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Figure out how you learn best

By Jessica Ivins

Figure out how you learn best

If you’re like me, you’ve probably set a few goals for the new year. Maybe you want to add more healthful foods to your diet. Maybe you want to get better at speaking a second language. Maybe you want to learn a new skill to help you grow professionally.

As UX designers, we often need to learn new skills. Even if we don’t realize it, we’re constantly learning.

We often learn things when we need to. Remember the last time you were in a crunch to learn something so you could solve a new problem, or solve a familiar problem with a better solution? You might have learned something quickly, applied it right away, and moved on with your day. You might not have payed attention to your process of learning.

Over the next year, take a few moments to pause and think about how you learn best. Then, consider how to apply your successful learning approaches the next time you need to learn something new.

Think: About a recent successful learning experience

Think about the last time you learned something successfully. How did you learn it? Did you learn by reading a book? Did you learn from someone else on your team? Did you learn by watching a presentation, then diving into the problem?

Ask: Why was this learning experience successful?

Once you think of a successful learning experience, ask yourself, why was this learning approach successful? Could I use this approach again in the future and achieve the results I want?

For example, maybe you had to learn a new prototyping tool, like Sketch. Because your colleague uses Sketch often, you asked her for a quick tutorial. She sat down with you for 10 minutes, got you up and running, and voila! You were familiar enough with Sketch to continue learning the tool on your own. All you needed was some assistance to get up and running. You needed a mentor who could get you over the initial hump, and then you were on your way.

Ask: When would I use this approach again in the future?

Ask yourself, when would I use this learning approach again in the future? If I had to learn another design tool or prototyping tool, would I seek a mentor for help? Or would I use another approach? Would a mentor work well for a learning something other than a new tool? What if I had to learn a tool, but no one was available to help me? What if I had to learn the basics of content strategy, which is very different from learning a new tool? Would a mentor be effective for that, too?

The more you focus on your process of learning, the more you understand how you learn. This knowledge leads to better and longer-lasting learning.

Sorting out this mess with Abby Covert & Andrew Hinton

By Jessica Ivins

Sorting out this mess with Abby Covert & Andrew Hinton

One of my favorite podcast episodes of 2015 is “Sorting Out this Mess,” a UX Podcast interview with Abby Covert and Andrew Hinton. It’s an impromptu, unplanned interview, but I was glued to the episode the entire time.

I walked away from the interview with a fresh perspectives on information architecture and UX design. Below are two concepts that resonated with me the most.

Sudden change happens in the virtual world, not the physical world

Andrew explains how human brains are wired to cope with the physical world and not the virtual world. In the interview, Andrew “nerds out” about why we struggle with sudden change in a design, such as a drastic website redesign:

On an evolutionary scale, we did not evolve to learn how a certain kind of thing behaves in the world, and then have to learn how that same thing suddenly is a different thing. It just doesn’t exist in nature. A tree’s going to act like a tree. All the branches go this way and that’s how they are. You’re not going to turn around the next day and it’s Tree 2.0. Suddenly the branches are internal, and you have to peel the bark and the branch comes out, or to get to the fruit you have to dig. That’s not going to suddenly happen.

Andrew says that sudden change in our designs creates a cognitive problem for our users. Things in the natural world rarely change suddenly. But because we can suddenly change things and move things around in the virtual world, we do. It’s important that we learn how to make changes that help our users while minimizing frustration. To learn more about making design changes that don’t disrupt your users, read Jared Spool’s article, “Extraordinarily Radical Redesign Strategies.”

Using the same language, but without shared meaning

As the conversation flows, Abby and Andrew talk about establishing a shared understanding of our business challenges. Abby explains how sometimes organizations think that they don’t need or have information architecture for their designs. But that’s not true:

Businesses do not consider information architecture to be a thing they have already. They think about it as something they might buy if they had more money to get fancy consultants like Andrew and I. But that’s not what it is. It turns out that they’re sitting on an information architecture already and it’s not doing what they need it to do because no one thought about it.

