Posts Tagged "education"

Wow, has it really been a whole year since I was still vocally against the Kent State Masters in UX Design? Well guess what. I have an update. And the update sounds like the same old news.

I recently met someone at an event. He was nearly finished with this Masters degree. He had evidently previously stumbled on my blog posts so I don’t think he was too happy to meet me in real life. But after the event, we spoke in the parking lot a while.

Short version: I don’t think he is a Master of UX. Based on what he told me he experienced and how he self-assesses, I don’t think he’s ready or qualified for any entry level job in UX. He received no mentoring. He said for most of his assignments, he got one or two sentences of feedback. He has no idea what he really did well or not well.

He didn’t know about User-Centered Design, the main model used by nearly every UX team around the world. He seemed to think that was a general term and nobody really agrees on the definition. No, it’s a thing. It’s formalised. It has steps and tasks and deliverables. Not every project requires all of them but I think we all generally agree on what this is and follow it where we can.

They are still teaching the LUMEN model, the made-up derivative of UCD that could and possibly should get you laughed out of a job interview. And if you go into a job interview and tell them that UCD is a general term that nobody really agrees on… ugh, good luck.

You still graduate with nearly no portfolio. The Masters in UX Design still contains almost no design work. What will you show a potential employer?

Is that just online education?

The saddest part was that this really nice and talented guy, this guy who deserved a great UX education, was rationalising it. Oh, this must just be online learning. I guess online learning doesn’t really teach you things and you have to do your own studying.

Wait. It’s always good to do your own studying. But do you think that if I ran my own online school that I would let ANYBODY feel that way for even a second? I would make sure instructors really taught, not just shepherded online discussions or wrote you one line of feedback about an assignment. I would make sure you had mentoring. I would make sure you had an adviser who cared about you rather than never being around because he has a real day job in addition to his eUniversity side gig. I would make sure you understand what you were doing, why you were doing it, other ways to do it, etc…

Just because something is online doesn’t mean it HAS to be inferior. Kent State has CHOSEN for it to be inferior. Do not make excuses for their cheap choices.

In a future blog post, I will take a look at various UX education choices and what I suggest for 2017. But I still suggest staying away from Kent State’s programmes. I know they are cheap and easy to get into. But do you want to date the person who is cheapest and easiest to get into? Sorry for that mental picture but seriously, consider that when it comes to your education, quality is important and not replaceable.

Quality won’t require you to make excuses for it… because it will be QUALITY. A quality programme won’t make you question why, nearly two years in, you really don’t know or understand any of the material and wouldn’t be able to create the deliverables on your own.

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It has been nearly a year since my blog post about my awful experience in Kent State’s “MS of UX Design” program. I wanted to update you on what’s happened since then, in no particular order.

People have come out of the woodwork to thank me. Many people told me they had similar experiences, which is sad but validating, not that I needed validation.

One guy tried to belittle and minimize me while telling me he was empathetic and also wasn’t so sure about the program. OK, weirdo.

I get emails like this.

Just saw your post on Kent State – I had a similar horrible experience. I wish I had seen this post before taking the introductory courses – what a waste of my and my employer’s money!

I just started that program myself, and am definitely experiencing some of the things you had mentioned. I was curious on your advice for someone looking to completely switch careers into UX. I’m currently in the [non-UX] field and was excited about this program, but definitely am feeling like the fundamentals are lacking thus far and feel a little lost with some of the assignments because of it. I want to make sure that at the end of the program I am prepared for and capable of obtaining a job in UX.

Heartbreaking. People expect a certain level of quality not only from a known, accredited university but also from a Masters degree.

I was told that there were some staffing changes there and they are changing the program, but based on the full set of updates I received, I would continue to have no faith in this program or department at all. That’s my opinion. Yours may vary.

How can I tell if a degree will get me what I want?

Many of the people writing to me are transitioning into UX. They want to learn all the fundamentals, core concepts, approaches, and certainly everything they’d need to get that entry level job. They want to graduate with a strong and impressive portfolio.

1. How many classes are spent on actual design that will end up in your portfolio? Last I checked, the Kent State Masters degree was going to spend a few weeks on design out of a 2-year degree. That is NOT ENOUGH to learn about design or build a strong portfolio.

Remember that (good) UX job interviews will ask you to explain the thinking, approach, and methods behind portfolio pieces. You don’t just show them. You explain if not defend them. I have even been in interviews where someone looked at an old portfolio piece and asked if I would do that project differently now and what I would do differently.

2. What core fundamentals are you being taught? Will you be taught User-Centered Design (UCD)? Gestalt Theories of Perception? Read job listings in UX. See what they are asking for. Does your program cover those well and deep enough that you can tell a potential employer you get it and do it?

3. Ask for detailed information about courses, especially intro courses. When I took the Kent State classes, the intro class was week 1, what are some jobs in UX. Week 2, let’s write up a proposal and plan to do research on a fake project. Wait, what? That’s not even step one of UCD. If it looks like an intro class is dumping you right into pseudo real life deliverables without fundamentals, concepts, and approaches, get out of there.

4. Who are the faculty and who designed the courses? At Kent, nearly everybody there was/is a UX researcher. So a bunch of researchers created a Masters in UX Design that has nearly no design and, guess what, LOTS of classes on research.

