Teaching is Learning

“Teachers should prepare the student for the student’s future, not for the teacher’s past.”

Richard Hamming

As I prepare to teach another semester at the University of Hawaii West O’ahu, I am often thinking about what information is more essential to present to my students.

The future of web design, and specifically UI/UX design, which is what I’m teaching this coming semester, is often in flux. Technology and advancements in methodologies change how things are done.

But there are also certain fundamentals of UI/UX design that don’t really change much over time. Yes, there are paradigm shifts that occur in how users of design systems use those systems. But for the most part creating a user-focused platform — whether that is a website, mobile app, or something else — boils down to some common frameworks.

People want to use something that is easy to use. People want it to look nice. And they don’t want to have to over-think the process.

Those seem pretty obvious, but how do you accomplish them?

It requires really understanding the goals of the user. And, it also means weighing those goals with the goals of the system and the stakeholders.

A user’s goal might be to pay less for a widget. But the goal of the stakeholder might be to get higher margins. Those goals seem at odds with each other.

How can you align those goals? Can you change perceptions to adjust the goals into a different goal? What is the role of design? Or is it a matter of changing who the target user is?

That was a bit of a tangent. My point is, when preparing to teach something, a lot of the work is in making sure I teach information that the students will be able to use for the longest period of time, and avoid giving them “fads” or currently popular things that don’t really serve the long term goals of the profession.

Teaching how to design a skewed morphism visual aesthetic is only useful is you’re creating for the 2001 web. It is a handy tool to have in your tool box, but not really something that will serve you for the long haul.

But teaching how to approach a design system, or how to evaluate user goals, is (in my opinion) and longer term and more sustainable skill to cultivate. The design principles that are universal and evergreen will serve the students better than those which are temporarily in vogue.

This also means constantly learning and adjusting my own approaches. Evaluating what I do and trying to master ways to improve my process.

Teaching means learning. It means growing as a professional so that my skills are able to keep pace with what the students need to learn.

The best teachers are, in truth, those with a student’s mindset — always yearning to grown and build and develop their own understanding and skills.

Photo by Mr. Bochelly on Unsplash