Professionals in the field of User Interface (UI) Design or User Experience (UX) Design are in high demand worldwide because digital technologies have been deeply integrated into people’s work and their daily lives (Pattabiraman, 2019; BLOC, 2015). Because of the interdisciplinary nature of UI/UX design, professional training at different levels is being offered at both academic and industry settings. In the context of information science, researchers stated that “many information and library schools introduced more UI/UX coursework into their curriculum” (MacDonald & Rozaklis, 2017, p. 268). At the tutorial workshop during the ASIS&T 82nd Annual Meeting (2019) in Melbourne, Australia, the chair of the workshop assembled a panel of UI/UX instructors from both academic institutions and industry to discuss the theme “Innovative UI/UX methods for information access based on interdisciplinary approaches.” Particularly, the objectives were (1) to provide guidance, concepts, and terminologies for UI/UX curriculum redesign for an Information-Science School (iSchool); (2) to generate some directions, areas, or topics to help UI/UX instructors enhance the effectiveness of their teaching; (3) to address the interdisciplinary nature of UI/UX design and prepare the workforce to meet the market demand.
The panel consisted of Laura Ruel, Ryan Tyler, Qian Xu, Javed Mostafa, and Fei Yu. Fei also chaired the workshop and coordinated panel discussion. In addition, Hong Cui, Stan Karanasios, Anna Keilbach, and Ba Xuan Nguyen joined both workshop activities and discussions as participants. This article is a narrative of what the panelists and participants discussed at the interactive tutorial workshop.
For the past 3 years, I have had the opportunity to lead our internship program. Each summer for about 11 weeks, we hire between 60 and 80 interns and teach them how to apply human-centered design techniques, frameworks, and best practices into the projects on which they work. These students range in age from high school students to undergraduate or graduate students. These participants usually have limited experience in UI or UX, but they are interested in bringing innovative ideas to the healthcare market. We are always trying to open the field to students from diverse backgrounds, especially making efforts to recruit more female and minority designers and engineers into the profession. Connecting with individuals like themselves in a profession they are passionate about is important for each group of interns because when they perceive such role models, their success becomes inevitable.
I have been teaching in the Interactive Media Master program at Elon University since 2010. So far, we have graduated 290 students in the past 9 years. UI/UX-related knowledge and skill are mainly covered in one of the four required courses and their capstone projects. More than half of the current students are females. This program is currently the most diverse student population on the Elon campus. Their undergraduate majors are very diverse, such as journalism, communication, graphic design, English, biology, psychology, computer science, and many more. Most of them are fresh graduates or young professionals with no more than 3 years of working experience that are not directly related to UI/UX. Some students join this program as a continuation of their education, while others consider it as an opportunity for a career transition.
I have been teaching
I used a lot of eye-tracking research, relevant to students’ usability work. I talked about it very early in the semester. The basic components of the class include (1) “Weekly UI” challenge – students’ chance to be inventive and creative by working on their UI design skills week after week. Students are encouraged to think about user needs and sketch ideas before they use Adobe XD or Illustrator for prototyping; (2) First assignment – students work in small groups to compile a usability report following Krug’s instruction (Krug, 2010) for a “real-world” local television site; (3) Second assignment – students put together an audience analysis and create personas through interviewing and observing stakeholders; (4) Third assignment – students go through ideation, asset organization, card sorting, flowcharting, and create user journeys, wireframes, and panels in Adobe XD; (5) Final project – students’ choice of a project, which repeats (2)–(4) by applying the knowledge and insight gained throughout the semester. In addition, students will work with
Early in my career, I created online training courses which taught me a valuable lesson in taking complex information and breaking it down to what is most important for an end-user. Our internship curriculum currently focuses on three main parts: (1) Understanding the different parts of healthcare, the complexities of healthcare, and the opportunities for change that exist within the current state; (2) how lean and agile methodologies contribute to the best practices in delivering new experiences in working code; (3) the final focus is on human-centered design principles, best practices, and pragmatic frameworks that focus on product definition and ideation. We tend to update our curriculum yearly based on the feedback received from our managers and students. We use the Net Promotor Score (NPS) (Reichheld, 2003) to measure the success and likelihood that an intern will recommend the program to a fellow student. We utilize a common prompt, “I like, I wish, What if?” (Interaction Design Foundation, 2019) to receive and understand the constructive feedback that can help us to adapt the curriculum.
One unique aspect of our internship is that we connect our students with local subject matter experts from a variety of different disciplines. We call these groups “guilds” (Kaplan, 2019), which include technology engineers & developers, product & experience designers, agile practitioners, data scientists, and clinicians and physicians. Our goal is to surround our students with industry-leading experts who can provide insight and answer questions as they develop and deliver their products.
Given the variations in students’ backgrounds and career goals, I have been focusing on introducing the general knowledge related to UI/UX design in
To discuss key theories and concepts, I pulled contents from different disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, information science, communication studies, and graphic design. I try to incorporate more hands-on activities and assignments that are closely related to the introduced theories and concepts. For example, in the module of understanding users, we looked at the theories related to cognitive processing, motivation, and emotion, and how demographics influence the uses of digital interfaces. Students are asked to conduct user research and create personas for a self-chosen interface. In the module discussing the functional features and content strategies for interfaces, students learned the theories of captology, affordance, information architecture, interactivity, and human–computer interaction. They are asked to complete a card-sorting exercise and an interface redesign project for a touchscreen kiosk by going through the process of creating sketches, wireframes, and mock-ups. The last module for
In the other course,
Information searching is heavily studied in iSchools and information field. The UI/UX research and practices have been influenced by searching, interpreting, exploring/browsing, and learning from information. Particularly, people conduct exploratory searches that purposely start with a broad scope to identify comprehensively coverage of a topic, to establish both major and minor themes, or to discover new clues and insights. One of the recent UI design research and practices at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is PATTIE (Laboratory of Applied Informatics Research, 2019). PATTIE is an exploratory and spatial-semantic information retrieval system for digital archives in which search results were displayed through visualized clusters of topical information. Since spatial distances equal semantic distances in PATTIE, the visualization can instantly reveal the research landscape of a topic of interest (Ortiz, Kim, Wang, Seki, & Mostafa, 2019).
