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User experience research certificate leads among academic programs

Two women and one man User Experience Research Certificate program students at Boise State working together at a whiteboard

Don Norman coined the term “user experience” while working at Apple Computer in the 1990s. Norman, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, a leader in the user experience field, explains that user experience research, commonly known as UX and UXR, “encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services and its products.”

A recent LinkedIn study places UXR in the top ten “jobs on the rise” and Boise State’s User Experience Research Certificate program prepares students to meet this demand, as students learn techniques to understand the needs of existing and potential users of their products and services. The fully online program differs from other similar online courses in its academic, ethical and experiential approach.

In 2017, the College of Innovation and Design launched the User Experience Research certificate as part of the initiative to provide Boise State students with opportunities to develop skills with professional relevance. In the summer of 2022, the program graduated from the College of Innovation and Design and formally joined the College of Arts and Sciences.

“UXR was one of the founding programs for the College of Innovation and Design, and it has been exciting to watch its growth into the program it is today,” said Shawn Benner, dean of the College of Innovation and Design. “We are excited about its future in the College of Arts and Sciences.”

The UX Research Certificate at Boise State consists of ten courses designed to teach students how to leverage user experience research methodologies in order to design and implement high-quality user experiences for their teams and organizations. Students can complete the certificate as undergraduates alongside a traditional bachelor’s degree, as graduate students seeking advanced training in user research or as working professionals looking to expand their professional toolkit.

In their article titled “UX Research Graduates from CI+D to COAS” John Ziker, chair of the Department of Anthropology and director of the UX Research Certificate program, and Kendall House, clinical assistant professor of anthropology and faculty lead for the program, discuss their work to develop the program and about the pragmatic and existential lessons learned—from embracing programmatic and student diversity to defining the role of the program in graduating the next generation of high-quality user experience researchers. “The graduation of the program from CI+D embodies the successful collaboration between CI+D and COAS,” the authors said.

The UX Research Certificate program, grounded in anthropological methods, centers on a toolkit of techniques including field visits, contextual interviews and direct observations. Students graduate from the certificate program with the tools and practical experience to produce high-quality user experience research, which the Nielsen Norman Group defines as “a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.”

The program immerses students in a transdisciplinary space by nature of its home in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“The liberal arts and sciences develop important soft skills that have general applicability, as well as in-depth disciplinary knowledge,” Ziker and House write. “In the long run, it is soft skills that win out in terms of making a living, and finding value in a well-lived life.”

Development of these skills is something prioritized in the Boise State program and not in other UX courses, or in “boot camp”-style UX training courses, which do not provide interaction with other students and professionals, the authors said.

Graduates of the program have both continued their studies at a graduate level and gone to work professionally. Tara Bingham, a recent alum of the program, conducted a user experience research project on zoning code revisions while interning with the City of Boise in 2022, a project described in a recent edition of the Idaho Matters podcast.

Leslie Durham, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences is optimistic about the program’s future.

“I am delighted that UXR is graduating from CID to become a COAS program,” she said. “The learning outcomes and ethos of the program align beautifully with our college strategic plan and the culture of the college.”

Learn more about the User Experience Research Certificate programs at Boise State.