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UXD shouldn’t drop out of school

In a recent essay, Andy Rutledge makes the claim that higher education UX design programs are effectively a scam. They are, Rutledge argues, largely irrelevant, misguided, even fraudulent in their fundamental approach—and therefore a waste of time and money.

Apparently, there’s not a lot of hope either. Towards the end of his piece, he declares that “universities and colleges have nothing of value to contribute in the context of UX design degree programs outside of the à la carte design and psychology courses they can offer.”

I take issue with this, what I believe to be pretty narrow, point of view. Here’s a list of academic disciplines that I believe are highly valuable to our field:

  • Computer science
  • Much of the behavioural & social sciences including social psychology, sociology, anthropology, even economics
  • Research methods & statistics
  • Graphic design
  • Systems design engineering
  • Business & marketing
  • Cognitive science
  • HCI
  • Rhetoric & professional writing
  • Applied linguistics & communications

UXD programs that incorporate these and other relevant disciplines into their curricula—in my experience—do add value.

At T+L, we have a pretty diverse range of backgrounds. Some folks went the school route, others didn’t. I think this diversity has led to a relatively well-balanced approach to our craft and discipline.

I understand that academics can become detached and affected. After my long stint in school, there was a lot I needed to unlearn. I also agree that there are a lot of flakey college and university programs who are selling empty promises to naive students and recruiters. And I’m not saying these guys shouldn’t be called out.

Developing a sound pedagogical approach for a relatively new, applied and constantly evolving discipline like UXD is of course challenging, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, I think it’s something we need: I mean, what other professional field that’s taken seriously in the world doesn’t have a body of scholarship behind it?

Rutledge’s claim that UXD simply isn’t teachable is definitely provocative, but it’s also fundamentally unfair and counterproductive. Rather than dismissing academics outright, UXD professionals should work with educators to create programs that are truly relevant, and which add value to our field.

David Gillis More posts by David Gillis