UX Programs (Education vs Experience)

As a board member of UXPA MN, I’ve had many discussions on the best ways to cultivate and learn more about user experience, and what methods produce the *best* UX designers. UX programs are growing in popularity, but there are many who think that experience outweighs the benefit of classroom education.

To share a little bit about my road to UX design: my first introduction to user experience came in the classroom, while I was working on my MS in Technical Communication. I graduated in 2009, when UX was still lumped under information architecture and something that was better understood than explained for many. My education in the field was gleanings from classroom work and readings like Design of Everyday Things and pretty much Steve Krug’s entire body of work, amongst others. I listened to podcasts and joined professional groups, like UXPA MN.

But I like higher ed (obviously) and certifications are great for resumes, so I went back to grad school and completed Metropolitan State’s Design of User Experience Graduate Certificate.  The program is entirely online, which is awesome for those who are out-of-state but not-so-awesome for those who like the classroom experience (which, I’ll admit, I am one). But it’s a great entry to UX for those without any experience in the field, with solid grounding in readings, theories, and basics. As a professional, I found value in learning different ways to conduct research and apply it, as well as *unlearning* some assumptions I had held onto, all while gaining more experience.

The real value for me in doing a certificate program is that it gave me more time to consider the *why* instead of pushing forward on projects, like I would for work, to completion. Reflection is integral to great UX, and I’d slowly been doing less and less of it as I thought I knew more and more.  Being forced to write on my process, the research, and bringing it together with references forced me to question more assumptions, and approach my work from a more academic standpoint.

This had the side effect of helping me present better, too. By being more objective in our own work, we become better at explaining it. It’s particularly useful when presenting to people who don’t have a tech background, UX knowledge, etc. Not to mention that I feel like I’m doing better work because of it, too.

My BS is in English/International Relations, MS in Tech Comm, and I know have grad certs in both project management and UX design. I’ll fully own up to being an academic junkie (is that a thing?), which is why this was for sure the right program for me.  User Testing also provides a list of various UX programs for those looking for more formal learning, and if you’re in the MN area, Normandale Community College also has a program.

But is it necessary?

When I was completing my wine tasting certification (I wasn’t kidding about the academic junkie title, folks) (also this is a real thing at Saint Paul College), a vintner mentioned that the best approach to wine making is innovation with respectful tradition. I think this applies to making a UX practitioner as well. Formal education is a traditional approach, but it’s meaningless without elements of innovation in the form of experience.


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