How General Assembly stays on the cutting edge of UX design and prepares graduates to succeed

4 min read
Kate Harvey
  •  Jan 24, 2019
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Our screens have become the centers of our world and are fundamentally changing the way we all communicate and interact in our digital era. With design changing at such a rapid rate, constant iteration is key to remaining ahead of the curve in order to succeed. How do designers learn and stay up-to-date in the ever-evolving design world?

That’s where General Assembly comes in.

Known for teaching cutting-edge concepts and tools, the User Experience (UX) Design program was the second curriculum General Assembly added after their successful web development program. Now the organization teaches a variety of programs, led by experienced faculty, in more than 20 campuses around the world.

“Inspiring the next generation of designers to lead with confidence, harness a value-driven mindset and foster continual growth as they enter into the industry is central to how we build our design programs,” says Tyler Hartrich, UXDI Immersive Instructor, General Assembly.

Hartrich has played a key part in building and teaching the UX design curriculum over the last few years—by keeping close tabs not just on where UX is now, but where the field is headed.

Past, present, and future

Hartrich reminds us that UX design tools available several years ago were missing important functionalities and the workflows were less than ideal.

He makes sure to point out the difference in UX design several years ago compared to today with students in his classroom. Today’s UX designers have tools at their fingertips that save time by syncing seamlessly and providing easy workflows, such as Craft’s easy sync into InVision—a company he credits with pushing the design community into new, innovative territories.

The ease of current design tools are also helping more designers enter the field because it is easier for people without design backgrounds to learn the software, he adds. Case in point: A current member of their UX design faculty team was a pastry chef before becoming the UX designer extraordinaire that she is today.

Related read: A guide to becoming a UX designer at age 40

So, how does the company decide which tools to include in General Assembly’s UX design programs?

Determining which UX design software makes the cut

“It’s important to us that our curriculum is meeting the expectations of the industry from a skills perspective. Thanks to General Assembly’s scale, we’re able to iterate much more quickly in the classroom as well. As we’ve grown, we’ve been able to see the impact that new tools or new skills have on the discipline from both our students’ and instructors’ perspectives,” says Daniel Crowe, Marketing Manager (NYC), General Assembly. 

Deciding which tools to have in General Assembly’s UX design curriculum is an ongoing process of iteration and includes monitoring:

  • Current best practices in the industry
  • How the industry is evolving and where it’s headed next
  • Which tools best prepare graduates to successfully land jobs

“When we’re designing our courses, we cater to the best practices within the industry and the most relevant tools. We want to make sure as our graduates enter the workforce, they’re familiar with tools that are well-recognized in the industry and tools at the forefront of design teams,” explains Hartrich.

General Assembly’s instructors are design practitioners themselves, and each faculty member brings their unique experience, perspectives, and insights on best practices and industry trends.

The success of General Assembly’s UX Design programs can ultimately be attributed to two things: Being able to continually iterate the curriculum based on how UX design is evolving, and being at the forefront of that innovation.

Staying on the cutting edge of UX design

“Our product team does a really great job of working with our design instructors and industry experts on the User Experience Design curriculum and making sure it is constantly evolving with industry standards and needs,” says Crowe.

“From my standpoint, I listen to my instructors. As a local marketing manager here in New York City I’m constantly in the room with our community, either at events or in our short-form workshops and listening to what they’re saying,” he adds.

For example, Hartrich initially brought InVision Studio to the team as a newer tool that would be extremely valuable to UX designers and something they should look into.

Crowe joined Hartrich in championing InVision Studio: 

“There hasn’t really been an all-encompassing UX design tool that puts everything in one place for designers. The tools have required add-ons to create a comprehensive solution. Now, InVision Studio is able to be a cohesive, one-stop shop for user experience designers. It’s a game-changer for our designers and the industry.”

“InVision Studio is the Swiss Army knife of design tools,” says Hartrich.

Once the team assesses the potential of a new tool and agrees with its potential, they’ll often test the tool by teaching it in a shorter-form workshop which helps determine the demand and interest for that tool in the market.

In the InVision Studio workshop, Crowe was in the room with design faculty and students to witness firsthand the excitement from designers as they moved through the Studio tutorial. “I could see what a difference the functionality of InVision Studio made in their entire design process.”

If market demand and interest is clear from the workshop, they have a case to present the tool as a potential addition to the full-time design curriculum—as is the case with InVision Studio.

“We won’t add any new tool just because we think the prospects are high. We want to stay on the cutting edge where we’re introducing design tools into the curriculum at the right time. We have to strike the right balance between teaching legacy tools still widely used and new tools,” says Hartrich. 

General Assembly has had a long relationship with using InVision as one of the primary tools taught in their UX Design curriculums. InVision Studio is the type of cutting-edge technology General Assembly is renowned for recognizing and adopting to prepare graduates for successful careers today and in the future.

This must be working because 94% of General Assembly’s graduates are hired within the first 6 months after graduation.

Giving a voice to new designers 

Strong communication skills sit atop the list of the talents new designers are being asked to bring to the table as they enter the industry. Expressing a design concept with the least amount of friction is the never-ending goal in communication design. Hartrich notes that design programs are closing the gap.

“Modern design tools like InVision Studio streamline design workflows, offering new designers an elevated voice when communicating with developers.” Tyler goes on to explain, “What used to require wasted cycles documenting interactions can now be leveraged in a single design program, allowing designers to remain focused on what matters most—to exercise creative confidence and storytelling across the design phase.”

How can a new designer be heard and get a seat at the table? Hartrich’s answer is simple:

Lead through influence.

He dismisses the idea that a designer needs to wait until they’re a manager before they have a voice. He asks General Assembly UX Design program graduates:

“As a new designer entering the industry, you hold the ability to lead through a values-drive design ethos in your practice—to leverage a systems-based design perspective and to fundamentally change the way the world works.”

He reminds students that they are bringing new ideas to the table and they do have value to offer, even as a new designer. 

Related: How to stand out as a junior designer

“Our user experience designers come away with the skills and a mindset that will allow them to succeed regardless of industry or situation because they’re able to make connections that were not thought of previously.

The graduating designers are able to unpack problems in a way that the design team may not have thought of before. The mindset we teach helps designers look at a problem in a way that gets to a solution quicker, more clearly, and in a way that is most impactful,” adds Crowe.

“Know thy tools”

Hartrich’s final piece of advice for new designers is to not be married to one specific tool.

“Be tool agnostic.”

Even in the case of InVision, the InVision of yesterday is different than InVision Studio today, he points out. New UX designers need to be able to evolve with changes in the design industry, including future tools.

“We teach our designers to view design tools as ever-evolving, to persistently explore new techniques and process to streamline our design and communication workflows,” says Hartich.

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