A Leader in UX and Interaction Design Higher Education
Utah Valley University is the first university in Utah and the surrounding area to offer a 4 year, Bachelor of Science degree in UX , or as the program is called: Interaction Design. Being a student of the program, I’ve heard multiple industry designers and managers praise the program, but I still have a sense that people don’t know what is offered. Now, this could be because at this time, UX is a new field and UVU’S Interaction design is a fairly new program, but I thought someone needed to step up and “toot our own horn” about the Utah Valley University Interaction Design program.
NOTE: This article isn’t an exhaustive list of what is included in the program but rather highlights and opinions from my own experience and the basics of what students have participated in, or can participate in.
I am graduating in the spring 2021 cohort, so some activities/classes/situations mentioned may have changed depending on when you read this.
Design and Methodology Principles
Although UX design is more of a thinking job, we are put through visual design courses in the beginning. While these courses focus on visual aspects, we are still taught to consider why colors, shapes and certain design principles can influence an experience. We don’t just design on the fly, we have reasons behind our designs, we apply theory. On top of this, we study design trends and keep up on them. While visuals are important, we always have our eye on the part that matters most - interaction and usability.
Alongside our visual design, we are learning research and testing methods and applying them into the projects we work on. We never start a project without first delving into why we are creating the project, who it is for, and how it will affect the audience. We create journey maps, heuristic markups and surveys, as well as user tests and other research deliverables.
Day one we are directed to pick up some of the best design books on the market, “Universal Methods of Design” and “Universal Principles of Design”. These books are a great reference for UX design processes. I’d highly recommend adding these to your library. We are also given other readings through the degree so that we can learn from case studies, other people’s experiences, and industry expertise.
Dev Friends and Teamwork
At UVU we have two emphases in the Web and App Development degree:
- Interaction (UX) Design Emphasis
- Development Emphasis.
Even though we are studying different emphases, from day one we are taking classes together and working together in teams to collaborate with the developers. Although we break off from the devs to focus on UX centered classes during the middle of the program, we join back up with them in final classes and with capstone projects. We value and thrive with teamwork and are given many opportunities to collaborate with teams and developers.
Real World Experience
In our Interaction design program we are given several opportunities throughout the program to work alongside real world clients and complete projects for them. We treat these projects exactly as what they are, real jobs. We are expected to stay in contact with the client, create proposals, conduct research, send deliverables, and in the end give a final presentation that the client can cruise along with once the semester ends.
On top of learning a great deal of theory and practices for UX, we are amassing experience through school projects, client projects, personal projects, and many other avenues. By the time we are graduated we have 4 years of UX experience. Some students from the program have been told by industry designers that they have the skills and understanding of a mid-level UX designer.
Even outside of the classroom we are working with real world clients and designers. UVU Interaction Design students have worked with designers on projects in Namibia (Africa), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Beit Lehi (Israel) and more. The point is, whether in or out of the classroom, students are held to a higher standard because we are working with real clients who are expecting professional work. Experience is experience even if it’s gained through school projects.
Always Working, Always Learning
Most students are handling 2–3 projects through the semester. With these projects we are filling several roles as well, such as researcher, designer, project manager etc. Whatever the role, interaction design students are reliable and always learning.
We are always thinking how we can improve the projects we are working on. We meet with each other and share feedback together. It’s a very active program and pushes the students to create great projects and put copious amounts of effort into them. It’s also an evolving program where curriculum is changing to keep up to date with industry standards. We learn a slew of topics and platforms such as web, app, VR, AR, VUI, analytics, content creation, project management, product design, output efficiency - the list goes on.
Welcome To The Club
On top of handling several projects, working on portfolios, applying for internships, keeping up on UX trends etc, many students are volunteering or participating in the UX & Product Design Club at UVU (now the IxD Collaborative). Run by the students themselves with direction from faculty members, the club holds meetups for portfolio help and workshops. We also participate in volunteer work for Front Conference in Utah and UX Strat. On top of those great events, we host speakers to learn from those currently working in UX design roles.
BUT WAIT! There’s more!
We have an engaged and available faculty who make time for students and accompany groups of students on what we have termed “UX-peditions”. On UX-peditions we travel to different states or countries to participate in the UX community, visit with design teams (Amazon, Disney, Microsoft, NASA, to name a few), and carry out research projects. With UVU being located in Utah, we are close to the tech hub that is Lehi, UT. This has given us the opportunity to also meet with local companies and their design teams.
Local visits are termed as “UX-plore”. During these meetups we work with industry design teams in design sprints to solve problems. We’ve had the opportunity to help re-work UI layouts, plan out user flows, and apply our education and skills to real industry situations. We love working with companies and are grateful for the time they take to host us.
Resources and Facilities
While learning an array of interaction design techniques, we are given areas and products to help us with learning what technology is available and what can be done with it. We have 3 specific areas to learn and practice in.
- The Home Automation Room,
while it is used as a classroom, it is a classroom setup to simulate a smart-home situation. We have access to a smart fridge, camera doorbell, smart lighting, smart speakers, sound system, and an 80 inch flatscreen with an Apple TV.
2. The Research Lab.
Equipped with eye tracking technology and a collaborative workspace to focus on learning and practicing the plethora of UX research methods that are available. Just like the program, this room is set up for collaboration and a hands-on workspace.
3. The ADMS (Advanced Digital Media Studio)
This place is a tech haven. As you walk in, there are walls lined with the evolutions of devices, as well as working devices to test projects on. There are workstations with EGPU processors and screens for quick and easy laptop docking, 3D capture stations to create interactive images and objects, iMac’s with tons of industry standard programs to produce top content, and VR and video game consoles to explore what is possible (and have fun). The list goes on for what technologies can be learned and explored in the ADMS. For some students, it becomes a second home.
As someone who is soon a graduate from this program, I wanted to write this article and give a round of applause to the program, faculty, and university. I want to inform the industry why UVU is a frontrunner in UX and interaction design education. In an industry that, in my opinion, seems to be somewhat oblivious that there are now bachelor’s degrees for UX design, or who discount education experience altogether. I want them to know UVU is here and is offering some of the best curriculum and experience in UX education, as well as some of the best new interaction designers. UVU provides a versatile and diverse curriculum, creating opportunities and moving past current barriers to explore what technology and methods are available and how they can be applied.
If you’re looking into joining the UX field, come to Utah Valley University! We are a design community in and of ourselves, and the faculty are invested and care about you succeeding. We have connections throughout the UX community and are actively involved in our state of Utah, as well as the world. We are always looking to work on projects with companies, outside clients, and wherever we can apply our skills. While it seems like a long stretch to complete a bachelor’s degree, this program is worth it and will prepare you for the long run.
As for companies and hiring managers, if you aren’t already, keep an eye out for UVU interaction design students and graduates. You’ll be hiring a new generation of UX and Interaction designers.
We are Utah Valley University Interaction Design.
Learn More at: https://www.uvu.edu/dgm/web-design-dev/