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On the first day of design class, I have learned to prepare a talk for my students. For about thirty minutes I go over the importance of getting their sh*t in order and studying ahead. They tend to nod their heads in agreement. However, over the course of the semester, most of the students struggle to finish because they failed to do either one or both of those things. Here are the notes from my talk.

1. Get your sh*t in order

Teaching at a community college often means that I do not have the luxury of isolating them on a campus. They often come to my class from a job, and they leave to a family. The class is one step to a larger goal. So, in order for my class to operate properly, students have to do few more things than just show up.

2. Figure out your schedule before the first day

By the end of the Summer, you should know your class schedule. There might be some classes that you are trying to get into or out of. Nonetheless, start mapping out your schedule in your calendar. Learn what days will be your busiest as far as time. Figure out how you will get to each class. Make a note if classes are on different campuses and what time they are in relation to traffic.

If you do not have everything paid for, then odds are you are already working. The trick is to align your class schedule to your current work requirements. A lot of people have a solid, non-negotiable chunk of time between Monday and Friday and 9 AM to 5 PM where they have to work. So, classes are at night or on the weekends.

For some, your schedule is more flexible or ever changing. This is where you explain to your supervisor what you are doing. She should understand and be willing to work with you to get the hours both of you need.

Transportation, Traffic, and Parking
When I first started going to Austin Community College, my wife and I shared one car. She and I had to coordinate her working schedule, my class times, and location. I had to plan out how to get to work and class on time. With Austin traffic, this often meant leaving ridiculously early and waiting on campus for the class to start.

The good thing was I had extra time to complete my work.

3.Time blocks for studying, friends and family, sleep and exercise

Your life will change. The time you had with friends and family will soon dry up. Between work and school work, I had very little time. I tell my students that. The choice is to go to school, get the skills, and get a job. If you maintain that focus, you should be fine. Friends and sometimes family will find it hard, but they should understand this is only temporary.

I also add that students should learn to take care of themselves. This means protecting time required for exercise and sleep. These are usually the first things they sacrifice, but I found that making them non-negotiable will give you the energy to power through your schedule.

4. Get your equipment and software in order

Adobe and Sketch
If you are taking a course on studying mobile interaction patterns, check the syllabus to see what program the instructor will use. Get your licenses in order. Adobe and Sketch both have educational discounts that sometimes reduces the price by 50%.

Make sure your computer’s OS (operating system) is up-to-date.
A lot of your errors and crashes will come from an out-of-date operating system. If you do not remember the last time you updated your OS, plan out a night when you will not need the computer to download and install the necessary updates.

Check your access to school accounts
Nothing jars you out of your Summer vacation like recovering your passwords. Start logging into your email and LMS (learning management system) early. I often forget my passwords, but I know I will forget them. So, I try to get into my system a month before classes to start resetting.

Study ahead

I get a wide range of abilities and experiences in my class. It is not possible to teach the material one way and expect the same impact. In my class, I stress that the teacher is not the single source of truth. Students need to take responsibility for their own learning. I point them to resources that will help them stay current and/or catch up with industry standards and trends.

5. Review the basics

Review the basics of the course. Understand the goals the instructor has for whole course as well as each section.

6. Go out and find other examples and resources

The teacher should have provided some resources and examples, but this is from one person. The Internet will offer so much more. Going back to the example of taking a class on mobile interaction patterns, search for videos, templates, tutorials, and articles on this subject.

Read more about prepping your portfolio.

Approach this study from two different levels. Work to understand it from a technical level where you will make design artifacts. Dig deeper to understand the reasons why these patterns exist.

Final thoughts on getting ready for the first day

The first day of design class in important. However, it is what you do before that class that either helps you start running or start stumbling.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.