New Living Learning Community to Help Female Students Gain STEAM

Mary Jane Partain
Mary Jane Partain

When Dr. Janell Straach took computer science courses at UT Dallas a few decades ago, there were very few female students in her classes.

“I just accepted it as that’s the way it is. We all knew each other. You found each other and clung together,” she recalled.

As the department grew and women were still underrepresented in classes, “there was no mechanism for them to connect,” said Straach, who is now a senior lecturer in computer science in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“What I hear from female students most often is that they feel they’re the only one. When they don’t see other women in their class section, they sometimes think, ‘Maybe I’m not making the right choice,’ or ‘I’m not smart enough to compete with the guys.’ That’s just not true,” Straach said.

To help female students in the STEAM fields be better connected, UT Dallas will pilot a new Living Learning Community (LLC) in fall 2017 to support women in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

The new Women in STEAM LLC will accommodate 28 students entering their sophomore through senior years in engineering, computer science, arts and technology, and emerging media and communication.

Students in the new LLC will live near one another in a cluster of new apartments on the southwest side of campus. A peer advisor will be an overall resource and help develop a sense of community for the students. As faculty advisor, Straach will teach a weekly Topics in STEAM course for the students.

Organizers hope the new LLC will increase the retention of female students in these fields through support from peers, faculty interactions and programming.

“One of the things that helps with the retention for women in STEAM fields is having a sense of support,” said Mary Jane Partain, director of Living Learning Communities. “If they don’t feel they belong, they’re more likely to opt out.”

At UT Dallas, student-led groups such as Women Who Compute help nurture a sense of belonging. Organizers hope the LLC will offer the next step by giving students the opportunity to study, take classes together and hang out with like-minded peers.

Women in STEAM LLC

Women in STEAM

Here are some of the requirements that students must meet for the program: (The full list is here)

  • Be entering their sophomore through senior year.
  • Major in engineering, computer science, arts and technology, or emerging media and communication.
  • Be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credit hours.
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.75.

Surveys show that students who participate in living learning programs experience smoother social and academic transitions to college and express higher self-confidence in their abilities to succeed in college, Partain said. They also have a greater sense of belonging on campus and more professional self-confidence.

Women in STEAM fields especially need support because they are still in the minority in these academic majors and careers. According to the National Science Foundation, women accounted for only 18 percent of the computer science bachelor’s degrees and 19 percent of the engineering bachelor’s degrees earned in 2012.

Women in male-dominated STEAM fields also can experience gender bias and either subtle or overt sexual harassment, said Lauren DeCillis, director of the Galerstein Women’s Center, one of the UT Dallas partners for the new LLC.

The Galerstein Women’s Center will work alongside the LLC to develop programs that contribute to a supportive, culturally diverse environment, DeCillis said.

“We can broaden their circle of community, connect them with industry partners, networking and mentoring relationships, as well as other peers across disciplines,” DeCillis said.

The Women in STEAM LLC will provide a network of support for current students and help create a pipeline of future UT Dallas students through pre-college outreach to area students.

LLC participants will work with UT Dallas camps and programs for high school students, including the Techy Girls Residential Camp, which helps North Texas high school junior and senior girls become interested in computer science careers.

“Research shows that when encouraging female students to enter these STEAM fields, the younger the better,” Partain said.

“We want to create an environment of support where women can lean on one another, grow together and transition into their fields. We want to support them in the classroom and after hours, to create a cycle of success.”

Applications for the new LLC will be accepted through Friday, March 24.

ATEC Undergrad’s Artistic Pursuits Lead to Game Industry Scholarship

Heidi Neunhoffer
Heidi Neunhoffer

Midway through her freshman year studying communication design at the University of North Texas, Heidi Neunhoffer came across UT Dallas in a publication listing the University among 100 other schools deemed the best in animation education.

She said the arts and technology program, in particular drew her attention.

