Hand holding a tablet with a wireframe drawing on it - Foundations of UX Design Hand holding a tablet with a wireframe drawing on it - Foundations of UX Design

Google’s Foundations of UX Design – Coursera Course Review

I’ve been interested in learning more about UX for awhile now, and after some Uxcel.com lessons, I find myself becoming more critical of bad user experiences I find online and in games. So, after months of seeing ads for Google’s UX design certificate program everywhere I looked, I finally gave in.

Google’s UX Design program is offered on Coursera, which did make me a bit hesitant. I absolutely love the idea of making education more accessible and affordable to everyone, but the platform itself has some problems.

A few years back I took Coursera’s Graphic Design Specialization, and while I enjoyed it, I had major issues with the peer grading system and the massive amounts of plagiarism. I’m hoping Google’s UX Design Professional Certificate goes better, but if not, you’ll hear about it here.

Google’s Foundations of UX Design Course

To begin the seven course long UX Design Professional Certificate, I’m starting with Foundations of UX Design. This course is meant to provide the foundation to get students acquainted with the basics of user experience design.

This course is broken down into 4 weeks:

Week 1: Introducing user experience design
Week 2: Getting to know common terms, tools, and frameworks in UX design
Week 3: Joining design sprints
Week 4: Integrating research into the design process

Week 1: Introducing User Experience Design

Week 1 of this course was very introductory, not just to UX but to using Coursera and online learning in general. I skimmed past the initial part pretty fast because this isn’t my first rodeo, but it’s still good to have it included.

After that, the instructor went into some general info about UX, like what makes a good user experience and why it’s important.

Essentially, a good user experience means a positive brand experience.

The rest of this week involved learning about what makes a good user experience, how to identify specific things that make a good user experience design, and the different roles within UX design.

Week 1 gave a lot of good information, though due to the subject matter, I do wish that some of the reading material that was presented was given in a more user friendly manner. The readings were relatively long and could have been presented in a more visually interesting way, or in a way that made the material easier to engage with.

Additionally, rather than the instructor simply telling students about the various UX design roles, it would have been helpful to show how those roles work together in a more in-depth and contextual way. For example, could we have been shown a whole project being quickly formed from the brainstorming stage to launch on the screen, sped up in parts, and slowed to show the key information about the product development lifecycle?

The last part of week one went into some basics about where a UX Designer might actually get a job. The instructor suggested a level-entry UX designer could work as an intern, which is absolutely not something I would recommend. Ever. Internships are notorious for exploiting young workers for free labour. Don’t work for free. I don’t care if a small company, or a big one like Google offers you an internship that “could lead to a full-time, paid job”. Don’t ever work for free.

If you’re doing work, especially work that you’re trained for, do not do it for free.

Additionally, the instructor added that an entry level UX designer could also work initially as a freelancer. While this is a typical path I see new designers take, it’s not ideal. You learn so much in your first few years as a designer working in a professional setting, and you just don’t get that if you start on your own.

Week 1 ends with a short quiz that should be pretty easy for anyone who was paying attention to the lectures and taking notes. I know Coursera has a lot of issues with plagiarism and cheating in the quizzes, so I really hope this quiz is not the same for everyone and changes often.

Foundations of UX Design course notes
Some of my notes on the UX product development life cycle.

Week 2: Getting to Know Common Terms, Tools, and Frameworks in UX Design

Week two starts off with students learning about user-centered design. There is much less content overall this week, which makes sense as there’s no introductory information for students to know about the certificate program as a whole.

This week delves into how UX researchers figure out exactly who their potential users are before starting a project, and what types of issues they will need to take into consideration to make sure the final product is both accessible and inclusive. This is all good information to have, though the presentation of the materials is a bit dry.

Afterwards, students learn about what makes a user experience equitable with inclusive design. Students are introduced to the concept of equality vs equity, in addition to some considerations that UX designers need to take into account when designing a product that can be successfully used by anyone. This is followed by and end of week quiz.

Foundations of UX Design course notes
My terribly drawn notes on equality versus equity. Can you tell I’m a professional artist?

Week 3: Joining Design Sprints

Week 3 of the Foundations of UX Design course deals with design sprints. A design sprint is essentially a five-day rush to get a product or feature to a nearly finished phase. Companies seem to love the idea of design sprints because, in theory, it saves time and money. Though in reality, it rarely goes as smoothly as it’s meant to.

Essentially, the design sprint process is: Understand the problem, ideate solutions and share ideas, decide the best solution, build a prototype, then have potential users test the prototype before your team starts building the final version for launch.

In an ideal world, with a very straightforward problem to solve, and a team that works very well together, it might work like this. Normally though, it’s a back-and-forth process of coming up with solutions for a half baked idea, then realizing it won’t work and having to start from scratch. That being said, it is important to know the proper process for a design sprint so you and your team have measurable goals.