Also check if faculty are full time or not. At Kent State, I had trouble getting the attention of people in the department because they were also UX research consultants/practitioners and were sometimes unavailable to do that work. Sure, I want teachers who do (and don’t just teach), but I’d want them to be available and have teaching as a priority.

5. Mentoring and networking. I found that Kent State not only offered me no mentoring but when I offered to mentor my classmates, I was told that was inappropriate. I was told the department would consider administrative action against me if I tried to mentor my classmates. Beware of petty power struggles passed off as administrative rules. Look for schools with strong alum networks, good personal attention, and if you’re new to UX, a school that sets you up for mentoring right away.

Don’t be fooled by claims like, “Lots of our grads got good jobs after taking our degree,” or anything like that. Anybody can say that. That doesn’t tell us enough. Were those people already in UX? How much help did the school give in finding or securing that job?

Off the top of my head, those are just a few things I would suggest you dig deeply into.

Who do I recommend?

I continue to recommend General Assembly. It’s a sort of trade school in various cities plus some online programs. Their UX certificate takes just a few months. It’s not cheap. But I have seen many people get entry level jobs after taking that.

You end up with portfolio pieces and good foundational understanding of certain aspects of UX. While I like the idea of teaching at General Assembly, I don’t work there and gain nothing from suggesting them.

You do not need a 4 yr or grad degree unless you are looking to be a researcher. Most research managers I know like to see candidates have a Masters related to UX research or even an MBA. But if you are looking at other areas of UX including IA and interaction design, you may not need a university degree for that.

When I am interviewing candidates, I am looking more at their natural talent, approach, thinking, decisions, shifts, and ideas more than where they went to school.

Good luck to all of you no matter what path you choose or which certificate or degree you attempt to get!

Edit/update: There’s a third blog post on this topic from Oct 2017.

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There’s a new video series in town and it’s the only one in English from an Axure-recommended trainer.

Our Axure 8 video series is now live and available for purchase! It’s been a secret, but last year, we connected with O’Reilly to write and create a video series to each Axure 8. It’s finally out today!

It’s only $149.99 USD and is available as a streaming video or DVD. It’s 16 chapters, 79 lessons, and over 9 hours of content. Pause as you need to and work along with me!

Visit to hit O’Reilly’s page on this product and make your purchase.

Works for Axure 7 too!

Axure 8 has some new features that aren’t in 7. The UI of the program is also a bit different. But if you are on Axure 7, you’ll be able to use the techniques in nearly all of my lessons. A few lessons won’t be relevant to Axure 7, but nearly all will.

Enjoy and spread the word!

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This article is my opinion based on my first-hand experience. Your experience and opinion may vary. These are mine. 🙂 I have no horse in this race. If the degree continues the way it is, that doesn’t affect me. If someone changes it, that doesn’t affect me.

Many people working in UX as well as in other industries are considering a graduate degree in UX. There are many options out there including online degrees. Kent State University aka KSU offers a MS in UX Design, as they call it. I gave the online MS in UX a whirl last year and have the opinion that it will be the wrong program for most people considering it.

It’s easy to get into. Want the easiest to get into and lowest costing degree no matter what the classes are, who teaches them, and what the material is? Then you want KSU and my opinion won’t matter since your decision is based mostly/wholly on “easy to get into” and “least expensive Masters degree in UX.”

I don’t need the degree for my career. I figured some day, I’d teach college, and for that I’d need a Masters in my field of expertise. But this experience has turned me off to that, at least for the foreseeable future.

What Will the KSU Degree Teach You?

According to the website, you will learn things based on a 5-stage model called LUMEN. Learn (L), Understand (U), iMagine (M), Evaluate (E), iNform (N). You find out later that the LUMEN model is what the school is teaching you. That’s how you do UX work… according to LUMEN. Hands up, how many of you are using the LUMEN model? How many of you are looking for a LUMEN practitioner for your next hire? Nobody, right?

This is a model nobody uses except KSU. The person who created it told me it’s a derivative of UCD (user-centered design) but it’s his own thing. This degree will teach you about the LUMEN model but none of the other concepts, principles, or approaches in UX. I know this because I did the first two classes in the degree before dropping it.

The degree has the following classes:

  • 2 intro classes
  • 2 classes on usability (usability testing)
  • 2 classes in IA (one appears to be about “practical skills for information architectures” and the other appears to be on CSS and making websites compliant with federal regulations… federal regulations on websites?)
  • 2 classes on content strategy (content “crafting, promotion, and optimization”)
  • 2 classes on user research
  • your final thesis

This is a MS in User Experience Design. Where is the design? Other than a piece of one 7-week IA class covering “wireframes,” where is all the design one might assume goes with the degree name?

Before we can fry that fish, we have to look at something harder to believe; the basics/intro classes don’t cover the basics.

Wait, What? This UX Degree Doesn’t Teach UX Principles and Concepts?

That’s right. The first class is “Principles and Concepts.” I would expect people to start out learning generally about UX. User-centered design. Gestalt theories of perception. A history in product design and human factors. Ontology, taxonomy, and choreography. UX has many things at its core; let’s teach people some or all or these.

KSU teaches you none of them, at least not in the first two “basics” classes I attended. I was shocked out of my mind to take the classes and find that none of these were covered. Not even mentioned. How do you offer a Principles and Concepts of UX class and not teach ANY principles and concepts?

Week 1 of this class was let’s look at some jobs you could get in UX. Week 2 was let’s write a professional research plan like you might give a client.