Throughout the interview, Abby and Andrew discuss challenges that information architects and UX designers face in the design process. They provide examples of challenges they’ve encountered throughout their careers. To learn more about how Abby and Andrew sort out the messes they encounter, listen to the entire interview.

Apply to be a student

Do you want to learn more about information architecture? Would you like to get better at tackling the messes you encounter on the job? Become a Center Centre student. View our full program or apply today.

Choose your own adventure to learn usability testing basics

By Jessica Ivins

Choose your own adventure to learn usability testing basics

At Center Centre, our students get to choose their own learning adventures. We don’t require students to learn from one specific resource like a book or an online tutorial. Instead, they choose resources and experiences that meet their learning styles and learning needs.

As we’ve developed the User Research Practices course, we’ve found a lot of resources to help our students learn the basics of usability testing. Below are some of our favorites. If you’d like to learn more about usability testing, use these resources to develop your own learning adventure.


  • Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy is a fast and easy read. It demystifies usability testing. It explains how to run usability tests at your organization, even if you have a small budget or are short on time. After you read this book, you’ll know how to get started with usability testing.

  • For a deeper dive into usability testing, read the Handbook of Usability Testing by Jeffrey Rubin and Dana Chisnell. This book walks you through each step of the usability testing process, from planning a test to analyzing the results, then sharing the results with your team. Because this book dives deeply into the process of usability testing, I suggest reading a few of the articles below, watching one of the videos below, or reading Rocket Surgery Made Easy before you read this book.

  • Just Enough Research by Erika Hall explains why we need to conduct user research (usability testing is a form of user research). Read Erika’s book if you want an introduction to user research that explores usability testing, user interviews, field visits, and surveys.


  • Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research video presentation explains why we conduct user research. Her presentation covers many of the concepts in her book, listed above. Use this video as an alternative to reading the book.

  • Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy video demo supplements Steve’s book by the same name, listed above. In the video, he walks you through a real usability test. He even suggests what to take notes on before the video begins. At the end of the video, he prompts you to evaluate the findings in your notes.

  • The All You Can Learn (AYCL) seminar, Effectively Moderating Usability Tests, explains things like how to interact with participants, how to make participants feel comfortable, and how to get accurate data from participants. To watch this seminar, you’ll need a monthly subscription to the AYCL library, or you can purchase this specific seminar.


  • Usability Testing Demystified” by Dana Chisnell walks you through the process of conducting a usability study. Dana also explains how to involve your team in the usability study. If you’re brand new to usability testing, start with this article.

  • Talking with Participants During a Usability Test“ by Nielsen Norman Group shows you how to ask effective questions and elicit important findings from participants in a usability test.

  • Six Steps to Ensure a Successful Usability Test” by Ginny Redish provides six essential guidelines for running an effective usability test, such as selecting user tasks that uncover the biggest problems.

  • Testing Content” by Angela Colter explains how to usability test your content. It’s usually not enough to make sure that our users can find the content they need. Usability tests also need tell us if users understand the content in our designs.

Apply to be a student

Do you want to learn how to conduct usability tests or how to use other methods of user research? Become a student. View our full program or apply today.

Learning how to lead as a junior UX designer

By Jessica Ivins

Learning how to lead as a junior UX designer

When you hear the words “leader” and “leadership,” what do you think of?

You might think of personality traits like extroversion or charisma. You might think of colleagues who are assertive or proactive. Or you might think of activities like leadership retreats or team-building exercises like the dreaded trust fall.

You may also think of a leader as a person in a position of power and influence—people like Sheryl Sandberg, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. People often refer to an organization’s CEO, CTO, and CFO as “the leadership,” so maybe you think of the senior managers in your organization.

The terms “leader” and “leadership” are muddy. These terms hold different meanings for different people.

