How people approach to design: my first online teaching experience.

Let’s try by myself to find out where they’re wrong.


Lorenzo Doremi

3 years ago | 6 min read

Currently, I am studying for my master’s degree in Interaction Design in Italy, and this is going to allow me to teach high-school students (and college too) design and informatics. Teaching is a vocation, but you have a huge responsibility: a correct and effective education.

During these two degree years, I noticed that some teachers were very good and helpful, while others…well a complete mess. But why? Why can’t they teach design? What are they missing?

Let’s try by myself to find out where they’re wrong.

Practice often works, so I decided to try teaching too. How? well, I had three friends who had, or wanted, to learn some web and graphic design. This was the perfect occasion! This is my job! I can indeed teach them something and try to find out where my teachers are wrong!

Because of the current global pandemic, especially here in Italy, lockdown prevented us to meet and speak in person, so we had to use an online platform. We have chosen both Discord, Skype, and Zoom for online teaching: every platform is good enough, so if you want to give some lessons, don’t focus on that choice too long.

Online teaching made it a bit harder to communicate and show the steps I make to design, so this certainly influenced the critical issues of the various lessons.

Online teaching is harder, but satisfying anyway. Photo by Mohammad Shahhosseini on Unsplash

The first lesson. Oh my.

The first lesson was strictly about web design, and the student was the youngest one (a high school girl): I wasn’t prepared indeed.

Since my bad college teachers always lost themselves in tons of theory, I decided to the opposite: starting with an example and make the student do something practical, without any particular knowledge.

We opened our favorite prototyping software and I shared with her an already-made generic website design. She asked what to do, so I told her to design a plant e-commerce website. She then looked at the blank screen for straight 10 minutes. I was a bit shocked indeed: Why isn’t she starting?

Well, I intervened and asked what happened. She asked me:

what button creates a page?

So I told her. Then, another 10-minute blank-page staring.

“What button creates a rectangle?”

So I answered her again. And guess what? 10-minute blank-page staring again. Probably my bad teachers weren’t that bad. It’s our fault: we are dumb. But I do not surrender that easily. I asked her again what was happening.

“How do I change colors?”

I had to explain that too and then, the magic happened. Like a hurricane, she started designing a website. She found out images, fonts, sizes, and everything else.

Sure, it wasn’t a masterpiece design, but indeed she was doing something and appreciating it.

How do I know? She asked me, after one hour, to receive another assignment. Another website idea to design. She wanted to continue our lessons, and that feels good as a teacher.

Her first website design ever. A lot has to be improved.

The first survey.

Italian colleges give you the opportunity (force you!) to make a survey after a course, where you judge the teacher and the teaching program. I decided to apply the same principle with my student, asking her:

  1. What do you like about my teaching?
  2. What do you dislike?
  3. Which step do you consider the easiest?
  4. Which step do you consider the hardest?
  5. Do you feel I missed something?

She answered more or less that:

  1. she liked the fact that I made her do something, instead of explaining her. She thought that explanations were a lot more useful when she directly asked for them.
  2. She didn’t dislike anything about my teaching method. (not very credible.)
  3. The easiest part was the logical part (everything inside a frame, texts styling, etc)
  4. The hardest part was finding hotkeys, but she said “Because I am dumb”.
  5. She felt that I had to design the exact website first, so she could get inspiration.

Her second website. A lot better. Still some problems with contrast.

Obviously, I found out more critical issues she didn’t really notice: She enlarged everything too much, didn’t understand the layers system concept, and darkened images too much. But the strangest thing I noticed is that she had extremely poor writing skills: titles, texts, and buttons were cold and emotionless.

Most of these problems anyway vanished after the third lesson, where she understood how to proportionate things a lot better.

Her third website. Extraordinary since it’s just the third one.

In general, this lesson had been very instructive for both of us: she had the opportunity to make something, and I to study her behaviors and adapt to her more.

The other two students were different.

The other two students (a middle-aged woman, and a 25 years old architecture student), behaved completely different.

1) An emotional approach to design.

The woman had very little patience, and when she started she couldn’t do anything, even if I explained to her multiple times the hotkeys and the main concept (everything stays inside a frame… then, you can use texts, etc).

The main cause was dexterity: she had very little experience with the mouse and keyboard and this led to frustration and bad results.

Since my lesson wasn’t about using a PC, but designing, I often clicked and pressed for her. The results were a lot interesting.

  • The design was extremely flat and bad speaking of layout, with huge texts and no images.
  • She refused to design a website she wasn’t interested in.
  • The writing was excellent: she did an extremely good UX-Writing job, full of emotion, and some persuasive tricks.

This approach was lacking technical abilities, but extremely good in the “humanistic” part: the exact opposite of the younger student.

Emotions are a fundamental part of the design. Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Her opinion on my teaching method is:

  1. She appreciated that I was concrete and didn’t lose myself in hours of design.
  2. The hardest part was to learn the key-bindings since there was no software tutorial.
  3. the easiest part was to write texts and copywriting.

4) She wasn’t interested in looking at inspiration, since it was HER website.

This creates an extremely hard student because she doesn’t want to change her ideas. Let’s see the third and last one.

LEFT: her dog shelter website design. RIGHT: how I improved it (maintaining the “style”). She appreciated.

2) Speed is what I need.

The shortest lesson was given to the architecture student. He quickly understood commands and the software (He regularly uses InDesign, so he has enough dexterity), and asked me to teach him intermediate-level tricks of graphic design.

This lesson had been simpler since we went straight to design, but the main issue was the different design approach: Since he’s an architect he had a deep knowledge of buildings and spaces, but very few of interfaces, etc.

He hadn’t very much time and asked me to give him a small list of things to copy. I couldn’t find out any particular issue, since the limited time and because he mostly cloned my personal techniques and ideas.

We can say that college students have very little time, and need to get fast useful applicable concepts.


These three students have three different personalities, and have completely different needs:

  1. the younger girl has a strong technical approach, wants to learn a lot, and likes to get inspiration.
  2. the older woman has a stronger and emotional personality, wants to do only what she likes, and needs help in the technical part.
  3. the young college student has zero time and doesn’t want to learn too much theory.

Their merged positive review had something in common: they liked my practical approach, and that I didn’t explain tons of theory before they asked or needed to. This, in my opinion, led to a slower start but created bigger satisfaction in the students, since they actually created something in less than one hour.

Also, teaching online contributed to the slower start, since my students could only see my mouse move, and could not interact completely with me (Like raising hands, or ask me to come to their computer).


The absence of practical lessons is exactly what I felt during my bad college classes: teachers only taught generic concepts, and never explained the “what” and “how”, wrongly supposing people were able to develop creative and technical skills by themselves.

This does not teach me how to design a website.

A lot of people say that college shouldn’t teach you a job, but concepts and culture. I totally disagree:

you can both teach a concept and a workflow by applying the first to the other.

A simple case: a lot of teachers redundantly explained to me gestalt principles, but always with repertoire images and never with websites, apps, posters, movies, or other concrete examples. If they merged the pieces of knowledge, every student would have appreciated the lesson a lot more.

Teaching design isn’t easy, because every student approaches to design in his own way, and has consequently different needs.

The teacher’s role is to guide the student and help him only when he really needs it, leaving him free to experiment by himself without any pressure.

More articles and stories on my medium profile.


Created by

Lorenzo Doremi

A Jack of all trades UX guy. Mainly interested in human-computer interaction, contemporary sociology and art.







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