Wait, whoa, that seems a bit fast. You haven’t even explained what we’re doing, in what order, or why. How did we go from “job types” to “write a research plan”?

I asked the “concentration coordinator,” who here I’ll call Dr R, to help me set my expectations correctly. Why aren’t we learning about UCD or other core concepts of UX? Why does the instructor not teach anything? Why is she just a discussion forum warden who sends out grumpy, unsupportive emails? With a class full of newbies, why isn’t there more teaching and more explanation of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it? I asked if anybody is supporting the students who are already struggling… because seeing that much struggle makes me want to mentor people.

KSU Wants Newbies Only

We interrupt that story to fill you in on something interesting. KSU has personas for their MS in User Experience Design. All of the personas are people new to UX thinking of changing careers to UX. As an existing UX practitioner (or expert), I’m not the target audience. This seems strange. Why wouldn’t a Masters degree want to attract existing practitioners? Why would it only want newbies for a Masters?

The answer is that newbies don’t know what they don’t know. Newbies may not know that they’re not being taught key principles or concepts. Newbies are likely to think they’re getting things wrong rather than the program or instructors are failing them. Newbies won’t know that the LUMEN model is nothing and not used at all. I don’t think it’s an accident that the program wants newbies.

Back to the story, this was semi proven when Dr R replied to my questions. I got a long, defensive email mostly telling me the program was perfect and amazing (I’m paraphrasing) and that if I don’t like it, I should consider if it’s the right fit for me. He told me he doesn’t have to teach UCD because he teaches his LUMEN model, which is a derivative of UCD (but not an improvement of it).

He told me it would be inappropriate and disrespectful for me to mentor my classmates.

People go to grad school partially for the network they are supposed to end up with. I’m a 20-yr industry veteran, mentor to many up-and-coming UX’ers, in a position to hire people, offering to mentor classmates for free and you’re warning me that I absolutely should not even think of doing it. His email was very clear. This guy sees me as some sort of threat and he wants me to go away.

OK! Expectations are now re-set! I officially now expect the content to insult me. I guess I can live with that. But what about my classmates? Those newbies looking to learn about UX for the first time?

The Others In My Class

Being mostly newbies, my class was pretty confused as week 2 hit and they were expected to write a professional UX research plan. Questions came into the discussion forum asking for examples. The teacher said no, you can’t see examples. Well, how do you expect a bunch of UX newbies to write a serious research plan in week 2 of grad school and without good examples?

We were then told that we’re not getting examples because if we do, we will just copy them. The whole class was accused of plagiarism without even being given the chance to not plagiarize. I wrote into the forum saying that this was an awful message to give students… to think the worst of them without giving them a chance… that we are all adults and surely we can use examples as models without copying them exactly. I wasn’t the only one writing back in with some surprise and maybe a bit of anger.

Privately, I received an email from Dr R warning me that he won’t hesitate to bring academic action against me for my behavior. I asked him to tell me exactly what I have done or what he thinks I might do that would warrant me being reported to the school’s disciplinary arm. He simply wrote back that the matter is closed for discussion and if I want to continue the matter, I can contact the school Ombudsman. Shot fired with no info or detail. Just threats.

The others in my class thought they were doing things wrong. They thought they were bad at learning. They thought they were bad at UX. They thought because they didn’t understand what was going on, what UX was, and they were doing poorly on assignments that they should just give up. I told them we’re not even doing UX! It’s too early to judge if you’re good at this. You’re not being taught the right things, heck you’re barely being taught anything, and you have instructors taking points off every possible place they can because it’s “grad school.” But more on that in the Instructor Handbook section of this blog post.

I asked these confused classmates if anybody had been in touch with them. Did anybody notice they were struggling and ask how they can help? The instructor? Our adviser? Dr R? Nope. Nobody. People leaned on me and I did the best I could to support and encourage them.

Classmates also wanted to know if they really needed a graduate degree in UX to excel. No, you don’t. I’m now a Director of UX at a very cool agency and I have a degree in music. You do NOT have to have an academic degree in UX to do better or manage people. Maybe if you want to work in a really buttoned-down, we like credentials industry like banking the degree would mean something. But not necessarily. And everywhere else, nobody cares. Many of the best UX practitioners I met had degrees in architecture. You do NOT need a UX grad degree to have a great career or end up a manager.

Will You End Up With A Design Portfolio?

Some classmates that wrote me privately mainly wanted to know if I thought this class would leave students with an impressive design portfolio at the end.

I said I’m not an expert on this program but it appears not. We have classes on the basics, which aren’t teaching the basics. We have a lot of classes on research, testing, and content. I looked at the syllabi for the information architecture classes and it looks like we spend about 2 weeks on interaction design. We do not learn about the key tools out there like Axure, Omnigraffle, etc…

The degree in UX design appears to have no design. So no, I think you won’t end up with a portfolio. I think you will end up with a lot of academic writing about research. If you want that, this degree could be right for you.

The degree sells you on the idea that it will prepare you for a career in UX. I am not sure what kind of career you’d be prepared for. Where is your design portfolio? Are you living and breathing UCD? You never heard of it? You learned the LUMEN model (that nobody has heard of or uses)? I imagine you might get a job with someone impressed that you have a Masters who didn’t look at what you learned or what artifacts you can show or what tools you learned. Outside of that, companies with serious UX directors might care that you didn’t learn any of this.

