Speaker series lets students set sights on UX careers

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Designers of smartphones, tablets and computers employ the principles of user experience, or UX. A new speaker series at Metro State will bring Twin Cities-area UX professionals to campus. Photo credit: Canva


A new speaker series is bringing user experience professionals into Metro State lecture halls.

User experience, or UX, considers how and why consumers uses a product—and matches its function closely to their needs.

The series is spearheaded by Dr. Quan Zhou, associate professor in the School of Communication, Writing and Arts. He has high hopes that speakers’ real-life UX work will help students “connect what they learn in class.”

He said the series is part of a “broader plan to connect the UX program with the professional world in the Twin Cities.” Metro State offers a minor and graduate certificates in design of user experience. He wants to give those students access to the strong UX community and job market.

Students in WRIT 301, Professional and Technical Writing Careers, were the audience for the first speaker in a planned five-lecture DUeX series. On Oct. 13, they heard from Kat Jayne, senior user experience consultant for Fathom Consulting in Minneapolis.

Using a recent case study, Jayne described a telemedicine kiosk concept that market researchers said was sure to succeed. The venture ultimately failed and went bankrupt.

“So, why didn’t this work?” Jayne asked the classroom. One by one, students gave their opinions on why an ATM-like kiosk in the middle of a pharmacy flopped. Privacy was their top culprit. They imagined the discomfort of patients receiving online medical services close to other customers shopping for candy and soda.

Jayne agreed. “Huge change from what they are used to,” she said.

She speculated that kiosk designers focused on doctors—not enough on actual users.

Jayne also discussed one of her own UX projects: a smartwatch for seniors. The watch offered functions to keep seniors safe in their homes: tracking steps, taking a pulse, checking battery life and calling 911.

“Don’t just assume what works for us will work for them,” she said. “People felt it was too technical.” By listening to seniors testing the watch, she could write clearer, more welcoming instructions.

Working with a Fortune 500 chemical company, Jayne had to assess a better interface for a mechanical controller used in heavy industry.

“Everyone thought it needed a touch screen but we weren’t convinced people would use it,” she said. “A touch screen might help some users, but others would be hampered by gloves, dirt residue on screens.”

Jayne had to delve into the field and experience what it is like for machine operators. She had to ask: “What do they mean by dirty and gritty?”

Her work revealed the need for physical keys. The controller also wanted remote capability and customizable menus for quick navigation.

Jayne told students that UX is a highly collaborative and creative career. Sketching prototypes. Testing products with users. Working with illustrators, writers, industrial and graphic designers. It’s all in a day’s work in UX.