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NewsMay 13, 2020

First class of interactive design students prepare to enter creative career force

Lesley students to fill ‘big gap’ in design industry

Students and a teacher sit around a table working on a project.
Pictured: Assistant Professor Lisa Spitz with interactive design students.

By Georgia Sparling

The exact definition of interactive design can vary from job description to job description, but along with its close cousin user experience design (UX), it is part of a growing and lucrative career field.

“That’s where the jobs are right now – in the digital space, designing experiences rather than just designing a website or a logo,” said Samira Al-Ayed ’20.

A member of our first interactive design graduating class, Al-Ayed came to Lesley after studying at Middlesex Community College for two years. Al-Ayed had the option of online certificate programs in interactive design but wanted to get her bachelor of fine arts degree instead. She said Lesley was the only four-year school in the area that offered the program she sought.

“That told me they were really ahead of the curve in terms of where design was,” she said.

The ID of Interactive Design

As an interactive design professional, Assistant Professor Lisa Spitz often worked with design school interns at her company before coming to Lesley, and she found that, while they were bright and creative, these art school majors lacked experience designing for the web and other digital interfaces.

“I think it was a big gap,” said Spitz. “It was doing a disservice to design students.”

Leadership in our College of Art and Design thought so, too, and developed the interactive design major with guidance from industry experts.

“The curriculum is a result of their recommendations for the types of skills they sought in a recent design graduate working in interactive media,” said Heather Shaw, professor and Design Department chair.

Like graphic design but also not

Lesley had a well-established graphic design program before adding interactive design, and much of the coursework does overlap.

Adult learner experience map - showcases a day in the life of an adult learner
A project designed for a user experience course where students learned how to make an experience map. Image by Emily Bruny

“We still wanted all the design students to have a broad understanding and approach to design as a discipline,” said Shaw.

Interactive design differs from graphic design in that, instead of focusing on traditional media (such as print), it centers on how a user relates to and uses a product. For example, an interactive designer might interview elderly iPhone users before developing a mobile app or refine a new product based on feedback from stakeholders.

“The focus is more on the logic behind something, the process by which you create it, and the challenges encountered along the way,” said Spitz.

Along with the field itself, Lesley’s program has evolved over the past four years as the students take ownership of their degree.

As one of 10 students in the inaugural class, Al-Ayed helped to shape the untested curriculum.

“We talked about what we wanted from the program, the kinds of courses we wanted to take,” she said.

Al-Ayed appreciated how closely the coursework was integrated with graphic design, and the career options that opens up.

“I think what it’s enabled me to do is to be a jack of all trades and expand my overall skillset.”

Emily Bruny ’20 also came to the program for the diverse portfolio it would give her and appreciated the diversity of students in her cohort.

A digital prototype of an app - an interactive map of the airport
A digital prototype of an airport project. Image by Samira Al-Ayed

“This is something where I can grow and I can work for any sort of business I want,” she said.

A transfer her sophomore year, Bruny appreciated the opportunities she had to work with real companies. For example, she and her fellow students collaborated with Toast, a company that provides point of sale systems to restaurants.

“We got to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to work on a real-life program,” she said. “I like that Lesley has classes that give us the opportunity to work with real companies, so that we’re not going into the world completely blind.”

Capstones in a time of COVID

As Commencement approaches, the Interactive Design students are close to completing their program and are currently working on their capstone projects, which originally would have been displayed in an exhibit at the Lunder Arts Center. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, however, Al-Ayed and Bruny say they feel well-equipped to enter the design workforce and are grateful for their time at Lesley, from their coursework and professors to their diverse and dedicated peers.

“I was genuinely meant to be here. I’ve just had a great experience at Lesley,” said Bruny. “I feel like I’m pretty lucky as a whole.”