Digital Skills Global
Digital Design Insights & Useful Resources: Alan Dargan Curriculum Lead

Digital Design Insights & Useful Resources: Alan Dargan Curriculum Lead

What led you to become a digital designer?

My first degree was in philosophy. Unsurprisingly there wasn’t much work in that area! In the early 2000’s I did some web design courses followed by a Masters in Multimedia at DCU (Dublin City University) This was a really good grounding in digital and while many of the tools we were taught are long gone most of the concepts used are still relevant.

After college I worked in a web design company for a while, and then went on to become a Digital Producer in Agtel which gave me a good range of experience in video, animation, web and interactive design as well as print. It was very valuable experience designing across a range of channels for lots of types of clients from corporate to public sector.

Then, four years ago I started teaching design one night a week. This was challenging and terrifying too!  Great for your confidence, to learn how to articulate technical and design concepts to students with a variety of backgrounds and abilities. I think it also made me a better designer too since I had to study a lot of theory which had passed me by first time around.

Do you have to keep updating your skill set to be a good designer and teacher?

Yes. This is an industry when you have to relearn every three years or so. Change is part and parcel of the business. Thanks to the web the pace of change has accelerated so new ideas emerge and are adopted more quickly. That said, the skills I have learned have remained useful, you just have to apply them to the new contexts and applications that emerge.

What is your role at Digital Skills Global?

I am the Design Lead Lecturer at Digital Skills Global. I deliver the design classes, I write the lesson plans, the course content, mark assignments and monitor the course to ensure that there is consistency in content across all the modules. Here is a short video snippet from our Professional Certificate in Big Data Visualization below to give you an idea of the high quality production values of our video content. 

All lectures are virtual now, with the classes pre-recorded. Previously classes were in a room with students, using slides and a lecture – what’s called ‘chalk and talk’. Now they are pre-recorded, with the materials all online. This way students can watch the content at a time in their week that suits them regardless of where they are.

We also have Live Syncs, virtual tutorials where students are able to ask questions. We are also moving towards having the ability for students to talk and present within this format. This will mimic the classroom environment even more closely.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I really enjoy watching people progress. Everyone has different learning curves, periods of rapid growth followed by occasional troughs as they solve new challenges, before making rapid progress again. It’s great to see people learn how to articulate design issues, and develop their software skills to the point where they can sketch a concept and turn it into a prototype on screen and then a final product. Students come to understand things they had never previously done before, and quickly show this talent, demonstrating what they have learned. We have had many great designers emerge who had no background in design, but who have found the opportunity to express their talent.

You are also a working designer for TERMINALFOUR when not teaching at the Digital Skills Global, what sort of cross pollination does this encourage?

I work at TERMINALFOUR two days a week as visual designer. It is important to keep designing professionally rather than just teaching it. This means responding to briefs, receiving feedback and making the decisions and trade offs that we all make. In enables me to keep up with things. TERMINALFOUR work in the higher education sector, with UK and US clients. We design for marketing campaigns, with targets to meet, and we then iterate based on the real time results we see in the market place.

What are the key elements of a well designed website or app in 2015?

Simplicity remains important. You need to have a goal in mind and ensure all the elements are helping to move towards one single goal. It is important design doesn’t get in the way of accomplishing your fundamental goal. Good UX (user experience) should offer a simple experience for the user during their engagement with your design.

If something really works, then nothing gets in the way.

After participants graduate, what careers do they progress to?

Many of them have gone into UX, graphic design, marketing, varied areas. It’s been great to meet people who have done the course too. As it is virtual you won’t often have met them in person, but they have come up afterwards and said they are now working in design, and design for marketing. There is no single path though. Some go into motion graphics, animation. Some designers go into development too, as they enjoy working on the back or front end of websites. Some also wanted to learn more, and moved into other courses. It’s great to see the variety of activities and interests our ex-students are pursuing.

Who are you design heroes and sources of inspiration? (What resources would you recommend?)

Don Norman is a great inspiration, perhaps the psychological aspect appealed to my philosophy background. He has great insights into how we look at the world around us, and how we can design things better as a consequence.

Matias Duarte head designer at Google is another great inspiration. Google should probably get more kudos for their design work. They are doing great things with the Material Design approach at the moment which required a fundamental shift in how design was perceived in an engineering led organisation like Google. He and his team have created a common language, which is an enormous achievement considering how many products they have.


Hackdesign is a themed weekly email newsletter sent over the course of a year. It’s curated by well known designers which is well worth subscribing to if you want a year long lesson in design.

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What current trends in design are you excited about?

There’s a lot of discussion about the challenge of designing interfaces across devices. The Nest does a great job of ensuring there’s a consistent experience when you are using the device itself, the smartphone app or the web interface. The IoT is bringing great potential there, but there needs to be good execution. It’s very exciting, with lots of promise, but we are not there yet.