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Students Place Second in UXPA Competition

The UT iSchool was well-represented at this year’s annual User Experience Professionals Association conference in Toronto. In addition to Dr. Randolph Bias receiving a lifetime achievement award, three iSchool students placed second in a student design competition. The UXPA 2017 Student Design Competition challenged the three students to create a smart assistant for online shopping. Three masters students, Kathryn Golden, Brent Biglin, and Eric Graham chose to create a mockup of a grocery shopping smart assistant called CacheCart. CacheCart creates household shopping lists with an assistant that will keep track of purchase as well as expiration dates. The students also spent time during the conference filming interviews with participants, which they will be editing and producing to help educate and promote the field of User Experience Design and information architecture. All three students were asked by conference organizers to attend the 2018 UXPA conference in Puerto Rico where they will be producing more videographies.


We sat down with the students to ask them to reflect on their experiences and describe in greater detail their research and design process behind CacheCart.

What made you apply to the UXPA Student Design Competition?

Eric Graham: “As a graduate student, I feel that I am constantly trying to carve out my own path by exposing myself to as many ideas, people, and opportunities as possible. While the weight of this task can be overwhelming and seemingly unending, it can be a breath of fresh air to know that the skills and knowledge you already possess are desirable. I thought the UXPA conference would be a great learning experience.”

Brent Biglin: “The UXPA Design Contest was an incredibly unique opportunity to showcase our skills as students in a competitive yet supportive environment. I thought it would let us practice real world skills, like teamwork, defining our own roles, and executing our individual tasks efficiently, while also incorporating and valuing each other’s feedback at each step of the iterative design process.

Kathryn Golden: “User experience was never at the top of my list for career prospects. I was always under the impression that it required a level of technical knowledge that I did not have as a human-computer interaction focused psychology major. When Eric approached us, I was unsure. I had experience with, and very much enjoy, doing research, but would user experience research really be something I can do? I figured participating in a UX contest would help me answer that question.”

What did the UXPA Student Design Competition entail?

BB: ”Our challenge was to research and design an intelligent assistant that anticipates its user’s needs. We mapped out the user journey and identified pain points that we could improve. We sent out a survey to discover our potential users’ habits and to gauge what they need and how we can best help them. Our research informed not just the design of the application we made, but its focus--to help households coordinate their shopping trips and grocery needs and to help households anticipate when their food will spoil soon so as to avoid waste.”

KG: “We each handled different parts of our design. Brent handled the UX design, I did the research, including a survey with 174 respondents, and user testing, and Eric was the idea guy. He also storyboarded, filmed, and edited our presentation video.”

EG: “We also did all of this in only three days! I am really proud of what we were able to accomplish while being able to network and experience the conference--well as much as we could after the presentation day.”

What is your main take-away from your experience at UXPA 2017?

EG: “Austin has an active local UXPA chapter, and I have met many individuals that frequently speak highly of the organization. However, I was still not prepared for the influence that attending UXPA would bring. Having the opportunity to speak directly to noteworthy individuals in the UX profession- Jennifer Romano-Bergstrom, Steve Kruge, Tom Tullis-  was refreshing in that they were very approachable and encouraging. Their genuine sincerity and advice is something that will continue to influence me even after my time at the University of Texas has passed.

It was also incredible seeing Dr. Bias who has inspired and helped shape my path at the iSchool be awarded the UXPA Lifetime Achievement Award. It further confirmed my increased confidence by knowing that those who have assisted my way in UX from the beginning are already exceptional.”

BB: “I think the main thing I experienced from the conference was that not only did the iSchool prepare us to tackle the UX design process, from the research stages to the actual design and presentation, but that it prepared us to work around challenges like a very accelerated timeline.”

KG: “I think my main take-away was that I actually can do this for a living! The conference was an incredible experience that helped me build confidence in my choice of career, as well as my choice of degree program.”

What would you consider to be the most beneficial part of participating in the conference?

EG: “Being able to attend UXPA was incredible, but being able to travel and participate in the student design contest with some of my closest peers was unforgettable. We all definitely came together as a team- whether out of necessity or niceness is negotiable- but I personally learned so much from my colleagues about user experience research, design, and overall project management. The memories and lessons I acquired with them will define my career for as long as it lasts.”

BB: “I definitely think the overall experience was the most beneficial part of our time at the UXPA conference. It’s hard to narrow it down to one aspect, as pretty much everything there was beneficial in some way, from the competition to the networking and informative panels.”

KG: “Beyond the design contest, the UXPA conference was also an incredible opportunity. I could meet and hear from professionals with decades of experience, and learn about what the best practices are, as well as mistakes to avoid. There was also a bit of fun thrown in, as everyone I met with or heard from had a sense of humor which I learned was typical for the field. The conference also allowed me to speak with some of the biggest names in the field, including Steve Krug, as well as network with companies like IBM and Facebook. Through those connections I could learn about some of the paths to the potential future that I want, and I was also able to learn that a lot of designers and researchers come from a variety of backgrounds, many of which intersect with the field of information!”

Would you recommend the conference to other students?

EG: “Any student or individual who is questioning entering into the user experience profession should attempt to attend the UXPA international conference or just reach out to their local chapter. The opportunity that it represents are difficult to articulate, but are certainly worthwhile.”

BB: “I would. The feedback we received from both the judges and our peers helped us to grow as UX designers and researchers while also affirming to us that the School of Information at UT Austin is an incubator for talented and driven students who will soon make an impact on the industry.”

KG: “The design contest was a good test, and example, of a design process and whether my team and I had the ability to survive in the agile world of design. Because of that, I think participation in the contest is a great idea for anyone who wants to work in this field after graduation, as well as anyone even somewhat interested in the field.”

Do you have any final thoughts?

EG: “My final thought is a quote I really like from Thomas Edison. ‘Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability… We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.’

BB: “I think it was overall an amazing experience. I was able to use a new design tool, Adobe XD, network with some of the biggest names in the industry, and I was able to experience the city of Toronto. I am definitely excited for the conference next year in Puerto Rico.”

KG: “An aspect of the design contest, besides participation, that I found valuable was learning from the other students. Each of the teams had a different make up of focuses and backgrounds, which matched the different kinds of programs each school offered. It was interesting to know that the University of Toronto’s iSchool was much more research focused, and they had less UX courses to choose from than here. It was also interesting to see how this manifested into different ideas for the contest, and different ways of presenting these ideas.”