“I’ve always been interested in art,” Neunhoffer said. “I love observing the world, watching movies, playing games, thinking about stories, but for a while, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with art. I just wanted to draw and maybe tell stories. I really loved animation, but I never thought about who made it. Then, in high school, I found out a girl a few classes above me was going to Cal Arts to become an animator. She’s a great artist, and she really inspires me. I realized that if I really wanted to, I could go into animation too.”

After some careful consideration, she decided to transfer to UT Dallas to pursue her passion.

Now a senior, Neunhoffer has received the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Foundation Scholarship, which supports students pursuing careers in the computer and video game industries. She was among 30 recipients representing institutions such as Duke University, Brown University and the University of Southern California.

“Institutions like UT Dallas rightly recognize the value in preparing students for careers in the video game industry, meeting a rising demand among students and eventual employers,” said Anastasia Staten, executive director of the foundation. “The ESA Foundation is committed to supporting this growth and has provided nearly 300 women and minority students with scholarships to pursue video game-related degrees, giving them not only the opportunity to follow their dreams, but also creating a pipeline of skilled and well-educated job candidates for the video game industry and other careers in STEM-related fields.”

The $3,000 scholarship will help Neunhoffer as she wraps up a fruitful undergraduate career.

Most recently, she had a hand in the preproduction of the annual short film created by the animation studio class. Neunhoffer had input with the script and storyboarding the project, which is in development.

“Heidi is a great example of the type of student who can excel within ATEC,” senior associate dean and associate professor Todd Fechter said. “She has the ability to take classroom concepts and expand them into something greater. Recently, she took it upon herself to create her own short story, complete with designs and storyboards. She created a nice presentation book and showed it to well-known industry professionals at this year’s CTN Animation Expo. They loved it! I’m not surprised. She is one of the most talented and dedicated students I’ve met.”

Neunhoffer has been hungry for opportunities to practice. She said preproduction design classes, taught by Fechter, allow her to hone her craft.

Neunhoffer also has served as a student assistant in the photography department since she began at UT Dallas. She helps with digital printing, mixing darkroom chemicals and assisting with maintenance of the Comer Collection of Photography.

She participates in Comet-Con’s Artist Alley every year, and is working on her ATEC Honors Capstone project.

“The ATEC program is really great because you get to choose what you want to focus on,” she said. “Going to school here has also helped me meet lots of people with similar interests, and it’s really given me time and resources to develop as an artist.”

ATEC Student Serves Winning T-Shirt Design for Second Straight Year

Fayna Zeng
Fayna Zeng’s design will appear on T-shirts worn by American Southwest Conference champions in 2016-17.

It’s no surprise to faculty members in theSchool of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication that one of their students has won a regional design competition for the second year in a row. The graphic design created by UT Dallas sophomore Fayna Zeng will be used on 2016-17 American Southwest Conference championship T-shirts after a vote of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Zeng is the first two-time winner of the annual ASC Championship T-Shirt Design Challenge after her winning design last season. She is a double major in arts and technology and emerging media and communication.

“Fayna’s winning design this year is impressive, and it reflects our school’s consistent, yet innovative, approach toward design curriculum,” said Dr. Jillian Round, a clinical assistant professor of arts and technology. “Her designs are well-thought out through use of color, shape, texture, space, form, unity, balance, hierarchy, emphasis and contrast. I am very proud of her accomplishment.”

Zeng said she wanted to try something different from last year’s winning design. She chose a palette of blue, black and white for the 2016 gray shirt. Her design has a Western feel, with stars that are reminiscent of a sheriff’s badge, as well as reflecting Texas and the conference, and a general standard of excellence. Swirling ribbons symbolize the finish line in a race.

“I wanted to change it up a bit and get out of my comfort zone a bit and not have it be perfectly aligned like last year’s design,” Zeng said. “The light blue stands out, but doesn’t clash. I also like the use of drop shadow and fade-in colors to make it stand out on a gray background.”

Her designs are well thought-out through use of color, shape, texture, space, form, unity, balance, hierarchy, emphasis and contrast. I am very proud of her accomplishment.

Dr. Jillian Round,
clinical assistant professor of arts and technology

Round said Zeng’s design is a textbook example of what she’s learned in her design principles classes at UT Dallas, where she’s studied typography, graphic design, logos, information design, color theory and composition.