Two of our courses, Leadership and Facilitated Leadership, focus on leadership skills. When students graduate from Center Centre, they’ll be industry-ready, junior UX designers who understand what it means to effectively lead.

As we build our curriculum, we ask ourselves questions like,

  • What will our students need to learn to be effective leaders?
  • After graduation, how will they exhibit leadership on a design team when their title is junior designer?

To answer these questions, we have to get to the core of leadership. Dr. Jim Tucker, an expert in learning and leadership, provided us with this definition of leadership:

Leadership is a relationship in which one or more individuals influences one or more other individuals to change.

This is Center Centre’s definition of leadership. Notice that we define leadership as a relationship, not as a position.

We believe that anyone can lead, regardless of their title. A title like Director or Manager doesn’t necessarily mean that you know how to influence others to change. It just means that you have a title and a position higher up in the org chart.

Center Centre students will know how to influence others. Graduates will know when it’s appropriate to step up and steer the design team toward shared goals, even when they’re surrounded by senior people. They will also know how to step up.

One way to steer a team is by applying the concept of micro leadership. In an interview with Leah Buley, our co-founder, Jared Spool, describes micro leadership:

[Micro leadership is] this idea that you’re not the CEO of the company or the head of the organization, but in fact, at that moment in that meeting, you’re the one who leans forward and says, “Hey guys, I have a way we can work through this.”

Then you bring out the Post-its and you bring out the technique and you say, “Let’s write some ideas down and put them on the wall, and then we’re going to organize them in this interesting way and see what happens.” For that brief moment, you’ve become the leader of the group.

That skill, being able to know when to do that, how to do that, how to be effective at it, and then how to sit back and say, “OK, group, someone else has to take over at this point, because I’ve done my little piece,” is a core UX skill that we hardly ever talk about.

By applying concepts like micro leadership in a team setting, our students will learn how to influence others to change when change is needed. They’ll know when to step up, and when to step back down so the team can continue to move forward.

Learn to lead: Become a Center Centre student

Would you like to learn and practice leadership skills at Center Centre? View our full program or apply today.

Learning with suggested core resources at Center Centre

By Jessica Ivins

Learning with suggested core resources at Center Centre

Meet Jim, a fast learner who struggles with reading

A few years ago, I joined a team as the first dedicated UX designer. On the team was a front-end developer/designer who I’ll call Jim. Jim wanted to learn UX design. So I taught him about interaction design, prototyping, user research, and other areas of UX. We tackled many problems together. Jim learned quickly, and he immediately applied what he learned to our organization’s projects.

Jim wanted to learn how to run usability tests on his own. I enjoy learning from reading books, so I recommended he read The Handbook of Usability Testing. He skimmed through the book, then set it down. He barely read any of it. He told me he struggled with reading. I knew he was a quick learner. However, when we first started working together, I didn’t know he had difficulty with reading.

Required learning goals, not required learning experiences

Through working with Jim, I learned a very important lesson: Each of us learns differently. We learn at different speeds, and in different ways. I keep this in mind as I develop curriculum.

At Center Centre, we don’t require students to learn from one, specific source (or type of source). Students choose their own learning adventures. For each course, students create a personalized learning plan (PLP)—by choosing from an array of learning exercises and projects.

Students choose their own learning experiences for their PLPs. We don’t require PLPs to include specific activities or projects. But we do require students to meet the learning goals for each course.

Each course has a unique set of learning goals. For example, one of the learning goals in the Copywriting and Content Strategy course is “Explain why content strategy is important to the success of an organization.” Throughout the course, students must demonstrate they’ve met this learning goal. They must be able to explain why content strategy is important in the design process.

Suggested core resources

That’s where suggested core resources come in. In each course, we suggest core learning resources for our students. We don’t require every student to use every resource. Instead, we encourage each student to choose resources that support their current knowledge and move them closer to their personal learning goals.