The course often prompts students to discuss the benefits of design sprints, and why they are beneficial, but students aren’t going to have the context to properly understand the benefits and challenges involved in a design sprint unless they’ve experienced one, or something similar.

Are the downsides or challenges of design sprints discussed in this course? Of course not. But, this course is given by a large corporation, not an educational institution. In reality, I’ve never heard people talk positively about a sprint. Though I’ve only know development teams that do them regularly, they never had anything positive to say about them. There’s little downtime, constant pressure to come up with good ideas, and no room for deviation.

The design sprint process that Google teaches is definitely an idealized version of a sprint.

In reality, stakeholders meet with managers to decide what the design team needs to create, then they give the team a week to do it. It never starts as a detailed sprint document or ends with discussion about what could have been improved, as Google suggests it should. It’s more often “Hey, you guys have a week to figure out what to do, so put all your other urgent projects on the backburner for now and show me what you’ve got by Friday.”

That being said, I would love to work at a company that structures design sprints as meticulously as Google because it shows that they value the process and the end result, and are highly organized in doing so. Then again, maybe UX sprints are a bit different from design or development ones? Or maybe Google just has the resources to put this much effort into a project because, well, they’re Google. Regardless, it’s still important to know the way a sprint should be done, and you should in this case, because there’s a quiz at the end of week 3.

Foundations of UX Design course notes
Some of my notes about UX research methods.

Week 4: Integrating Research into the Design Process

The last week in this course talks about UX research. At this point I’m ready for this course to be over so I can move onto more practical information and creative assignments. It’s not that theory isn’t important, I’m just tired of taking so many notes.

The instructor talks about the differences between UX Research that takes place before, during, and after the design phase of the product development life cycle, and why they’re different yet equally important.

The next thing covered in biases in UX research. I thought this was the most interesting part so far, likely because biases extend beyond UX research and into our daily lives. We cover six different types of bias that can compromise the validity of UX research: Confirmation bias, false consensus bias, recency bias, primacy bias, implicit bias, and sunk cost fallacy.

That’s pretty much it for the last week of the Foundations of UX Design course. This week was a bit tricky, figuring out the differences between all the different UX research methods, but it was interesting.

Google’s Foundations of UX Design Course – In Summary

What’s Good and What’s Just Okay

Overall, Google’s Foundations of UX Design was an informative course and a good place to start to learning more in-depth information about UX, but it could have been presented in a way that provided a better user experience. It felt like there were only a few visuals scattered throughout the course, and there was a severe lack of contextual examples that would make the information easier to process and retain.

I also found the whole course very dry, and some parts were a bit redundant. Maybe that’s just because this first course is all UX theory, and theory is typically dry material. That being said, Uxcel.com teaches the same material in a way that delivers a much better user experience overall; and the best way to teach about user experience is to show it and have students/users experience it first hand.

What’s Actually Bad

My main concern about this course, and all Coursera courses for that matter, is the plagiarism. Students were often asked to post in the course discussion forum about their own experiences working on team projects, their experiences with good and bad UX, and more. This was a great way to think about how UX impacts and will impact our daily and professional lives. Unfortunately, it was obvious that many of the responses were not from serious students. Many posts were just copy and pasted from Google or the course material itself, or just random incoherent nonsense.

It’s stuff like this that compromises the validity of Coursera as a whole. It’s too easy to copy and paste to the discussion forms, Google quiz answers, then steal imagery to submit as your own, then leave with a valid certificate.

How is Coursera supposed to combat this though? Maybe an AI that detects plagiarism and nonsensical writing that gets marked for review by a real person? Or is there just simply too much of it to catch?

Fortunately, there is an option to flag and report a discussion post or assignment, so as long as actual students are reporting the plagiarism (though it isn’t always obvious), hopefully things will improve.

The Certificate Program Going Forward

Google’s Foundations of UX Design took me exactly ten days to complete, with maybe 3-4 hours a day, and a lot of note taking.

At the end of the course students are given free access to Adobe XD since it will be needed for coursework going forward, which is really great since most new UX designers probably don’t have an Adobe CC subscription already.

What’s Next? Now I’m on to the second course in the Google UX Design Certificate, which is Start the UX Design Process: Empathize, Define, and Ideate. The course description here says that “you’ll complete the first phases of the design process for a project that you’ll be able to include in your portfolio.” So I guess that means some more hands on work and less note taking. Nice.

Have you taken Google’s Foundations of UX Design course? What did you think about it? Do you think it provided enough of a jumping off point to learn more complex information about UX design? Are there any changes you would like to see made to the Foundations of UX Design course on Coursera? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo Credits

Photo by Faizur Rehman on Unsplash

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