The design will be displayed on the front of the short-sleeved T-shirts that all conference champions receive after their victories.

As a member of the UT Dallas volleyball team, which won its conference title last year, Zeng is hoping she gets to wear her own T-shirt design again this year.

“It was a good feeling. It was fun to see my teammates and our men’s soccer team wearing my design after winning conference titles last year. I really wanted to win the design competition again to represent my school outside of volleyball,” Zeng said.

The contest is open to all students of ASC schools. Zeng’s design is the third-consecutive winning artwork by a UT Dallas student. As a senior golfer and emerging media and communication major, Dylan Carroll won for his design in 2014.

UT Dallas students keep winning, Round said, because they not only learn theoretically sound design principles, they also learn how to put the theory into practice using design problem-solving techniques.

“It’s not a mystery to us here why she won. She did it right,” Round said. “Good design is just nice to look at. I cannot say enough how proud we are of her.”

ATEC Juniors Place First in National Game Design Competition


Originally written for The Mercury by Esteban Bustillos 

Foofaraw is defined as a great deal of fuss or attention to a minor matter. ATEC juniors David McCullough and Brandon Blakemore had never used the word before Sept. 23, but they had to learn it on the fly to win first place at this year’s “Chillenium,” a game jam held at Texas A&M University that attracts game developers from across the country.

The concept of a game jam is simple: Participants have a set amount of time, in this case 48 hours, to create a functioning videogame from scratch. Judges then play the game and measure it on everything from concept to playability.

ATEC Juniors David McCullough (right) and Brandon Blakemore bounced between a few ideas before settling on “Don’t Rock the Boat,” a game centered around a waiter who tries to serve customers while on a ship rocking back and forth. Photo by Esteban Bustillos, Mercury staff

This year’s “Chillenium” featured students from 11 different universities from across the country, who came to College Station to compete. Once there, they were told to center their games around one word: foofaraw. Then the clock started to countdown. The 48 hours had begun.

McCullough and Blakemore first heard about the contest through the Student Game Developer Alliance at UT Dallas. “Chillenium’s” coordinator, Ben House, reached out to SGDA President Grant Branam to invite UTD to participate. Several teams from UTD, including Branam’s, competed in the contest.

“We didn’t really know what to expect going in, but it was my first game jam, so I was super excited anyways and we had a lot of interest,” Branam said.

A group of about 20 people got together and headed down to Texas A&M, where 243 other students packed into an auditorium in the campus’ equine complex. McCullough and Blakemore said long rows of tables were littered with wires spewing from computers in the temporary game studio.

“The first few hours I was really hyped,” McCullough said. “I was looking around like, ‘This is really cool.’”

The game can be played at the following link:

Once they were given the topic, McCullough and Blakemore, equipped with their custom PCs, did what any logical developer would do — they Googled what foofaraw meant.

Then, they started to brainstorm concepts centered on the game’s jam theme, coming up with ideas varying from a game about cats to a hotel manager taking care of guests to a cooking game.

“We were trying to focus on the minor thing but making a big deal about it,” Blakemore said.

Eventually, around 3 a.m. on Saturday after having scrapped their other plans, Be Chill, as McCullough and Blakemore dubbed their team, settled on the idea of a game about a waiter trying to serve water to customers on a cruise ship rocking back and forth.

Titled “Don’t Rock the Boat,” the top-down game features players looking down from above as a dapper waiter frantically runs up and down a deck while crates, chairs and people move back and forth threatening his health. On the left side of the screen, meters track how quickly patrons are drinking their water, forcing the player to get their refills before they run out, all while having to fill up on his own water supply from sinks located every few meters in the level. If they fail to adequately serve even one customer before they run out of water, they lose.

McCullough and Blakemore only got around four hours of sleep a night during the competition. “Chillenium” offered contestants a large room for them to sleep in, but the duo took other routes for rest, with McCullough opting to sleep on the marble floor of the main room with just a pillow and blanket and Blakemore sleeping in his car at least once over the course of the weekend.