The Instructors Aren’t Instructors

In addition to all of this distracting, stressful nonsense, I found that the “instructors” were unforgivably poor communicators. I expect good communication in a graduate school environment. I expect monsterly fantastic clarity and communication from people with graduate degrees and who claim to be UX experts.

I also do a lot of training and teaching, so I have an expectation that someone claiming to be an instructor is going to be an industry expert who is there to teach, mentor, guide, explain, and tell relevant tales. KSU instructors do none of this. Dr R wrote all the lectures. The lectures are recordings of him talking over slides. The instructors don’t teach. They police the discussion forums, answer emails, and grade you… when they get around to these things. At best, this is their side job.

Each week, the assignment lacked clarity. How a bunch of so-called UX pros could week after week write assignments that newbies and experienced UX practitioners couldn’t make sense of I’ll never know. Each week, students asked instructors publicly and privately to explain what we’re supposed to do. The instructor in my second class mostly gave up, telling us she would grade leniently every week because what the assignment asked for could be interpretted so many ways (and she wasn’t always around during the week to help clear things up).

Unclear assignments easily lead to people getting poor grades. And the poor grades felt like a surprise. OH if you wanted THAT, why didn’t the assignment say so!

Other students emailed me about some of their upsetting adventures in getting grades back. They did so much more poorly than they expected to on assignment after assignment. They second guessed themselves. They lost confidence. The instructor would just send out what I called “bad dog” emails to the whole class telling us in general all the spots where we’re all getting it wrong.

I had endless bizarre experiences with the grading. Week after week, one instructor took points off for surprise reasons that had nothing to do with the grading rubric. She once took points off because she didn’t think that I’d be able to build next week’s assignment around the persona I came up with this week. That’s right. I got points off because she assumed that I would do badly on next week’s assignment. I got a 96 on next week’s assignment, thank you very much, crazy lady. The grading rubric this week does not include whether or not you think I will do well next week.

Knowing this woman would take points off randomly, I asked her how long the last assignment should be. She told me in writing it should be somewhere between a few paragraphs and a novel. She admitted this wasn’t helpful, but I should write enough to show I know what I’m doing. OK. I wrote about an uncommon topic so I took some extra time to explain it since part of the assignment was that the class would read it and comment on it. I wanted to make sure people had enough background information to be able to comment on it. I got points off for making it too long. It was about 4 pages of text and 2 pages of pictures.

The same assignment asked you to write casually and put in your personality. So I ended my fairly serious paper with one line about how I hoped someone would buy the item about which I wrote for my birthday. I got points off because according to the instructor’s comments, that joke wasn’t funny. I didn’t think it was a joke. It was just a personality moment, the type of thing the instructor had asked for in the assignment details.

The woman who wrote her whole paper on how public bathroom hand-drying paper towels are difficult for pirates to use? She got no points off for sense of humor. I didn’t realize that points could be taken off if the instructor doesn’t think you’re funny. I would have worked harder on some good comedy lines.

I hoped the second class would be better than the first but it wasn’t. The “instructor” evidently didn’t know she was supposed to hang out in the online discussion forums. She travelled and would disappear for days. I started emailing her when someone had posted a question in the forums so she’d know to answer it. How did she not know?

The Instructor Handbook

I previously mentioned that instructors didn’t seem to know what they were supposed to do. They didn’t think they had to teach. They didn’t think they had to respond to discussion forum posts and questions even though that’s nearly the only way we all communicate.

This is especially odd when you consider that Dr R, concentration coordinator, has vetted them and given them a handbook on how to be an instructor. How do I know this? Because I found his instructor handbook online when I was Googling for things relating to him. It was marked as a draft but it didn’t seem like a draft. It was very complete.

I have two fave parts of the handbook.

  1. Dr R suggests that it’s OK to grade people harshly because most of the people taking this program are probably bad at UX so it’s OK to weed them out. Thanks, vote of no confidence for your own students! Dr R can rest assured that it’s working. Most of the people in my class were sure that bad grades meant they were bad at UX and maybe they should drop out.
  2. Instructors might want to consider being a tiny bit lenient on students who are in Ohio. The handbook mentions that KSU gets serious subsidy from the state when they have Ohio students getting a B or better in each class. KSU relies on this subsidy. While Dr R can’t say all Ohio students should just be given super grades no matter what, the handbook implies that it’s best to keep the Ohio people in the program by them getting a B or better in each course.

All Roads Lead To Dr R

You can’t get away from Dr R. He’s everywhere. When I tried to go to my adviser, I got an email back from Dr R. When I tried to go to my instructor, I got an email back from Dr R. As far as I can tell, nobody has any power or authority to answer students or deal with issues.

Dr R wrote the lectures. Delivers them. Selected the readings. Created the assignments. Instructors don’t get to create anything we learn. They are just trying to interpret what Dr R intended, which was rarely easy for them.

It’s Dr R all the way, which was a tough situation since I found Dr R to be the Achilles Heel. There was no way around him.

When I tried to go to anybody in the department, the replies from Dr R were the email equivalent of, “Good day sir. I SAID GOOD DAY.” The great part about that is having all of this in writing. I love paper trails.

I went to the Ombudsman and the Dean with long stories and copies of the correspondence. I still hope they will open their eyes to their program and the person running it.

I Had Filed A Formal Grade Challenge

I put my heart into that first class. I wanted to do my best. I calculated that I should have had an A-. They gave me a B. For starters, the grading rubric said the lowest 2 quizzes would be dropped and they didn’t do that. When I told them about it, they had no idea “that was still there.”

