5 Ways Center Centre Better Prepares Students for the Real World

Before coming to Center Centre I completed my undergraduate studies at a four-year design school where I majored in industrial design.

After I graduated and had some time to reflect on the experience, I was able to recognize how much I loved the time I spent there, as well as how much I learned.

However, I also quickly realized there were a number gaps in my learning that I felt needed to be filled. After doing some research, I found Center Centre and applied.

Now I’ve completed my first year at Center Centre, I have to say there are some major advantages to attending Center Centre over a traditional four-year design school.

Below are five things I’ve found that set Center Centre head and shoulders above learning design in a traditional college setting.

1) The classroom reflects the work environment.

A group critique of sketches for our first real world project

What I feel sets Center Centre apart from other schools is how they’ve structured the learning environment to more closely resemble the workplace than a classroom. In a traditional college setting you set up your schedule for the semester and attend those scheduled classes until it’s time to schedule the next semester.

At Center Centre, the school is set up more like the experience a new designer would have in a junior UX position at a company. Every weekday we go to school from 9 to 5 in the evening.

During that time we work together as a team to complete course work, work on actual projects for real-world clients, have regular and impromptu meetings about topics that need to be discussed and fires to be put out, and much more.

This work-like environment can help a student more smoothly transition from the world of academia to the working world without having to adjust to the difference between a classroom and job.

2) Project work focuses on solving real-world design problems for real-world clients.

The projects we work on here are all generated from clients who have existing design problems and need the services of a UX design team, unlike my experiences in the past where either the project was a made-up set of constraints or had no real problem to solve.

Having real world projects gives you the experience you need to demonstrate to hiring managers that you know how to work through the unpredictable road of multiple stakeholders and how to communicate with clients.

This also provides you with the experience of working on a project where considerably un-academic constraints might arise like shifting budgets, unclear project goals, limited resources, changing expectations, and so on.

3) You’re assessed on what you know and can do — not how well you perform on tests.

Facilitators brainstorming with us on different ways of demonstrating what we’ve learned

One of the things many people notice when learning about the Center Centre experience is the approach to how students learn course material.

Every three weeks we start a new course, whether its techniques in conducting user research or coding a website in HTML and CSS or sketching and designing interfaces.

In those three weeks we focus on learning that one skill and the practices involved with using that skill.

We start with a two-day workshop taught by an industry expert, where we discuss theory and best practices and work toward absorbing knowledge of the domain; this is referred to as the Developing stage.

After completing the Developing stage we then move to what we call Emerging. This is where we demonstrate understanding of the concepts and practice skills we’ve learned to show that we understand how to use them.

Once we’ve demonstrated we’re able to apply the skills in a practice setting, we then apply what we’ve learned to a real-world project. This helps to reinforce what you’re learning and also demonstrates to hiring managers you know how to apply these practices to a real project.

This idea of reinforced learning helps to ensure you understand the skill you’re learning and how you apply it to your career as a UX designer.

I’ve found this method of learning to be more effective in retaining the knowledge and skills I’ve learned here and as well as how they worked together as a whole.

4) A focus on writing skills.

I’ll preface this point with the fact that before I came to Center Centre, I didn’t feel great about my skills as a writer, nor was it my favorite thing to do.

But being skilled in writing is not only important to have as a UX designer, it’s an important skill to have professionally in general. How you write and create content for the web is crucial because it’s the direct line of communication between you and your audience.

At Center Centre, you learn the writing skills you need as a UX designer during the copywriting and content strategy course. This course was taught to us by Ahava Leibtag who manages her own content strategy consultancy (Aha Media Group).

Ahava taught us how to develop and execute on content strategy, how you write copy effectively, and how to tailor language to be understandable for any audience.

In addition, having a group of five editors at my disposal (the rest of the students in my cohort) helps ensure I’m presented with alternative viewpoints and approaches that I might not have seen on my own.

My writing skills have improved dramatically over the year of attending Center Centre and I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of writing as a skill even more.

5) Reflecting on your work:

End of day refection on how a past employer or boss demonstrated leadership

At the end of every day at Center Centre we reflect as a team. A facilitator writes a question on a whiteboard that has us recall on past events, the events of the day, or has us think ahead.

One of the benefits of reflecting is that you think about the way you approached your work and take note of how your process can be improved in the future.

The act of reflecting makes you more aware of how you work as an individual and within a team, and helps you to capture stories of things that went wrong or things that worked well. These stories are a great framework on which to build a portfolio so that when it comes time to interview for a UX position, you have a ton of great stories of overcoming challenges — one of the main things hiring managers look for when hiring a UX designer.

Reflecting on your work will make you a better designer and will improve how you approach your work and the process in how you complete it.

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There are more reasons that didn’t make this list but, in the end, whether at an institution like Center Centre or at a traditional school, the quality of an education is largely about how you apply yourself.

At Center Centre, they’ve created a culture of continuous learning and illustrate concepts in a way that motivates students to want to learn, because when you’re working on actual work for actual clients, a career as a practitioner of UX is tangible.

Here, you’re actually designing solutions to actual problems, which makes concepts truly come off the page and into the world — an experience that most four-year institutions just can’t touch.

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For more articles on our experiences here, follow the Center Centre Cohort 1 Blog as we provide you every week with a new article about what we are learning!