Design for English Majors during and after College
By Julia Voss
A subject of study since 1987, user experience (UX) focuses on building and redesigning devices, experiences, and interfaces with careful attention to users, contexts, and ethical principles of research, aesthetics, and usability. UX projects encompass content in written/visual/video formats, user research, and project management. As demand for user experience design grows, SCU’s English department pilots an in-house UX internship.
Last September, Writing Center Director Denise Krane, Heather Turner, and Julia Voss met to begin discussing a pressing campus need: the demand for student workers who could design websites for SCU departments, offices, and programs using Terminal Four, SCU’s content management system. As faculty in the English Department’s Professional Writing Program, Krane, Turner, and Voss also recognized this as an opportunity to develop the internship required by the Department’s new Professional Writing Minor. Drawing on Turner’s expertise as a technical communicator specializing in UX design, they launched a new pilot course for Winter 2019 that introduced students to the theory and practice of UX, with SCU’s HUB Writing Center serving as the client whose website students would study and redesign. English Department gift funds made student stipends--essential for ethical internship design--possible.
In January 2019 Mara Strong, Jane Mezzino, Jack Miller, Claire Lindstadt, and Powell Clark formed the HUB website redesign team, continuing work Krane had begun. Under Turner’s and Voss’s direction, the interns studied theories of UX design, interviewed the client, dove deep into the HUB’s website, and researched other writing centers’ sites. With this information in mind, they updated the HUB website’s information architecture, designed its pages, and developed a social media strategy. They tested these prototypes with users, refined their designs, and presented their redesign proposal to the Center Director Krane. As the interns worked through this project cycle, they took turns in the 5 major UX roles: content strategist, user researcher, information architect, visual designer, and project manager, gaining experience and testing the vocational potential of each aspect of UX work. Individual portfolios documenting their learning have already been useful in external applications for jobs and internship applications. For example, Mara Strong and Jack Miller have interned as UX specialists during summer 2019 at Bay Area tech companies FireEye (internet security) and Invensense (software and hardware development) respectively.
Two interns explain:
UX is all about working as a team, collaborating, and testing, testing, testing. I think I have a good idea now of how much goes into that collaboration. I now feel comfortable with the needs and culture of UX and am excited to test and learn skills in the future.
I learned that there are actually principles and science behind usability and this pairs with the creative aspect of design. This course was a good introduction to what UX actually is and how it works in practice. I could do some of the tasks we did in a professional setting.
The Professional Writing Program--especially its internship component--thrives on support from friends and alumni of the English Department. To integrate this pilot UX internship course into the regular curriculum, donors will be needed to support the stipends that have made the UX internship an inclusive, equitable learning opportunity. Please contact Julia Voss, Director of Professional Writing, and/or Heather Turner for more information about and/or to get involved with this and other Professional Writing programming.