The pair split up the duties of making the game, with McCullough focusing on the engineering and the art and Blakemore taking care of the level and sound design.

“From the beginning, it’s really just getting stuff moving on the screen, getting the core mechanic in so that we could build off that,” McCullough said. “And then from there it’s like, ‘OK, well now we need a win-state or a lose-state.’ Then once we had that, it’s like, ‘OK, now we need a menu and a tutorial.’”

After working through the 48 hours and multiple setbacks, including a power surge that did not wipe out all of their work, it finally came time to turn in the game.

McCullough and Blakemore said they didn’t expect much, honestly thinking they would get third place at best because of what they still could have tweaked.

“We were bummed out,” Blakemore said. “We thought it was just average or whatever.”

When the judges announced the winners, they had to calm the crowd down, telling them to “be chill.” Not surprisingly, that made it all the more confusing when the judges announced Be Chill as the first-place winners.

“Right after (saying ‘be chill’), with no tone difference, (the judge) just goes, ‘Be Chill,’” McCullough said. “And no one says anything, because everyone thinks he’s still saying ‘be chill.’ So I stand up and I go, ‘Be Chill?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, team Be Chill!’”

McCullough explained what helped “Don’t Rock the Boat” stand out among the competition is exactly what the conference focused on: attention to detail.

“Something that’s really important that a lot of people kind of miss in game development is just like game feel or like polish, just making individual interactions within the game fun,” he said. “So there’s there’s just a lot of visual feedback.”

Along with taking home the trophy, McCullough and Blakemore got access to development programs professionals use, $50 in Steam cash that can be used on the PC gaming network and tickets to South by Southwest, which they got after the game impressed a SXSW representative.

They also were accepted into Startup Aggieland, a job creation program at Texas A&M focused on startups. They’ll have office space and professional contacts to help them eventually publish the game.

Knowing that they went up against developers from across the country and beat them is still sinking in for McCullough and Blakemore, who plan to use their experience at “Chillenium” to help further their careers.

“This is our crowning achievement,” Blakemore said. “We’ve been working to be acknowledged and this is kind of the first sign that we’re doing something right.”

Additionally, a team from UTD consisting of SGDA vice president Kyle Ruffin, Hannah Barnes, Veronica Liu, and Alex An won Crowd Favorite at this years Chillenium. 

UX Design Marks Its Spot as Growing Career Path for ATEC Students

Cassini Nazir, clinical associate professor in the arts and technology program and director of design and research for the ArtSciLab, trains students in user experience design. “If businesses exist in a digital space — be it a website, app, digital kiosk — they need to invest in good design,” he said.

From Dell Technologies to Capital One, companies that rely on the use of intuitive customer experiences are finding a wealth of talented designers among students and alumni from theSchool of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at UT Dallas.

The ArtSciLab — the school’s transdisciplinary research lab focused on the intersection of art and science — is immersing students into the field of user experience, or UX, design.

Cassini Nazir, clinical associate professor in the arts and technology (ATEC) program and director of design and research for the lab, said UT Dallas is emerging as a leader in UX education in North Texas.

“There’s a growing trend in more courses focused on user experience (UX) design and interaction design at colleges across the nation,” he said. “Many of these concepts have come out of human computer interaction concepts, but design research and UX have really emerged as disciplines in their own right. Industry has helped by investing in design researchers and user experience designers in their spaces.”

Nazir said more companies, both established and startup, are employing a design-centric ethos, cognizant of the role UX plays in customer relations.

The Design Value Index — an evolving metric that tracks the value of companies that meet specific design-related criteria — showed in 2014 that 15 design-driven companies had outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index by 228 percent over 10 years.

Several enterprise-level companies such as Intuit and Sabre want to work with the ATEC program to recruit talent, he said.

“UTD has really benefited from it because there’s a boom of businesses setting up offices in Dallas,” said Nazir, who is part of the Dallas Design Council. “Many of those companies have been hiring teams of designers, and we’ve been successful in filling those needs.”

