How to Introduce UX to High Schoolers
A guide for teaching students the power of UX design to solve a unique problem in 90 minutes, and how you can teach your team to do the same.
Last month, my UX leadership skills were put to a different kind of test. I got the opportunity to design and teach a 90-minute virtual UX workshop to high school students entitled, “Redesigning the Classroom Experience” with the non-profit, AIGA LINK. Because I have a 15-year-old of my own (who actually attended the workshop with me), I was equally thrilled and terrified at what the outcomes might be. My goal was to teach participants the fundamentals of the UX process and guide them through its application in order to solve an important challenge they face every day in school.
Here is the breakdown of the steps we took together to achieve success.
Understanding the audience
I’ve tailored UX workshops to many niche audiences and industries over the years: engineers in EdTech, marketing teams in Travel, c-suite execs in Wellness, etc. While each workshop felt unique and began with different expectations, the participants across the board all had one thing in common: they were over the age of 25. I’d never run a workshop with Gen Zers (or Zoomers) before. I’d never taught an online design tool and problem-solving process to participants who grew up online and are known for boldly solving major problems that have plagued humanity for decades.
During my research, I planned my approach around some key learning traits of this group. Zoomers:
- Focus on quickness over accuracy;
- Prefer intrapersonal learning over interpersonal;
- Want to do actual, real-life exercises instead of just watching videos or listening to lectures;
- Seek exact guided instructions instead of open-ended creative explorations.
Choosing the collaboration tool
There are a plethora of whiteboard collaboration platforms available for remote workshops such as Miro, Mural, and Jamboard. We chose FigJam as our tool for three reasons:
- It’s easy for anyone to learn without any prior design knowledge or experience. With less than 2 hours to run our workshop, we couldn’t afford for any of our participants’ time to be spent on learning how to use a new platform.
- You don’t need an account to collaborate in FigJam, so facilitating and sharing on the fly with large groups is seamless and free!
- Figma is currently the most popular tool for designing and prototyping. While we didn’t do any actual designing in Figma during our workshop, we wanted to give students a taste of what designing on it might feel like. Those that were interested in exploring UX as a potential profession beyond our time together would already feel comfortable with its methodology, features, and interface.
Designing the Workshop
The UX process we’ve developed at Gallardo Labs took us years to refine. It is also ever-evolving as we learn different techniques, gain new perspectives, and adapt to the latest technologies or discoveries over time. When applied to a client initiative, our process is constant, meaning there is no beginning or end. It runs cyclically depending on the size, type, and cadence of the project or task at hand throughout the entirety of the engagement. If we’re working in design sprints, the process is applied in continuous spans of 1 to 4 weeks. If we’re using the waterfall model, it is done on a larger scale and takes anywhere between 3 months to a year. In Kanban style (using smaller isolated tasks like those commonly assigned to designers in Jira or Trello), a modified version of the UX process is applied to each task individually, typically taking 2 to 3 days per solution.
With this workshop, however, we didn’t have months, weeks, or even days. We had 90 minutes to teach students the concept and importance of User Experience while guiding them through its application to solve a real problem in their classroom. The process required substantial customization to not only the flow and steps but also to the activities within each step and how they were communicated to our participants to ensure maximum engagement.
Workshop Steps and Activities
Understanding the User
After an icebreaker, creative warm-up, and introduction, we helped students describe and get to know their user. We expressed the importance of making sure their learning community is properly understood and represented in this step.
As a group, we talked about who their user is and then assigned each student to a column of traits or characteristics to fill out for them: demographics, interests, goals, and worries. We then gave their user a name: Mei.
💡 By giving each participant a specific column to focus on and some prompts, we helped Mei quickly become a well-rounded and multifaceted persona.
Mapping Current User Journey
We discussed what a user journey is and how it would help them identify where challenges and opportunities lie for improvement within Mei’s experience. We then identified each action taken in her journey, what she is feeling during each step, and whether that feeling is positive or negative.
💡 To help participants choose feelings to accompany Mei at each step, I included a wheel of emotion for quick reference.
Identifying What’s Working Well vs. What’s Not
Individually, using sticky notes, students wrote down all the things that were working well in Mei’s classroom experience. Next, they wrote down all the challenges, annoyances, mistakes or concerns discovered in Mei’s journey and were given 3 votes to determine which problem is most important to solve.
💡 Participants didn’t hold back here and had no problem describing Mei’s problems.
Voting on Problems and Reframing as the Main Challenge
As a group, we turned the top-voted problem into a “How Might We” challenge statement.
I explained that “How Might We” statements are small but mighty questions that allow us to reframe our insights into opportunity areas and come up with innovative solutions to our main challenge.
💡 As we began refining Mei’s problem statement, the participants began discussing how the problem might also include and affect the teacher’s experience.
Ideating & Voting on Solutions
We then talked about the exciting task of ideating possible solutions to our challenge statement. To help provide clear focus and intent, we divided the students up into 4 groups. Each group was tasked with ideating around a specific type of solution: New app or site, redesign of current app or site, physical room technology, or communication.