To meet the learning goal, “Explain why content strategy is important to the success of an organization,” students can choose from a handful of suggested core resources. Core resources include materials like Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson, “A Checklist for Content Work” by Erin Kissane, and the online seminar Content Strategy: Maximizing a Business Asset. Students may also suggest their own resources.

To demonstrate they have met a learning goal, students can write a written reflection, make a short presentation, complete a project, or suggest a different assessment exercise.

We’ll work closely with each student to help them create their Personalized Learning Plan. We’ll make sure students are on track to meet the required learning goals for each course and for the entire program. We’ll help them find resources that are relevant and up-to-date. And we’ll show them how to evaluate the quality of resources.

Our students will learn the way they learn best

By the time Center Centre students graduate, they won’t just know how to apply content strategy methods to their work. They’ll know how to find reliable learning resources, which is a necessary skill for lifelong learning.

My former coworker Jim was a great developer/designer. He was a quick learner, but he wasn’t was a quick reader. He was dedicated to creating productive and meaningful experiences for the people who used our designs. He just needed resources that supported the way he learned best.

At Center Centre, we’ll have students like Jim. By giving our students a chance to create their own learning pathways, we’ll create a learning environment that helps each student reach their personal learning goals.

Become a Center Centre student

Would you like to learn UX design by creating your own learning path? View our full program or apply today.

Learning facilitated leadership at Center Centre

By Jessica Ivins

Learning facilitated leadership at Center Centre

When I was a junior UX designer/front-end developer, I worked at a client services consultancy. My team and I spent most of our time building a grant management web app for our largest client.

The grant management project wasn’t going well. We were designing a complex system with many moving parts. Stakeholders on the client’s side disagreed on how the system should work. We missed deadlines because team members didn’t agree on design approaches.

It didn’t take long for everyone to become frustrated. I remember sitting in a long, uncomfortable meeting with five other people. We were designing a specific section of the system, but we weren’t making progress. In a bout of frustration, two members of the client team grabbed whiteboard markers and sketched the solutions they wanted. “Just build it this way,” they told us.

My heart sank. These clients weren’t designers. The solutions they proposed wouldn’t be effective. But my team did what they asked us to do. We were tired of arguing. We were willing to settle for mediocre work so we could just move on and get the work done.

I knew we needed someone who could facilitate agreement among everyone, but at the time, I didn’t know how to facilitate a discussion that would move things forward.

That was about eight years ago. Since then, I’ve learned how to prevent frustration among team members. I’ve learned how to get buy-in and input from stakeholders. I’ve learned how to ask the right questions to surface design challenges. I’ve learned how to steer teams toward shared design goals.

Facilitation is a skill you can learn

Like anything else in our industry, facilitation is a learned skill. Just like writing code or conducting a usability test, facilitation is something you learn. It’s a skill that’s improved and finessed through practice, over time.

Facilitation is such a critical UX skill that we dedicate an entire course, Facilitated Leadership, to teaching students how to facilitate design teams. Our students will learn how to steer a team toward consensus. They’ll learn when to involve stakeholders in a project so that they can contribute and feel heard. Students will learn how to move a team toward shared design goals, despite constraints like politics, deadlines, and budgets.

An introductory resource to facilitating

While building the Facilitated Leadership course, I found many learning resources for our students. One of my favorite introductory resources is Kevin Hoffman’s article on A List Apart, “Facilitating Great Design.” In the article, Kevin explains how to facilitate meetings and activities that generate results with a team.

One technique for keeping a meeting on track that Kevin shares: record what people say publicly. Simply capture the essence of their ideas on a whiteboard or flip chart, in a way that everyone in the room can see. Public recording engages people visually and helps the group create a shared memory of what was said. Read Kevin’s article to learn how to implement the public recording technique and other techniques.

Center Centre students will learn many techniques for facilitation. They’ll learn simple techniques like public recording. They’ll learn how to generate ideas among a group, and they’ll learn how to reach consensus with a group. They’ll also learn about specific activities like The KJ-Technique (also known as affinity diagramming) and design studio.

