Course review: User Experience Design (General Assembly)

Course review: User Experience Design (General Assembly)

I’m writing this article for people who already have solid professional user-centred design experience and aren’t sure whether to invest in further training  as this was me. I deliberated for quite a while before going for it.

A bit more on why I’m writing this

Now, I’m not trying to ‘sell’ the course I went on here, rather give an example of what you can expect to learn from a good tutor. This article doesn’t seek to ‘give away’ all the learnings, but gives an indication of the types of things you’ll drill down into.

With me? Ready? Let’s go...

Earlier this year, I attended a two-day intensive training course at General Assembly.

We packed a lot in.

Day 1

On the first day, we got started by discussing definitions of user experience, and learnt how UX differs from UI and the importance of offline UX design.

We then looked into the design process itself, covering the emotional cycle of change (so cool to learn about), 'T-shaped' and 'unicorn' designers, Maslow’s needs, affordance …the understanding that designing stuff is hard, you can embrace uncertainty and that good design is empathy-based ...delved into the double diamond of discovering, developing, defining and delivering …and got a note on 'feature creep', brilliantly  exemplified with a comparison of all the buttons on a remote control versus buttons people actually want to use.


The design process

The design process

After a break, we started looking at user research. We studied personas and looked into problem statements and hypothesis. In groups, we started to dream up a unique persona with particular needs. Our persona was an airline crew member. The product we were to design was a digital alarm clock. We thought about things like time zones, consistency of experience, rituals to feel ‘at home’ wherever and the person’s exercise, brain function and wellbeing needs.

User research methodology

In the afternoon, we found out a lot about attitudinal, behavioural, qualitative and quantitative user research. We were given pointers for user research questions, and heard about some amazing design pivots used by some of the big name players.

We also looked at some fantastic UX teardowns  – critiques by experienced UX designers of some less than ideal user-experiences; reminding us to remain mindful to design for, and only design for, user needs.

Design time

Then in groups we designed a unique needs-based alarm clock product for our specific persona, and carried out user research interviews on our initial designs.

Our design had things like a daily sunrise and tied-in with yoga, brain challenges and other wellbeing-related apps.

Wow, I can’t believe we’re still on the same day. We also learned about user-flows, did some task analysis and spoke about prioritisation.

We began to talk about rapid prototyping, and received a small homework assignment too. Before I knew it, it was time to catch the Tube home.

Day 2

Day 2 kicked off with a couple of great quotes:

“Good design is as little design as possible.”

–  Dieter Rams. He designed the radio that the iPod was based on.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Antoine was a writer, poet… and pioneering aviator.

We went straight into learning about system level patterns (which are universal) versus application level patterns (which are unique to the application), and material design.

How material design affects digital design  an example:

Android applications don’t require a back button in the UI, as android phones include a physical back button.

Via iOS human interface guidelines and pattern libraries (we got some great links), pretty soon we got to on-boarding  –  benefits-orientated, function-orientated or progressive, and the ethics of a hook model application.

Yes, any site or app owner would like return visitors. But should a designer be specifically 'designing-in' addiction?

Touching on digital tribes, we then looked at paper prototyping and how we should be thinking in terms of small, medium and large screen views – rather than mobile, tablet and desktop.

Information architecture

Fresh back from connecting with like-minded professionals at lunch, and yes I know this sounds marketing-speaky, but this is really how it happened, we dived straight into information architecture. Which I thought I knew all about, but then found my thinking turned on its head when were shown a picture of the 2017 Oscars Best Picture Winner card:


When we looked at the hierarchy of information on the card, it was easy to spot how wrong the ordering was, and it made total sense to see this as an IA.

I loved this physical world example. A rigorous, professional focus on offline UX design could help in so many situations. So many.

Another good quote:

“Information Architecture is the art and science of organising and labelling websites, intranets, online communications and software to support usability and findability.”

– Information Architecture Institute

Structuring content

We looked at different approaches to structuring content: user flow, content hierarchy and card sorting. We pondered three types of content:

  • Main

  • Supporting

  • Interface

Interface content should make it easier for a visitor to navigate a website. (And it’s also the content that I really enjoy writing, researching and iterating!)

I’d say both supporting content and interface content are also covered by the UX writing term ‘microcopy’, and in some cases, even main content could be microcopy. (But just throwing my hat in the ring there. Do go ahead and opine otherwise.)

Rapid prototyping

We also started using the Marvel app and created interactive wireframes – which we then tested on each other. Pretty cool stuff.


#1 You get the presentation slide deck!

Don’t panic trying to write / type it all down, like I initially did. You’ll want to, because it’s GOLD, but you do get the slide deck emailed to you afterwards.

#2 "Yes, it’s definitely worth investing in further UX design training"

I built on my existing knowledge so much; learning a tonne from the tutor and the great presentations  –  and also from group discussion, as participants spoke about their own 'real world' professional experience, and many worked in different sectors and roles from me.

A boon was putting everything into practice first-hand. So even if it was just a quick 'dip', we got to try out all the techniques we learnt about. You can marvel at theory, but learning by doing is great – not only for consolidation, but also for those unexpected extra learnings. The ‘ooh’, ‘ahh’ and ‘oh… right’ moments.

It gives you the confidence to think "rapid prototyping through digitalisation of pen and paper UI sketches and instant user testing? Yep, done that."

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