UCLA Extension User Experience Design Class – Detailed Review

UCLA Extension User Experience Class - Review Picture

For those of you who want a solid intro to user experience in a traditional class setting, UCLA Extension puts forth a damn good offering. I’ll be writing specifically about my experience with the Fall 2012 User Experience Design course taught by professors Jaime Levy and Mark Sloan. Both professors are extremely talented and run their own user experience design consultancies, so I’m fortunate to have learned from some real pros.

Personally, I prefer on-campus classes because you get to mix with other students. For those of you who live too far from UCLA and don’t mind e-learning, this class is offered online as well. To check the course offerings & schedule, visit uclaextension.edu and search “user experience,” or you can just use this link: https://www.uclaextension.edu/pages/search.aspx?c=user+experience.

To my knowledge, other UX offerings include User Experience Strategy, User Experience Research, and User Experience Design II. If you end up taking any of those classes, let me know how they are.

The Review:

This UX Class was worth the weekly commute from OC -> LA and the full $675. As of today it’s $715 – looks like the demand for UX learning has really increased.

Class Demographics

When I first stepped into class, I was greeted by an enrollment of about 25 students. Most of my classmates had a graphic design background, and few (like me) came from business backgrounds or out of general interest. It was also a diverse class in terms of age and ethnicity; I was surprised to find a lot of my fellow Taiwanese in the class. Everyone was genuinely nice, but a bit reserved at times. Very welcoming if you say hello first.

Instructors

Jaime Levy is a no-BS, brutally honest UX professional who knows her stuff. She’s really entertaining to learn from and teaches in a non-linear way. In the first class she said (paraphrased): “Just a heads up I might say things like fuck or shit.” It’s great to get your designs critiqued by Jaime, but if you don’t have tough skin you might get offended.

Mark Sloan is equally talented but teaches in a more structured, academic style. It balances out nicely with Jaime’s approach. While Mark doesn’t really cuss as much, he’s great at helping tie in UX concepts with real world examples.

The two professors switch off on a weekly basis, which I liked. You get to know 2 professionals instead of one. This varies and changes; in the Winter 2013 class, and it was just one professor.

Class Content & Structure

My favorite aspect of this UX class is its project-based approach. You are expected to create a pretend (or real) startup from the beginning of the class. You use the framework of the startup to apply all the basic practices of UX Design, from User Research to User Testing to Wireframing out your app or website. You submit homework on a weekly basis, and at the beginning of each session, ½ the students in class will present their assignments & get critiqued, and in the next class the other ½ of the students get their turn.

This approach is great for… 1) solidifying UX concepts 2) having practical applications of how UX is useful in an actual business and 3) developing a solid portfolio piece by the end of the course.

Extras

The professors are well connected and provided 2 field trip opportunities. I honestly forgot one, but the other field trip was to Huge, one of the leading user experience agencies. Getting to visit their creative space and hear a lecture about their approach was a fun experience. Also, in the last class Jaime took everyone out to a nearby bar and we all hung out / talked future plans. Great way to end a class in style..

So, the verdict?

Final Grade: A-

Why the minus? No class is perfect, and I thought I’d give the TL;DR breakdown with the following points:

Pros:

  • Apply the major practices of UX Design in the framework of your own pretend startup…this has been my favorite way of learning the topic.
  • Build one really strong, in-depth portfolio item
  • Present your designs + get critiqued every other week
  • See designs of other talented students
  • Instructors are recognized leaders in their field, many with in-depth experience working across many levels at top agencies (and will give you the agency scoop)
  • No books required, class material is based off of free & updated online readings

Cons:

  • Class community isn’t the strongest, but YMMV.
  • Class uses Blackboard, an online tool that can be pretty hard to use. I don’t think the professors are all that fond of it either.
  • If you’re taking it in-class (which I do recommend), driving and parking in Westwood is ridiculous.
  • Instructors are often busy professionals running their own practices or leading a UX team, so they may be difficult to reach outside of the classroom.
  • Price: $675 now $715 is not cheap.However, it’s a lot less than CSUF’s $3000 or General Assembly’s $4000. Geez.

If you have the money, have company-sponsored education, or know that taking a formal UX class will be good learning for you, I highly recommend UCLA Extension’s User Experience Design Class.

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