Reflecting on the first module
It’s been amusing, inspiring and rewarding looking back on this Critical Reflective Journal to reflect on what I’ve learnt in the first 12 weeks of UXD Masters at Falmouth University.
In Week 1 I self-identified as a ‘natural project manager’. Clients have said that they appreciate my ability to create an overview of a project, to remember the details and piece everything together. People tend to think I stay calm in stressful situations, and yes when it comes to client work, I am pretty clear headed.
This did not prepare me for my approach to my first few weeks of postgraduate study. My relaxed attitude, assumption that I would ‘naturally’ organise myself proved to hold me back in the initial weeks. Blocking off time to study wasn’t enough, I needed to develop new structures and habits to develop as an academic student. When we hold on to our assumptions, we miss out on discovering new things about ourselves, and get stuck in old cycles. Thankfully Development Practice was all about challenging our assumptions and testing new ways of working to develop our own professional practice.
Re-thinking my creative practice
As Gillie Bolton explains in her book ‘The Reflective Practitioner’; “The act of learning requires a flexibility of thought and an ability to accept when we’re wrong.” I chose to embark on this Masters course because I reached a point in my career where I felt that I needed to be challenged. I’ve been my own manager for the past 2 years, though I work with wonderful, talented collaborators, I don’t have anyone questioning or challenging me as a designer. I go through phases of doing a pretty good job of this myself, and others of getting too comfortable in my tried and tested methodologies and habits.
I found that the week 5 content on reflective practice challenged me to review some deeply held beliefs about my professional practice. “Reflection asks us to take a look at our learnt behaviors and fixed beliefs and perceive them as unfamiliar and open to change.” (Bolton. 2001) This is particularly important for designers as we we begin to observe the social structures that influence our ways of being so that we can design for people other than ourselves. I’ve grown up between two contrasting cultures and I think of myself as open minded and flexible in thought. However reflecting on my past work projects I identified that I have sometimes overlooked accessibility in favor of aesthetics, and don’t have a clear methodology for discovering user behaviors. I perceived that although I find it easy to self-critique (affective and cognitive domains) The missing piece is identifying the steps I need to take to improve (procedural). So the fact that I’ve been encouraged to set goals has supported me to start bridging this gap.
Goals & creating habits
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and anchored within a Time Frame. Designed in a way to foster clear and mutual understanding of what constitutes expected levels of performance and successful professional development” (UC.2016). Essentially they force you to be specific and set deadlines. This helps me to be accountable, however I believe that to make the jump to Masters-level study, I also need to work on forming longstanding habits.
Studying the concept of reflective practice as a professional mirrored my experience of cognitive behavioral therapy and enabled me to re-frame the way I set goals. Rather than linear tasks to tick off a list, I want to create fluid and shifting goals, with the aim of developing certain behaviors to further my academic practice. For example, taking time to read journals and books, engaging with communities of practice, writing on my Medium blog. These are all habits I’m striving to create, which should continue until the end of my course and beyond. I do see the value of creating these within the framework of SMART goals, as I can alter the Specific, Measurable and Time Frame elements as I move through the course.
For example: I will continue to copy over select blog posts to Medium with the view of establishing myself as a UX designer & researcher. Aiming for a post every other month. Is within the SMART framework, but it’s an on-going practice with the view of cultivating a habit. The specifics of which can be changed throughout the course.
I believe that this particular habit will help me to improve in the interpersonal domain as I can connect with design communities on Medium, in the cognitive domain as I will identify the threads of my writing which can be expanded upon and explored further.
Over the course of this module, I enjoyed exploring creative methodologies and idea-generation techniques, which gave me some new tools to shake up my working practice.
I found the ‘opposite thinking’ ideation process (board of innovation) a helpful tool to challenge my assumptions, particularly at the beginning of a project to define the problem I was solving. For example in my first RI task I started off with the headline “Young US Women Feel Failed By Their Sex Education“. My initial idea was to create an education app connecting users with curated easy-to-read content, backed up by modern scientific journals. But using opposite thinking flipped my perspective to look at this problem from an industry level rather than an individual level. I went on to explore FemTech: a term used to encompass the software, diagnostics, products, and services that use technology to improve women’s health. The sector is expected to reach $50 billion in funding By 2025, (LSN. 2019) and has the potential to be both revolutionary in terms of democratising health education, but also full of tech companies capitalising on womens’ anxiety and desire. (, VOX, 2018) Therefore my RI became an industry report with the aim to explore solutions for standardising the industry, by connecting startups with scientific data and research solutions.
When I came to do my second RI, I was determined to get to the high-fidelity prototype stage. Again, time was limited so I turned to some tried and tested rapid ideation techniques to explore designs quickly and iteratively. I used crazy-8s to try out wireframe ideas for the app, and sketched out user journey maps by hand. I found this paper prototyping method valuable as it allowed me to sketch several iterations at a fast pace, without getting attached to my ideas. This ‘primitive’ style of prototyping offers immense value at the beginning stages of a project, as quick changes are best made early. (Nielsen. 2003)
Paper prototyping has changed my mindset and my design process. I identified early on that I would find it hard to hand over work that I deemed ‘unfinished’ or rough. Yet learning that experienced UXD practitioners such as Nielsen value paper sketches as part of the exploratory design process helped me to legitamise my own use of sketches. I find that I am able to test ideas quickly, narrow-down options early on and come to the digital prototyping stage with a clearer direction.