Regarding the UI/UX curriculum for an iSchool, it needs to achieve a good balance between theory and practice. Most importantly, we will teach design principles from a search interaction viewpoint, and design exercises based on low and high-fidelity prototyping using PowerPoint and Adobe XD. In addition, the curriculum needs to teach students to specify design problems and conduct design evaluation exercises using existing search interfaces and resources. For example, there are some online databases with good APIs to test UI/UX designs including NCBI EntreZ and Medlineplus Connect for biomedical record retrieval.
Over all the years, I have built relationships with local news organizations. They contacted me with requests for UI/UX design. Particularly, our students’ work directly benefits those organizations that do not have the financial means for usability research and design. In addition, when students go to these organizations to present their design process, they receive real-world feedback. I would also like to emphasize the work of Indy Young in terms of dealing with not making personas stereotypes. I prepare my students with observation and interview skills in addition to design skills, which are all important for their career.
I believe our training is important because it teaches students the importance of using new processes and methods that enable them to solve complex problems better. We teach them different frameworks from across a variety of disciplines (including UX/UI) because it helps them to identify the value of what they deliver to end-users, in addition to the business they are serving. As they begin to understand the application of these frameworks, they will be better qualified to create new solutions and new ways to deliver technology within the healthcare market, and that in and of itself can become a game changer.
There is always a question about whether we should prepare students to be generalists or specialists. I have been telling my students to position themselves in a T-shaped model when they are on the market. They need to choose one primary area that they have obtained deep knowledge from our program as their expertise. At the same time, they should be capable of knowing and doing a variety of related skills and learn to collaborate with other stakeholders. Depending on the specific industry that they enter, UX/UI may be the focus of their jobs or the knowledge and skills that complement their primary job duties. We do notice that UI/UX-related job placements have been increasing in recent years. More and more alumni also told us that the language of UI/UX has been adopted by their daily duties and showed appreciation for the assignments and projects completed in the UX/UI courses. Every semester, I have several alumni working in the field of UX/UI back to campus as guest speakers.
Since most of my students have very strong career goals in terms of desiring more knowledge about UI/UX practice in the industry and internship opportunities, I have developed and maintained collaborations with a few working professionals in the industry through Carolina alumni networks. So far, I have invited five guest speakers from Nielsen Norman Group, Optum/UnitedHealth, Bank of America, Facebook, and Netflix to routinely join my classes either physically or remotely. Their industry experience and perspectives have been greatly appreciated by my students. In addition, every semester, I bring my students to the usability lab at the SAS Institute for a field trip. The students not only interact with the onsite UI/UX designers and developers directly but also participate in a usability testing for a working prototype of a SAS application. Most importantly, several graduate students applied for the internship or even full-time UX positions that they learned through guest speakers or the field trip.
There are several challenges for the teaching of UI/UX in my program. First, how deep should I go for the subject matters covered by the classes? Given the limited time of our program, the practical goal is to provide students with an overview of this field and a taste of different activities and responsibilities commonly carried out by UI/UX designers. In more recent years, we do see students showing greater interests in UI/UX field. However, it is hard for us to find the room in the current curriculum to offer UI/UX design at an advanced level. In addition, the industry keeps evolving. The new topics, tools, and paradigms require instructors to stay up to date with what is going on in the industry. My own educational background is media psychology and media effects. When I started teaching UI/UX 9 years ago, this field was not even well known. Therefore, I had to learn a lot of things on-the-go. Our alumni and advisory board members are very helpful, but we would also like to be more connected with folks and experts in the industry to stay up to date.
I believe understanding research methodologies, creating informed information architecture, designing beautiful aesthetics and usability-proven workflows are all important components of a user’s experience. If we are not considering all the parts of the journey, we might miss the root of our users’ challenges, thereby creating solutions for the wrong moment in time. Therefore, UX education will shift to concentrate our collective efforts on better informing students of the full end-to-end consumer experience and design.
The discussion among panel speakers and workshop participants revealed many shared practices and experiences in UI/UX instruction across the academic disciplines and the industry. The common ground includes “project-led problem-based learning” model (Hanney & Savin-Baden, 2013), user research methods and deliverables, prototyping skills and tools, instructors developing relationships with organizations for projects and industry practices, collaborations between students and stakeholders for real-world UX experience (Lazar, 2011), and helping students to build a strong work portfolio for career transition or advancement (MacDonald & Rozaklis, 2017). The identified common ground confirmed the effectiveness of existing practices in teaching UCD and UI/UX related concepts. Nevertheless, new ideas, areas, and directions regarding UI/UX education in an iSchool also emerged from the workshop presentations and discussions, such as incorporating eye tracking into usability research, teaching design principles from a search-interaction angle, emphasizing activity theory as an important theoretical framework, and demonstrating the impact of the UI/UX education through an iSchool-specific project. Further, to promote UI/UX design in information science, the workshop generated a couple of actionable items, including a special issue on UI/UX design in an iSchool-associated journal, or a UI/UX special interest group (SIG) in future professional conferences (e.g., ASIS&T Annual Meeting or iConference). The goal is to build a pipeline inside information science to nurture this new and important field so that it can grow to the next level.