I think back to my time at the consultancy. The challenges I had there were not unique. Our students will likely face similar challenges while they are students and even after they graduate. Our students will not only learn about facilitation techniques, they’ll actually use these techniques in real-world settings with real stakeholders. Students will consistently have the opportunity to hone their facilitation skills.

Learn how to facilitate as a Center Centre student

Would you like to learn how to facilitate a design team? Would you like to learn how to make design happen, even if you’re dealing with politics, tight budgets, and little time? Apply to be a student or view our program to learn more.

Refining our courses with sticky notes (yes, sticky notes)

By Jessica Ivins

Refining our courses with sticky notes (yes, sticky notes)

While developing Center Centre’s Presenting course, something popped into my head (that happens a lot when I’m immersed in curriculum design). I realized that I can analyze the color of sticky notes to ensure that I’m providing our students with diverse learning resources.

During each course, Center Centre students choose from an array of learning experiences and projects. We don’t require students to use one, pre-determined resource when they learn a topic. We provide a range of suggested learning resources like books, articles, podcasts, and videos. With the guidance of their facilitators, students choose what resources work best for their learning.

As we build each course at Center Centre, we collect many learning resources for the students. I find that using sticky notes works best for my collection process. I jot down what I learn from each resource on sticky notes. Each sticky note contains information that supports the learning goals for the course.

For example, while developing our User Research Practices course, I wrote, “The goal of user interviews is to uncover users’ pain points” on one of the stickies. I wrote, “Up front research provides a basis for decision-making that makes the rest of the work go faster” on another sticky note. Both pieces of information are part of the foundational knowledge of the course. A few years after students complete the course, when they are working as junior UX designers, we want them to remember this information.

I put all of the resource sticky notes on the wall to make an affinity diagram. I arrange similar notes into categories called clusters, and I label the clusters. When I look at the clusters on the wall, I can see the main course concepts. And I can easily see if we are providing students diverse learning resources.

Wall of Stickies I make an affinity diagram on the wall with all of the resource sticky notes.

I use different color sticky notes for each type of learning resource. I can tell if I’m using a variety of learning resources based on the colors of sticky notes. I typically use pink stickies for books, orange for articles, and blue for audio and video. If a cluster of stickies contains multiple colors, I know that cluster contains diverse resources. If the cluster contains only one or two colors, I need to find different types of learning resources.

I recently worked on our Presenting course. In this course, students learn how to present their ideas. They also learn how to sell their ideas to stakeholders. While refining this course, I realized that some clusters about presenting work to stakeholders were missing blue sticky notes. Because of my sticky note process, I knew I needed to gather more audio and video resources.

Up close to stickies After adding content from Mike Monteiro’s presentation to the wall, I saw more blue sticky notes. This meant I had a variety of learning resources on the topic.

I learned how to make an affinity diagram years ago when I was a junior UX designer. Throughout my career, I’ve used affinity diagrams to develop site maps, analyze user research findings, and brainstorm ideas with a group. Now, I use affinity diagrams to develop our curriculum—a curriculum intentionally designed to support personalized learning. Albeit a bit meta, it’s rewarding to use UX practices to design our UX curriculum.

Apply to be a student Would you like to attend Center Centre as a student? You’ll learn user research skills, presentation skills, and much more. View our full program or apply today.

Learning content strategy with real-world examples

By Jessica Ivins

Learning content strategy with real-world examples

As we build and refine our curriculum, we look for a variety of learning resources like books, articles, presentations, tutorials, and podcasts. We love resources that explain concepts with real-world examples. Real-world examples will help our students understand how we apply the tools and techniques we learn.

Margot Bloomstein writes many articles on content strategy. She also wrote a book, Content Strategy at Work. In her writing, Margot often includes real-world examples that illustrate her approach to content strategy.

