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A few weeks ago, I enjoyed going to class again (much in contrast to our youngster here, whose school is still sleeping through the pandemic :-).

devX sponsored my participation in two advanced UX courses and asked for a favor in return: that I write about the experience. I'm glad to summarize this here!

To avoid this blog to become too long to read, I'll split it into three: This first one talks about the general procedure and experience, while there will be two more about the actual classes, "Designing Complex Apps for Specialized Domains" and "Storytelling to Present UX Work".

How I got there

A colleague of mine recommended the devX conference sponsorship to me. Much to my surprise, the devX website listed the Norman Nielsen Group (NN/g), which is one of the established design agencies. When the NN/g program sported a class on "Designing Complex Apps", I was sold because... the same time, we just returned from a one-week site visit where a large customer of SAP Integrated Business Planning told us about their plans to restructure their processes, and what they expected from SAP in support of this restructuring. The customer requirements quickly turned into a request to design an IBP standard app which would allow planners to view and change information along the entire supply chain. 

If that's not a happy coincidence, what can be one?   

How it worked

I applied with devX, writing about the need for a new app covering the entire supply chain. Approval came swiftly.

Registration with NN/g was simple - as would be expectable. I've not seen many registration experiences as smooth as this time.

When I logged in the first time, they asked me to behave nicely - a good reminder in these days:

NN/g Honor Code

The schedule was on two successive evenings, from 6pm to 9:30pm Walldorfian time. Not ideal after a full working day, but manageable. 

The classes were presented by NN/g employees and moderated by another NN/g employee. The time was mostly filled with the presentation, but in each class there were a 20-minute break and 2-3 group sessions which lasted a few minutes each.

They ran the class with Zoom videoconferencing, which worked well for the up to 90 participants (for "Complex Apps"; "Storytelling" had 50 participants). From time to time, they would send us into breakout sessions in groups of four, where we were asked to discuss and record results in Google Docs. Overall, the technical setup worked very well.

After the course, I received a small feedback form, asking whether I liked the course, missed topics, and whether I would leave a testimonial.

Whom I "met"

I did not get to meet many people. The breakout groups only had four members and were the same for each half-day, so I talked to another 10 other people directly. If you are quick on math, you'll notice the discrepancy: Twice, I was grouped with somebody I meet before already. I don't know whether that's coincidence or principle.

Most of the participants work in agencies, was my feeling. That corresponds to the big question of how to acquire the required domain knowledge (switching from medicine to Internet-of-Things to military to government designs). This is an issue we don't have as designers in SAP. I was also surprised about the diversity of the tasks the participants do: From decisions on which software to use (balancing backend compatibility with design flexibility) to development to design.

As usual, nobody is well aware of SAP. Very few nod their head when I introduced myself and I didn't have time to ask what they really think. Only one guy knew SAP well - "I am working for your former boss" - he's with Service Now, now headed by Bill McDermott.

Maybe the free-lance and agency work also explains why many people asked about whether there is a kind of "certification" for complex design skills and why NN/g provided promotional material:

There's only little networking on the Slack channel provided by NN/g. Very few people contacted me on LinkedIn.

What  I took away

Obviously, you get the presentation as a PDF. There's also a reading list with books, terminology, and NN/g articles. They also added an older (2012) review on different app categories, together with design trends.

In addition to the main course, we were offered a one-hour Q&A with Jakob Nielsen. Jakob took a few questions from the participants, e.g., on design trends ("remote will stay even after the pandemic") and UX careers ("AI will increase the impact of UX without lay-offs").

There's also a Slack channel provided by NN/g for everyone who's participated in a class.

Besides the course content, and although this is a virtual event, you take a away some side remarks about working styles and tasks other designer value. For example,
My trade-off is lower fidelity [of mock-ups] and more conversation [with the development team about the user].

(Rachel Krause)

Another statement I heard was that with personas, there is little value in demographic descriptions. The short recommendation read "With personas, prefer actions over adjectives."

Would I recommend it?


You get to see people and processes outside of SAP, and even if you're a seasoned designer, there will be new or re-enforced patterns, principles, and arguments for you.

The remote set-up works well, and it allows a much wider participation - I would never have taken the time to travel for these 14 hours.
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