Dallas Kwok is a full-time Product Designer at Ritual and teaches UX design at BrainStation’s Part-Time UX Design Bootcamp. We caught up with Dallas to find out how he brings that real-world experience to his students at BrainStation, what makes the “ideal” UX designer, and how he’s inspiring the next generation of UX designers. Plus, Dallas answers the question we hear most: “Do I need a visual art background to become a UX designer?”
How did you learn design, Dallas?
I studied Marketing in university and landed my first role at LoyaltyOne as a Digital Marketing Specialist. I never received any formal design training or education – most of those early years revolved around learning keyboard shortcuts and perusing DeviantArt at the time, learning design, stealing ideas, and just practicing. I've always taken my time to create visually appealing projects in school and work.
UX design is the intersection of business strategy, technology, and design – those were all things I was interested in. I wanted to head in that direction even though I didn't have any formal training in that realm. While working at LoyaltyOne, I took a UX design certificate course at BrainStation. That gave me a thorough understanding and foundation of what UX design entails, and opened my eyes to what my professional interests were. I went on to take a full-time UX Design Bootcamp at Bitmaker in 2016, and today I am a Product Designer at Ritual and an instructor at BrainStation.
Did most of the UX designers you know learn their skills at a traditional university or at a bootcamp?
UX Design and Product Design is still a relatively new career path, although there’s a growing demand every year. In my experience, the more experienced UX designers didn't specifically learn UX design in school. They learned on the job and pivoted from their more traditional design roles like visual, graphic, or marketing design, into UX design. A lot of designers, like me, didn't come from a traditional university background. It's helpful to take an inventory of the different paths to becoming a designer today and take advantage of those.
I found that, regardless of which school you go to, they all are helpful in switching careers. These schools are all accelerated programs that are focused on the skillset you need to excel as a UX designer, compared to more traditional schooling where you're sitting around in a lecture hall and learning about theories you may never necessarily apply. At a bootcamp, you learn at a fast pace while applying those new practical skills almost immediately.
What motivated you to come back and teach at BrainStation in particular?
I was in one of the first UX design certificate courses at BrainStation. My experience with BrainStation was instrumental in taking the next step in my career towards becoming a Product Designer. As such, I’ve always had a desire to give back to the BrainStation community and help grow peoples’ interest in UX design, and potentially even facilitate career changes.
I'm actually teaching in the same room today that I was learning in as a student in 2016 – it's definitely an interesting experience having been on both sides of the classroom.
There are a handful of UX Design Bootcamps these days – why should a student choose BrainStation’s UX Design program?
BrainStation offers a fantastic blend of theory and hands-on learning, with practical examples to back up the content. The certificate course strives to provide learners from any background a solid understanding and foundation of the UX design process, while providing ample amount of time during class – and with the final project – to apply the material in a truly hands-on way.
How do you balance working full-time as a Product Designer at Ritual and also teaching at BrainStation?
I'm teaching at BrainStation in the evenings after work and I try to dedicate time on the BrainStation Slack channel to answer questions students may have.
Why do you think it's important for UX design Instructors to be working professionals?
As an Instructor, it’s important to bring as much practical experience and examples into the classroom as possible, as it helps ground the class material and theory behind design. We can provide real-world examples of how we applied the process or theory in our professional lives, give some opinions about how certain things are built, or even showcase some of our favorite apps and products.
The nature of bootcamps is that you're able to accelerate the learning process through instructors from various backgrounds and industries. That variety is helpful in learning about design, as different kinds of feedback and opinions will help shape one’s approach to design.
What is the most common question you get from your UX design students?
I get a lot of questions about my experiences about being a designer in the tech industry. A lot of students ask questions like, "What program do you use at work?" and "How do you handle working with a team of Developers?" Design is interesting because there are so many different variables that you have to account for when working on a team – deadlines, technical constraints, etc. It's nice that I get to shed some light on what it's like being a Designer on the front line in a fast-paced, startup environment
What is your teaching style at BrainStation? Did you have previous experience as an Instructor?