In her article, “Incorporating Content Strategy into Your Information Architecture,” Margot explains how REALTOR.org uses content strategy to guide redesigns and ongoing updates to their site. REALTOR.org, the online home of the National Association of Realtors©, publishes an array of content for realtors like real estate investment, housing statistics, and continuing education.

Content requires maintenance. Over time, it may need to be replaced with up-to-date content. Every time REALTOR.org updates a site section, they start with a content audit to see whether their existing content is still relevant.

Margot illustrates quantitative and qualitative content audits by describing REALTOR.org’s process:

While the headcount of a quantitative audit can determine what’s there, only a qualitative assessment can help you determine how good it is, whether you need to update it, and in what ways.

To learn more about how REALTOR.org uses content strategy in their process, read the entire article. The article is an excerpt of Margot’s book, Content Strategy at Work.

Apply to be a student

Do you want to learn more about content strategy and UX design? You’ll learn how to plan, create, and maintain content as a Center Centre student. View our full program or apply today.

Infusing content-first design into our curriculum

By Jessica Ivins

Infusing content-first design into our curriculum

We recently explained how we use Erin Kissane’s book, The Elements of Content Strategy, to refine our Copywriting and Content Strategy course curriculum. We use books to build our curriculum, but we also use other sources like podcasts, articles, tutorials, and webinars. We track the sources we use to build the curriculum so students can use the same resources for their learning. We’re building a diverse collection of learning resources to support the different ways students learn.

I’m a regular listener of CTRL+CLICK CAST podcast. In the episode “Content-First Design,” the hosts have a lively discussion with Steph Hay, a content strategist at Capital One.

I enjoyed this podcast so much that I listened to it three times. Steph explains how she applies content strategy to everything she does.

Steph listens to customer stories during user research at Capital One. She listens not only for the customers’ pain points and needs but for the words that they use when they talk about their finances. If the customer says “money,” the team infuses terms like “money” in their content instead of industry terms like “funds."

Lea and Emily, the podcast’s hosts, asked Steph, “What do you think makes a great content strategist?” Steph says great content strategists exhibit these behaviors:

  • They’re incredibly focused on finding the language that connects people.
  • They’re not attached at all to writing a certain way.
  • They’re not territorial of the language because they know that the customer owns the language.

To learn more about how Steph infuses content strategy into her work, listen to the entire interview.

Apply to be a student

Do you want to learn more about content strategy and UX design? You’ll learn about content-first design and much more as a Center Centre student. View our full program or apply today.

Using The Elements of Content Strategy to build curriculum

By Jessica Ivins

Using The Elements of Content Strategy to build curriculum

As I refine Center Centre’s Copywriting and Content Strategy course curriculum, I get the opportunity to review a lot of books, articles, videos, and podcasts about content strategy.

While reviewing books, I read Erin Kissane’s The Elements of Content Strategy. I look forward to using it with our students because it provides a thorough, accessible introduction to content strategy. At 79 pages, it’s also a quick read.

Erin explains how content strategy helps organizations meet the needs of their business and the needs of their audience. Content strategy helps organizations plan, create, and maintain useful content. It allows organizations to develop content publishing plans. It cuts costs by reducing redundant or extraneous publishing efforts.

Erin’s book talks about content strategy in the context of real-world UX projects. For example, Erin recommends finishing user research before you evaluate the quality of your site’s content. When you understand your users’ needs, you can assess how well your content meets those needs.

Erin’s holistic approach ties in nicely with our curriculum. As students learn about content strategy, they’ll connect the dots between content strategy and what they learned in user research. They’ll learn how one discipline integrates with and supports the other.

Erin Kissane’s article, “A Checklist for Content Work,” explores some of the topics in her book. If you enjoy this article, you’ll love the book.

Apply to be a student

Do you want to learn more about content strategy and UX design? You’ll learn how to plan, create, and maintain your organization’s content as a Center Centre student. View our full program or apply today.