Designing for Gen Z and Beyond: A UX Approach

Visiting Professor — Tufts University

Overview

The Tufts University Experimental College selects a few students each year to design and teach full-credit courses. During my senior year, I created and taught a 13-week course with my friend titled Designing for Gen Z and Beyond: A UX Approach. The course focused on exploring Generation Z using design thinking and UX methods.

Each week the course alternated between either teaching a UX topic or exploring a facet of Generation Z. Assignments consisted of weekly readings and design artifacts that cumulated in a semester project. This project included a different deliverable each week to teach students both about the iterative UX Design process and encourage them to empathize with Generation Z.

Artboard Copy 9.png

Exploration

Exploration and evaluation was an important piece of the course. Very little is definitively known about Generation Z as a generation. There’s a lot of speculation and studying happening but because of how young they are, nothing is certain and we didn’t want to present the class as though we had the answers.

Throughout the course, we studied several aspects of and perspectives about Generation Z. Our weekly topics and readings covered:

  • Characteristics and principles of Generation Z

  • Upbringing and environment

  • Social media and longevity

  • Music

  • Emerging Technology and where technology is going

  • How does Emerging Tech impact Gen Z and vice versa?

We held weekly class discussions about the readings and topics where students were encouraged to disagree with the authors and each other.

Students also participated in group activities designed to help them think critically about the assigned reading and class discussions. For example, when we discussed digital natives vs. digital immigrants, students designed alarm clocks for each group and then reflected on the choices they’d made for each clock and why those choices were made.

UX Methods

Though there was a range of experience among our students, for most of them, it was their first introduction to UX Design. Because of this, we tried to give them a comprehensive understanding of the end-to-end design process and various methods they could utilize.

As we taught each method, we explained why students might choose to use it and any caveats or design considerations to be mindful of. After giving students an introduction to a method, they would spend most of class participating in a workshop activity. This gave students hands-on, guided practice with the various methods and tools and ask questions before they had to submit an artifact for their semester project.

Throughout the 13 weeks, we covered a range of methods including:

  • Introduction to design thinking

  • Personas and journey mapping

  • Information architecture & low-fidelity design

  • Introduction to design tools (Adobe XD, Figma, and InVision)

  • Usability testing

  • High Fidelity and how to make things look good

  • UX copywriting

  • Microinteractions & delight

Mentorship

In addition to teaching UX methods and exploring Generation Z, we wanted to make sure to share our industry experience and provide students with mentorship opportunities. We approached this both in our formal course teachings and in informal 1-1 conversations with students.

During class we exposed students to important industry career practices to help in their job search and overall preparedness. Specifically, we focused on whiteboard and take-home design challenges during interviews, writing case studies, and how to create a portfolio.

We also introduced design ethics as a topic. My co-teacher and I are by no means experts on ethics in design, but we felt it was important to get students thinking about ethics as they begin designing.

Informally, we had some students who were particularly interested in UX design or research. We met with them in office hours and after class to give them extra feedback and help with their portfolios, job search and interviewing, and general career direction.

Moving Forward

If I had the opportunity to teach a course like this again, I would focus more on exploratory and generative research for the semester projects. I also would like to be more fluid in the instruction and focus more on teaching critical thinking in design rather than specific, rigid methods. While designing the curriculum, there was some pressure to check certain boxes with the UX methods so students would feel internship-ready, but I think there would have been more value in teaching them more about design thinking instead.

Overall, though, I absolutely loved teaching this course and would happily teach a course like this again. Designing and teaching the course made me a much better designer. It also taught me about how people learn about design.