I came to General Assembly to teach the User Experience Design Immersive (UXDi) in the fall of 2014 after a massive restructuring at my company set me loose on the job market. I’m a natural extrovert, and the mentoring and teaching part of a design director’s job has always been one of my favorite aspects of my work – I figured I’d have some fun teaching while deciding what my next move would be. I was not at all expecting to have a transformative experience, much less to participate in transforming people’s lives.

It positively rocked my world.

 

A component of GA's tectonic amazing-ness is the student body. The immersive students had all chosen to quit their jobs, thrown down tens of thousands of dollars and three months of their lives, 9-5 every day, with the explicit goal of changing their lives. Students show up from an incredible variety of educational and professional backgrounds, across a vast panoply of ethnicities and ages. The single thing they all have in common is that spectacular plunge right out of their comfort zone.

The dedication that I observed in my classrooms was staggering – fresh university grads, biological science PhDs, moms hurling themselves back into the job market, self-starting entrepreneurs and artists ready to raise their game, side by side, helping one another take one leap after another, all of them rewiring their brains to work in a new way. The incredible diversity of the GA student body reminded me of what I loved about the UX/IA/Interaction Design community from its inception: in the late 90s, none of us had been to a design school that taught us to combine social science research techniques, design principles, technical writing, code and art production skills. We each came from one of the above, and created a profession together with the most spectacular type of creative tension. My students are now infusing their new workplaces with a similarly spectacular diversity, which makes me proud and happy.

Photos: Kevin Pai and Mel Johnson

UXDi was a crucible of self-realization for me as a design leader. The classroom provided an unexpectedly powerful lens through which to reflect on my career of nearly two decades. I had to think hard to distill for myself, What has made the difference in the people I’ve hired and mentored who have excelled, versus those who have floundered? What do I wish someone had taught my employees before they came to me? What have I taught them that’s been my unique contribution?

Communication, critique, and analysis soft skills, “conceptual blockbusting” type creative thinking, and leading with vulnerability emerged as my superpowers. I took these reflections and jumped into leading the evolution of the GA curriculum. I brought UX design education into the Web Development Immersive (WDi) for the first time, guest lecturing on design fundamentals, how to navigate the designer/developer relationship, and how to provide actionable feedback on another developer or designer’s work. I facilitated much-needed, honest dialogue about hiring, salary negotiation, and working for free (answer: DON’T). I created fresh curriculum to teach the design students to collaborate on the job with developers. I brought my Embodied Critique method to several cohorts of UXDi students, and advised on the subsequent incorporation of design critique methods into the global curriculum.

General Assembly is a magical place, and I am delighted to be an ongoing part of the magic. I’ve now taught five immersives and had advising relationships with several more, and am honored that I get to teach workshops, guest lecture and critique, and maintain connection with the vibrant community I have come to treasure.