Taking UX Failures as Opportunities: An Interview With Kristi Wiley, Ph.D. Student at MSU

A photo of Kristi WileyKristi Wiley is a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University who does freelance UX, social media, and content strategy. She is most passionate about helping organizations of all shapes and sizes to develop bleeding-edge customer experiences that convert and retain target users. Kristi received her Master’s degree in Technical and Professional Communication from East Carolina University and is currently working toward becoming a college professor.

I asked Kristi, who is a past student of my Graduate Course in UX, about the impacts learning UX design had on her future career, and specifically how taking UX failures as opportunities to learn has impacted her.

GG: How did learning (and/or) practicing UX tools and techniques help you with your future career?

KW: Learning about UX practices has helped me become equipped to carry these skills that I’ve been taught into my own classroom. These skills in technical writing and working closely with users are something all college students need to be exposed to.

GG: Have you used any of the knowledge you learned in the UX class since taking it? How have you used it?

KW: Since taking the class I have been very active in using the UX skills that I’ve learned. I enjoyed the skills and the field of technical and professional communication so much that I decided to continue this work throughout my last year in my Master’s program. As a project in the class, I was allowed to work closely with several professors and other students on a redesign of the English Department website at ECU. We did user testing, content audits, personas, recommendation reports, and continued our work to make changes to the website. With these skills we worked toward learning about different user experiences and user expectations that allowed us to design a better website. The work that I experienced and learned in the class and beyond helped me build up to my own Master’s thesis, and will now carry over into my Ph.D. studies at Michigan State University.

GG: Do you feel that the class was useful in learning how to actually do UX? Why or why not?

KW: The class was very useful in learning the skills of UX. Being put into a class that handed us a real life project and asked us to show results and findings allowed us to learn as we worked. The best thing that could have possibly been done was allowing us to learn in a way that challenged us to expand our own skills. Throughout this class we were asked to think about information in a different way than we had traditionally been taught. In a Master’s program students are challenged to study pedagogy and challenge it. In this course we were asked to study text/image/layout and to focus on users and evaluating how well these two things go together.

I learned skills that I continue to use in my everyday life. I learned how to study websites and how to correctly go about user testing, implementing changes, and working with stakeholders.

GG: What were the biggest eye openers you remember from taking the class? Did the class change your perspective on topics like usability, information architecture, and content strategy? If so: how?

KW: Starting the class, I didn’t know what usability, IA, or content strategy was. The class opened my eyes to these skills and allowed me to learn something I hadn’t been exposed to thus far in my studies.

GG: What do you think the overall value is of experiential or hands-on learning in UX classes to students such as yourself?

Through this class I learned where my place was in the field of technical and professional communication. Hands-on learning gives students a chance to learn in a new way that they may not have been given before. In the working world, these hands-on skills will become the skills that many companies are looking for in new employees. In a digital marketplace, you need more than book smarts to survive. People are now being asked to show skills in coding, web design, content management, and social media. Hands-on learning experiences allow students to get “down and dirty,” to make mistakes, and to continue to learn throughout the course.

When I first started the class, I failed at meeting the expectations of the first module, and knew that I needed to continue to work hard to learn. Taking failures as opportunities throughout the class allowed me to grow as a student. All of this has equipped me to become more prepared to continue my work in UX. Without theses hands-on experiences, I’m not sure where I would currently be in my professional life.