Like many UX Designers today, DevPoint Labs UX instructor Ty Hatch originally trained in graphic design, but gravitated quickly toward digital and interactive design, and now helps aspiring UX Designers make the transition. Ty brings his experience with companies like Mayo Clinic, the LDS Church, and Microsoft to his role as a part-time instructor at the Salt Lake City bootcamp. He explains how his real-world career makes him a stronger teacher, how he can use his network to provide students UX opportunities, and about the real-world client projects his UX students work on. We also asked if UX Designers need to know how to code, and love his answer!
What’s your background before you started teaching at DevPoint Labs?
Like most designers, I started as a junior designer doing grunt production work for both print and screen-based projects. While I have a traditional print design background my love has been learning and doing interactive and UX Design. But you still can’t beat the smell of fresh ink that washes over you when you go into a press check at a printer! Screen-based work is very ephemeral by nature, but it can have a lasting impact on those who experience it. It’s incumbent for those of us in the field to aim for great and positive experiences for those who encounter our work.
Throughout my career, I have worked a variety of companies—from contract work at Microsoft to consultancy work at design agencies to an art director role at Mayo Clinic and a few different roles at the LDS Church, including some time as a front-end engineer. In all of those roles, I’m trying to give people easy-to-use tools and experiences.
Where do you work when you’re not teaching at DevPoint Labs?
I am the Lead UX Designer for a small workforce management company called SwipeClock. Our software tracks time and attendance to make sure employees are punching in and out appropriately—so their employers can track their labor costs better—and have that data feed into payroll systems. We just released a brand new clock for our channel partners to sell to their clients.
How did you learn design, and specifically UX Design?
User Experience as a title didn't really exist until a few years ago, so I couldn’t get a degree in it. My degree is a BFA in Graphic Design from a private art school in Portland, Oregon (PNCA) and I graduated right before the dotcom bubble burst. I naturally gravitated toward technology and digital, screen-based design. I took the one class that offered HTML and really enjoyed it. My senior project was an informational website about typography.
I taught myself HTML, CSS, LESS (and eventually SASS, because it won.) I like to understand the industry as well as understanding the technology and tools that I'm using, and continually try to learn and improve in that regard. Solving problems—particularly in technology where there are some really gnarly problems—has been a really enjoyable career for me.
How did you first become aware of the “coding bootcamp” model? What’s interesting or inspiring about working with a bootcamp?
In the last three or four years, I’ve watched how popular coding bootcamps become because traditional academia is unable to keep up with the market’s changing demands.
But the most interesting thing for me is watching bootcamps bring in UX in as part of that curriculum. It's a different type of problem to solve. I believe design is a teachable skill. People can have instincts one way or the other, but you can also learn the right tools and how to use them, just like learning to code. It really boils down to an individual's motivations and desires, because you can be a great UX Designer and not be a traditionally “creative” person.
I believe that everybody is creative in their own way. People can express themselves creatively in a spreadsheet just as much as in a painting or in a website or in code. I know some extremely creative coders who write code in a way that I would never even think of.
How did you get involved with DevPoint Labs?
I'm an organizer for HackNight SLC, and I was introduced to DevPoint Labs co-founder Nhi Doan when we were at Church and State for one of our meetups (where the DevPoint Labs classroom is). We stayed in touch, and when he told me they were thinking about adding a UX Design course in Salt Lake City, I agreed to co-teach the first UX course in January 2016.
You’ve spent a career becoming a UX Designer; do you think it is possible for a student to learn enough skills to become a UX Designer in such a short period of time?
I think that DevPoint Labs is a good way to expose students to UX Design. Success boils down to an individual’s motivation. If you’re motivated by the money you’ll earn in UX, then you are probably not going to be successful. But if one is intrigued by problems, enjoys solving them, and wants to learn how to do that at a larger scale, then they have a really good opportunity at DevPoint Labs. The UX skills they need are definitely teachable, it's just how students apply them.
Before you started teaching at DevPoint Labs, did you have any previous experience in teaching or mentoring?
Yeah. I've taught college courses as well as workshops and presentations. I'm a huge believer in helping others and giving back, and UX has given me a career that I really enjoy. In a way, I view teaching this course as a way to give back to the profession.
Tell us about the day-to-day structure of the UX Design course at DevPoint Labs! What’s your teaching style?
We meet three times a week: two weeknights and Saturday morning. Everybody in the class, including myself, has busy professional careers during the day, so most of us come straight from work. Our class always starts by reviewing what the students were asked to work on in the prior class.
I'm a big believer in learning by doing, so there's a lot of project work, and evaluating other people's work. We do what's called the Minute Crit. We'll pull up one student’s work, and then another student has one minute to review it and provide feedback. This builds both the confidence to present your work regardless of what state it is in, as well as how to give focused feedback in a constructive manner to others.
