Why User Experience is ‘In Vogue’ at the Fashion Institute of Technology

Fashion Institute Technology

The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York is an internationally recognized college for design, fashion, art, communications, and business. Over the past several years, the State University of New York institution has been doubling down on the digital technology aspects of its curriculum as a means of getting students to think about the total user experience (UX) associated with their work.

FIT recognized that most consumers today are paying much closer attention to how products make them feel. This starts from the moment they encounter the visuals – most likely online – and extends from the social and retail platforms they visit when considering a purchase to their experiences buying, wearing, and sharing items.

This 360-degree view of the customer journey is just one aspect to consider in the total user experience. Yet, not enough students coming out of design—and business—schools know enough about UX to fill the expanding number of positions expected to be opening up in coming years. In fact, in the second quarter of 2019, nearly 1,500 jobs in user interface (UI) and UX design and development remained open and available, according to Cognizant’s Jobs of the Future Index.

None of this has been lost on FIT with its solid reputation for teaching students about the cutting-edge technologies they will need to know and understand in order to be effective from day one on their jobs and well into their careers.

Along those lines, two FIT professors, C.J. Yeh and Christie Shin, created what they believe to be the world’s first college-level UX design courses back in 2011. At the time, UX design was a relatively unknown discipline, the professors say. So, they started small with a few relevant courses, such as introduction to UX Design, Kinetic Typography, and Interaction Design.

The subject matter proved so popular that by 2018, FIT was able to establish a fully developed Creative Technology and Design curricular area, tied to the college’s Creative Workforce of the Future initiative. The Creative Technology and Design subject area now offers required courses to eight different majors at FIT, including App Design, Digital Product Design, and Advanced UI System Design. These courses serve roughly 600 students per semester, and the number of courses continues to grow. Creative Technology and Design also offers several certificate programs, including UX Design, UI Design, AR/VR Content Design and Dynamic Branding (through FIT’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies).

“The fast-changing nature of today’s society has affected the creative industry quite a bit,” Yeh says. “The skillsets that people are looking for right now are quite different than a lot of the more traditional design programs others are teaching. We found many students, after graduating from these programs, were suddenly realizing they hadn’t been adequately exposed to more contemporary skills, like UX/UI design. So, they started coming to us.”

Underlying FIT’s efforts around UX/UI design education is a strong emphasis on modern tools and technologies, professors say. Initially, most students worked with standard digital design kits, such as Sketch and InVision. But many found these tools didn’t, on their own, completely address the need seen in the business world for sharing design work with virtual project partners around the world.

Shin says she and Yeh wanted to give students the option of learning various technologies but also gently encouraged them to try one solution for collaborative design, Adobe XD.

Adobe XD workshop at FIT.

Part of Adobe Creative Cloud, Adobe XD helps teams create designs for websites, mobile apps, voice interfaces and gaming. But more than that, it can also serve as a portal or hub where students and professionals can assemble to share work with project collaborators or reviewers in real time.

“I tell my students to work hard but also to work smart as well, meaning they should pick design tools that will save time and effort so they can channel more energy into their creativity,” says Shin. “Adobe XD is a tool that lets you do that very efficiently.”

Shin and Yeh say many design students, already familiar with other Adobe software such as Photoshop and Illustrator, experienced almost no learning curve with Adobe XD. It was remarkably intuitive, user friendly and feature rich, they found, and it gained a quick following across the campus.

“Part of my incentive for using Adobe XD, in addition to the delightful user experience, was the fact I’m already on other programs,” says Anders Wallace, a cultural anthropology PhD graduate who took a UX design certificate program at FIT. “XD makes it easy to synchronize work between programs – to just jump between them. The simplicity of the interface is also incredibly intuitive, crisp and clean.”

Tan Brown, a FIT senior studying Advertising and Digital Design, agrees. “I’m not a tutorial person; I like to dive right in,” she says. “Knowing that I can bring something from concept to final solution in Adobe was powerful for me. And because everything worked so well in Creative Cloud, I found it completely seamless. Adobe XD was really a no brainer. Getting to know it almost felt too easy – like it was cheating.”

In addition to its curriculum, FIT has also expanded its focus on UX/UI design to its FIT/Infor DTech Lab, which it established about three years ago to help students, faculty, and industry partners collaborate to advance new ideas, solve real-world problems, and inspire interdisciplinary research.

Run by Executive Director Michael Ferraro through a partnership with Infor, a business cloud software company in New York, the lab has brought students, faculty and major high tech and apparel brands together to solve industry challenges through innovation and design.

For instance, in one recent project, graduate students worked with a company to create accessories for people with cerebral palsy. In another example, they designed a novel backpack for cyclists that included direction signals and brake lights as part of a removable fanny pack. Students also worked with 3D digital draping software company Browzwear on a research project where they shared recommendations on how the company could engage the next generation of fashion designers. Students synthesized research findings and journey maps and prototypes created using Adobe XD.

IMPACT Digital Product Design Challenge.

“We’ve basically created a high-impact learning environment for collaboration across the entire college. Through projects that explore emerging technology, we unite ideas that envision the future of business and creativity. Partnerships with industry contacts lend business expertise that helps prepare students to become the workforce of the future,” says Ferraro. “The lab has only been in place a short time, and we’ve already completed 30 projects that have involved 35 faculty members and 115 students.”

FIT has also been able to increase student awareness and interest in UX/UI design through a week-long “challenge” that included inspirational talks, bootcamp sessions and open hours for students to work on projects during their own time. Students were introduced to the practice of human-centered design and were asked to present their work throughout the event. Final work was ultimately hung in a gallery for all to see during an extended exhibition held on campus.

IMPACT Digital Product Design Challenge.

So far, Shin and Yeh have driven many of these types of projects themselves. But they say support among faculty and students has been strong. And they expect that, by utilizing the right tools from Adobe as they continue to evolve, they will be able to prepare students to succeed in the digital world.

“As educators, we are not typically brand specific,” says Yeh. “But we do want to offer the best tools for our students, and so we expose them to Adobe XD. After working with XD, many come to us and say they’re now fans because it has so many capabilities and lets them be more creative in UX design.”