Last weekend I flew up to Auckland to participate in an introductory course for User Experience Design (UX). This was my first time in Auckland (or at least in my waking memory), and was a hugely interesting and beneficial weekend. During my career research, I came across UX, a relatively new field of work which seemed interesting. However, due to its novelty and relative rarity, I found it hard to find concrete information about the job. Many online articles mentioned the difficulty in defining UX in a universal and standard way, due to a lack of industry institutions and the great variability of the job. I then cam across this course hosted by Media Design School in Auckland, and leaped at the opportunity to get some hands-on experience in UX.

The course was hosted by Matt Gould from Lushai, a small UX contracting company, and was structured in a way to carry participants through the entire UX process over two days. So I booked my tickets, found a cheap hotel to stay overnight and signed up to the course.

The flight up was uneventful, mostly because I slept most of the way; the flight left at 6:30 am. When I arrived at Auckland, I took the first bus and drove into the CBD. Now I must confess that I had some seriously negative stereotyped ideas about Auckland as a city. I imagined it to be dense, commercial, charmless and lacking in interesting activities. Unfortunately this view was largely gratified by my first impressions. The area just south of sky city, around queen street, was indeed dense, commercial and lacking in charisma. I could not help thinking that it was just like the Wellington CBD, but without the charm. The buildings were tightly clustered but ageing in appearance and style.

The course kicked off with some housekeeping, introductions and networking. Our speaker then began to describe UX. To describe it succinctly, UX is about crafting the emotional experience of a person interacting with a system or service, with a particular focus on the digital channel. UX is therefore a subset of customer experience, and uses a set of rules and techniques to improve the experience of digital users. We were then taken through some Design principles, some theoretical backbone to visual design. Then we discussed the UX life cycle (which we would be simulating during the course). We then formed two groups and came up with a problem which everyone in our team faced, which the other team would need to solve, and vice versa. We went through some formative research, which helps a designer understand the problem, target audience and assumptions about users or the product being designed. an important aspect of this research is collecting both quantitative and qualitative information, the latter being especially important for UX design.

From there, we prepared to each interview a member of the opposite team, to gather information about the problem they faced. Funnily enough, my research problem was moving to Auckland. We then learned about strategies to collect qualitative information such as emotional response and impressions. A common question structure is as follows: “Tell me about a time when …”. The interviewer would then observe for cues such as emotive responses, things the interviewee described which were unusual, such as workarounds or ‘hacks’ and responses which related to the user’s demographic background. With this in mind, I conducted an interview to find out how new Aucklanders learned to commute and get around, including all the challenges they faced as newcomers. This was a very interesting exercise, as I had never been on this ‘side’ of an interview. It was also interesting to hear some of the same struggles I had experienced myself just that morning, traveling from the Airport to the city for the first time!

After this exercise, we learned to analyse and crunch the information we collected in our interviews, using strategies such as post-it diagrams (as featured in the stellar photographic album below!) to find recurring themes, important points and gain a better grasp of the problem we were to solve. Other strategies include personas, user journeys and storyboards. I also enjoyed this exercise, as I have a natural ease with synthesising and summarising information. The course ended for the day at this point.

That evening, I walked around the CBD in search of interesting (and free) things to do. I explored the base of the sky tower, queen street, the waterfront and enjoyed some local delicacies. Carls Jr. Despite the liveliness and bustle of the city in the evening, I was not blown away by Auckland’s night life. I was saddened to see many homeless men and women on the streets, something which I was not used to seeing in Christchurch. Regardless, it was a pleasant evening. As I have mentioned before, one of my favourite things to do is to walk around and exploring a city alone.

The next morning, I participated in the Mass at St Patrick’s cathedral, then made my way back to the school. We picked up where we had left off, beginning to form ideas from the information collected. I also enjoyed this as we had a chance to sketch and draw some application interfaces, compare and share our ideas in a group. We finally settled on an app called “Find my Tribe”, which would help new Aucklanders find activities, groups and other people with similar interests (like Hipsters, runners or techies). We then learned about design guidelines like type and layout. Then we began to build a prototype to test with users. This was the last part of the process, summative testing. We were to test whether our assumptions were true and if the solution provided a positive experience. Our team designed a prototype app layout in Powerpoint, including animations and effects to simulate the app layout. We then conducted a formal test, by asking a member of the opposite team to perform a task by using the prototype. For this, we pretended that the computer screen was a touch screen, with interactions simulated by powerpoint animations controlled by mouse click. With this we completed the task and the course wrapped up with some parting information.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable experience. Top UX point to the course ‘designer’. I was very glad to learn about UX in a practical way and to bounce some ideas and questions off our guest speaker, regarding how to break into UX with my Information Systems background (many UX designers come from a graphic design background).

I then headed off back to the airport, far too early as I ended up waiting several hours in Auckland airport, and back on a 45-minute-delayed flight home.

Credit to Matt Gould from Lushai and Media Design School for a quality course.

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