The Cutting Edge of Tech Education

Published on August 9, 2013

Unique to Bauer College, Course Teaches Students How to Design Products, Services
According to Customer Needs and Perspective

Kelsey Ruger

Bauer College is broadening its tech offerings for business students with a new course on user experience, launched this summer and taught by digital strategy expert Kelsey Ruger.

A team of students are hunched over sketch pads, furiously rendering concepts and ideas. Their classmates are conducting interviews down the hall. Scenes of a creative arts course?

No, these students are enrolled in a management information systems course on user experience at the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, offered for this first time this summer and led by one of Houston’s leading experts in digital strategy, Kelsey Ruger.

Ruger works as a user experience consultant for Halliburton and began teaching “User Experience Fundamentals” as an adjunct professor at Bauer College in June. The course, which recently wrapped its first session, includes a roster of management information system seniors from Bauer along with students from colleges across campus.

User experience, commonly referred to as UX in the technology industry, is a fast growing area of expertise in the business world. It focuses on customer validation and improving a user’s perception of a product or service through detailed architecture and emphasis on usability.

“On the surface, most people would think that doing a user experience course in a business school isn’t a natural fit, but my experience has taught me that a person who has a good, strong understanding of how business works and who has the background to understand how to design products for people, the things they do, and the way they think, has an advantage over other people,” Ruger said.

“To me, it seemed like a perfect fit to take kids who had spent their college careers learning how businesses run and pair that with the ability to look at this from the user’s perspective to create things they want to use and align that with business goals,” he added. “It’s merging two disciplines to create something that hasn’t been offered before.”

Businesses are beginning to understand the value of customer experience, Ruger said, as social media has changed the way consumers can communicate both positive and negative feedback with brands and each other.

“In the business world today, it’s good to have empathy for other people,” he said. “It helps you to focus on what people need and less on what you need as a business. We’ve seen the shift to people caring if a business cares about their needs, and if you have employees who understand how to work through that process of user experience, it leads to greater business success.”

Comparable courses are not yet being offered by other business schools in the area, Ruger said. At Bauer, students enrolled in “User Experience Fundamentals” spend some time listening to lectures and learning about theories, but the bulk of the course is application.

“They get to really learn and do while they’re in class, so it’s not just a textbook. It’s application with a real world product,” Ruger said. “What makes this course unique is our approach to problem solving. I get the students to focus less on the features of a product and more on the problem people are having that they’re trying to solve.”

During the summer course, students have been challenged to apply the concepts of user experience to a project. Many are working with mobile or desktop applications, but one team chose to do a retail space.

“The principles we use to design the products or services work in a lot of different scenarios,” Ruger said. “The goal was not to limit the students.”

Students have responded to the new course with enthusiasm. Over the summer semester, they have learned to reframe their approaches to designing products, based on Ruger’s teaching.

“What I saw was an opportunity to walk these students through the process I would use to create products and to explain to them why a business would take this approach,” he said. “What I’ve seen through the class is that students now ask more questions about what the end user needs to accomplish and less about what a particular feature has to do. When you focus on the problem, you realize there are a multitude of solutions, and asking the right question helps you to pinpoint the best one.”

Incorporating the course into the college’s curriculum is part of a bigger initiative to give students the opportunity to learn more about integrating technology and business. Bauer is home to RED Labs, a startup technology accelerator that launched earlier this year, and offers a course in mobile application design. The college also hosts the annual 3 Day Startup, a competition that brings together teams of students from different disciplines and challenges them to work together over a long weekend to develop technology companies.

Based on the popularity of the summer course on user experience, the college will continue to offer it to undergraduates in the fall.

By Jessica Navarro