I Taught UX Design to Graphic Design Students For 9 Years


I remember my days of teaching User Experience to Graphic Design students enrolled at Full Sail University. There was a “heightened focus” on the field of “UX Design” because college and university program managers were seeing huge shifts in employment trends.

It was clear we needed to make a shift…and QUICKLY. It was 2015 and we had to get students prepared for what was already happening in the marketplace.

The days of companies and organizations using designers exclusively for visual communication (motion, animation, video, print) have changed and creative people are being called upon to solve higher level business problems and challenges.

So I shifted my approach to building a design curriculum, that made it easier for traditional design students to grasp the user-focused design principles and terminology.

Fast forward today and it’s 2020…

…and the popular buzz term “UX Design”, short for User Experience Design is being talked about more and more. Whether you’re a high-school educator, trade school instructor, or university professor, you need to understand that things are shifting for design students who will be entering into the design and technology fields.

The days of companies and organizations using designers exclusively for visual communication only (motion, animation, video) has changed a long time ago and creative people are being called upon to solve higher-level business problems and challenges.

As a Course Director at Full Sail University from 2009 to 2018, I’ve taught subjects such as web design, HTML/CSS courses, and portfolio development and the time for design students to begin adding UX Design into their portfolio IS NOW.

UX Design has been around for decades; it’s theories in practice for centuries and the insurance, medical, science and tech industries have been embracing the design practice as “their savior” to ensuring better product experiences.

But teaching UX Design to Graphic Design Students was not simple in the beginning when I first introduced it.

Finding creative ways of explaining to students that working within the UX Industry, is more associated with listening to people, research, user testing, and observation comes first.

Design tends to come last.

To best introduce UX Design within an accelerated learning environment like Full Sail University, required exploring it from a perspective of understanding “WHO” my student was.


Overloading a visually oriented mind with usability concepts, would not be as effective so I decided on a path that would help to make more of a relatable connection to the course work.

So I showed them UI (User Interface) Design and worked backward from there.

Since UI Design is all about designing the look and feel of an interactive experience, it makes for learning about UX Design less burdensome to a student that’s more visual in how they learn.

So I taught my students TWO SIMPLE truths when it comes to learning about UX Design.

UX Design =

is about understanding the user intent and implementing proven principles, that will create a safe and satisfactory user experience.

UI Design =

the process of designing the look/iconography of the user experience and incorporating design principles & traditional design fundamentals.

I Designed An Intro To Interactive Design Course For Graphic Design Students, That Taught Basic Usability Design Principles.

The course provided Graphic Design students an opportunity, to gain an understanding of usability principles, through building basic interfaces within the Adobe XD software.

Why Adobe XD?

I wanted to use a design tool with a simple learning curve that students were able to work with simple and repeatable design solutions throughout their projects. My students explored the process of designing a mobile application, using ONE MIT Media Lab Research project as their app design inspiration.

While keeping in mind that Graphic Design Students intuitively learn differently, I tried not to overwhelm them with memorizing usability patterns. Rather I taught usability patterns through simple design exercises and projects that still provided them access to the usability concepts behind those visual design decisions.

My primary focus was planting seeds of interest regarding UX Design and not scare them off with terminology, usability patterns, and doing too much user research and persona development.

This was shared with the permission of Full Sail Graduate Valeria Villanueva. The video was a demonstration of the final project she presented, as she tested a mobile app prototype using Adobe Experience Design. The curriculum and assignments taught in this course are the sole property of Full Sail University, not Matthew D. Lett.

Should UX Design Matter to Graphic Design Students?

YES. I think traditional design students should learn how usability design fits into their toolbox.

Outside of the UX Design field, really successful “Designers” who continue to be relevant and develop improved solutions to how people use products, services, and technology, tend to be aware of what people need and then design solutions around that.

Humans are social animals and now more than ever, in a world that is becoming more “customer-centric”, I think traditional design students shouldn’t be left behind.

I think educational leaders should know this simple truth.

To create a complete and balanced Graphic Design education, students must incorporate the principles learned in Print, Web Design, and Interactive Design to be able to successfully contribute to what’s happening out there.

The way content is being delivered to users has changed…

Designers are now required to work within cloud-based enterprise infrastructures – this can mean working within “non-mac friendly workspaces” at times…

Designers are now participating and conducting empathy design sessions with C-Suite executives…

It’s not just about design anymore and it can’t be…

If you are a design educator what are your thoughts on this? I want to know what you’re doing within your degree program, school, or design department to prepare your design students for what is happening today.


(1) (Books) The Design of Everyday Things – https://www.nngroup.com/books/design-everyday-things-revised/

(2) Don Norman – https://www.nngroup.com/people/don-norman/

(3) User Experience Professionals Association – https://uxpa.org/

(4) Interaction Design Foundation – https://www.interaction-design.org/

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