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Why I teach design and why you should too

I started out a teacher. Specifically, I taught English to speakers of other languages in Japan and briefly here in the U.S.. Five years ago, I made the leap to UX designer. Recently, the director of my program at Austin Community College, asked me to come back to teach design as an adjunct instructor for the program. The chance to revisit my past profession from the perspective of design has been an eye opening challenge. Here are the four lessons I have learned from this journey.

1. Plan like hell and go with the flow

As a teacher, I have to shift my thinking back and forth from highly specific details of lessons and deliverables to a zoomed out view of the course goals. From day one, the success of the course depends on the how solid I planned at both levels.

Have a vision for the long game
When I first started teaching “Intro to U”’ and “UX Portfolio”, I had to ask the question, “what will the students gain from these courses,” and “how will these lessons contribute to their career goals”? In the case of “UX Portfolio”, I knew the end goal was for the students to create and present an application worthy portfolio. Articulating this goal clearly, helped to logically set up each milestone required.

Focus on the details for the immediate next steps
Line up the milestones in logical order. Then think about the steps required to complete each milestone. What do you need to prove the students successfully completed each step and milestone? Finally, plan out how to guide the students through each step. I only make a detailed plan two to three classes ahead. This gives me room to evaluate my approach and pivot if the students aren’t responding as I expected.

2. Time your message right

With each interaction online and in the class, I have to be conscious of what information they need to get through the next class and assignment. At the same time, I want to keep them focused on the larger goal or why they are working on these assignments. Every piece of information passes through this framework. It helps me zero in on answering the right questions and sharing the most appropriate information.

3. Teach design with consistency

Consistency is respect for other people’s time. I start and finish class on time. I keep my class monologues brief, and I make sure no one student monopolizes the classroom stage. This expectation also passes to the students. They are in class on time and their assignments are handed in on the due date. I stress that being consistent on when you show up and when you deliver your work affects how your classmates and future teams value you. It’s a small world and a good reputation can go a long way.

People will give your message more weight if they know you are 100% present for them.

4. Be 100% present

Respect is a two way street. People will give your message more weight if they know you are 100% present for them. Students will listen if I listen to them. I make a point to get to my class early. Students seem more at ease if they walk in and see me. It sends the message that I am investing more time to connect with them.

Teaching gives me the opportunity to break down my day-to-day to fundamentals and find ways to clearly communicate valuable lessons to future designers. I have the ability to influence someone’s personal and career growth as well as contribute to my own.

Interested in more post on teaching, check out these posts.



Matt Eng

Product Designer at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as IBM, Alcatel-Lucent, Polycom, Symantec and Pebble. Volunteers with AIGA Austin and teaches at Austin Community College.

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