Project: A new graduate course at the Stanford design institute (“d.school").
People: 45 graduate students across business, engineering, humanities, and education schools; industry partner companies.
During winter 2014 I co-created and taught a course called “Know Your Humans: Designing Effective User Research.” Together with health behavior designer Dr. Steph Habif, we launched curriculum in a new class format at the d.school: a pop-up in which instructors determine course content and the number of class meetings in a highly experimental style. Our #1 goal was to provide students with an arsenal of user research tools and tactics to help inform delightful products and services at the university and beyond.
Our advertisement for the class drew three times more applicants than space would hold: "We’ll get you comfortable crafting questions, putting on observational and analytical hats, and asking how and why.” We explained, “You'll practice how to see and understand users’ small daily choices–the ones that other people might miss–to be able to design with those users. Students who take this class will be able to identify highly motivated users, practice keen observation skills, and have more insight about how to meaningfully impact the people they are designing for.” One woman came from Berlin and rented a room for a month just to be able to audit the course.
We designed “Know Your Humans" to be highly participatory and brought in two partner companies: the mobile STD status verification company Hula and a women’s intimate apparel organization in stealth mode. We selected these companies because their founders both highly value and regularly practice user research. They also represented topics that can be seen as sensitive and highly personal, which gave students the opportunity to plan interviews with questions that others might shy away from. Students were challenged to conduct ethnography work with people new to them; to develop empathy maps based on what they learned; and to communicate key strategic findings to company partners. We focused on translating information to product teams and executive leadership, as well as involving them in the work frequently. Cross-culture communication was also a main theme of the course.
My teaching coach, an IDEO co-founder, was highly pleased upon observing a user recruitment lesson we’d planned and a live focus group that the students drew insights from. One student told us that the hands-on nature of the course made it the the best one he’d taken during his Stanford career. Several others are currently pursuing internships and careers in user experience research. Being both a practitioner and educator in this space has made my work a stronger asset to both the students we’ve served and my collaborators at Mozilla.