Teaching UX Design to TechGirlz

Emily Hurley | 12/18/2018

When we tell people, “We’re UX designers,” we’re typically met with confused looks or misconceptions about what that means.

“So you work with computers?”

“Oh, you make websites look nice, right?”

“You’re an artist!”

If our own friends and family members don’t quite grasp what we do, how can we make sure that the next generation understands what opportunities come with a career in user experience (UX)?

TechGirlz is a nonprofit based here in Philly that provides technology workshops for middle-school girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Take a spin through their site and you’ll be blown away by the complex, fascinating things kids are capable of today. Technology is in their DNA!

Many TechGirlz workshops focus on programming. We first got involved with TechGirlz when Nellie began helping to update their WordPress site a few years ago. What started out as just scheduling blog posts later turned into attending volunteer events and eventually creating a brand new workshop (A Day in the Life of a Web Designer).

Nellie knew that our team at EY Intuitive would be up for helping to improve her workshop and recruited a group to host the next one! For that one (Think Like a Designer), we took a different, more interactive approach and brought UX design (a critical component of any digital experience) into the mix.

In that workshop we also showcased exercises that our researchers, designers and developers use every day to solve real-world design problems. We gave our talented participants silly challenges and taught them that creativity doesn’t always involve a paintbrush — and digital experiences don’t always start on a computer.

But you might still be wondering, “So what exactly is a UX Designer and how can I think like one?”

Designers are team players.

We held our workshop at the EY Intuitive studio on a warm Saturday afternoon a few months ago. Our participants showed up ready with laptops in hand and the preconception that they would be learning something programming-related.

We began with an icebreaker activity in which we shared our backgrounds and what we do at EY Intuitive. We also gave a tour of our space, during which we explained that our open office layout encourages collaboration among all disciplines. Researchers sit next to developers, who sit next to designers, and we work in teams to conceptualize, test and build digital experiences. This mixed-discipline approach promotes a wide range of ideas and perspectives that might not occur if we only sat with people who do the same job.

Designers are in the know.

In our connected world, we are constantly using technology. But many of our participants were unaware of exactly how much our digital user experiences affect us every day. In our workshop, we asked the girls to think about their favorite apps and what they like or dislike about them. After sharing our thoughts out loud, we identified common themes that were used to describe both good and bad user experiences. We helped the girls realize that it’s important for designers to be aware of every type of experience to understand trends and common digital habits.

Designers have empathy.

One of the most important aspects of being a UX designer is putting ourselves in others’ shoes to understand their needs and desires. To show the girls how to exercise empathy for others, we asked them to design an app for an unusual character. Specifically, we asked: “What would a travel app look like for a dog?” and “How could you make a photo-sharing app work for an astronaut?”

These characters were diverse in their likes and dislikes, but they presented their own unique challenges (e.g., Is there Wi-Fi in space? Probably not). The girls quickly realized that designers need to take the time to understand the people who will be using the apps and websites they build to make sure they are taking those users’ individual needs and habits into account. Learning to think critically and creatively about users’ needs is one of the most important aspects of being a UX designer.

By the end of the workshop, the girls understood how the apps they use every day are created and updated. They had a lot of fun thinking about different features for different users, and the EY Intuitive team had a great time learning about how middle-schoolers think about their digital experiences.

The next time someone asks our TechGirlz participants what a UX designer is, they’ll be prepared with impressive answers.

Learn more about Nellie and Emily.