The co-founder of Center Centre and the Unicorn Institute talks about rethinking education for UX designers and why the mainstream approach is failing.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Leslie Jensen-Inman: Both personally and professionally, I strive to make awesomeness and do good. The core beliefs of my work are connecting education, industry, and community in meaningful and sustainable ways.
What's Center Centre?
LJI: Well, I can't go into all of the details yet. What I can say is that Jared Spool and I are working together to rethink education for user experience designers. Through Center Centre, we are developing a new type of learning environment that connects education, industry and community through experiential learning. Essentially, Center Centre helps people learn by doing.
Does mainstream education provide creative industries with the graduates it needs?
LJI: Most mainstream schools don't adequately prepare graduates to enter the professional world of user experience design. In general, our industry moves fast; academia doesn't. Most schools focus on theory, not practice. Even if all schools were perfectly aligning their curriculum with the needs of industry, there would simply not be enough graduates to fill the job openings that exist in user experience design.
Most traditional design schools focus on rock stars, not generalists; on thinking, not making (and those that do make, don't build and deploy); on individualised work, not collaborative projects; and on technical skills, not soft skills. Jared and I have conducted extensive, first-hand research with hiring companies and have concluded the current focus of most traditional design schools is missing the mark of what those companies need.
What are 'unicorns' in this context?
LJI: ‘Unicorns' is a term for Jacks of all trades. They are lifelong learners. They always want to learn more and are never satisfied with keeping their knowledge constrained to a single area. The people who do amazing things in our industry often do so because they have refused to become a specialist.
Being a Jack of all trades is being the ultimate master: a master of integration; a master of seeing the big picture and the minute details; a master of understanding where a wealth of knowledge of multiple subjects can benefit a project and a team as a whole.
Do established web workers have a responsibility to mentor, help and bring on the next generation?
LJI: Absolutely. It's our responsibility to leave our industry better than we found it. One of the ways to do this is to share what we know with the next generation. Each of us should be spending a percentage of our resources (both time and money) to help the next generation.
If you had a time machine, what advice would you send back to a younger you, or somebody embarking on their web career?
LJI: The best advice I can give is to engage. Engage with your community (both locally and beyond). Engage in our industry. Do as many professional projects as possible. If you want to go to school, try to find one that focuses on project-based work. If you're already enrolled in school and your classes focus on theory, put the theory to work through internships, apprenticeships and your own (or group) projects outside of class. Go to professional meet-ups and events. Talk with people. Better yet, listen to people.
Be a good person and support other people. Be kind. Be generous. Follow your instincts and say ‘yes' when it feels right. Say ‘no' to things that will throw you off course or cause you to lose track of your goals.
Connect with others in meaningful ways. We're fortunate to be in a field with wonderful, giving people. Find a mentor. Learn from others. Share what you know with others. Enjoy the adventure.
Know that there will always be someone better than you, and there will always be someone worse than you. That is why we work in teams. So focus on collaboration and teamwork. Basically my advice is to engage, do, connect, collaborate, make, build, and deploy. Do all of these things and do them often. Whether self-directed or in a traditional environment, collaborating with others and working through the entire lifecycle of a project, is how to make the most out of education.
This article originally appeared in .net magazine issue 245.
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