I have been a Teaching Assistant at UX workshops in the past, but I was never formally taught how to teach. The classes I lead at BrainStation are more open-ended. We try to make class as conversational as possible and answer as many questions as possible as we go. We use a slideshow presentation to helps us guide the lecture, but instructors inject our professional experiences and real-world examples into the lectures as much as possible.
We dedicate at least a third of the course time to hands-on activities that are tied to the lecture material. The students often work in pairs to perform research, test, and give each other feedback, and the instructors are available during that time to answer questions and provide feedback, of course.
How has the curriculum changed since you took this class?
We keep up with ongoing digital design trends, but the biggest changes are giving up-to-date examples in design. The principles of design don't necessarily change often but the way that technology changes from month-to-month impacts the examples that we provide when we're describing design principles and techniques.
As instructors, we are responsible for providing feedback and helping evolve the curriculum. Just like in the UX design process, we value iteration in our curriculum to ensure the best student experience.
What does the UX Design Certificate Course cover?
This course provides a general foundation of the UX design process, covering user research, sketching and wireframing, information architecture, and prototyping. We focus the entire 10 weeks around a culminating project, where students have the opportunity to apply their learnings from each week of class towards it. At the end of this course, students present their project, showcasing some of the insights they learned along the way, user flows, and wireframes.
Does the curriculum match what you'd look for in a new Product Designer as someone working in the industry?
One hundred percent. The curriculum is up-to-date. It encompasses the expectations of what we look for in a UX or Product Designer. I teach and provide examples of what I do in practice. The concepts that we teach and the activities students are provided are reflective of the kinds of problems we tackle in the industry.
After being a student yourself and now teaching, who is the ideal student for the BrainStation UX design course?
The ideal student is naturally curious and motivated to learn. Those who are are always asking questions about real-life examples and how they can apply it to their projects or their current role are the ones who will do great in the BrainStation environment. The ones who dive deep into design, question the concepts we teach, and try to find out why things are a certain way are the kind of students that truly excel.
Have you found that students need an art or design background to excel in this industry?
Design is a process more than it is an art. Design is often viewed as the end product that everyone sees and perceives as “beautiful.” However, underneath the beautiful final product of design was hours of research, planning, testing, and iteration. The result that users actually see and experience is only the last 10%. The other 90% doesn’t involve the traditional definition of “art”.
I believe that anyone who has a curious mind can be a designer – we're in the field of understanding and empathy. I encourage those who don't have an art or design background to learn more about UX design It challenges what we typically think of design and will open your eyes to how designers make decisions, work within the constraints that we're given, and how you can apply some of your existing skills from any background to design.
What's the goal for a student that completes the UX Design Certificate Course? Will they be able to get a job in UX design?
It entirely depends on what the students are looking for both personally and professionally. We see a wide range of students, like:
People who are looking to make a career pivot into UX design
Someone who are interested in UX but their goal is to work better with designers, but not necessarily become designers themselves.
People who want to learn more about the UX process to bolster their current non-design role, like product managers and marketers
Current designers looking to make a shift into UX or product design
Certificate courses are a great way to decide on your next steps. The UX Design Certificate Course does not include career coaching because it is designed as a professional development course. But at the end of the 10-weeks, you can become a UX designer. But ultimately the post-graduate trajectory is completely up to the student.
What is the difference between UX Design and Product Design?
These two are very similar, I personally find that it's semantics at this point. There is a lot of overlap among titles and roles. At Ritual, Product Designers work on a specific digital product and our responsibilities span across the entire UX discipline from research, to the execution of UI. However, when it comes to more specific roles in UX such as UX Researchers, or Interaction Designers, there will typically be a more d
However, when it comes to more specific roles in UX such as UX Researchers or Interaction Designers, there will be typically more specific requirements and responsibilities.
How can a beginner get started in UX?
There is an organization called DesignX, which has multiple chapters across Canada and the US. It's a design community based around Slack where people post resources, blog posts, ask for portfolio feedback, get interview tips, etc. They typically host in-person meetups and conferences, and in the summer they host a fantastic event called Pantones and Patios.
Designers and Coffee is another great community in Toronto. They host small meetups, portfolio review events, and they occasionally take place at the BrainStation campus' coffee shop.