I couldn’t get anybody to talk to me (see above about all roads leading to Dr R, and he’s a “before we start, this matter is closed” kind of guy), so I filed a formal grade challenge. I was easily going to prove that I should have had an A- due to a variety of errors and problems.

Once they saw the formal challenge, they gave me a B+. I guess they hoped that would be enough to make me shut up and go away. By the time my evidence was going to the dean for review, I had decided to quit school (and drop the grade challenge). May I say that quitting was incredibly freeing. I felt SO happy after disconnecting from that program. So happy to know I don’t have to deal with or hear from Dr R and his pseudo-team anymore. You always know you’ve done the right thing when your heart is soaring and you’re sleeping well again.

It looks like giving you whatever grades they feel like is the way they decide who stays and who goes. You actually have to maintain a certain average to stay in the program. Giving me a B would have been a step towards eventually kicking me out for low grades… if they hadn’t manufactured a way to kick me out for “behavior,” for which they were planting seeds.

I guess they REALLY don’t want non-newbies in the program! We know too much. And some of us aren’t quiet. Some of us will stand up and say something, especially where we think others are being deceived.

And This Is The Short Version

There is so much more I can say but this is the short version. I gave it my best for two classes but my natural “help people” instinct, my UX researcher instinct, and my ability to measure BS were all firing like crazy. I slept poorly at night worrying about my classmates. I’d be fine! I work in this industry. I have no problem getting jobs. I know the material. But what about the newbies paying so much money to NOT learn UX?

I decided that if this is what online university looks like, I will go teach at General Assembly (when I have time). At least there, expectations are set. Instructors teach! You end up with a portfolio. You get a job that matches what you just trained to do.

The UX degree from KSU should be and will be a laughing stock of our industry once people learn what’s going on there. People are much better prepared to work in UX after a 12-week General Assembly course.

People eventually figure out when the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. It starts with me saying something out loud like this blog post. This will validate all the people struggling in the KSU program… the people who are confused, lost, and assuming they’re just bad at UX. It’s not you.

A Good School Is There For You

When you are having trouble and the instructor is no help, your adviser is no help, and the “concentration coordinator” isn’t really listening or helping, it’s not you. Just because this is grad school doesn’t mean you should be abandoned and left without support. I’ve met people who have reputable UX degrees from famous universities (that they did in person, not online), and they raved about the personal attention they got. Just because this is online doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get care and attention.

It starts with some of us finally saying these things out loud to each other or in public. It continues with things like this question I got in a public discussion on Facebook:


You’re reading that correctly. A KSU student is asking me what should he/she be investigating independently. Sounds like he is starting to realize that the courses aren’t teaching him what he wants to learn, what he needs to learn. He will have to do his own research and studying to get to know UX, to understand it, to hopefully excel in it.

That shouldn’t happen. The MS degree from KSU will run people around $25K. That’s a LOT of money to spend only to have to then “investigate independently” to learn what you aren’t being taught. It’s sold as a degree aimed at newbies to teach you everything and prepare you to work in UX. I imagine the people who excelled after taking this course did so in spite of the degree, not because of it. Or perhaps they were already excelling and just added extra letters to their names.

Raise Your Standards

It’s OK to quit grad school. It’s OK to dump this school and pick another. It’s OK to spend a little bit more to get a better education. Or spend less. General Assembly costs a fraction of what this KSU degree will, it takes only 12 weeks, and it will do a decent job preparing you for an entry level UX job.

It’s OK to choose a school based on more than what it costs and how easy it is to get in.

It’s all OK. Whatever you choose for yourself is OK. However, in my opinion, it is not OK for Kent State to pass this degree off the way they are. You want to work in UX? Act like it! Ask questions. Ask more questions. Keep digging. Learn everything you can. Imagine scenarios. Outcomes. Reasons. Look objectively at KSU, the courses, the faculty, the approach. Look at how the lectures and classes work. Think critically. Once you take “this is cheap and easy to get into” out of the equation, there is a lot you should be seeing.

Thanks for reading and good luck in your schooling adventures! I hope you are all successful and happy UX practitioners (or whatever you decide you want to be). 🙂

Edit: October 2016, here is a follow-up blog post on this topic.

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We train people on Axure. We are one of the few trainers recommended by Axure on the planet! And proud of it.

There are other trainers, recommended or not. Sometimes we take a look at their lesson plans… and we’re always surprised by them.

It looks like trainers believe they must teach you every key thing Axure can do in one day. Given how much Axure can do, this is likely to cover too much too narrowly in too short a time.

Typically these curricula claim that in one day, you’re going to learn the environment, masters, dynamic panels, forms, variables, conditions, Axure “logic,” widget libraries, adaptive views, and Repeaters. Can that really be done? If you’re coming from a development background, you might be able to learn nearly all of Axure in one day.

Most of the people I’ve trained the past few years aren’t developers.

Why not? Because developers figure out Axure well on their own and generally need little training. The people who come to me for training were sometimes confused by Axure the moment they opened it. They don’t have a programming background. They often have art backgrounds and haven’t had to think of things in terms of logic or processes where the order of things matters.

I’m not saying that all art school people have a hard time with Axure. Some fall into it easily! Many don’t, and that’s OK; it’s why we’re here.

We teach you how to think like a programmer and stay a designer.

