Teaching Cooper U and Storming the Castle

I love teaching our Interaction Design fundamentals class. I meet designers from all over, and for 8 hours a day, we talk about design, problem-solving, planning, strategy, big ideas. Then, at the end of class, we tackle a real-world problem near and dear to all Bay Area residents — redesigning the ticket vending machines for our regional rail transit system (called “BART”). And oh boy, do these BART kiosks need to be redesigned.

When I started teaching Cooper’s Interaction Design class in 2007, the most common conversation was, “How do I get people in my company to recognize design as something more than icons and wireframes?” Our materials focused on how to get beyond the notion that design is a rearranged set of tabs, and how to establish UX design as a key partner in the product development process. These conversations often felt existential: Who are we, really? How do we demonstrate our value? What do we do if we’re socked away in the IT (or marketing) department? I always felt a little like I was giving a pep talk to troops who would soon go back to the battlefield. “Have fun storming the castle!”

In the past few years, this conversation has changed, and the Interaction Design course materials have changed with it. The pep talk has turned into a more strategic discussion about what to do with the recognition and responsibility that UX has been given. The conversation has also become more practical: What are the best ways to partner up with a development team that has gone agile? How do I scope a user research project? How do I make the case for user research? How do I sell my ideas to all the different audiences in the product development process? … And the million dollar question: How do designers best contribute to getting the best possible thing built?

So we spend the first couple of days in step-by-step instruction on tools and techniques, and then we spend an entire day applying them to the BART problem and presenting the work. Our students come from all parts of the organization — design, product management, development, marketing — and their solutions for the BART kiosk are all over the map. In a good way! Many contain interesting notions and ideas; some are totally wacky; a few are actually pretty awesome. It’s a wild four days, and everyone (including me) always learns a lot.

Interested in taking the class? More details and registration here.

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