Looking back on the Kent State Interaction Design class
4 minute read
So another course in the Kent State University User Experience Design Masters program comes to an end and, as one of its requirements has been these weekly updates, I thought it would be a good idea to use the final one to look back on the class.
I’ve spent the last seven weeks diving into Interaction Design; looking into the design process for digital products from the user interface perspective. This was the first time that this particular course was offered (which I find surprising), with the Department Chair reaching out to students only a month or so beforehand to see if there was any interest in taking such a class. As you might expect, it was a little thrown-together and rough around the edges.
The Kent UXD courses are generally of the “writey” or “makey" varieties: You’re either writing a lot of papers, proposals, and research reports or you’re designing stuff via sketching and apps like Omnigraffle, Illustrator and Sketch. This course falls squarely into the latter category. Overall the course was very good with a few caveats that I’ll get into below.
The entire course revolves around creating a single mobile application (“Lunch Money Buddy”) from a loose set of requirements and a couple of personas. While you’ll spend time creating user journeys and a site (app) map, the bulk of the course revolves around creating wireframes and a semi-functional prototype; getting peer feedback and iterating.
If you are a designer or you want to be a designer, this class provides a practical, hands-on approach and really gives you the opportunity to dig in and learn some solid design and prototyping techniques. If you feel like you need to dive in and learn a specific wire framing or prototyping tool (like Sketch, Axure, or Omnigraffle), this course gives you plenty of time and opportunity to do so. You’re learning or reinforcing skills that you can apply directly on the job every day (truth be told, I’ve found this to be the case with most of the coursework in the Kent UXD program).
The Kent UXD program features instructors who are actually working in the field of UX. They come with practical experience and they are more than willing to share it with students both through assignment feedback and in group and one-on-one discussions.
My instructor for the Interaction Design class was Darren Hood, an interaction designer and manager at Bosch who brings 20 years of experience to the program. Not all instructors do this, but Darren held weekly, hour-long online audio/video class sessions (“virtual office hours”). In these sessions, he discussed the weekly assignments, answered student questions, and generally dealt advice about the field of UX. These sessions were invaluable (and should be required of all instructors, in my opinion).
Darren’s involvement and interaction made a huge difference in the effectiveness of the course material and the class in general.
When all is said and done, you end up with a portfolio-quality piece that shows off your skills. The Kent program is very portfolio-focused, which is not a huge objective for me personally (I’m not looking to move into a design career; choosing to focus on management and leadership), but for almost everyone else in the program this is one of the key benefits of getting the degree.
A lack of timely grading, to be blunt. Like most courses in the program, each week builds upon the work of the previous and, as such, getting prompt feedback and grades is critical. If you don’t know whether you’re on the right track or not, it’s difficult and daunting to slog forward. Once again, in this class we’d wait weeks to receive a grade for major assignments. Luckily, my fellow students were able to provide valuable feedback during the grading lapses, and the instructor did provide some feedback during the weekly virtual office hours.
Still, not receiving grades every week is a general problem with the program (I’ve had this experience in most classes I’ve taken taught by an instructor not named Paul Sherman) and it needs to be addressed.
The pacing in this course was frustrating at best and absolutely bone-crushing during week six. After two consecutive weeks with little or no reading and a very light assignment load, the second-to-last week requires us to turn in four assignments; two of which were significant. Week seven is an anticlimax that requires us to turn in a brief usability plan — something that, quite frankly, seems peripheral to the intended outcomes of the class. Add to that the fact that many assignments were due on Thursday evenings (not convenient for those juggling a full work schedule along with coursework), and the whole thing was a pretty stressful endeavor.
The Bottom Line
Would I take the class again? Or, more appropriately, would I recommend it to someone else? Most definitely.
Keeping in mind that this was the first semester that this course was offered (and it was put together in only a couple of months), I think that adjustments to the curriculum are forthcoming and that issues with pacing will be resolved for the next batch of students. The grading issue is a deeper concern that I hope they figure out, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
Overall, an excellent course that provides solid hands-on experience and skills development.