Faz Besharatian is the head instructor for the General Assembly UX Design Immersive in Washington, DC. We talk to Faz about the evolution of UX Design, how the curriculum is customized to each class, and the ideal student for the immersive GA course.
Tell us about your background and how you got involved with General Assembly.
This is my second time teaching the UX Design Immersive at General Assembly. I reached out to GA when I saw their emails about the full-time immersives. For about 3 years I’ve been doing UX design consulting and working on my own projects. I didn’t realize how immersive it was at first! I’ve ramped down on my own consulting now.
Were those positions all user experience as well?
Over time it became that. It wasn’t called user experience at this time. I had a more a managerial role at AARP. There was a lot of prototyping I was doing at AOL, away from their main portal. I started originally as a graphic designer, then moved to web design, and gradually became a UX Designer.
What would you say falls under the umbrella of UX design?
I think you make your own career- you have to have a visual understanding, you should understand code, and research. You have to at least know and be able to critique it. So there’s a graphic designer, there’s a visual designer whatever the title maybe that’s working with you. But you’re within the team as more of a facilitator than a front end developer or a visual designer. You need to have an understanding of a little bit of everything but specialize and build that silo somewhere.
What did you do your undergrad in?
Graphic design. It was called graphic design/advertising; I don’t know how much was advertising.
Have you taught before General Assembly?
I was instructing classes at Corcoran for a while in web design, not user experience. I enjoyed it; it was very simple, basic web design. A little bit of information architecture, a little bit of code.
What does the curriculum look like for this class? How do you break up the 10 weeks?
The curriculum is great – it’s awesome that General Assembly has a curriculum planned to get me started. I’m able to add in relevant experience, like what I’ve had with the teams I have been on.
In Week 1, the students have a project and we build it out. The idea is to get them out talking to people, real world things.They work on a little bit of research, a little bit of sketching things, and prototyping. In the second project, we’re going to add personas in front and wireframes at the end. Each project, we expand the skillset.
We don’t get to the visual design stuff until a good halfway through, and later get to their final project and client interaction.
So the course is largely project-driven.
Very - we complete 5 projects. It’s a blend of workshops and exercises and lessons and so forth. Right now, they’re working on the project but in the morning, we’re basically covering wire frame techniques, system design, in a lecture. In the afternoon, you’re learning a tool and applying it.
How much flexibility do you have in the curriculum?
We have flexibility. It’s a question of how much we change and what we should change. But my take on it was if we have a bunch of briefs and a bunch of projects to work on, it would be nice to have a couple of DC centered companies. If there’s a point where you’re showing wireframes, I have examples that I can speak about if they want to see that. The students are really more engaged when they see your work because you’re adding your flavor to it.
Since you’re in the second cohort of this immersive, how iterative have you found it? Has a lot changed since the first one? Did you find things that didn’t work?
I wouldn’t say a lot but definitely some. First of all, it’s a lot easier because I’m able to prepare for it and actually make some changes. I knew where to spend more time in workshops or add more examples or use different techniques.
Do you have TAs working with you?
There are two instructors. Last time there was a TA and this time there are two core instructors – and it’s a small class so that’s about all that’s needed; theres 11 people in this class.
Since there is a Web Development Immersive working as well in GA right now, will you collaborate at some point?
Yeah, that’s what we did last time, it was awesome. So yesterday when they were doing some presentations our folks sat in and listened. When we’re designing something we’re going to have them work with the dev team so that they can actually say if it’s acceptable.
They can get to see what’s being delivered. There’s that interaction.
Do you have a hand in admissions at all?
No; only when they ask me. When GA has info sessions, sometimes I come in so they can see an instructor.
What is your ideal student?
I don’t know if there is an ideal student, but I think somebody who has some transferrable skill. Somebody with a graphic design background would benefit- there’s at least one person right now and there was one before. It certainly helps but I think it can also be a crutch.
This is user experience. The whole thing is about empathizing. If you’re a people person, you’ll be fine. It’s not that hard to do this. It’s just learning a craft and having the interest to do it.
Do you think that somebody needs to know what they want to do after they graduate?
I think it does definitely help. It’s required to a degree. It’s easier to talk to somebody coaching-wise if they’re saying, “I really don’t want to work for this type of company.”
You should know if you want to do something entrepreneurial, if you want to sit in a massive team or a small team- knowing that about themselves helps a bit.
So everyone got to a level where they were employable last time; cool.
In theory, you’re going to graduate, but graduating is not an evaluation. This cohort was all employable, and all had portfolios. They build it themselves. We give them advice and they build it from scratch.
As an instructor, when somebody gets stuck in one of the immersive classes, how long will you let them be stuck on before you help them?
The main thing is to make the students feel comfortable. If they’re coming out of this thing comfortable with the notion of being uncomfortable, we’re done. It’s hard to gage. I want them to be just frazzled enough. If I don’t see you floundering, I don’t know whether you’re getting it…
How do you stay fresh in the UX world? Do you have time for your own projects? Do you get breaks in between immersives?
There was a few weeks in between these two sessions. The problem was that the last class was building towards a portfolio so I’m still helping with it. It’s like an extracurricular thing. So it wasn’t totally a break. If you’re consulting or have a really flexible job, it works.