As the program director for the MS in Interaction Design and Information Architecture and the User Experience (UX) Design Certificate, I often get asked why a person should choose UBalt over another school, particularly a non-University like General Assembly or Betamore. My answer is the same for each person: It depends…maybe that other program is right for you.
I respect GA and have guest lectured there, but, it is certainly not for everyone. The model of 8-hour a day classes for 6 weeks is really hard for someone to do unless they are unemployed. Sure, they work on lots of projects (sometimes with actual clients) and learn how to do UX but I don’t know if they get the opportunity to learn why they learn the things they do. GA seems like a good choice if you have some experience in the field (especially through self-learning or some on-the-job experience) and you want a boost forward. It’s essentially a trade school for the 21st Century and I’m sure that you’ll have the skills you need for your first UX job but that’s where it ends. I’ve talked with employers who are reticent to higher someone who has gone through these kinds of programs because they weren’t sure if they knew prototyping beyond Axure or Invision. Did they know why we prototype? Did they understand user research?
The University philosophy is to help you with the skills for all your jobs, especially those later in your career. In our program, we don’t just teach you how to prototype, we teach why you prototype and why you use paper and how to talk to people and how to lead and a bunch of other things that go beyond skills and become more like qualities. Writing is a huge part of design (all kinds) and we cover and re-inforce it. Our MS and certificate make you take a class called Humans, Computers, and Cognition where we cover cognitive psych as it applies to our field. That’s 40 hours of class on just that!
Our program, like any good one, takes a holistic portfolio approach to the classes. Each of our traditional classes has some kind of project that would make a fantastic portfolio piece for prospective clients. Most of them are with actual clients with real problems. By the end of our program, you’ve probably worked on four or more team projects that tackle real problems to include in your portfolio. To be clear, we also cover “now” skills like software for prototyping, running research, and mobile design. In fact, employers have told us that our team projects that require students to communicate outside of class with people in remote locations is one important skill for the modern workplace.
Then again, the MS might not be for everyone. I’m a stickler for the GRE which has been a great indicator if you’ll finish the program and some people don’t want to take that test. Doing the program part-time takes three years to complete which might be longer than some people want to take. And, it costs money to attend – 36 credits x per credit tuition and fees. It’s an amazing value per dollar but, if you’re paying for it yourself, it is still something to consider. We tried to address these with our Certificate which takes one year and only 12 credits.
People who are shopping for a UX degree/training have a lot of options. My first recommendation would be for a masters (preferably ours), then a university-granted certificate (again, ours), followed by a non-profit (Betamore), and finally, a for-profit training school.
*You can contact me at gwalsh [at] ubalt [dot] edu to discuss these suggestions. **