In CS 91SI, a senior teaches students how to redesign Axess

Feb. 24, 2020, 10:12 p.m.

In CS 91SI: “Introduction to UI/UX Design,” Amrita Venkatraman ’20 exposes fellow students to design software used by big companies like Khan Academy, LinkedIn and Slack. User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX) design involves tailoring how users interact with software and machines.

Venkatraman, a computer science major and psychology minor, created the course and is teaching it this quarter for the first time.

“I want to make sure students get an early exposure to what design is like in industry,” Venkatraman said.

“Right now there’s no class at Stanford that actually shows you how to use these tools,” she said of design software programs like Figma and Sketch that let users create prototypes for apps. “They teach you very bare minimum design techniques, but I think where this class inserts itself in the whole design curriculum is using software to apply these design techniques.” 

The class meets twice a week for 50 minutes, with the first half devoted to Venkatraman discussing design techniques, and students learning how to actually use them in the second half. 

“I wanted this class to be a more focused, guided way of practicing using these tools and then churning out really cool designs with them,” she added.

Designers from Slack, LinkedIn and Khan Academy visit the class as guest speakers, according to Venkatraman. She said that she hopes hearing from designers from diverse backgrounds helps students get an idea of the design process from multiple perspectives.

Audrey Wong ’22 described the class environment as “energetic and flexible.”

“Everyone there wants to learn and is excited about the content, but it’s a chill atmosphere that you can feel comfortable in,” she said. 

“People don’t realize that good UX/UI makes the world go round,” Wong added. “The smallest choices can have a huge impact on user experience, and I find the reasoning behind those choices fascinating.”

Students in the class complete three assignments, their final project being a redesign of Stanford’s student and employee portal Axess. 

“It’s like the classic design problem: There’s so much information that needs to be presented that it’s very hard to present in an aesthetically pleasing way, that’s also psychologically compatible,” Venkatraman said of Axess.

Jerry Hong ’21 described the class environment as fun while also encouraging students to push themselves to develop their design skills. 

“I think my greatest appreciation is just having projects to work on and grow in my UI/UX skills and the space to receive feedback from others — something I’m working to grow in as I continue to pursue design in general,” he said.

Hong said the lack of UI/UX classes at Stanford ”sort of baffles me, considering how often we interact with interfaces and how key it is to other classes in the product design core.”

Venkatraman said her interest in teaching and design inspired her to create the class. 

“I knew I wanted to teach and I knew that starting my own class I’d have complete liberty and freedom to build out the curriculum and teach it,” she said. “It’s been the most fulfilling thing I’ve done on campus.”

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