As an instructor, Minute Crit shows me where students are struggling and where they're excelling. We tailor class discussions to focus on those things to help them learn and grow those skills.
We also discuss what UX Design is beyond the hard skills (ie. wireframing or visual design). A lot of being a successful UX Designer relies on soft skills – dealing with clients and teammates, building relationships, how to provide constructive feedback on really bad ideas, and knowing how to persuade and advocate for meaningful change without having the authority to make and enforce decisions.
How many hours a week do you expect your students to commit to the UX Design bootcamp on top of the teaching hours?
Ideally, it's two to three hours per week, outside of class. Sometimes it's going to be a lot more depending on our timeframe and what we're trying to accomplish. Being a realist, I understand that my students have personal and family lives, as well as work responsibilities. At the same time, we're here to help them learn and grow, and one of the best ways is to get out of your comfort zone.
How is teaching a coding bootcamp different from the teaching you've done at college level?
No grades! You get out of a bootcamp what you put into it. We've had students who are so engrossed in solving a problem, that they've taken time off from work to keep working on it because they’re so engrossed in the work.
DevPoint Labs has an extremely challenging course and we push our students beyond what they think they’re capable of accomplishing. To their surprise—but not mine—the amount of growth they experience during the course is tremendous and they’re ready to venture out on their own with confidence. We also work on a real project with a real client who has a business problem that needs to be solved.
How do the real-world projects work? Do you partner with companies who need UX Design?
We have one project that the whole class works on throughout the course. We (DevPoint Labs) arrange it with the client before the class starts and make sure we have a defined scope. With most projects in UX Design, you're given a request or a solution, and it's your job to unwind that solution or request and figure out what the client really needs. We do that as a class as it can be a pretty tricky thing to detangle.
Once we’ve roughly defined the project and identified the deliverables for the class with the client, we spend a lot of time discussing, understanding, planning, documenting, and making sure we know the problem space. There are interviews with key stakeholders, user interviews, competitive analysis and research to do. We work together as a group during this part as it’s key to understanding the discipline of UX. We make sure each student has individual artifacts they can show after the class in their portfolio. We encourage students to work on individual solutions, because at the end of the day, employers are making a hiring decision based on how well you describe and present your work as a designer.
At the end of the project, we have a final presentation to our stakeholders so they can see the work that was done and make it available to them. A project may continue past the class with the client engaging one or more students to help them finish out the project. Each student also writes a case study of their work in the class. This is the start of their professional UX portfolio, which hopefully will help them begin a career in User Experience.
What is the project that your current cohort has been working on?
This current cohort is working on the DevPoint Labs website to improve the admissions process. It's been very instructive both for the class and for the DevPoint Labs organization, because it has highlighted some needs that were previously in the background. The class is benefiting from a good real-world project, and DevPoint Labs is benefiting because they're getting some really great work from some talented students.
One of the other projects we worked on was to help with the creation of a search engine for researchers and entrepreneurs who are searching for grants called Grant Miner. It was more defined and limited in scope than the DevPoint Labs project this cohort is working on, but we were able to apply the same principles and concepts to it. That’s the beauty of good principles, tools, and processes: regardless of the project, you can apply them and have a good outcome.
What are the specific technologies and software that students use in class for making their designs?
In the class we use Sketch, InVision, with a lot of whiteboard discussions in between. A whiteboard is the designer's best friend because you can have detailed or quick conversations, collaborate, take a picture to document your conversation, erase it, and keep moving.
You need to be able to help people understand in visual ways as a designer, and quite often the best medium can be a whiteboard. Being confident and able to facilitate conversations with people in a way that brings understanding and clarity is paramount. It also helps to pass the whiteboard marker to others. People often feel uncomfortable at first doing this, but as they gain experience talking through ideas at a high level, it becomes a very powerful tool for collaborating with others.
Do UX Designers need to know how to code?
My answer is: it depends. I wrote an article called "Do painters need to know how to make paint," which explains that just like any artistic medium, if you don't understand the medium, then you're not going to be successful. To be a successful painter, you don't need to know how to make the paint, but you do need to know how the paint is going to interact with the different substrates you are going to paint on. If you don't understand that, then you might paint on a piece of gessoed masonite with watercolor, which won’t work well because watercolor needs to have paper to soak into.
The same concept is true with HTML and CSS. You don't need to know how to write it. But if you understand the fundamentals of how code works, then you're able to have better discussions with the engineering team about trade-offs and compromises. They will be implementing what you create. Understanding how code works is important in ensuring that your designs are implemented successfully. (It’s also really helpful to engage the engineering team as early as possible, so they have a better understanding of what they’re building and you can understand the technical limitations, constraints and how to best approach the solution.)
