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Keeping pace with rapidly changing technology isn’t just a challenge for the students in design school—it’s tough for the professors, too. Tasked with preparing the next generation of innovators, educators must constantly evolve their curriculums stay relevant and up-to-date with the needs of a demanding industry.

When it comes to providing students with a creative, forward-looking curriculum, The Fashion Institute of Technology has always led the way. In fact, just two years after the first iPhone launched, FIT had a user experience design course up and running. Professors Christie Shin and C.J. Yeh led that charge, and each of them continues to push programming at FIT today. Here, we’ll dive into Professor Shin’s courses in the Advertising and Digital Design program.

In everything she does, Shin emphasizes the importance of teaching systems thinking, facilitating tight feedback loops, and providing an environment where ideas can be exchanged openly among students. Naturally, collaboration is core to that approach—which is why Figma has become an increasingly central component of her classroom workflows. In her UI course, for example, Shin constructs a virtual classroom in Figma. She organizes it into Figma teams that correspond to each lecture section. Then she further groups her course materials into Figma projects and asks the class to gather together directly in the files during lectures.

She kicks off the semester with icebreaker activities like creating interactive student profiles. As the course progresses, she provides an organized structure to learn and develop design skills. In the process, she has developed four principles for facilitating collaborative design in the classroom.

Professor Shin’s principles for a collaborative virtual classroom

1. Celebrate early work

You don’t have to be a designer to know that it can feel intimidating to share ideas before they’re ready. But in Shin’s class, students work in open team environments, and they’re encouraged to embrace that discomfort on a daily basis. To help them develop a muscle for requesting and responding to early feedback, she encourages students to frequently pop into each other’s work to share input out loud and in the file during each class.

“Working together in Figma helps students understand that design is a way of thinking rather than the creation of a precious object.”

Christie Shin

2. Guide the process while providing room to grow

For Shin’s students, everything from class exercises to final presentations live in Figma. At the top of the semester, students receive a set of files, each containing pages of named templates for the various activities in the course. While each page focuses around a purposeful and structured template, the infinite canvas around it leaves space open for sketches, ideas, and quick iterations. This makes it easy for students to turn a single Figma file into a design journal—one page might hold a research activity and a summary, while the next contains wireframes. Shin calls each of her students’ Figma files a “creative journey.”

3. Work individually, together

Even for solo projects, students work within study groups. In one exercise last year, Shin tasked each student with creating a design system for the MTA app, complete with a video case study. The students met in their study groups to present their progress and, rather than waiting for feedback during the final presentation, exchanged feedback incrementally. This structure more closely echoes real-world design workplaces, where professionals work on cross-functional teams and hold formal design critiques. In order for students to produce their best work, Shin says, they need to feel less precious about their designs and develop a habit of continuously adding in feedback from peers.

4. Embrace your influences

Designers are inherently influenced by other designers and each other. Before using Figma, students had a tendency to hide work and not share until the end, worried that someone else might steal their idea. Shin focuses on the idea that it’s okay—and expected—for work to be shaped by others. Rather than thinking about it as stealing ideas, she reframes it as a central part of the design process.

She equally emphasizes the importance of recognizing and giving credit to students’ influences. On each project, students are required to collect images of designs, whether from professional designers or each other, that informed their work. This way, the discussion of influence is included within the project itself and can be discussed in its critique.

Get started

Take a deep dive with Professors Christie Shin and C.J. Yeh in their recorded livestream where they walk through their files to showcase their approach and student work:

For more information on using Figma in your classroom, check out figma.com/education.