideas, it was the combination of the different ideas and features that made the solution and features so much better!

Results of a group 6UP-1UP exercise
Results of our 6UP-1UP exercise.

Analysing data

We spend the rest of the morning learning about analysis of data. Why? To uncover insights collected during our research of course!

In UX design, the process generally goes like this:

  • Collecting and organising the data
  • Mining the data
  • Sorting and clustering the data
  • Identifying insights

We start organising the data collected from last week’s client project. This involves transcribing the responses of our user interviews onto post-it notes. Then we organise the post-its onto huge pieces of brown paper (which smells suspiciously like horse urine). Fun times!

Organising the data
Organising the data onto stinky brown paper.

Personal presentations

For the final session of the day, we start our personal presentations. We each had 5 minutes to tell our life story. It was great to learn more about our classmates and find out what brought them to the world of UX design.

When I start mine, a photo of my family appears on the powerpoint screen … and next thing I know I’m choking up!


It’s been a tough journey over the last few years. It’s a moment of vulnerability fuelled by the emotions of starting this course, reflecting on the past … and my hopes for the future. But I pull myself together and push through.


I explain to the class that I originally became a scientist because at its core, science is a search for truth. And the thing that attracted me to UX design is that it’s also a search for truth AND … happiness! I haven’t seen that definition before, so I’m claiming it right here and now. Fight me!

UX design is a search for truth and happiness.

Doug Rotherham

Day 7: 12/02/19

Empathy mapping

We kick off the day with an introduction to Empathy Mapping. I remember these from my copywriting days.

Empathy mapping is a rapid visualisation tool to humanise the customer. They can be hypothetical, or based on actual data. But the goal is to capture emotions.

What is the customer thinking, feeling, seeing and doing? What are their pains and gains? It’s also a great discovery exercise to bring stakeholders together at the start of a project.

Empathy maps can produce insights, which can then be followed by a 6UP (described above) to start ideating solutions. They can also identify gaps in knowledge for further research.  

We spend the morning creating an empathy map from the data we collected in our client project.

An Empathy Map
Our Empathy Map.

Affinity mapping

Once we have our empathy map, it’s time for some affinity mapping. This involves organising our data into logical groups or “clusters” to see what patterns or insights emerge.

Each cluster represents one insight, which is then translated onto a story card to express the insight. A story card is an index card that captures what the user wants (and why) in a simple format:

  • As a [type of user]
  • I need [what the user wants]
  • so that [why the user wants it]

Check out this video for more on story cards.

An Affinity Map
Our Affinity Map.

We spend the afternoon presenting the insights from our affinity and empathy mapping exercises to the class – with Rob and class mentor Roger playing the roles of stakeholders. This was a good opportunity for us to practice presenting on the spot with minimal preparation.

Some presentation tips to remember:

  • Use humour where appropriate
  • Give the stakeholders some quick wins
  • Highlight areas for further research (always be looking for the next project opportunity!)

It’s been a stinking hot day in Sydney … and so a few of the crew stayed back after class and enjoyed some refreshing ciders.

Day 8: 13/02/19


We start the day with some ninja tips from Rob on using LinkedIn. Since building my LinkedIn profile over the weekend, I’ve been getting a steady stream of new connections.

One of the best things about Academy Xi is that it gives you an instant network. This includes not only your classmates, but also the alumni. I was blown away by how many people connected with me offering help and messages of support. There are so many good people in this industry.


We spend the rest of the day learning about personas. A persona is how a group of people with similar traits are represented as a single fictional person. It puts a human face to the data and identifies their frustrations and needs.

Personas can be lean with a focus on the essentials (aka proto personas). Or when there’s lots of data available from research, they can be super detailed.

Detailed personas are becoming less common as UX design evolves. Yet, we spend the rest of the day creating a detailed persona for our client project using the Xtensio platform.

But before we can get cracking, our group spends time with Rob revising our original problem statement. Our research had revealed that our original hypothetical problem … wasn’t actually a problem!

I blame this on being thrown into the project with a lack of user data and an understanding of the client’s business goals. As usual, Rob does his best to turn lemons into lemonade. He explains that this is another great “learning opportunity” highlighting the “fluidity” of the UX process. Fair enough, I suppose.


Day 9: 14/02/19

Customer journey mapping

After spending yesterday creating our personas, we moved on to customer journey mapping. This was an intense process that lasted most of the day. But it’s been my favourite exercise for far.

Customer journey mapping is all about showing the relationship and experience a person has with a product or service. In my past life, I’ve spent a fair bit of time building eCommerce marketing funnels. So that might explain why I enjoyed this linear (and detailed) process so much.

Once we knew how to build the different “layers” of the cake, it become a relatively straightforward task. Sure, we probably went into too much detail. But it’s definitely the nicest looking layout of sticky notes that we’ve produced.

The key takeaway for me was the power of customer journey mapping in uncovering additional insights. Plus, you can pinpoint the exact moments in time that a customer experiences pain points and identify their needs.

Customer Journey Mapping
Customer Journey Mapping.

Day 10: 15/02/19

Delivering the goods

Two weeks have absolutely flown by. And today, we’re presenting our research findings to The Clients UX team. We spent the morning refining our artefacts and taping our monster posters to the walls. Each team’s presentation covers almost 5m of wall space!

Somehow, we get it all together and clean up the room in readiness for the showcase. The hard work is finally done. But we only have about an hour to pull it all together into some sort of cohesive story.

Each team did an amazing job. And so did the stakeholders who spent two and a half hours on their feet. They listened intently, asked questions and were genuinely engaged. It was a great experience to have seasoned pro’s give us such positive feedback and encouragement.

Presenting our client work.

Afterwards, Rob sat us down for a debrief. He seemed happy with our efforts and we we’re all feeling pretty good about it. Time to move on to the next project?

Not so fast!

We learned that the UX team would be delivering our insights to other stakeholders in their business. That means we’ll be working on the project for another two weeks! What felt like a bit of a token project at the start, now might become a real thing. Because, after all … the process is fluid, right?


P.S. After an intense week, a group of us hit the city for a night out. I spent most of the weekend recovering.

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