We’ve broken core Axure training into eight lessons that take 1.5 – 2 hours each. We start with understanding the software environment (menus, panes, toolbars). We fully cover masters and Widget and Page Styles, which are life savers. We then go into forms using standard Axure widgets and forms when you’ve custom designed the elements.

Not only is that a great lesson for people who like higher fidelity prototypes but it’s also a core skill that you’re going to use in many of our following lessons. Once you can build a custom droplist from scratch, you’re on your way to nav menus, mega menus, accordions, and other standard elements that use similar approaches.

We teach progressive disclosure, setting text, beginner-level variables, and iFrames. We hit adaptive views at the end but don’t go too deeply into prototyping for mobile. That and other lessons like having Axure do math and building “listeners” (automatically running processes) we consider to be add-ons for students after they’re comfy with the foundation lessons.

Nothing gets the quickie version when we teach it. Students are taught how to think out, step by step, each interaction they want to build. Rather than show you, “Here’s how to prototype a website,” we teach skills and approaches so that you can learn to make Axure do whatever you want.

That means we take you from newbie to intermediate in two full days.

That’s 16 hours including breaks. Our video version of the same course runs over 7 hours (but there are no breaks and I move a bit more quickly on the assumption you will pause or re-watch if you need to). That’s also without time to stop and help troubleshoot people’s common mistakes.

That gets you up to a confident intermediate prototyper. 16 hours. And then you need to use those skills and practice! Please!

We don’t teach you Repeaters unless you have a note from your doctor.

Repeaters are neato and powerful. They allow you to build “real” data into Axure (think mini Excel spreadsheet with text and/or images) that you can then manipulate. Pretty neat, right?

And also often unnecessary. We used it for an eCommerce prototype because the client insisted that when someone clicked “Add To Cart,” the EXACT item they chose showed up “for real” in the shopping cart. Would the prototype have been “worse” or harder to test if Lorem Ipsum showed up in the shopping cart?

Someone emailed us recently thinking he needed to learn Repeaters because he was going to have rows of data added, edited, and removed from an interface. Well, you could learn Repeaters but they’re rather complicated. Can this just be faked out? Can you have adding a row show a hidden row? Deleting that row removes it and moves the ones underneath up? And you only build certain rows to delete so that the prototype always looking like it’s perfect?

It will be faster and less hassle to build the “fake version.” It might even be fine for user testing. Consider saving your time and “faking” it instead of building Repeaters. Repeaters aren’t the wrong choice. They’re just a tough thing to learn for most people.

I tell students it will take you a half day to wrap your head around Repeaters and then most of the week to start to feel like you get them. I once taught them to a really sharp UX guy, who seemed to pick it up well. At the end of the week, I asked how it went. He said it took him a half day to wrap his head around it and most of the week to just get it to start to work they way he wanted.

Which means I have NO idea how people are teaching it fully as a small section of a full day workshop.

When choosing an Axure trainer, consider the background and comfort of students.

Are your students all developers? Then nearly any trainer will do. 🙂

Are your students artists, visual designers, UX practitioners, managers, business analysts, or product managers? You probably will want to look at Axure training that doesn’t try to pack it all in a day. You may think you are saving time and money on a one-day bootcamp or workshop. Ultimately, the real measurement of that is how much your students learn and how independent they feel after that class.

Our workshops are two full days. We also offer private training on your site or over the internet. Private training is customized to who your team is, what they need to know, and the pace at which they go.

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How many times has a post like this ended up in your news feed?


And then let’s say you share it. If you’re like me or my Facebook friends, by default, your shares and posts are set to “Friends Only.” That means this teacher will never see that you shared it.

What if you share one that was someone else’s share? The teacher might not see that if she’s just looking at how many shares her original post received. What if you pressed like on your friend’s share of it? The teacher won’t see that either.

Those students are not going to get the right info or data about how far this post really went.

Here’s How To Do This Right

Step 1: Write your message. Make sure you mention elementary age school kids, sexting, security, or safety. Could be middle school or high school. I saw one where the teacher had written that her school kids thought it was OK to post pictures of themselves in their bras and underwear.

Step 2: Come up with a probably-unique hashtag like #apr2015internetsafety. Ask people who share it to tag the picture with that hash tag. Side note: in case some freako uses that hashtag for NSFW stuff, teachers, make sure you are checking these things before showing them in class to students.

Step 3. Ask people who share it to make sure that their Facebook share is a PUBLIC post. The kids can only see public posts. They can’t see posts I made just to my Facebook friends. Shares have to be public.

Step 4: If the goal is really to see WHERE this post ends up geographically, ask people when sharing to post their location (generally) like city and state.

Step 5: If you want to teach kids how many people could see a post, have the people who share it also say how many Facebook friends and followers they have.

That means someone sharing it might create a public post that says, “San Francisco, CA. 300 friends, 60 followers. #apr2015internetsafety” The teacher can see how many likes and shares that got, and follow everything like a neural network.

Now you’re cooking with gas. Everything else just seems is a sharing black hole since the original teacher will have no real way to track it all down later. But if she can go to Facebook and look for her hashtag, then she can now collect some good/better data.

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Goodbye, Google Helpouts

Posted By on Feb 17, 2015

Google Helpouts shuts down on April 20th, 2015. I was in the group of the first instructors they approved for the platform. I predicted the failure of the Helpouts platform early and often, but not here. 🙂 I hoped Google would get it together.

