My Teaching Philosophy

I’d like to share my teaching philosophy with my professional network. The original draft is here (Google Doc) where you may add comments. All feedback is welcome.

“Designing conversations for design should be an explicit part of the design process, just as much as designing the design-process should be.” — Paul Pangaro

We show that we are universal designers by creating products and services that include all.

I focus on bringing a depth of understanding to the great responsibility and influence that designers have on customers, society, and the environment. As a class, we consider accessibility standards and their application to class projects.

As an educator, my goals are simple: equip students with tools to uncover deep user needs, strategize a plan to meet them, assess the risk, and articulate clear goals and thoughtful ideas toward a project’s fruition. I measure these goals by evaluating student engagement, overall improvement, and feedback which is gathered at the end of each class.

The tools and methods below are areas I strive to pass along to students throughout a course — while moving towards autonomy, personal responsibility, and endless curiosity.

Tools to prototype small and big ideas: whether it be a novel idea or a common solution, I reduce concepts to their core value and impact before implementation. At times, this may entail creating an intricate map of touchpoints and stakeholders. At other times, all we may need is a quick sketch to show how an idea fits into a larger system. Along with the technical skills of designing functional prototypes, there is also the need to understand the why, how, when, and which of prototypes. I familiarize students with a wide range of tools to employ at any moment during a project — diagrams, storyboards, emotional journey maps, and the HEART Framework are just a few. I show students how to gather the key insights for these prototypes and how to present them to a broader audience.

Methods for discovery and process: before building, we look at all angles. We use frameworks and interactive exercises to explore possibility. We converge and diverge on perspectives and contexts. I like to push the boundaries of feasibility in the discovery phase — that is where new ideas live. This is best described by a quote from a previous student’s course evaluation:

“I like the overall curriculum and creative interchange. James is very thoughtful and truly inspires us to look further beyond the standard solutions.”

Once we gain alignment on the impact that is possible, we then begin to plan steps on execution, risks, unknowns, and points of collaboration and assessment.

Tools to connect dots: how do I create curiosity for both students and their future audience (customers) in a single lecture? Culture trends, design history, case studies, and future forecasting capture the range of entry points that I begin my lessons with. It allows us a flexible and broad start to get specific as we learn how classroom projects merge with current trends in the world. I also blend teaching styles from lectures, to critiques, to presentations, to interactive workshops.

Conversation is the catalyst that brings people together around new products, services, systems, and paradigms of thought. It is inclusion, critique, and imagination. And if led under the right circumstances, we can reach ingenuity.

Thank you for reading. If you are an educator, facilitor, or designer, I’m open to learning about your teaching philosophy. Reach me directly at vanie.james@gmail.com.

PS: I’m leading an online UX Portfolio class in June at NYU School of Continuing Professional Studies. Feel free to share with anyone who might be interested: https://www.sps.nyu.edu/professional-pathways/courses/UXDX1-CE9140-ux-portfolio.html#sps-summer-2017