My weekend at General Assembly UX Design Bootcamp

My individual project and what I learned

A few years back I considered a career change to UX but was put off by some recruiters who couldn’t comprehend a non-designer making that switch. There was no GA or similar back then and without a (creative) portfolio I gave in and took another project management role.

Now I’m working in the Civil Service in a role where I have to actively promote and extol the virtues of user research every day, it’s made me consider just how much I do know. So, I hoped this course would validate my experience and give me a clear view on how I might take things forward in my career.

The weekend was lead by Amit Patel, a freelance Product Manager/UXer with a raft of experience, Daniel Kemery (also a UXer at Cohaesus) acted as TA.

Day 1 started with introductions, and there was plenty of variety in the room: designers, developers, data scientists. There were also a couple of journalists, which I hadn’t expected; magazines moving online has meant they wanted to find out more and work better with their development teams – that’s cool.

Ice breakers included a question about “guilty pleasures” which seemed to be predominantly biscuit or Netflix-based.

Day 1 was mostly background to UX principles and what UX is. One of the early slides confirmed what I had said above, that UX isn’t just about design, in fact, only a very small proportion of it is.

Then there was lots of teaching, lots of listening. I did a lot of doodling…

Even though there was a lot to take in, there was also a lot of discussion, and it felt like there was time for it all.

At the end of the day we started our project…

We started by interviewing our neighbours To find out something about them and create a problem statement.

I sat next to Ian, and learnt a lot about him. For instance, I discovered that he had recently lost a lot of weight due to his three month GA Data Science course.

Bit of a weird one? Well, consider his distinct hatred of supermarkets (which I can totally sympathise with), long study days, and a long commute. All of which lead to a distinct bout of lethargy when it came to planning and making evening meals.

His hatred of supermarkets was also so extreme that he would shop only once every three months at a cash and carry, picking up fresh food on an ad hoc basis.

I came up with my problem statement:

“Ian recently took a GA course and found it so intensive on his time that he didn’t eat properly”

Then we did some ideation. I haven’t done that much before because most often when you’re working on a project time is of the essence, but it was fun being completely over the top with a viewpoint and then bringing it back…

Actually now that I’ve done it I think I’m going to use it in some scenarios at work.

Day 2 was a new day in every way. There was much less classroom stuff and more chance to get on with things.

We learnt about different kinds of personas, good and bad, and began to map out a persona for the person we interviewed the day before.

My persona was not tidy, but I enjoyed it. We used the personas to write simple user stories which we tested by reading back to our interviewees, here are a couple of mine:

“As a user I would like to plan my meals so that I can make sure I eat enough”

“As a user I would like to save time so that I can do my homework”

These were very high level but enough to plan a simple app, so the next step was user journeys.

I decided to create a kind of “stock management” app which Ian could use to plan meals out of his massive CostCo haul.

I had an idea of the MVP which would simply be managing what’s in the cupboard, but I thought that the idea could extend out to diary management with “Will you still be home for dinner?” type push messages.

I also wondered if it might extend to Internet of Things technology to heat microwave meals for the time Ian was due home, or use ITTT and location data to make sure meals would be heated at the right time.

Before we started our wire frames we did a little piece about sketching. Amit asked us to draw simple things one after another: dots, lines, arrows, curves, eyes, triangles, rectangles, houses, clouds. This was intended to help anyone scared of drawing and show that you don’t need much to start.

I was a bit shocked by how closely it all matched my doodles from Day 1.

I’ve recently been learning about sketchnoting, clearly some of it has gone in…

Anyway, once our journeys were finished we did lo-fi wireframes for them on paper with Sharpies.

I’d always assumed we used Sharpies to make things on walls easier for people to read. Apparently they have another use though – they prevent perfection! i.e it’s impossible to draw well with them. Embrace the imperfection – this is important new information for me, guys.

We used Marvel to turn our sharpie sketches into working prototypes. Marvel is so easy and quick that this was actually a bit of a joy. You just take a set of pictures, set where your buttons are, link them, and bam. Prototype. I’ve used POP before but without an “actual” project it was just pure playing.

Once we had our prototypes we tested them with each other, it was interesting to see the differences in the room.

I was actually really proud of my prototype and was energised by the whole thing.

We ended the day with a look at the wire framing and prototyping tool, Sketch. I haven’t got it yet but I’m going to get it for work. I believe my notes speak for themselves…

“I want Sketch!”

I’ve since discovered that Government Digital Service (GDS) have built all of their page elements in Sketch so that people can prototype GOV.UK styles really easily. This is basically one of the best things ever.

And then that was it, all finished!

Since leaving the team have built an active community on Slack, people have been asking questions and sharing resources. Some of us are even planning to do some more training together – I’ll blog that when it happens!

Just in case you are interested here are some more of my notes:

Now: @socialfinanceuk Prev:@ldgovuk, Head of Digital at National Leadership Centre. GDS. Proud to be @OneTeamGov.