Communication Design Futures: A pilot user interface course case study at the University of Johannesburg



Graphic Design & Visual Art
Media & Communications Design
Software, UX & Game Design


  • UX, user experience, creative education

Following a query in 2018 by the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) alumni office to establish in which industries or companies UJ alumni were predominantly employed, information was gathered by members of the department of Graphic Design and data accumulated on a large number of alumni from the Department of Graphic Design.

It became apparent that, while many alumni do indeed manage their own design firms, act as successful freelancers or are employed as designers at various agencies in accordance with their field of study, a growing number have migrated to user experience (UX), Interaction and user interface (UI) design. This shift illustrates the need for graphic design curricula to remain relevant and keep track of new developments pertaining to the so-called fourth industrial revolution or Richard Buchanan’s fourth order of design (Buchanan 2015, p.11).

In consultation with UJ’s Department of Multimedia, a focused user interface course for second-year students in Graphic Design was therefore developed and tested during February and March 2019. Its main purpose was to enable students to apply their knowledge of UI design to the solving of design problems and to use various design methods, processes and techniques to create professional UI designs while promoting a better understanding of designing functional human-centred systems.
The project was reviewed internally via anonymous student questionnaires and externally by various alumni working in the field of Interaction Design. This paper reports on the findings of the reviews and suggest ways to improve Graphic Design education to remain relevant in a changing creative industry. The paper introduces the project, clarifies key concepts, theoretically grounds the subject matter and provides student and industry feedback with regard to the project.

This project has opened the door to a closer relationship between industry and UJ Graphic Design, stimulating continued research and insight in real-world inspired practical projects. The process was highly rewarding, especially in developing a model of practice and, in the process, updating a module to improve the UJ curriculum. The new skills required of graduates are indeed “setting the base for a different kind of designer, not primarily concerned with the process of form-giving, but with the understanding of complex systems” (Ferrari 2017, p. 4).

Keywords: user experience design, user interface design, creative industry


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