Week 6: Learning UX Design at Academy Xi – Isn’t it Ironic?

Alanis

Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” from the 1995 album Jagged Little Pill has been the butt of many jokes about irony. That’s because it doesn’t include any examples of literal irony. It mostly describes unfortunate situations.

Some still argue that the lyrics do illustrate examples of situational and cosmic irony. Nevertheless, the lack of any solid examples of irony, in a song about irony, is ironic. Maybe the joke’s on us?

So what’s this got to do with learning UX design?

Well, back in my first post I wrote about my favourite definition of UX design – the process of designing satisfaction. But after two client projects at Academy Xi, I’ve found the process of designing satisfaction to be quite unsatisfying. Is that ironic, or just an unfortunate situation?

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Either way, I’m not hating on UX design, Academy Xi, or the clients. I’m highlighting my frustrations. Many of which are commonplace in the real world of UX design.

It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with the ambiguity of UX design. It’s more the fact we’re still students. Plus, we’ve been working with clients at different levels of UX maturity and engagement such as:

  • High UX maturity and low engagement (they’re too busy, CBF, or both)
  • Low UX maturity and high engagement (they have unrealistic expectations).
  • Low UX maturity and low engagement (they’re wasting a great opportunity).

On paper, the “perfect” client might have both high levels of UX maturity and engagement. But that’s not a realistic expectation in a learning environment. Why would a mature UX client want (or need) students working on a project (unless they’re feeling charitable)? Plus, would we actually learn as much from such a spoon-fed experience?

In the real world, we’re going to encounter all sorts of clients at different levels of UX maturity. A big part of the job will involve advocating for UX design and educating clients and stakeholders on its benefits (and managing expectations).

Don’t get me wrong, that would be very satisfying. But in the scope of a two-week project at Academy Xi, time is the enemy. So most of our work will probably end up going nowhere. Or, clients may run with some of our insights and ideas … but we may never see the results.

In our last group project, we worked like a well-oiled machine. In hindsight, maybe a little too well. Was there enough “positive contention” i.e. creative differences?

In fact, we enjoyed the project so much that we wanted to continue with another round of user testing, iteration and prototyping. But The Client wasn’t interested. He thanked us for our work and said he’d “implement certain elements and share the results” with us.

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At this stage, I’m craving an opportunity to be part of a real-world, end-to-end UX design project. One where I can start seeing the tangible benefits of the work I’ve been doing. That’s what excites me the most about graduating from Academy Xi and landing my first role.

I’m often accused of having unrealistic expectations (I prefer the phrase high standards). And I’ve been guilty of that with our client projects at Academy Xi (along with the naivety of being a student). But our fearless leader, Rob, has since clarified: these client projects are all about giving us “a flavour” of the real-life process.

Of course, the alternative would involve not doing any client work at all. We’d be working on hypothetical projects, which would be even more unsatisfying. So I’m grateful that I’ve experienced the real-life challenges of UX design. That’s what attracted me to Academy Xi in the first place.

Imagine completing a 10-week UX design bootcamp and coming out with little to no client experience. While it wouldn’t be ironic, it would be an unfortunate situation. Don’t you think?

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