Emerging media and communication senior Lina Moon was selected to be a part of Capital One’s inaugural Design Development Program, where she will spend two years learning about different fields such as interaction design and coding.

Clear Line to Job Opportunities

The lab has had students move into design positions at companies such as Sabre, Cisco Systems, AT&T, Siemens, General Motors, Fossil and J.C. Penney.

Debi Terry Ndindjock BA’13, a digital experience designer at Dell, first gained an interest in UX design while taking the interaction design course as a sophomore.

Ndindjock considered herself as purely a graphic designer, but she said she was intrigued by the psychological aspects of design, realizing UX design merges the two concepts.

“The turning point was when (design consultant) Stephen Anderson visited our class and spoke about his work,” she said. “I knew that was what I wanted to do. Since it is a relatively new field, we get a part in defining the industry as a whole.

“UX design requires such varied skills and education: visual design, writing, research and technology. You get to get in where you fit in.”

Cathryn Ploehn BA’14 said the same course — taught by Nazir — also propelled her into the field. Ploehn also served as designer for the ArtSciLab.

“Cassini’s enthusiasm was a gateway to taking further related courses, and finally a capstone in UX,” she said. “The application of the concept of empathy to design and development captivated me.”

Ploehn, who manages UX design problems and data visualization for Visionist Inc., said that developing a sense of empathy is fundamental to what makes user experiences successful.

“Really listen to what a person says to you both inside and outside of a user research setting,” she said. “Try to feel what it is like to be somebody else. Practice by exposing yourself to points of view beyond your comfort zone.”

For senior and UX Club president Lina Moon, there wasn’t an aha moment that led to an interest in UX design.

“I think being part of the UX Club as an officer and working in the ArtSciLab really gave me the confidence to pursue the field further, as it gave me a good support network and provided me access to more collective knowledge,” Moon said.

In July, Moon started a full-time position with Capital One’s inaugural Design Development Program.

The two-year program pairs students and recent graduates with a mentor who guides new associates through different fields such as interaction design and coding.

The growing demand for UX designers can be attributed, at least in part, to the growing demands of consumers of digital products. Nazir said designers often play the role of customer lobbyist, researching and voicing the needs of consumers to their business.

“Audience expectations of what constitutes a good experience are now much higher than they were in the past,” he said. “If businesses exist in a digital space — be it a website, app, digital kiosk — they need to invest in good design.”

Announcing STEM to STEAM graduate seminar for Fall 2016, ATEC UT Dallas.

ATEC 6380. 501 STEM to STEAM.

Contact for info and approval to enroll.

urlFall 2016 Instructor: Professor Roger Malina. Classes will be held on Monday Evenings.

This seminar will be co-taught with modules led by Dr. Paul Fishwick, Dr. Eun Ah Lee and Professor Kathryn Evans.

Course description: The seminar is open to PhD, MA and MFA students. May be repeated for credit as topics vary (9 semester credit hours maximum).

Syllabus is designed around the research or creative projects of each student.

This course will study current and emerging topics, approaches, and practices, where arts, sciences, and humanities interact or converge, with the goal to advance new research questions and areas of inquiry.

The integration of the arts, humanities and design into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math has become an important research and education agenda in the US and internationally. In this seminar each student will work with the instructor and/or other students on topics in science and engineering that are part of their ATEC or EMAC PhD, MA or MFA project of interest.

The syllabus will be modified to discuss topic areas of each student. Deliverables from each student for the seminar will be defined individually so that each student makes significant progress on their own project. TOPICS Guest lecturers will include visitors to ATEC and also online guests proposed by the students. Topics and readings will include the following topics, with others to be added responding to student areas of interest: The ethics of curiosity, Readings from the work of Indian philosopher of science Sundar Sarukkai, Foundations of inter and transdisciplinary research with readings from the work of Allen Repko, The science of collaboration, readings around the methodologies used to develop successful collaboration strategies when the work bridges the arts, sciences and humanities, Key readings from the Science of Team science initiative, anthropologist James Leach and other experts on training collaboration techniques.

