When I started working as a designer in an IT company, the first thing I realized was that all my schooling hadn’t really taught me much at all about web design, coding (HTML/CSS) and UX.

Necessary Skills Were Not Being Taught

Shortly thereafter, I discovered that not much had changed. I decided to take a part-time position teaching at the university, and found that most of these topics were still not really included in the design program. So, together with some other colleagues, I decided to change things. We decided it was necessary to update at least part of the program in order to teach skills required for careers that are currently in high demand and relevant to the industry.

What Makes a Successful Design Program?

We were aware that curriculum change takes time, but a successful design program should do better at preparing graduates to work in an increasingly digital world, where the landscape of design is changing. With the growth of technology, digital media has become more prevalent in the field of graphic design. Career opportunities in UI, UX and related areas in the tech industry are more and more exceeding those in the traditional design industry.

Therefore, we believed that the program needed a stronger digital focus. The university agreed with this approach and became interested in having teachers who actually worked in the tech industry. That is how I ended up being part of the web design course as a teacher, and later I joined a UX design course (after getting a Master’s degree in UX, which gave me some basis on how to teach UX).

Preparing Students to Work in the Tech Industry

So, what exactly we have been doing as educators to help students become better-prepared designers for the tech industry?
One constraint we had was time. When making lessons plans, time is a critical factor to consider. Unfortunately, we do not have too much time with students, so we need to choose carefully and precisely what to present and teach according to what we feel will serve them best.

We Teach Coding

In recent years there’s been a considerable push for designers to learn how to code. That’s why, in the case of the web design course, we focus mainly on coding. This is based on our belief that designers who want to work in the tech industry, designing websites and digital products, need to at least understand some basic HTML and CSS.

While it is important to remember that design and development are two different fields and it is not a must for designers to actually do the coding, having some comprehension of it can surely help define what sort of design is necessary.
Understanding how coding works will help designers understand the job of the developer. It will enable them to have a more competent conversation, and therefore work better together on an interdisciplinary team.

“Understanding how coding works will help designers understand the job of the developer. The more they understand about its building process, the better.”

Dolores Finochietto, UX Designer at Making Sense

I like to use an analogy I once heard about architects: they usually design buildings and probably don’t actually build them, but it definitely helps them to understand the job of engineers and the general construction because it enables them to communicate with the builders and to understand potential implementation problems and solutions.

The same happens with designers. Although they just design and don’t actually build a web or an app, the truth is that the more they understand about its building process, the better.

A Focus on UX

On the other hand, regarding the UX course, there was no doubt about including it as part of a formal design education, since today UX is a rapidly growing field with high demand and a top priority in digital design.

For this course, we also have a time limitation, so we knew we had to choose the best UX techniques and tools and provide a basic understanding of the field and its methodologies. The focus is set on covering a wide range of topics and activities, from defining  the most relevant terms, such as user experience, user-centered design, usability, accessibility, and empathy, to sketching, prototyping, testing and learning user research techniques. We aim to give the students a strong foundation by combining theoretical learning with workshop and practical experience.

Providing a Solid Foundation for Continuing Learning

Of course, it happens that every year, the set of tools, techniques, and knowledge designers need can change. It is hard for educators to keep up and update the courses with every new change. Although we try to review and rewrite our lessons regularly, is very difficult to cover everything and students need to continually adapt their knowledge and continue learning after graduating and starting in on their jobs.

That is why we aim mainly to set the basis and give our students a solid foundation for everything they will learn after graduation. Gratefully, I sometimes get to see this being confirmed when they become my coworkers.

Continuing Education is Key

Until now, my time in the classroom has been one of the most challenging as well as rewarding experiences in my career. That is why I encourage companies and other professionals to get involved in education, as I believe that it is important for the continued growth of the industry. Everyone could greatly benefit from spending some time in an educational setting teaching others…In fact, you may learn new skills and even find that your own skills improve when you teach.