Why I love teaching the SharePoint UI UX Experience Class

It is easy to say something is unique and it is quite another to actually explain why. Since its inception two years ago we have always said the SharePoint UI UX Experience class is unique. Here in the course’s birthday month, I figured we got some ‘splainin’ to do! (And kudos to you if Desi Arnaz just rang out in your head*.)

So no more sly mystery in the course description or hints of what is to come if you attend. As my excitement grows for our next class delivery, I wanted to share with everyone why I love being the co-author and co-instructor for this course.

Top nine reasons why I love teaching the SharePoint UI/UX Experience class

Yes, nine. Top five and top ten is so yesterday. And no, these are not in order! How could I possibly pick, I love it all.

9. The People

Something that is often forgotten in many situations is perspective. It can be a hard thing to remember when you get wrapped up with your project, task at hand, latest frustration, etc. The wide assortment of people who attend the SharePoint UI/UX course can really open up your eyes to not only the different roles within the SharePoint space, but the challenges these roles face.

This isn’t just a developer or a designer class, this is a user experience class. We get managers, IT admins, developers, designers, devigners (super kudos if you have been reading my blog long enough to remember that), souped-up power users and the classic Jack of all trades. What all of these people can bring to the table is amazing.

8. Speaking of tables…

One thing we do in class is work in teams. Legitimate, get away from your co-workers, meet and work with new people, leave those laptops behind teamwork. We approach it using round tables, markers and large sheets of paper (yes, paper!). The best ideas have come out of these roundtable sessions including some healthy competitive spirit as teams work towards inventing and then creating SharePoint sites that meet specific business requirements.

People get to experience different roles, get to appreciate a variety of challenges and most importantly, they continue to round out their SharePoint knowledge and skill sets.

7. You said paper? This is a digital world baby!

I can’t talk highly enough about the benefits of going back to using paper to start prototypes and ideas and not use a keyboard. The main idea is simple. Keyboards slow you down and limit your imagination. Think of it this way, if you sit down at your computer to write/type something lengthy, you will end up stopping and starting numerous times as you massage sentences and word combinations. If you grab a tape recorder (or for digital addicts, dictation software in your smart phone) and just start talking, you will get so much more out and have several more ideas. Keyboards are chains on creativity.

In the SharePoint UI/UX course, ideas are born on paper. Even several concepts presented during lectures are drawn by hand. I have seen the coolest stuff come out of people’s minds when they are armed with a Crayola marker and have a giant blank sheet of paper in front of them.

6. It is not taught online

Now don’t get me wrong… I am down with teaching online and do it all of the time. I have met some great people and received wonderful questions in my online classes. But it just doesn’t replace the face-to-face experience you get in a classroom environment. Friends are made in these classes. Dinners shared, email addresses exchanged, healthy chiding is traded, and the most important – personalities shine through. Maybe I am getting all mushy here on you but it does make a difference and impacts each student and the class experience as a whole.

Due to the highly interactive nature of this course, it just would’t work online. The experience wouldn’t be the same.

5. Glowing Apples

The more I see, the happier I get. This isn’t some “fight the PC world!” brouhaha here. Seeing Macs in class mean more and more people are getting involved with SharePoint that don’t have a traditional .NET background. Instead skill sets are rooted in things like PHP, Ruby on Rails, WordPress and Drupal. Fresh minds mean fresh ideas. SharePoint world, this is a good thing.

I get asked all the time by people who are looking to hire a good SharePoint developer where they can find one. My answer is always the same. Drop “SharePoint” from the job description. SharePoint is just a tool. Find a good developer and then teach them SharePoint.

And yes, PCs are allowed. ;-)

4. The instructor

No, not me! The other one! The SharePoint UI/UX course is co-taught by Dustin Miller and me. I have mentioned different skill sets and backgrounds… well not only do the students fit that description but so do the instructors. Combining our knowledge has proven to be pretty dang useful to students.

You don’t have two IT admins or two developers standing in the front of the room, you have a combined knowledge that includes web site design, development, administration, end user training, publishing, data manipulation, CSS, HTML, jQuery, C#, .NET, WordPress (yeah we don’t run our whole world in SharePoint), requirements gathering, prototyping, marketing, management…. We are like Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman… “two web people with over 30 years of experience between them” – except we are OK with you trying this at home.

3. The content

What we cover in class is fun. It is geeky. Both Dustin and I love a challenge. Even more I like trying to solve a challenge with just CSS before turning to Dustin for a jQuery/DVWP/JavaScript solution.

The content in this course is like the cream off the top of our other more role focused courses (Web Developer Experience and Branding Experience). It is part overflow of what we can’t squeeze into other courses and part stuff that only fits in a UI/UX themed class. Neurology. Planning. Usability.

We also let the students drive the direction of the course where needed. We want to answer your questions and make sure you get the knowledge you need, even if we don’t know it. Our Google Fu is strong.

2. What the focus is

NONE of us would have web jobs if it wasn’t for the end users. Yes, I know they make you want to rip out your hair and if you get asked one more time how to create a list you will scream, but they are the reason for all of our paychecks. So what they think and how they use your SharePoint site does matter, and it matters a whole lot. This course is about enhancing that end user experience. We want happy users. If they are happy, you are happy. If you are happy, well we are happy. Then we can all join hands and sing “Kumbaya we heart SharePoint”. I mean wouldn’t that be a nicer way to end your SharePoint work day? :-)

Content is king. Period. So let’s get that content looking and behaving wonderfully.

1. End results in class

I have taught this class many times and no two classes are ever the same. Ever. Now I mean this in a good way. You will get all the knowledge and content you came for. But the resulting SharePoint sites that people build and the ideas that they have for their sites are never alike. This isn’t like in high school where each person in class has to research the same thing and present it. By the end of that time you would rather saw off your ear than hear another drone talk about prophase, metaphase and anaphase†.

At the end of the SharePoint UI/UX course your head is filled with ideas and different ways to approach challenges at work. Everyone always pays close attention to other ideas presented, gives great constructive feedback and finds ways to relate it back to what they need to do at work. And that is just so cool to witness and be a part of.


* Here is a random factoid to entertain your friends with, Desi never actually said “Lucy! You got some ‘splainin’ to do!”.

† Feeling nostalgic? I am down with that. Here you go.