First let me say that I appreciated the opportunity to be among the first batch of instructors. It not only lead to me putting video courses on Udemy but then lead to me decide to start my Masters degree this year so I can teach college in my field of expertise (on the side or eventually full time). It was the first domino that made me realize how much I LOVE teaching… and how else can I provide instruction.

While I am grateful for that, I’m also disappointed by the outcome, even though it’s the outcome I thought would happen.

When I look at why any company or startup fails, I am looking at the following criteria:

  • The concept (which often sucks but I think this is a good concept).
  • The execution and UX (which were bumpy but had some good things going for it). This also includes does the product or service rely heavily on people changing the way they do things now. Because people rarely like to change how they do something now, especially if they are telling themselves it works for them.
  • The marketing (which was close to non-existent from what I saw).
  • The user response (which seemed to range from abusive to teachers to thrilled people who used it with some frequency).
  • The competition (which is vast from the point of view of easily-accessible online education but not vast from the perspective of live video-based possibly-paid help).

In this case, you have working against Helpouts:

* Competition. I am still more likely to read discussion forums and watch YouTube videos than pay someone to help me over video. Yes, Helpouts worked for some of you. I didn’t do a Helpout on singing lessons (though I could have) because posture is too important to singing. I need to be WITH someone and really take in everything they are doing to do it right.

And when you don’t require someone in person, will forums and YouTube videos suffice? What about posting to Facebook asking people how to do or fix something? Forums, videos, and Facebook are great especially if you want to get a lot of different ideas on how to do something.

I knew about Helpouts and *I* didn’t use them. I went to local cooking classes. I watched videos on installing that accessory on my motorcycle. I contacted tech support and waited for answers. I asked the guys at Orchard Supply Hardware the best way to do it.

* Execution, UX, and Natural Human Behavior. Helpouts required a new behavior, and that’s one of the hardest things to overcome in any new product or service. “People need us, but will need to learn a new way of looking for help, asking for help, and (potentially) paying for help to get it.”

I see Craigslist ads for people saying basically, “OMG please help me right now with Axure,” which is the software on which I train people in real life, online, and through Helpouts. So people are hitting Craigslist before they’re hitting Helpouts.

There were also serious UX problems. I created an hour-long Helpout that Helpouts consistently booked as 15 minutes. I once had Helpouts charge someone for three hours at $90/hr. They FREAKED out at the charge to their card, and I ended up with NO Helpout (cancelled out of fear of the charge) and spending a LOT of time being customer service (because they were sure I charged the card, I had their money, etc…).

Years ago, there was a wave of angry eBay sellers who hated eBay so much, they were going to sell on a site called Bonanza. You probably haven’t heard of it. You’re not shopping online at a place you never heard of. So why sell where your audience isn’t shopping? Sounds like wasted time and potentially wasted fees if you’re charged to list item or have a “store.”

Bonanza is unlikely to get people to drop their eBay and Amazon habit and start shopping there. Helpouts wasn’t able to get people to drop their other habits of pursuing help, so it didn’t become someone’s new habit.

Which is also because of…

* Marketing. For the most part, nobody knew about Helpouts. Google didn’t do a Google job in making sure they knew about it. Google definitely has the power to get Helpouts in front of anybody using Chrome, Android, Gmail, Google search, or other Google products. Someone looking for a how to on YouTube could have been shown messages that a live trainer is ready to help with this topic. Without “going there,” how will people even know about this? I know Google did a little, but if they had done “enough,” it might not be shutting down.

I also knew marketing was a major afterthought when I saw two things:

1) Google seemed to expect us teachers to spread the word (as the main method of marketing). We were given codes. We were given contests. We had to let people know about it. Hey, you’re freaking Google. You tell people about it!

Bonanza did this too. You’ve never heard of it. That’s because they told sellers YOU promote it. You tell people to come to your Bonanza store. Unless your product or service is naturally viral in some way, don’t expect what are basically your customers to do your marketing.

2) My lovely green hoodie that I love so much didn’t say Google. But more importantly, it didn’t have a URL. I think one main thing we’ve all learned about marketing since 1996 was get your URL on stuff so curious people know where to go to check it out. The hoodie said Helpouts (whatever that is since it had no slogan), no URL, and what looks like a waving dude grabbing my butt. 🙂

That’s not helping visibility or awareness. To me, it shows me what kind of attention Google is giving the visibility and awareness of Helpouts. If we send instructors cool cards and a nice hoodie, THEY will spread the word for us.

Bonus problem: competition for your instructors plus the marketing “problem.”

If you want ME to market it and send people to Helpouts, but Helpouts takes a cut, well why should I send people to Helpouts? Why not send them to Hangouts or Join.Me or something else, and work out payment before or after the session? The main advantage of Helpouts was: I KNOW I will get paid. Working with people directly, I have to worry that they will stiff me, which is solved by getting them to pay up front. I have new people pay up front and recurring students pay before or after, though many now pay for “Session Packages” up front and we work against their pre-paid package.

Udemy handles this interestingly. If I send someone from my website or URL to my Udemy video course, I get 100% of the income and Udemy takes NO cut. If they come from browsing the Udemy site, Udemy takes a cut. If they come from an affiliate link, the affiliate and Udemy take a cut (and I end up with very little). That would have been more enticing for Helpouts… let me use your platform but let me keep the money when I bring the customer there. That’s MY customer.