Required reading will be the NSF funded study led by Dr. Malina on enabling new forms of collaboration between the arts and humanities with science and engineering. How researchers and artists can use developing techniques in cultural analytics, data visualization and representation, data Science. How digital humanities are enabling new research questions and methods. Data immersion and exploration. Performing data. Contemporary initiatives in cognitive sciences and neurobiology that can inform research and creative practices. Innovations in scholarly and art publishing and education. How researchers and artists document their work and present to different audiences today. The history and current practices of inter, multi and transdisciplinary research including recent work on the second wave of “consilience’ or emerging practices to succeed in ‘vertical integration’ of the sciences/engineering with arts/design/humanities. Research in arts and design.

We will look at how international programs are developing research methodologies in arts and design and emerging best practices. Development of rationales for art-science and art-technology in society in the USA and Europe. History and trends in design education. Creative industries today. Citizen science, collaborative science and open science developments today.

Deliverables Students will be expected to use social media and new forms of professional documentation such as video abstracts, podcasts, an online research web site or blog. Each student will record a podcast discussing their work to be published on the Leonardo Creative Disturbance podcast platform at MIT Press. Strategies for public engagement. Funding is available for student presentations at local events and conferences. Students who wish to enroll are encouraged to contact the instructor at So that, the syllabus can be augmented in areas of specific interest or need of the student.

Grading will be based 10% on attendance, 45% on participation and presentations made during the semester and 45% on the final deliverable. The final deliverable for the end of the semester is intended to help each student work and advance their ATEC or EMAC PhD, MA or MFA project or interest. Format of the deliverable will be determined by the student in consultation with the instructor.

University Mourns Loss of Library Communications Manager, EMAC Alumna

Misty Hawley
Misty Hawley MA’13

The UT Dallas Eugene McDermott Library and colleagues across campus are mourning the loss of the library’s communications manager, Misty Hawley, who died Saturday of natural causes. She was 39.

Hawley MA’13 had coordinated the library’s communications needs since December 2013. During her tenure, the library expanded its hours and underwent extensive renovations in study and lounge areas.

Dr. Ellen Safley, dean of McDermott Library, said Hawley excelled in planning events that benefited faculty, staff and students.

“Misty’s writing and event-planning skills made everything better, and culminated in the recent Faculty Author Reception, which was widely applauded by those who attended,” Safley said.

Hawley also had served as assistant director of student media from 2010-2013, working with students at Radio UTD and UTD TV.

Chad Thomas, director of student media, said Hawley set high standards for students, who often looked to her for guidance in college, career and even relationship issues.

“She was a firm believer in tough love. And that clicked for so many students, who grew to see her as a mentor and advisor beyond the confines of radio and TV broadcasting,” Thomas said.

Nieves Reyes BA’14, former news director of UTD TV, described Hawley as an “incredible” woman whose door was always open to students.

She would be there for people when they needed help. Not only was she our advisor, but she was like a mother to me as well as everyone else at UTD TV and Radio UTD.

Nieves Reyes BA’14,
former news director of UTD TV

“She would be there for people when they needed help. Not only was she our advisor, but she was like a mother to me as well as everyone else at UTD TV and Radio UTD,” Reyes said. “She put us first, taking care of us in any possible way. She somehow brought us all together. We were family.”

Hawley, a native of Gladewater, Texas, earned bachelor’s degrees in broadcast journalism and political science at the University of North Texas. She worked 12 years as a TV producer before coming to UT Dallas in December 2010.

In fall 2013, she completed a master’s degree in emerging media and communication at UT Dallas.

Services are planned for 2 p.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church, 300 West Upshur Ave., in Gladewater, Texas. Those who plan to attend the service should RSVP by 5 p.m. today, either by calling ext. 4328 or emailing

Celebrate Spring 2016 EMAC Graduates

EMAC Outstanding Capstone Finalists

Capstone_SP2016The Spring 2016 EMAC Capstone Celebration will take place Thursday, May 5 at 7:00 p.m. in the lobby of the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building. During this event, graduating students will share their capstone projects with the public and compete for outstanding capstone project awards. Following the formal presentations, audience members will get to engage with all students’ projects when all students share their work more informally during the showcase.

