Design education trends – 2020 Design Trends with Cheryl Couris

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Welcome to 2020 Design Trends by UXPin. Today I’m joined by Cheryl Couris. Cheryl, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Cheryl: I am currently a UX design manager at Cisco here in Seattle.

UXPin: Could you tell me more about your work experience or education, or maybe some other stuff that you’re doing? Because I know you have side projects as well.

Cheryl: I started as a traditional sort of graphic designer. I’ve done a lot of marketing and advertising campaigns. When I moved to Seattle, I sort of jumped into the world of UX because I really wanted to solve problems. Not just sell stuff, but solve problems for users. So, I started my UX career at Microsoft, I spent a year at Google, and now here I am at Cisco in Seattle working on some really cool collaboration apps in what we call “the future of how people work.”

UXPin: I know for a fact that you are so also teaching UX in Seattle. Today we are going to talk about design trends. Education and the landscape of design jobs is something that is going to change for sure. So, my question to you would be, what are the top design education programs for starters? 

Cheryl: I’m super passionate about teaching. I am currently a UX instructor here at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. And it’s a really great program for people who are wanting to break into design. A lot of people are changing careers, so, coming from another field. To your point, I think the landscape of design, and design careers and opportunities, are changing. And I think now more than ever we’re seeing people have a passion for problem solving, and connecting with people. Gone are the days that you have to absolutely be a formally design-trained person to be in the field. We’re seeing folks coming from a variety of different industries and bringing that experience with them. That really represents user-centered design, right? I teach a lot of former accountants or baristas, or folks with really great experience dealing with people, and they make really great designers. And so, the landscape is opening up, and it’s becoming more and more available and accessible to everyone. And that’s why I got into teaching and why I just think it’s really exciting. Everyone has the opportunity now to put on that human-centered design thinking cap and start to solve problems in that way.

UXPin: Yes, it’s so much easier now than 10 years ago to get like proper education in UX, because whenever I talk to people in UX design who have 10 plus years’ experience, they didn’t have the opportunity to have that education. And now we not only have tons of resources on the internet, but also schools and teachers like you.

Cheryl: I think that’s what makes better products and us better designer is that we’re all bringing different facets and different experiences to the table. And that makes sure that we’re designing with everyone in mind and not just a subset of users. So yes, it’s really exciting. I already see the landscape changing. I’m excited to see where it’s going to go after that.

UXPin: Do you think there are some jobs connected with design or UX that just emerging in 2020 that we have never heard of before?

Cheryl: On my team, I really try to curate a talent set that’s product design as a whole. Certainly, that’s a sort of job title that we all know. But I’m really trying to expand that beyond just pushing the pixels, but to also include writing content and strategy in that same way. And then what does it look like from the website, all the way to downloading the app to using the app to the help and support. 

So, I think job titles may or may not change. It’s more that our scope is growing. As people expect now from beginning to end, the whole experience, I challenge folks that I work with to think about it in that way. Again, lI think job titles come and go, there’s probably a whole subset of them have been coming that I don’t even know about yet. 

But for me, it’s all about that scope growing. We’re making sure we’re thinking about it from the beginning, all the way to how anyone would experience a brand or a product in other ways, not just by using it.

UXPin: A holistic approach to design?

Cheryl: Totally.

UXPin: As a person who hires designers, do you have any words of advice for new designers, or people who are trying to find their first job?

Cheryl: I love this question. I’m carving this out as a specialty because I’m so passionate about giving everyone the opportunity to get their foot in the door. It’s really hard, especially if you live somewhere like Seattle or in other cities where it’s so saturated, and you really have to stand out from the crowd. If you’re trying to get one of your first jobs in UX, my biggest thing I preach is sort of telling a story. And so that’s your story. 

As a designer, of course. It’s not just about the work, but it’s how you present the work and how you talk about the problems that you’re solving and their solutions. At the end of the day, I think the secret is that your solution almost doesn’t matter. It’s more about how you approach the problem, and your design thinking, and how you unpack the problem. It’s something I work with my students all the time. They get so focused on whether they chose the right color for the button, and is the design itself right. But I’m actually more interested in how you picked apart the problem. And did you put the user’s needs first? Tell me that story. 

So I really work with folks to make sure that their portfolios and their websites and their presentations tell a story, not just about them, but about the users and problems. That, to me, is the difference between just pushing pixels and creating a holistic journey. It makes a huge difference.

UXPin: I kind of observed this change in the approach of designers as well, because it used to be like, the designer is the artist. And now we’re more user centered. We are more focused on empathy.