Challenges as a learning curve
My greatest struggle has been keeping the threads of my learning and research focused. I found that I’m prone to get into a rabbit hole when researching topics that interest me, and that I find it hard to keep my writing focused on one direct theme. I end up writing pages of disjointed sprawl, only to have to piece it together at the end. This meant that I spent much longer on my blog posts than I would’ve liked.
To develop as an academic writer, I need to be more selective with the threads of my studies and start writing with a more structured approach. The old adage ‘less is more’ applies to scholarly writing. (Harris 2006) Harris describes new graduate students as “Fearful that they will leave an important point out, they spill every thought on the page.” Reading this article on ‘Teaching Abstract and Critique Writing’ produced many ‘oh yeah that’s me‘ moments, and emphasised the importance of this CRJ as essential to help develop postgraduate academic skills such as critical thinking, research and citation. Harris writes that scholarly writing should start with ‘specific professional writing criteria’ and ‘adhere to course framework’. This has inspired me to create the following SMART goal:
Starting from the 2nd course module, I will create a framework for each blog post, with a clear objective and ideas for subheadings. I will do this at the beginning of my research, so that I can focus my studies and follow a clear thread in my writing. This should cut down editing time and reduce over-scoping research, resulting in clearer, more concise academic writing.
Despite these critiques of my writing style, I have received positive feedback from peers and tutors regarding my blog so far. I was praised for my reflective style and well-rationalised goals. I was nudged to seek more academic references which was helpful advice as I have learnt a lot from reading journals. I feel that I am getting into the swing of academic study, using Google Scholar and the Falmouth Library resources to find a myriad of sources to enrich my learnings.
Thoughts on the next module
I was very excited to read the following aim for our next module UX Design:
|To playfully leverage design methods in an experimental way to develop creative and elegant user experiences.
It will be interesting to start applying my aforementioned learnings to practical design projects. Taking into consideration my responsibility as a designer who wants to design for social change, I will integrate more reflection and critique into my design process. Using my previously defined questions and opposite thinking to challenge my assumptions in the ideation stage. I’ll continue to use paper prototyping techniques to test my ideas before jumping in to digital design, I feel that crazy 8s will become a mainstay in my process. Meanwhile I’ll continue developing my practical skills in Figma & XD, exploring how I can balance my bold playful aesthetic with sleek interfaces that are practical and pleasurable to use.
Coming back to my plan of creating habits rather than setting goals to tick off a list, I will use this space to reflect on the habits I have begun to develop and identify new habits relevant to the next module. Using a SMART goal framework to define how.
– Reading journals and academic texts each week and keeping notes to inform my learnings
– Expanding my writing outside of my journal and, using it as an opportunity to explore design and social responsibility
– Using various prototyping tools to experiment with different design methods
– Improving on the focus of my blog writing, taking a more organised and intentional approach.
I plan to maintain a reflective practice and further my learning on inclusive design practices by reading from the following sources:
– Design & Culture, The Journal of the Design Studies Forum
– Mismatch, How Inclusion Shapes Design
– Researching The Vulnerable, A guide to sensitive research methods
– Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness
I will use Figma for the first design project in the UXD module, so that I can get used to working with this collaborative tool. I will use it to create a portfolio piece that presents my research alongside a final prototype.
I will continue to copy over select blog posts to Medium with the view of establishing myself as a UX designer & researcher focusing on the themes of design & social responsibility. Aiming for a post every other month.
I will create a framework for each blog post, with a clear objective and ideas for subheadings. I will do this at the beginning of my research, so that I can focus my studies and follow a clear thread in my writing. This should cut down editing time and reduce over-scoping research, resulting in clearer, more concise academic writing.
During module 2 I will spend 1 hour each week engaging with communities of practice. This can look like posting on LinkedIn, engaging with the Climate Designers forum or taking part in one of their live meetings, reading and commenting on UXD community blogs on Medium. This will be on a Monday or Friday.
BOLTON, Gillie. 2001. ‘Reflective Practice’. Sage Publishing. Available through Google Books.
Design & Culture. 2009 – 2021. The Journal of the Design Studies Forum. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rfdc20/current
KAITLYN, Tiffany. 2018. ‘Period Tracking Apps Are Not For Women’. VOX Media [online]. Available at: vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/13/18079458/menstrual-tracking-surveillance-glow-clue-apple-health. [accessed 28th June 2021].
FRERIE, Paulo. 1974. ‘Education for Critical Consciousness’. London: Continuum.
HARRIS, Martha Jane. 2006. ‘Three Steps to Teaching Abstract and Critique Writing’. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (17,2). Available at: https://www.isetl.org/ijtlhe/pdf/ijtlhe28.pdf. [accessed 20th August 2021].
NIELSEN, Jakob. 2003. ‘Paper Prototyping: Getting User Data Before You Code’. Nielsen Norman Group [online]. Available at: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/paper-prototyping. [accessed 30th July 2021].
SMITH, Jessica. 2018. ‘Technology is Transforming Women’s Personal Care’. LSN Global [online]. Available at: https://www-lsnglobal-com.eu1.proxy.openathens.net/big-ideas/article/22880/tania-boler-on-how-technology-is-transforming-women-s-personal-care. [accessed 24 June 2021].
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