Week 4: Learning UX Design at Academy Xi – Let the Good Times Roll!

Academy Xi - Let the good times roll

“This is only a blip in time”.

Our teacher at Academy Xi, Rob, loves that saying. Especially when things get crazy, like last week.

But he’s right. I can’t believe we’re already about to head into week five.

One thing’s for sure, my blog posts are going to get much shorter from now on. In UX terms, it’s no longer “feasible” for me to write 2500+ words every week. With our personal projects now underway (more on that next week), it’s time to start “converging”.

So here’s a shorter than usual recap of the week that was.

Day 16: Mon 25/02/19

Usability Testing

After last week, I’m anxious to get things back on track with our group work. But we start the day with some theory on usability testing. This is yet another example of “just in time” learning. Because tomorrow, we’re doing usability testing of our prototypes (which we haven’t even finished building yet!).

But first, what is usability? One of my favourite definitions of usability comes from Steve Krug, author of “Don’t Make Me Think”.

Usability is making sure that something works well – whether it’s a site, a fighter jet or a revolving door.

Steve Krug

It’s not rocket surgery. But usability testing is one of the most commonly used tools in a UXers kit. Why? Because we have to confirm that we’ve built the right usable thing.

User testing involves recruiting real people to complete specific tasks with our designs. Typically, it only takes around six user tests to detect around 80% of usability problems. Of course, there’s an art and science to preparing effective tests.

But user testing can also be done rapidly using a guerrilla approach. This can be as simple as approaching random strangers in public and asking them what they think of a website. Or, how they would complete a certain task.

Back on track

Later in the morning, our team meets with Rob to work on a game plan for getting our prototype finished. The clock is ticking. We’re supposed to be conducting user testing of our prototype in less than 24 hours. No pressure! Plus, we still have to write our test scripts.

The good news is … we manage to get everything done in time! After last week’s effort, I’m shocked that we’ve managed to pull this out of the fire. It’s amazing what can done when everyone is on the same page.

Day 17: Tue 26/02/19

Today, we’re back in Surry Hills to conduct user testing of our prototypes for The Client. We start with some guerrilla testing of our prototype with random people in the cafeteria.

Now I know what it must feel like to be a charity mugger, or do any job that involves interruption marketing. While some people were helpful, others were complete arseholes. It helps to have a thick skin. But I’d rather walk over broken glass than do this.


We spent the rest of the day doing structured testing of our prototype with users who’d been incentivised (i.e. paid) to turn up. I enjoyed doing this. Each user session went for around 30 minutes and we ended up getting some good insights.

Upon returning to campus, we started the process of putting everything together for our final presentations on Friday. Sticky-note city!

Sticky notes. Sticky notes everywhere!
One hot mess!

Day 18: Wed 27/02/19

Personal branding

We kick off hump day with a workshop by Shona Yang on “Discovering your Personal Brand”.

Many people think that personal branding is about being a cheesy self promoter. But they’re wrong. Creating a personal brand is about authenticity and highlighting what makes you different. As Sally Hogshead says “Different is better than better”.

Entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Gary Vaynerchuk have strong personal brands. Why? Because they stand for something and stay true to themselves. They don’t try to be something that they’re not.

In fact, Gary Vaynerchuk’s philosophy of “document don’t create” was the inspiration for my own blog and personal brand. The thing is, I’m no Gary Vee. Nor am I claiming to be an expert in UX design. I’m simply documenting my journey from scratch and learning out loud.

Shona’s workshop was chock-full of actionable tips and confirmed that personal branding is all about telling the world:

  • How you got here.
  • Where you are going.
  • What you stand for.

Nothing cheesy about that.

Personal Branding - Bondi Hipster meme.

Deep into the Fjord

After lunch, we head down to Barangaroo for our first field trip. After stopping for some gelato on-route, we arrive at Fjord – a design and innovation consultancy. It’s a global agency that’s part of Accenture.

Everything about Fjord is amazing. From the Scandinavian vibe of the workspace to its people, culture and values. It resonates with me deeply (which also highlights why Fjord is such a great brand name – a Fjord is a deep body of water).

It might be a long shot, but this is a workplace I could be proud of! Knowing that places like Fjord exist makes me happy and hopeful for the future.

Inside Fjord, the design and innovation consultancy
Group Director, Alvaro, explains what Fjord is all about.

Day 19: Thu 28/02/19

Another day, another great guest. Today, it’s Vera Kravchuk. And although Vera is here to teach us about creating UX case studies for our portfolios, it ends up being a masterclass on how to succeed as a UXer. We covered a lot of ground and I could write an entire post on Vera’s workshop alone. Pure gold. But I’m not even giving you a peek behind the curtain. Trade secrets!

Day 20: Fri 01/03/19

Visual Design

Friday at last! The day kicks off with a lecture on Visual Design by Anne Lioe – known for her pixel perfect work with brands like Qantas. Anne takes us through some key design principles and characteristics of good User Interface (UI) design.

Anne also gives us a rundown of her favourite tools and workflow. I’m delighted to learn that she uses Sketch for designing, followed by InVision for prototyping and finally, Zeplin for handoff to developers. It was great getting some insight into how everything works with design teams in a large organisation like Qantas.


Next, we head off to The Client’s headquarters for our final presentations. Although each presentation was only supposed to be 10 minutes long, we all went over the time limit. But at least the stakeholders from the website that we’d been slaving away on for the past 4 weeks actually turned up! It’s a shame they hadn’t been on board from the start.

From day one, I thought the lack of stakeholder engagement was a missed opportunity. Our presentations today only confirmed it. While The Client’s UX team are fantastic people, the lack of interest from key stakeholders in the business left many of us feeling flat.

We returned to campus for a debrief. As usual, Rob put on his rose coloured glasses. What did we learn? What would we do differently, etc? Look, I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I’m a realist. And I thought the experience was really disappointing.


But alas, it’s only a blip in time, right? Moving on …

After much anticipation, Rob allocates our new client projects and working groups for the next two weeks. And I couldn’t be happier – a global travel brand. Bring it on!

To vent our frustrations and lift our spirits, we’re rewarded with a much needed social event – ten pin bowling and a bar tab courtesy of Academy Xi. Let the good times roll!

I’ll just leave this here …

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