Coaching

I grow designers into top-tier professionals

I coach junior product designers to develop their craft, build products that customers love, and do the best work of their careers

Teaching is something I do on every project—it’s part of my

For designers who want to become top-tier professionals, I take my coaching to the next level. My goal is to move these students into the top five percent of product designer skill and ability as quickly as possible.

I draw from everything I’ve learned in my career--building my own degree in human-computer interaction, designing products, running a product design studio at a fast-growing start up, creating a design curriculum at the University of Michigan, and coaching designers as a professional consultant.

Helping people design better UI is part of the process. But much more important is the “soft skills” of design—how to set better goals, how to communicate better, how to manage your own creative energy, and how to design well inside an organization. I teach designers to own their creative process: to frame problems, work in fast iterations, and get lots of feedback.

Design is not easy. I push students to the edge of their comfort zone and challenge them to do the best work of their lives. Many students have become life-long friends, and many of them credit our time together as the most formative period of their career.

Process

I have no set design curriculum. Instead, I collaborate with each student to write a learning plan tailored to their goals.

Topics include:

  • Design methods and methodologies (user-centered design principles)
  • User research/discovery techniques
  • Standard design process best practices
  • Managing your creative energy
  • Building flows and wireframes
  • Using design tools (Figma, Sketch, Invision, etc)
  • Graphic design fundamentals (color theory, typography, space, emphasis)
  • Illustration skills (drawing by eye)
  • Running usability tests
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Pitching your work to stakeholders
  • Front-end web development (HTML, CSS, Javascript, React/Vue)
  • Agile software development
  • Building a portfolio

I usually meet weekly with students to review their work, pair alongside them on tough problems, and guide them toward goals for the upcoming week.

Over the years, I’ve curated a list of best-in-class teaching resources on each aspect of design, and I suggest readings from this list.

Principles

I promise my students that I will live up to these principles, and ask that they do the same.

  • High expectations, high support- I make myself completely available to lend skills, and even emotional support through the process of learning to make things. In exchange, I ask a lot of my students: their willingness to work, to think, to try new things, to let their work be seen, and to deliberately push their work to the next level.
  • Experiential learning- I don’t ask for busywork. I have my students design real products for their employer and their own personal ideas. I find this to be much faster, more motivating, and much more effective way to teach.
  • Fall forward- The fastest way to develop is to move outside of your comfort zone, take risks, and learn from your mistakes.

More working principles here and here.

Writing

"You're a natural, kid"—How to spot design talent

The four least-teachable traits of great designers

How to get unstuck (for product designers)

A big list of things to try when you’re out of ideas

The books I recommend to designers

What to read when you’re learning (or struggling with) design

My advice to new teachers

Three things I learned creating a course at the University of Michigan on request

The hardest-won lessons for professional designers

The most common designer tarpits, and mental models to get over the hump on request

How to give (and get) great design feedback

How to ask for feedback—and how to give it on request

UI Design: Common mistakes and easy fixes

The checklist I used to create a design for a successful startup on request



What my students and clients say

Within 5 minutes of Sam starting his talk, I texted my team: 'Damn, Sam is good.'

All 250 students in the audience were hooked.

His session was a fantastic mix of humor and entertainment, technical information, and emotional vulnerability that gives students the confidence to take a shot...

I can't recommend Sam highly enough for anyone interested in creating early-stage products, gathering feedback from potential users,

or just learning tips for making it through the emotional grind of startup life.

Jeff Sorensen
Co-Founder of optiMize; Director for Social Innovation at University of Michigan LSA

I began reflecting on how the hell I got here, going from a scared college freshman to shipping several features at Google this summer & currently working on a high profile Microsoft AI project.

Despite being an UMSI UX student, it was ENTR 390 that taught me the most about what a career in UX might look like.

It was the most well taught, high functioning and practical course I've taken at UMich.

My future projects & portfolio write-ups that would later get me these dream internships were all modeled after the one I made for 390.

I know how much work you three put in this course, and I want to convey how grateful I am for it.

And beyond the basic design process and projects, you three also put an emphasis on ethics, inclusivity and accessibility in design that is so often overlooked in most courses.

Dania Abdulhamid
Designer at Microsoft, Google

I worked with Sam while he consulting for a startup where I was an intern. And I don't think it's too dramatic to say that his coaching alone made my internship feel worthwhile.

He was a great coach and mentor, guiding me through different phases of the design process. As industry tools come and go, it's this type of high-level thinking that I know will serve me well for a lifetime.

Thank you Sam!!

Linde Huang
Human-Centered Designer at Michigan Medicine
More testimonials...



Work with me

I work with a limited number of students at a time. Most of my coaching is sponsored through a designer’s employer.

Great products require great talent. If you suspect that your designers haven’t reached their full potential, get in touch.

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