UX Mentors – a UX skills workshop for students 29 March 2017

April 7, 2017 11:05 am

UX Mentors – a UX skills workshop for students 29 March 2017

UX Mentors, is an annual Manchester-based event for students who want to get started in a career in UX. It is organised in conjunction between Sigma and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). Last week I was delighted to join the team of mentors that included User Experience experts from Sigma, Mando, Autotrader and Shop Direct for the 2017 event.

Rick Threlfall introducing the Google Sprint for the day

This year the theme was the Google Sprint, and sprint we did, as we aimed to move through the 5-day process in around 6 hours! The process, as described in the book by Joel Knapp, is an end-to-end process from defining a key problem to solve, through rapid ideation and design to validation with users. Although we were not able to do every step, the Sprint model provided a great format for getting hands-on experience of a number of key UX techniques.

User journey mapping

We kicked off the day with a brief, including objectives, scope and target audience, and drew up a user journey map. The brief was to design a mobile app to help low-income people with budgeting. My team drew on their experiences as students to develop a quick persona and draw up the journey of how such user would get started on the app, and then identified pain points and opportunities to design a solution. The team were enthusiastic and full of ideas all day long so this technique, which was new to all of them, helped keep focus on the user’s needs and their pain points that an app could aim to solve.

Evaluating the ideas

Moving quickly onto ‘day 2’ we jumped into the Crazy-8 exercise to individually sketch out lots of design ideas for potential solutions. Then the most difficult part of the day – each team member had to choose just one of their ideas to create a 3-stage sketch to share with the rest of the team. Pitches done, ‘day 3’ got the team using Dot-voting to select the best ideas to carry forward to the prototype. This semi-anonymous and democratic method proved a hit, with everyone waiting in anticipation for the decider to place his final casting votes.

3-stage sketch and dot-voting

As ‘Day 4’ dawned, we shifted from ideation to testing mode, a more familiar territory for this mentor. The team changed roles and split into ‘makers’, who got stuck into making the paper prototype, and ‘testers’ who wrote the script and planned the testing session. Although Knapp advices against using paper prototypes, they are still powerful tools for testing design concepts, with the added advantage that everyone has the skills needed to make them.

The team discovered how hard it was to switch modes to focus and create a prototype from the ideas they have previously agreed on. As an enthusiastic and bubbly team, they were generating new ideas thoughout the session and inevitably the prototype grew larger with more pages and design ideas. UXers know this problem well, as the appeal of new design ideas over old never goes away, so the limited time of this exercise was of real value to the students. As last few minutes ticked away like the Countdown clock moving into the blue zone, the students began to understand the impact of scope-creep on completing the project.

While the makers were doing their best Blue Peter, two members of the team were developing the script for the user test session to follow. This was another activity new to them, so I gave them some pointers on task and question wording that would help them get feedback on the key design elements they wanted to test. The advice that helped the most, as the interviewer told me after the test session, was to include the research objectives at the top of the script because they helped her focus on getting the answers she needed through the session.

Finally we got to ‘day 5’ and the mentors switched roles and tables, and served as users for a different team’s user testing. The team who interviewed me were fully engaged in the session, the interviewer walking me through the tasks, the ‘computer’ making the paper prototype interactive and the rest of the team observing and taking notes on what I found easy or struggled with. I was asked some insightful questions and I think I surprised them with what I didn’t initially ‘get’.

User research tests your ideas with the people that matter. Even hardened designers know it’s can be a blow to your ego when you see users struggle on something you have invested time and energy on, and something that seems so obvious to you. For the student teams, some of whom had never been through the process before, it was a great way to learn first-hand how important it is to test ideas early before you commit even more time and resources to your project.

Joanne Finch reminding us all to try something new

The day wrapped up with a great talk from Joanne Finch of Mando giving some great advice to get their careers started: get networking, build your skills, document your learning, try something new, and always ask for feedback.

By working through the Google Sprint process, students had a chance to get hands on with a wide range of UX techniques and we as mentors got to meet and share some of our knowledge and experience with some great people who hope to be future UXers soon. A day like this is a win for all involved, so congratulations and thanks to Chris Bush, Richard Eskins and Rick Threlfall for making it happen.