If you build it, don’t expect me (your customer) to market it. I have no horse in the race of your product’s success. I was doing OK before you and will do OK if you go extinct. Don’t expect me to be as dedicated as you are and promote it with all my might and budget.

IN CONCLUSION, to me, this is unfortunate. Google had the platform built, the teachers checked out, and people willing to give time and expertise for free or paid. Google had Google in its pocket to potentially make sure everybody knows about this. This SHOULD have gone better.

Perhaps we can try this again someday when it has a fresh plan behind it. It needs a major marketing plan to ensure visibility and awareness that can lead to traction and adoption. Without that plan, what’s the point?

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Yesterday was exciting and proud for me as Axure added my company to their extremely short list of recommended trainers.


Extremely short list! We’re one of only two companies recommended for all of North America!

Many thanks to Axure for recognising my fun and dare I saw AWESOME Axure training.

Want Axure training? We’ve got it!

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I watch “How It’s Made” nightly. I DVR them fanatically. In case you’re not familiar, “How It’s Made” is a TV show made in Canada where they show you how things are made. You’re in a factory usually, but you don’t hear factory sounds. You hear weird background music and a hypnotic narrator while you watch the hypnotic machines chugging along. It’s hypnotic. Makes us fall asleep within minutes.

Since most of the segments are in North American factories and manufacturers, I’ve realised something. Who is working those jobs? I think most factory jobs are not taken by highly educated people. And that’s OK. Someone has to work them. I’m not judging. I’m going for facts.

And based on some of the tattoos, I’m also going to say that some factory jobs are taken by ex-cons, possibly as the only job they can get. Job opportunities are probably limited for the former inmate, especially with gang or prison tattoos.

This Should Be Shown To School Children To Remind Them To Stay In School And Away From Crime

What do you want to be when you grow up? Would you like to spend decades in a plant that presses plastic pellets into tool boxes? See those worn-out looking people with their bandaged, dirty hands? See the guys working those machines with all the cuts on their hands? Were you hoping to be among them?

The best way to not end up among them would be to get the best education you can and never get arrested.

Ever wonder what jobs criminals tend to have? You might think none! A successful criminal doesn’t have to work. He makes his money by stealing or running his drug empire. Maybe. Ever wonder what job he’s qualified to get when he’s out of jail? He can dump buckets of powdered additives into a giant bin at the cookie factory. Not very thuggy now is it.

School children should see this.

Don’t have some ex-con guy come yell at kids about staying on the right side of things. I am not sure that gets through. Kids should have to watch four hours of How It’s Made. Then a half hour lunch break. Then 4 more hours of How It’s Made. Because if you don’t stay on the right side of things, that’ll be your day for the rest of your life. 8+ hours of dropping scrap metal into a furnace so it can be made into pots and pans. 8+ hours of stitching 2 pieces of fabric together, over and over, so people can have kites.

That’s my new theory. How It’s Made is great for falling asleep and for convincing kids of the possible outcomes of low education or being an ex-con or former gang member.

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Google Helpouts goes live today, and I’m very proud to say that I was selected to be one of the first trainers / providers.

What’s a Google Helpout?

Like their website says, Helpouts are a place to, well, get help! Using the Google Hangout system, trainer and trainee will be in a live video call. Tools like screen sharing, remote desktop, and Google Drive help out. Learn computers, guitar, cooking, take a yoga session, and more… all through Google Helpouts.

We get to decide if Helpouts are paid or free. I am starting out with free Helpouts for two reasons. One, get some students and hopefully good ratings. Two, see what kind of demand my sessions have and how much time they’re taking. Then determine what it makes sense to charge, if anything.

And at the end of your session, you get to rate your instructor. Great ratings help in Helpouts search of course, so be generous and honest. 🙂

Google Interviewed Me Personally For Each Submitted Helpout

Before you think that Google gave power to a bunch of randoms to teach things they may barely know, please know that’s not the case. Every time I submitted a Helpout, I had to schedule a video chat with a Google staffer. He asked about my background. Education. Qualifications. Achievements or awards. Do I blog on this topic. How long have I been at this.

They even consider if you are “camera friendly” and what your background is. He did NOT like the background in one of the conference rooms at my then day job. And he thought my built-in webcam was blurry. I’m happy to improve those things.

Anybody trying to list under the Health category is getting even way way more scrutiny. So I think Google is trying their best to do this right and only give you friendly, helpful people who are advanced in their field.

That being said, I’ve already found one douchebag troll idiot who is a provider. I don’t want to name names, so for now, I’ll just say don’t be afraid to leave a douchebag a bad rating. Hopefully that’ll help weed bad apples out. So far, he’s been a douchebag around the private Google Plus community Google set up for trainers. 1 jerk out of 530+ people in there is still pretty good. 🙂

What Are My Helpouts?

I’m starting with three. Photoshop (mostly aimed at beginners), Axure (aimed at anybody who wants to learn Axure), and Android devices (aimed at anybody who has one or is thinking of getting one, and might need help learning the tips and tricks of mastering Android). I had a fourth one where I wanted to do another thing I help people with in real life… rewriting their online dating profiles. But Google rejected that for now. I don’t think they had a good place for it among categories, and I wonder if they felt it was getting into a “personal counselling area,” though I don’t mean for it to be. Oh well! Three’s a great start!

Or share with friends with my handy shortened URL:

Come check them out, and schedule some time with me if you need help!

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