Learning lessons obtained during a 4-week, make that 5-week, UX/UI design project

Journey Mapping…more like what a journey!

The past five weeks have been interesting to say the least. More specifically, I say this in regard to the UX/UI design boot camp I am currently enrolled in. Originally, we had four weeks to complete a group project, individual project, and approximately 150 hours of classroom learning. Then Irma came to town. Although this devastating hurricane left little damage to the building where Ironhack is housed, it left havoc on our schedule and placed priorities on preparation and safety rather than UX/UI design. Thus, our four weeks turned into five, yet based on last-minute travel, downed power lines, and internet outages, the actual timeframe for working was closer to three weeks. The following includes some takeaways from the experience.

To begin, we were placed on teams of two and presented with a group project, which entailed adding an e-commerce platform to an existing high-end grocery retailer. In addition, the platform was to include a premium service based on research obtained. Simultaneously, we were to redesign a portion of a non-profit or governmental website, as well as include a functional transaction. This piece was to be completed individually.

Group Project: Featured Item — Meal Kits and Ready-to-Eat Meals

For those who have ever been placed in a group for a school project, you can probably relate to the preemptive concern about who will be working with you over the course of the project. Will you be stuck doing all of the work? Will opinions and personalities clash? Will you struggle to find the time to meet collaboratively based on everyone’s schedule?

Then you have the individual project that is supposed to be completed consecutively with the group project. Does this support team development or lead to a vying for priority — self or team? Will there be opportunities to work on either project at school? Is there enough time to complete all of the work by yourself?

Although I have been leading group projects for years, and have been placed on several work teams, it has been some time since I have been on a team for a class project. I am well aware of the struggles that so often surface; however, I am happy to say I was paired with a true team player who not only made the group project a priority but also remained calm and composed as deadlines approached. It was such a positive experience the door remains open for potential collaborations in the future.

Practice like you play. If you are willing to put forth your best effort on a mock project, imagine how good you will be when there is a real client awaiting your design. In addition, utilize your strengths and recognize the strengths of those around you.

For the individual project, I was feeling confident the project would flow smoothly. I was familiar with the organization I was working on and even had someone aligned to send out my surveys to the unique group I was targeting. Thus, I wasn’t too concerned when the first week was spent working on the group project while my individual project took a back seat.

By week two, when I was able to develop my surveys and send them off to my contact for distribution, I was certain I was on the right track. This is when Irma came to town. Chaos and other priorities arose and little was done in terms of either project. By the time I reconnected with my survey distributor, I was already two weeks behind. Realizing I did not have control as to when the surveys would be distributed, I made the decision to refocus my project to another area in which I would be able to distribute a newly developed survey to a different target market. While this was successful, it required almost a full redesign of my initial plan. Not exactly what you would call working smart.

A new user becomes the top priority.

That weekend was consumed with the revision of the project and the development of low fidelity wire frames for both projects. Additionally, we had to present on both projects first thing Monday morning, which required the construction of two presentations. While all deadlines were met, the loss of a weekend doing nothing but homework was not well received.

Maintain and implement a backup plan sooner than later whenever possible. Your priorities are not necessarily someone else’s priorities. While this is usually not intentional, it reiterates the necessity to practice good communication.

The next two weeks of boot camp would consist of UI design and the development of high fidelity wireframes followed by prototype testing. While the first week provided an array of information on font styles, button structures, and color combinations, it wasn’t until the following week that we realized how little much of this means if the product isn’t functional.

No offense to UI designers, but the little details are not so important until the functionality is met.

Too much time spent on image rather than function is a waste of time.

During the last week we were also introduced to some new tools we could have been utilizing from the beginning, such as symbols in Sketch and the theory of Atomic Design. It was at this point it seemed like we were reconstructing the same project from scratch for the third time. Let’s just say that with two projects due in less than five days, the stress level in the classroom amplified.

It was at this point that for the first time, I was seriously questioning my decision to enroll in this boot camp. After two weekends of doing nothing but homework — literally — I began thinking about all of the other ways my time and money may have been better spent. While my group partner remained calm, I realized I needed to readjust my attitude if I was to continue…and that I probably shouldn’t have skipped yoga class on Sunday in lieu of homework.

In other words, I needed to decide if I was going to quit and walk away or regroup because the mindset I had taken on was not a good one. Although it took about a day and a half, I came to recall that during times of great struggle is when you grow the most.

When faced with frustration, you can give up, gripe and complain, or use the opportunity to learn and grow. I also realized how valuable my weekly yoga class really was when it came to putting things into perspective and starting the week off right.

On a positive note, our instructor for the last week demonstrated the attributes of a great teacher. He maintained a level of calmness and empathy with the students. Rather than push forward with the curriculum as structured regardless of his students’ anxiety, he took a step back and modified the schedule based on priorities.

Why was this so critical? Because when people become overly anxious, their ability to learn and more importantly retain information becomes nearly impossible. If he were to continue adding content to a group of students who were already beyond comprehension capacity, he would have not only added more stress to their lives, but also contributed little if anything to their knowledge base. Instead, he identified key takeaways that were critical to their future success and intermittently distributed them between time dedicated to project work. Meanwhile he made himself available to work with groups and individuals as needed, including time after class. This not only was beneficial and appreciated, but also showed his dedication to the success of his students.

Group project consultation session with our instructor, Joel Mena, long after class had ended.

As a leader or teacher, take note of the emotional state of your followers or students. Going through the motions is not in the best interest of anyone. Identifying priorities, demonstrating empathy, and providing support will go much further both in the short and long term than adhering to a rigid schedule simply because that is the predesigned plan.

In conclusion, both projects were completed. In my opinion, the group project produced a much greater outcome even though it was a mock project. It also led to a potential partnership in the future. The entire experience led to enhanced UX/UI design knowledge, but more importantly to personal growth. Many people contributed to this over the last five weeks; however, I would like to give a special thanks to my group partner, Francisco Trujillio, and our last instructor, Joel Mena. Both were exemplary examples of the type of people that elevate society to greater heights.

Interestingly enough, the words of wisdom from this week’s yoga class were, “Laugh at the confusion. Live in the moment. And know that everything happens for a reason.” What a perfect way to sum up the past five weeks.

Everyday provides an opportunity to learn as well as become a better you.

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Sherry Andre, Ph.D.

Sherry Andre, Ph.D.

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Co-founder of 305ELab | Business Consultant | Author | Professor