Peter Lane is talking on the phone, he’s also looking at a chair nearby and thinking about the user experience design that informed what it will feel like to sit on it.
The general manager of RED Academy admits that these thoughts about user experience (UX) design are almost inescapable as the study of how people will respond to their environment has evolved in business circles. To some people, a chair might just be a chair, but to smart companies, even simple pieces of furniture need to reflect the kind of moments you want to create with customers, partners and others.
“There used to be an old way of doing business that you, ‘build it and they will come,’” he says, invoking an old line from the movie Field of Dreams. “It’s completely different now. We’re in an age where you have to think about the end user, whether that’s online or in the real world. If you look, you can see UX every day. Everything is about user experience.”
That ubiquity helps explain why RED Academy, which was founded in 2015, has become a popular destination for those who want to advance their skills or pursue entirely new careers.
The Educational Experience At RED Academy
RED stands for “redefining education,” which may not only refer to some of the courses it offers — such as web design, web development and digital marketing — but ability to get students ready for their next challenge in a matter of three months. As a story in The Georgia Straight pointed out, RED Academy “has carved out a middle ground between short-term boot camps and the one- to four-year programs offered by public postsecondary institutions.”
“We only hire professionals, not professors — you’re not going to be sitting there reading some case studies,” he says, adding that many students work on “design sprints” for a community partner’s project to get hands-on experience. “It’s a deeper way of learning when you’re actually designing a real product. It’s good for their learning and their confidence too. They can talk to potential employers and say, ‘Look at the numbers’ or whatever the results of their work are.”
Besides putting industry practitioners in the classroom, Lane says RED Academy convenes what they jokingly call a “Jedi Council” of outside experts once every quarter to discuss curriculum and what employers will want from the next cohort of graduates. This not only includes technical skills but ways to encourage the right kind of critical thinking.
“One of the greatest things about RED is that we don’t give (students) the answers, we get them to ask better questions,” he says. “That can be really frustrating at first, if you’re used to looking at a textbook and going back to get the answers. But one of the hallmarks of successful design in web, apps or UX is that you have to ask better questions.”
What Leads Students To RED Academy
Students tend to come to RED Academy after graduating from more traditional academic institutions with degrees in media, psychology or other fields and feel “frustrated and cheated” that their skill sets don’t match employer needs, according to Lane. Just three months with RED Academy can change all that. Then there are those in their 30s and 40s who simply want to skill up.
“We will have a UX designer who has been working for years but wants to take a coding code to communicate with their dev teams more effectively,” he says, adding that others might include digital marketers who are butting heads with the UX team and want to create a better dynamic. “Digital marketers have different objectives — they care about different conversion numbers and those kinds of things. UXers are only thinking about the best experience for their end users.”
RED Academy, which now has campuses in Vancouver, Toronto and London, England, is continuing to expand. Lane said the firm is delving more deeply into online courses, as well as RED Training, which will work with employees at companies that need on site education. No matter how they choose to educate themselves, Lane says there’s little doubt that what they learn at RED Academy will be highly relevant to organizations of all kinds.
“It’s so important — we’re in 2018 and this is the future, where we’re at right now. Every company knows it needs to have some kind of online presence — which means you need to make sure you have someone in charge of the thought process about how to navigate that digital world.”