The importance of ongoing learning
Originally published on the Bureau Blank Blog, 5 January 2015
In a recent blog post I discussed the myth that design is the mastery of a medium. The concept of specific skills and techniques that someone could become proficient in, then apply over and over with successful results was always a simplified view that didn’t encourage new ideas and fresh thinking, but as both technology and its users evolve at pace, anyone who stands still is soon left behind. Ongoing education has never been more important in the field.
Over the past three months I’ve been studying User Experience Design at General Assembly. While some of the curriculum covered issues I was already engaged with in my day-to-day work, I had a fantastic tutor, Luke Miller, who brought a great deal of real-world experience to every lesson and encouraged me to tackle a project that would really push me. I decided to create the user experience for a hiking app on the Apple Watch, a technology that isn’t even available yet.
In the course of my research I defined a user persona who didn’t really want to engage with technology at all; they simply wanted to enjoy the great outdoors without the interruptions of a glowing screen, but they still needed subtle directional cues. This was an interesting challenge that meant focusing on the essentials, but designing for the Apple Watch pushed things to the extreme because the tiny screen left no room for embellishment.
Thinking in the context of a device that functions differently to every other medium I’ve designed for forced me to focus purely on the problem and move away from design patterns I was familiar with. I had no benchmarks for reference and had to rely on user testing for guidance on what was successful. This is where the real lessons were learned and by application, became ingrained.
In the end I was really pleased with the concept I produced and the skills I learned, but there were other benefits too. In my classmates I met a great group of people with a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives. Their creativity both inspired and energized me. This explains our belief at Bureau Blank that ongoing learning is not an optional extra but an essential part of the designer’s role.