This year I was pleased to be chosen as one of the 12 students for Bridge School’s Product Design Strategy cohort 1. The course was incredible, and so I’m writing this post for anyone interested in learning more about the program and my experience during the 11 weeks.
What is Bridge?
Bridge is a not-for-profit organization with the goal of removing barriers in the technology industry by supporting women, agender and non-binary professionals scale-up their skills and enhance their confidence.
Currently, they offer two programs, one in Software Development and another in Product Design. The programs are free of charge and are guided by passionate volunteers in the industry who are eager to help others achieve better outcomes in their careers.
Classes ran twice a week from 6 pm to 9 pm for 11 weeks. Early in the program, we were introduced to a design problem to work on during the length of the course. As the topic was broad each student was able to focus on a subtopic of their interest.
Typically, the first part of the class was focused on short lectures exploring methods, fundamentals and effective frameworks to guide our projects. The majority of most classes were used for group exercises to practice what we learnt earlier in the class. After the exercises, we had to present our work to the class. This approach helped with building our confidence and being open to other team members’ thoughts.
At the end of each class, as part of a quick retro, we wrote on sticky notes and discussed what we liked and what could be improved for a next class.
What you can expect from the Program
- Hands-on exercises
- Instructors passionate about their fields
- Instructors and TAs willing to help at any time
- A safe space that allows students to “lean into discomfort” for increased growth
- Encouragement to facilitate activities and regularly practice public speaking
- Regular constructive feedback on projects and exercises from instructors and peers
- Exercises to take students out of their comfort zone and increase their confidence
- Retros at the end of each class, which were taken into consideration for next classes
- Learn about methods and fundamentals for facilitation, discovery, user research, ideation and prototyping, giving and receiving critique, usability testing and pitching.
My Application to Bridge
After taking several continuing studies courses and an immersive full-time bootcamp, I was looking for another program to keep scaling-up my skills as a UX & Product Designer. In March 2018, I found a post about Bridge’s Product Design Program on a Slack channel that had the focus I was looking for.
When applying to the cohort, I had to submit my resume and answer some questions about why I wanted to enroll, accept the commitments required for a successful completion of the program and affirm I am either a woman, agender or non-binary professional.
On April 16th, I received an email with exciting news, I passed to the second round! At this time I had one week to submit a design challenge. I read it many times to make sure I was providing all the requirements asked. And, on April 30th, received another email with even more exciting news, I was accepted in Bridge’s Product Design Program!
On the first day of class, besides introducing ourselves with fun ice-breakers, we did an exercise on students’ goals and outcomes. This approach is not only a good UX practice to learn about the users but also was used to shape the program to our needs.
Takeaways from lectures
- User research is essential for creating user-centred solutions and should be an ongoing practice during the whole process (this might sound obvious but is not). This course provided methods to understand how to synthesize research and find areas to focus on when designing products.
- Understanding facilitation fundamentals helps a designer succeed in their work. When someone is empathetic, a team player, flexible, an active listener and patient the chances to understand other people’s thoughts and arrive to agreements that keep the team moving are higher. Some activities for facilitation are 5 whys, How Might We, Clarity Canvas (by Rangle.io) and Empathy Mapping.
- Be mindful that your bias doesn’t limit the team from learning and exploring other points of view. We need to avoid bias by leaving them at the door and reduce the tendency to retrieve information that confirms our preexisting beliefs. A good practice to reducing bias on research, pitching or testing sessions is being more attentive to what others are saying and avoiding leading questions.
- It’s important to learn about great discovery frameworks that align teams and stakeholders at the beginning of a project, such as Clarity Canvas, which was one of the biggest takeaways of the program. Clarity Canvas framework (developed by Rangle) consists of facilitated sessions with stakeholders to discover the what, why and for whom the problem is being solved and incorporate their goals and outcomes so everyone is on the same page from the start of the project.
- Research synthesis is often absent or not given the importance it should be, as it’s how the collected data turns into actionable insights. Synthesis can be used to: organize data, identify key points, cluster the data and identify insights for each group. After agreeing on and understanding the insights, further steps in the process are more meaningful and easier to follow.
- Stay true to your values by constantly self-reflecting and evaluating decisions you’ve made. A methodology like Ethical Design Thinking can help to establish ethical goals on products, by encouraging teams to focus on human values throughout the process.
- Critique should be an objective-focused practice based on the purpose of understanding, iterating and improving what is being presented. For giving good critique it’s important to set the right foundation using personas, goals, principles and scenarios. When receiving critique be open to new opportunities, analyze what’s being said and critique our own work.
- Start user testing earlier that than you think makes sense to validate user assumptions and focus on the features that really matter. Recognizing that ‘testing a feature’ is not the same as ‘testing the end product’ can make people understand that this practice can be done constantly as it doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming.
Bridge Design Program was more than classes and lectures. It was an experience to collaborate with other talented fellow designers in order to improve, learn and grow as professionals and individuals. The level of knowledge every designer had in a specific session was always respected and used as an opportunity to help and learn from each other.
Although some classes were about known topics, the approach given by the instructors provided useful insights on how to dive deeper on the methodologies to take the most advantage of the tools used during each step of the process. The program has strong bases on books, articles, methods, frameworks, common tools and personal experiences from highly trained professionals.
What I liked the most of the course was the focus on learning with hands-on team exercises and instructors/TAs engaged 100% of the time helping with guidance during the activities. Thank you to everyone who made this cohort possible.
To learn more about the programs, how to apply or becoming a sponsor please visit https://bridgeschool.io/
About the author. Hi, I’m Evelyn, a UX & Product Designer with a background in Environmental Engineering, Human Resources and Business Administration. I’m currently open to job opportunities and looking forward to applying the skills learnt to guide problems into better user-centred solutions. If you’re interested to learn more about me, please visit my portfolio www.enylazs.com