On Psychology, Research, & Design – A Review on Learning with the IxDF

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When I began learning about User Experience Design in 2020, I was eager to find materials that delved into its core concepts. When I say this, I mean the ideas that surround its psychological and interdisciplinary roots. You see, before I knew that there was something like UX design, I was fascinated by psychology. When I found out what UX meant, the intersection between technology and psychology intrigued me. When I searched for materials that described design not only as pretty interfaces but as a process that begins with research and never ends, I found the Interaction Design Foundation (IxDF). In the wake of this, what I expected when I decided to become a yearly member was less than what I am still getting.

UX is broad, and like others locked in it, I have plans to specialise. I prefer the research side because it links with psychology. For me, I think it is a determiner for executing design solutions. User Experience Research, I’ve read, is growing. Initially, it was qualitative. Now, researchers incorporate a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods to understand how people use tech. But I digress…

“Our learning community is all about you…”

“When you begin a new course, it begins with a prologue. The IxDF dedicates this part to introduce you to how it works and what the course entails…In the video, Rikke Friis Dam, the Editor-in-Chief says; “Our Learning community is all about you”. Indeed, it is.”

As an active member of the IxDF, it’s hard for me to pinpoint the best courses and masterclasses it offers. The foundation has a range of materials that teach about emotional design, augmented reality, service design, research methods, usability testing, accessibility, colour psychology, etc. There’s a lot of knowledge to exploit. But the ones that have contributed most to my learning are “Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)”, “User Research: Best Methods and Practices” and “Data-Driven Design: Quantitative Research for UX“. Similarly, for me, the best Masterclasses the foundation offers are “Systems Thinking for Designers: A Practical Guide” by Erik Stolterman, “UX Career Master Class” by Cory Lebson and “Human Biases: A Practical Guide for Designers” by Susan and Guthrie Weinschenk.

I should mention that the masterclasses are available for everyone, but marketed at a discounted price to members. These courses, among others, have helped me build a solid background.

When you begin a new course, it begins with a prologue. The IxDF dedicates this part to introduce you to how it works and what the course entails. In this section, there is an introductory video.  When I watched it the first time, it excited me. In the video, Rikke Friis Dam, the Editor-in-Chief says; “Our Learning community is all about you”. Indeed, it is.

The community prioritises the needs of members through “drip wise learning”. What that means is when you enrol for a course, the content doesn’t come at once, they become available every week.

As a member, you can enrol for as many courses as you want. Learning is self-paced. There’s no pressure. The course content is a mix of videos, text and visuals. Some lessons are recorded, while some are essays. Others are a mix of both with downloadable templates. They also assign portfolio-building projects that will help you practice the concepts you learn. These are optional, but as you digest the theory, you also get to practice what you learn.

At the end of each lesson, there are questions you must answer to get your certificate. Sometimes the questions are multiple-choice and are graded automatically. If you miss a question, the system corrects you immediately. Sometimes the questions are open-ended. The course instructors and other staff of the IxDF grade these questions within two weeks. Although they give feedback, sometimes I wish the feedback was more in-depth and constructive.

“That is not to say that the IxDF condemns the tools and trends. It recognises these tools as what they are – tools that aid the design process, not tools that define it.”

The best thing about the IxDF is that it focuses on teaching concepts that are core to design. The timeless concepts. The courses take you into the nitty-gritty of design and make you understand that it is beyond, far beyond interface design and the tools used for such. It teaches you to conduct proper research and analyse the data adequately. As a member, you will have access to their UX library encompassing content written by UX experts.

Asides from this, each course you take refers you to relevant materials for further study. For example, if you enrol for the HCI course, you will get to learn about different parts of the human body and how to design effective solutions that appeal to the senses, emotions, and motivations of people. You will also receive links to research papers and books relating to the content. If you enrol for the “Gestalt Psychology and Web Design: The Ultimate Guide” course, you will learn about gestalt and how human beings perceive the elements around them in groups.

The IxDF does not focus on the tools and trends oozing out of the design community (Figma, Glass-morphism, Neomorphism, Adobe XD, Sketch, etc), it focuses on the design concepts because as the tools change, the concepts remain timeless. That is not to say that the IxDF condemns the tools and trends. It recognises these tools as what they are – tools that aid the design process, not tools that define it.

The foundation also allows you to network with other community members through the discussion platform after the end of each course week. You get to discuss, and you even get to meet up with IxDF members in your local community. (I haven’t explored this yet).  

Nonetheless, the IxDF makes you understand the true definition of UX design, especially where it has erroneously come to mean designing pretty interfaces. It lets you understand that design is interdisciplinary; even though a part of it consists of visual design, it is not the entirety of it.  If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from being a member, it’s that there’s a lot to learn, and there’s a lot to put into practice. You must strike a balance between the two.

Finally, most courses are taught by industry experts. Alan Dix teaches the HCI course. I find him to be fun and easy going. His method of teaching is relatable and easy to grasp. William Hudson, also an intuitive tutor, teaches the “Data-Driven Design” course. Even Don Norman, inventor of the term UX design is a tutor for the course, “Design for the 21st Century“. And sometimes, courses feature interviews and lessons from industry and academic experts. One course has excerpts of an interview with a senior UX Designer at Google. Another has an interview with a qualitative UX Researcher. The masterclasses are manned by industry experts.

Weighing Your Options

“Most importantly, I look forward to putting these things into practice and creating solutions that impact society.”

Perhaps the thing that bothers me about the IxDF is that once your membership ends, you will no longer have access to the course materials. And there’s no easy way to store the course materials asides from the ones they choose to share as templates.  Overall, if you are someone like me who loves psychology, research, and design, the IxDF is the best place for you. And the costs? Membership for the professional plan is $120 per year ($10/month).

The IxDF is the most extensive online school I have ever used, and I look forward to learning more. I look forward to discovering more concepts, uncovering more about the mind, and acquiring more about design and research because I understand that learning never stops. Most importantly, I look forward to putting these things into practice and creating solutions that impact society.