(Photo courtesy of Robert Hardcastle)
This post is sponsored by Philadelphia University.
What happens when you take a bunch of Philadelphia University graduate students with varying interests and toss them into an interdisciplinary, collaborative, project-based master’s program in user experience and interactive design?
To put it simply: Some awesome people doing really awesome things.
The UX focus of the program places students on an 18-month to two-year track, fostering thesis projects by providing the resources and skills-building exercises needed to create engaging, innovative user experiences.
“It brings people together with different tech backgrounds, ups their skills in UX, development and visual design and brings in some proper business skills,” said Berklee College of Music-trained musician and UX analyst Robert Hardcastle, a recent graduate of the program and now an adjunct professor within it. Hardcastle’s project, Discover Your Inner Musician, was featured at the Philly Tech Week Signature Event last year.
“It’s an interactive experience that allows non-musicians to play music in a social space,” Hardcastle said. Built on open-source Arduino hardware, DYIM prompts users to press arcade-style buttons. Arduino serializes that data and sends it through to a computer, which harbors a massive music sample bank crafted by Hardcastle. “A lot of the things you hear are me playing different instruments or custom virtual synthesizers,” he said.
“You hear the term ‘some people have it, some people don’t,'” Hardcastle said. “I don’t necessarily think that’s true. It’s a certain set of circumstances that allow people to be successful in that space.” DYIM bridges that gap by allowing multiple users who don’t know how to play instruments to collaborate in creating sweet, sweet sounds. “It’s like a multi-person sampling station,” Hardcastle said.
Then there’s photographer/designer Jillian Bauer of The Rooms Project fame, set to graduate from the program this spring. While Bauer says the program has influenced the way TRP engages users, it’s her upcoming project Art by Algorithm that really flaunts her capacity for innovative UX concepts.
Set to premier at this year’s Philly Tech Week signature event, Art by Algorithm is, in Bauer’s own words, an object and an application through which users can create abstract art through code. The project uses Arduino and Bluetooth, allowing users to create original abstract art through the use of an electronic stress ball.
“By the users’ gestures and motions, it’s actually exploring the different structures I have set up and creating large-format abstract paintings that are almost digital,” Bauer said. If it weren’t for the PhilaU program, Bauer said she never would have thought of creating anything like Art by Algorithm.
“When I found this program, it was really the only program I could find in the Pennsylvania and Jersey area that wasn’t a video gaming program,” she said. “It fit all my needs.”
MilkCrate cofounder Morgan Berman wasn’t a graduate of PhilaU’s UX program, but she did take two associated courses while pursuing her master’s in sustainable design. “I started taking classes outside of my department to start getting the experience I needed,” she said.
While MilkCrate (2.0 launching soon) most likely would have existed regardless of whether or not Berman took those UX classes, she said those experiences helped her in ways she really appreciates.
“It helped give me the language and the conceptual thinking about how mobile technology works, how you engage users and how you monetize it,” she said.
It’s an interdisciplinary approach toward UX that invites in students of all backgrounds, whether you’re a musician looking to create a more interactive experience, a social entrepreneur who’d like to brush up on UX or an artist who wants to make the joy of creating art more accessible.
Learn more about how Philadelphia University’s Master of Science in User Experience & Interaction Design can help you add UX skills to your arsenal, here.