Cheryl: To be fair, that was me. I’m an artist, I’m a designer. Now we’re starting to see design democratized and not with my PMS and my engineers. And yes, we hold the skillset that maybe produces the artifact to look at, like the mockup or the wireframe. But at the end of the day it’s truly a team effort. It’s coming from everywhere. I’m not necessarily a formally-trained designer, that’s not my job title. But good ideas come from anywhere, and you tell that story as a squad. And that’s been working really well for the team that I’m on. I hope to carry that with me wherever I go.

UXPin: We’re looking at generation alpha coming into the picture, people who don’t remember a time before touchscreens. Do you think that’s something that young designers are ready for?

Cheryl: It’s crazy. So full disclosure, I had to look up gen alpha. I am truly an elder millennial. I have two young children and they will not remember what it’s like not to have technology available to them. We all remember having to sit through commercials on TV, yet my four-year-old just wants to fast forward right through them. It’s a very different world with technology. And what really excites me about the next generation and that their expectations of technology are so high and they’re also fearless. 

I watch my parents interact with technology. And oftentimes, they’re scared about what will happen and what they’ll do. The next generation is not scared, they are fearless. And they’re going to really expect technology to take us to the next level, even beyond what we see today. And that, to me, is like the Wild West. There are so many opportunities, and they’re not afraid to push it because it’s available to them. Having no boundaries in that way is a really good thing, because I think we’re going to push it. Also, we’re starting to see designing for good. With ethics and changing the world, I think we’re seeing what’s really important to everyone, but particularly younger generations are more aware of it than we were or our parents were. It’s really cool to think about how design will complement changing the world for good. That’s really exciting.

UXPin: When you say fearless, I see my daughter. When she asks me a question I don’t know, she’s like, look it up. 

Cheryl: They have no concept of boundaries with technology. The expectation is that it’s there and it works for you. And they’re not scared of it. It’s really amazing to watch, particularly when you see really young kids interact with technology, they’re already so fluent. Can imagine how they’re going to really push it into the future? It could be scary if it weren’t so exciting. Actually, I’m going to go with exciting, thinking about how I can design for good. I think we’ll be in a really good place.

UXPin: They have the basics of technology. There’s nothing particularly new to them when it comes to technology, so they can build on top of that, like with ethics. We have to somehow balance the development of technology, like AI, and inclusivity in the design field, too.

Cheryl: Absolutely. It’s funny, I didn’t even get my first cell phone until high school.  If you’re already thinking about kids and how they’re going to take the technology available today, which is already amazing, and start to make it work to make their lives better, it’s going to blow our minds. I’m interested in seeing where that goes. We do need to balance that ethical piece of it, and AI and all of that. My hunch is that the younger generation already has that in mind, with the landscape and the world today – that idea is already out there. I think we learned as we went, and so we had some bumps. And they will too, but it’s really exciting.

UXPin: Speaking of inclusive and accessible design, for gen alpha kids, voice search is something obvious. But we didn’t anticipate that when we developed it. But it’s also making things easier for seniors as well. So that’s the irony of going so fast forward with technology, but also having that in mind when designing technology to be accessible. We achieved things that we didn’t even think of, right?

Cheryl: I’m glad you brought that up. At my time at Microsoft, I was involved in some of the accessibility work, and it put this new lens on it for me. You can think about designing a solution for someone who maybe doesn’t have their extremities or has only one arm. But you’re also solving a problem for a new mom who’s holding a baby and can only use one arm, right? So you’re designing for one but you’re solving that same problem for so many people in a variety of circumstantial or permanent circumstances. It really is amazing. That really shifted my mindset and opened it up to thinking that this is not such a targeted problem we’re trying to solve – this is a very common use case in many ways. So when you solve for one and think about it in terms of many, it’s really powerful.

UXPin: Yes. I hope this particular trend is going to be an evergreen.

Cheryl: I think so. I think we’re seeing inclusivity. And I would say that across the board, everything from body positivity to other aspects as well. Unlike when some of us grew up, it’s very much out there and accepted and that self-love and acceptance is very, I don’t want to say it’s on trend, but it’s coming up as something big. That’s the norm. And I think that’s really important. Again, that’s probably why the younger generation is already in better shape than we would have been, because they’re thinking about that and how to solve for those types of things. Whereas that was not really on our radar, until more recently.

UXPin: Fingers crossed that this empowerment is going to be trending for not only 2020, but the 2020s and beyond.

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