Do you teach any coding classes in the UX Design bootcamp?
Not as part of the curriculum, but when students ask, I point them over to really good online resources. Sitepoint.com, Udemy, and Udacity have online courses that teach HTML and CSS. HTML and CSS are fairly straightforward to learn, and you can teach yourself quickly.
Most of the coding bootcamp instructors we interview are full-time instructors. Are there benefits to being a part-time instructor who is also working in the industry?
I'm a practicing professional. I know what the industry is expecting and looking for and I’m part of professional organizations and networks. Many of my friends are also fellow designers. It’s helpful to share with my class exactly what companies are looking for in a designer and in a designer’s skillset.
Guest speakers are really important to the class. It exposes the students to a broader spectrum of experiences than just the instructors’. We've had Nate Walkingshaw, Chief Experience Officer for PluralSight visit the class, along with other leaders and individuals a UX Designer would work with in the course of their daily routine. We brought in a Product Manager to talk about how they collaborate with UX Designers, and a hiring manager talked to the class about what she looks for when hiring UXers. We try to do everything we can to give them the tools to succeed and encourage them to continue learning.
How does your industry knowledge help you contribute to the UX Design curriculum at DevPoint Labs?
As an active professional, I understand the needs of the industry and how it impacts them as students. This helps us know how to best select our projects to reflect real-world business needs. It allows me to say, "Hey, this is how a project might go, and this is how we might want to approach the class and the curriculum." We typically have a co-instructor, and working with him has provided a great balance because I've worked mostly as an in-house resource during my career, and he's worked in an agency setting, so we're able to represent both perspectives.
We're on our third cohort, and our third iteration of the curriculum. It's a learning process to understand how things work best, just like any UX project. Based on feedback we get from students, we make adjustments to the curriculum, and try to fine-tune and get it to work well for the students. Each class will be different, but there are core principles that each class needs to understand.
What is the ideal student:teacher ratio at DevPoint Labs? Do you have any TAs helping you out?
For the first couple of classes, even for this current class, the student teacher ratio is about 4:1. For this current cohort I don't have a co-instructor, but we have a TA in the class. He is a graduate from a past cohort, and he's doing a great job.
Is there an “ideal student” or a certain type of student who does well in the UX Design bootcamp?
The students who really excel are the ones who are intrinsically motivated, who love solving problems, and really enjoy learning. If you don't want to learn UX Design, you're not going to. If you don't like solving problems, you're in the wrong career.
You also have to be able to ask questions, because a UX Designer is really a change agent for an organization. If you're not willing to become a lightning rod for opinions and separate your personal feelings and self-worth from your work, then it's going to be an extremely challenging profession to get into.
Tell us about one of your students who has had a really interesting background or story!
That’s just about every student! They're all so diverse, which is really great. I just had lunch with our first cohort, who were all fantastic and are all now doing UX. One was moving to North Carolina to take a position as a UX Architect, one's stepping into a bigger role at her company, and one created a UX role for himself at his existing company. I believe you recently profiled Addison—he's really indicative of the type of individuals we teach. He's working hard, he's got a position doing UX, and also working on his own project.
How do you help students prepare for finding a job?
I keep my eye out for opportunities for junior positions, internships, or apprenticeships. Recently, a local company was looking for a Junior UX Researcher, so I let the hiring manager know about a couple of DevPoint Labs students who were interested.
The market is really strong for Senior UX Designers, but it's not as strong as for junior and less-experienced designers. The industry is starting to recognize that, and there are individuals trying to create opportunities for less-experienced people. But if you're just starting out, it takes three to six months to get your toe in the door.
What is the actual goal for a student that completes this UX program? What sort of jobs are they prepared for?
When they come out of class, depending on where they're at, they could go straight into a junior or mid-level UX position, or they could go into an apprenticeship or an internship. It's a really individualized outcome, but the baseline is they would leave the class with the ability to secure an internship or an apprenticeship with a company. They'll have enough tools to get started with a career in UX.
For Course Report readers who are beginners, do you have any resources or meetups that you recommend for aspiring UX Designers in the Salt Lake City area?
Sure. DevPoint does a lot of meetups that are heavily developer focused. The Product Design Association of Utah (PDAU) is really a great resource if you're interested in learning about Product and UX Design. There’s currently a trend of UX transitioning to a new title of Product Designer.
We have an active AIGA chapter here as well. Salt Lake Design Week is going to be in mid-October, which will be a great opportunity to experience the UX and larger Design community here in Utah. PDAU is going to be doing two full days of different (and free!) lectures during Design Week, so if anybody is interested in that, that’s a great way to be exposed to what's going on in the industry.