We put music on and told the students to focus on quantity over quality.
After all ideas were posted, each student was given 6 votes to vote on which solution would best solve their main challenge.
💡 We told the participants they could write on paper if they didn’t want to share their ideas right away, but to our delight they chose to work directly in FigJam, adding their raw ideas to Post-Its as they popped up.
Mapping a New User Journey
Next, we asked students to imagine what Mei’s journey will be like now that she has this new solution in place. What steps will she take and how will she feel? Together as a group, we discussed and documented her new user journey.
💡 Since this was the second user journey they made, very little assistance was needed. The participants ran with it.
Sketching a Storyboard or Wireframes
Here is where the students brought their solutions to life. They were presented with two ways to do this: sketching a storyboard of the user journey or sketching wireframes. Both options were requested to be done using paper and pencil and then uploaded to our board at the end for discussion.
We gave students these tips:
- If sketching the storyboard: Make sure your user is always the center of your story. Sketch individual scenes for each step we defined in our user journey. Take us through the same journey, but visually.
- If sketching wireframes: Key screens are the main screens of your design solution. Think about the problem you are trying to solve and the users you are solving it for. What information is most important to users at each key screen? How will your design be easy for them to use and understand?
💡 To make it easier for participants to upload their work to FigJam, they took pictures of their work and sent them to the AIGA LINK volunteers via Discord.
Discussing and Presenting
After an internal discussion, we joined our other breakout room and had each team present their solutions to each other.
💡 To ensure everyone got a chance to practice presenting, we assigned each person a section of the process to walk the other group through.
Reflection and Reviews
My overall experience as a facilitator and coach for this group was incredible. I was blown away by how quickly the participants were able to grasp the UX process and apply the new concepts in a collaborative, remote environment. Typically, this same workshop takes c-suite executives and professional designers 8 to 16 hours to complete.
What worked well
- I invited a colleague to co-facilitate with me and this allowed us to split into smaller groups to provide more hands-on guidance. It also allowed us to compare outcomes toward the end while giving participants an opportunity to practice presenting their work.
- By providing prompting questions and examples where we could, we eliminated any guesswork the students had around where to begin.
- Directions for each step were provided in a clear and concise manner. Language was simplified by stripping away industry acronyms and jargon.
- Outcomes were shown at each major step on our FigJam board so students had something to benchmark their own work against.
- Sticking to our rigid timeboxing as best as we could helped rid us of perfectionism and respect the workshop process as it was designed to be completed.
- Calling on the students by their names ensured continuous conversation and involvement during moments of silence. This one was SUPER important. (Thanks AIGA LINK volunteers for offering this tip to us prior to starting!)
What could’ve been done better
- Our workshop scenario of Redesigning the Classroom Experience was directly related to our participants, making them the designer and also the user. Explaining this was tricky because this is rarely the case in the real world. Usually UX designers design for people who are very different from themselves. That’s the most challenging and fascinating part of our job and the art of this profession. Next time, the workshop scenario should be more niche, forcing the students to step outside of what they know to empathize with someone else unlike themselves.
- We didn’t allow enough time for the user journeys and weren’t able to explore what things are working well in Mei’s journey before and after she entered the classroom. We needed to spend more time identifying steps in her day outside of school that could’ve influenced and inspired new solutions in class.
- Most participants had their cameras turned off throughout the entire workshop and this made it harder to collaborate with each other in such a quick fashion in some areas. Next time, I will stress the importance of face-to-face interactions for key moments. Perhaps using a visual or sound cue to let them know when to turn cameras on may be a playful way to do this.
Feedback from the students
Overall, students enjoyed the activity and learned more about design and collaboration. Here’s what they said:
- “I thought that this was a very different way to think about design and creativity and I thought that was really interesting.”
- “I liked that this was different from the other ones. It was fun to collaborate and problem solve. The instructor was really great and helpful.”
- “I liked how we were interactive the whole time.”
- “I really enjoyed this workshop. The information was great. The instructors were both fantastic, I mostly worked with Nicole and she was awesome and brought such nice energy to the breakout room!”
- “I liked the problem-solving aspect and mapping out the problem in a visual way.”
- “I really loved the ideating part. It was super fun and cool!”
- “I found the visualization most helpful and interesting.”
- “I like that we are learning to collaborate on online software like Figma.”
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Nicole Gallardo is the Co-Founder + CEO at Gallardo Labs, a UX design agency that helps passionate leaders and visionaries redefine what’s possible. They help Fortune 500’s and startups solve their most complex challenges— designing websites, apps, and platforms that drive sales, engagement, and awareness.
Nicole has designed over 80 digital products in her career for brands including Target, Chrysler, Norwegian Cruise Line, Frida, Virgin Voyages, GE, AARP, and UNHCR. She is now on a mission to help early-stage founders apply proven UX methodologies to their business and user needs in order to design the right product and minimize investment risk.
To learn more about AIGA LINK program and get involved, visit thelinkprogram.org.