UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – As a kid, Christie Warren knew she always wanted to pursue a career where she could be more creative and develop a skill set that required her to pay attention to detail. She was involved in musical theater which, she says, opened her eyes to the importance of empathy and led to her prioritizing how people feel not only in her work but in her life.
The way people feel about things that they are interacting with is what user experience (UX) is all about; and UX and user interface (UI) design is something that has struck a chord with Warren through her graphic design schooling.
“Empathy is crucial in user experience design, and all types of design, because in order to create a good experience for a user, you first need to understand them – what they excel at or struggle with, what makes them content or frustrated,” said Warren, who is in her third year in the Graphic Design program. “Without empathy, it's impossible to fully understand another person, and this results in designs that may look nice but don't help the user in the ways they need.”
UX proved to be pivotal in Warren’s contributions to the winning Nittany AI Challenge team this year. The Nittany AI Challenge offers teams of students the chance to compete for awards by developing and presenting artificial intelligence–based solutions that solve real-world problems.
Warren and Matthew Mancini from the College of Engineering developed Revu, a product designed to help teachers encourage their students’ participation on outside reading assignments. It allows them to generate and assign quizzes while monitoring students’ participation.
“I’m happy that I’ve been able to get a high quality and intensive graphic design education while still being able to do things like the Nittany AI Challenge and HackPSU, which have shaped my direction within design,” she said.
HackPSU is a 24-hour hackathon at Penn State where students can learn to code or compete to build something from scratch.
Warren explained that her decision to major in graphic design was a bit of a “leap of faith” in the first place. Prior to entering college, she never took any kind of graphic design class and while she considers herself creative, she says she’s less than great at skills like drawing or painting.
“I knew I liked doing creative things, but I wouldn’t say I’m great at skills like drawing or painting,” Warren said. “I decided to try graphic design since it uses creativity to solve real problems and puts more of an emphasis on critical thinking than traditional art.”
An aspect of the Graphic Design program that Warren says she appreciates most is the ability to give, and receive, constructive criticism.
“The critique-heavy classes help you go from saying ‘it doesn’t look right’ or ‘I like it, but I don’t know why’ to being able to pinpoint what is or isn’t working in a design and why,” she explained.
From participating in school sanctioned events like the Nittany AI Challenge and HackPSU, Warren has had the chance to put what she learned in the classroom, to use. The past two summers, she was an intern specializing in UX design with West Arete and Pfizer, respectively.
“Because of the Nittany AI Challenge, I learned how to create a project in a real-world context. The project included communicating on a team, presenting ideas to an audience, managing time and expectations of our own, many other aspects of what we did are hard to find in an ordinary class environment,” Warren said. “I took away the importance of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and being open to learning new skills and exploring interests that may be different than what I thought I’d pursue a couple years ago.”
Read the blog post on the winning AI Challenge project, Revu, by Warren and Mancini at nittanyai.psu.edu/blog.