Congratulations to the ten undergraduate students nominated for the Outstanding Undergraduate Capstone award: Nil Arsala, Rafa Garcia, Brian McCollum, Leo Montemayor, Mashal Noor, Justin Ozuna, Katie Perez, Alexis Short, Allison Sparks, and Ryan Tyler. The four finalists, Arsala, Montemayor, Noor, and Tyler, will join our graduate students to make formal presentations and compete for the awards.

You may preview student projects using the following links, but we hope to see you at the Capstone Celebration to let our students impress you with their projects.






A Class Act: Design Research Workshop with UTD’s UX Club

The projekt202 team went back to school recently to coach the next class of UX designers.

The UX Club at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) hosted projekt202 for an interactive Design Research Workshop on March 31. Senior UX Designer Chelsea Maxwell, Experience Researcher Nick Ansel, Talent Coordinator Jessica Hart and Vice President of Customer Experience Jeremy Johnson shared their expertise in conducting research and the many ways it informs the design process.


The collaborative session helped UTD students investigate and answer research-driven questions such as: Who are the customers and users of our technology? What do they actually need? What methods help reveal those needs? How does research fit into the design process?

UX-Club-3-1024x512 UX-Club-4-1024x571

In one exercise, students were asked to “design a hat” with no other guidance or restrictions. The attendees’ heady imaginations were brimming with creations of all shapes, sizes, colors and purposes.

To top things off, however, few of the designs could really meet a specific user’s needs. This was an important and enlightening “aha!” moment: students realized that without research to guide design, they were simply throwing out prototypes to see what might work.

UX-Club-16-1024x749 UX-Club-15-1024x768

At another point in the workshop, students interviewed Nick about his daily trip to work, then watched a video of his actual commute.

There were notable differences between the interview and the real-world observations. Like many users in similar interview situations, Nick didn’t mention details that would be critical in solving commuting-related problems. By simple observation, however, these factors were easily discovered.

Using their interview and observational notes, UX Club members performed Affinity Diagramming to develop high-level insights that would inform their designs. They then wireframed creative and innovative mobile apps to make workday trips easier and more efficient for frustrated commuters.


“It was a treat helping students bring theory into practice,” Nick said. “It’s great to see such curious and passionate students make the most out of their interest in UX. It reassures me of the bright future ahead for the experience design community.”

A bright, experience-driven future is a large part of the mission of the UX Club. It envisions the reality of its students playing crucial roles in Dallas design.

The student professional club actively works to increase awareness of user-centered design. To understand and create well-designed experiences, the UX Club provides its members with opportunities — such as the projekt202 Design Research Workshop — to network with industry leaders around Dallas-Fort Worth.

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As Chelsea explained to the group, projekt202’s methodology and best practices are easily applied to the students’ coursework and personal projects, enabling them to strengthen their portfolios and experience.

“What’s really awesome is that schools are starting to catch up with what is going on in the industry,” she said. “Previously, in regards to technology, what schools were teaching and what skills were needed by employers were miles apart. We’re starting to see that change — for example, with the UX Club and courses offered in design.”


Jessica said, “It was exciting to watch them take in our methods — interviewing, affinity diagramming, wireframing — and contribute their own ideas to solve real-world problems in innovative ways. The big takeaway of the evening for them was that observing users is absolutely crucial to strong design.”


With a passion for changing the experiences people have with all aspects of technology, the projekt202 team members appreciated the opportunity to share their professional insights.

“Working with such a bright and curious group is always rewarding. It keeps me sharp while also nurturing the profession with critical knowledge-sharing activities,” Nick said. “I was honored to share what makes projekt202 such a great place to practice my craft: the culture, the work and a focus on bettering experiences everywhere.”

This article originally appeared in the projekt202 blog on April 7, 2016.

projekt202 sincerely thanks the members of the UX Club, and the students and faculty of The University of Texas at Dallas.

Photos courtesy of Jessica Hart, Jeremy Johnson and the UX Club at UT Dallas