User experience design has quickly become a critical skill in fields ranging from software development to industrial design, but how can a designer already enmeshed in their career make a pivot toward UX? While traditional design schools are beginning to incorporate this area of interest into their curricula, sometimes one class isn't enough.
The Unicorn Institute is a new initiative by Jared Spool, founder of pioneering user experience consulting firm User Interface Engineering, and Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, a Ph.D in Learning and Leadership, that aims to provide professional training for experience designers through classes tailored for the market's needs. And while there's value in studying design theory and methods, sometimes designers just want the practical experience that can get them to the next level in their career.
If their success on Kickstarter is any indication, Spool and Jensen-Inman have clearly struck a nerve: The Unicorn Institute has brought in over $70,000 so far, three and a half times its $20,000 goal. Most backers are content to put up a few bucks for "digital pixie dust"—a.k.a. wallpapers for a mobile, tablet and desktop—or "digital awesomeness," the $50 tier, which includes a series of books on experience design; higher reward levels include access to the classes as they become available.
The goal for the Kickstarter campaign is to fund the development for 30 courses in topics like user research, storytelling and facilitation, a reflection of the wide range of skills required to be doing effective experience design, which a student would complete in about two years. The courses have been developed in consult with hiring managers at design studios whom Spool and Jensen-Inman interviewed.
"It's true, you can learn parts of user experience design through a variety of programs, both online and in person," they note. "However, it's challenging to piece together all of the required skills for a UX designer." There's truth there: it's hard to imagine covering all the coursework necessary other than through piecemeal study. The idea of putting it all in one place makes a lot of sense.
The ultimate vision is to take the Unicorn Institute and turn it into a brick and mortar school, Center Centre. In their most recent Kickstarter update, the team writes that their next reach goal of $112,000 will support a teaching model supported by two types of teachers. Industry experts will shape the curriculum, while full-time facilitators "will work closely with the industry experts to tailor their material to each student's capabilities."
We've written about this previously, but both Spool and Jensen-Inman will be presenting at the upcoming Interaction14 Education Summit and leading a workshop on new educational models for interaction design.