Published on December 19, 2023

The State of UX in Technical and Professional Communication: Courses, Programs, and Jobs

Guiseppe Getto; Jack T. Labriola; Amber Lancaster

As the technical and professional communication (TPC) field has evolved in response to broader changes in the world economy, numerous professions have arisen within its ranks that coexist with the traditional roles of technical writer and technical editor. These include instructional design, content strategy, and user-experience (UX) design. A unique challenge for TPC is to include training in numerous professions within a single college major or program. Some programs have chosen to focus on specific professions, even going so far as to rename their program around that profession. Others have continued to focus broadly on the overall field while updating their curricula as needed to serve students seeking training in a particular career path.

The State of UX Pedagogy

Philip B. Gallagher; Guiseppe Getto

A considerable amount of scholarship has amassed over the last 20 years regarding the teaching of user experience (UX) design, but there has been no systematic attempt to review this literature. Research questions: 1.What is the definition of UX pedagogy according to technical communication and adjacent fields? 2. What is the state of specific UX pedagogical approaches in technical communication and adjacent fields? Literature review: Our corpus contained 76 sources directly pertaining to the teaching of UX. Research methodology: The theoretical framework of this study marries rhetorical theory and critical thinking. The former provides technical communication literature reviews with keen discourse analysis and the latter offers objectivity to the evaluation. To use this framework, we sought sources using journals related to technical communication and large databases from adjacent fields, including the ACM digital library and IEEE Xplore. We completed our search using Google Scholar to ensure broad coverage. Results and conclusions: Our review of sources revealed a variety of trends and a remarkably diverse conversation on UX, including various definitions of UX pedagogy, and a large variety of theoretical orientations, educational models, instructional approaches, industry influences, methods, and ethical concerns. From this diverse corpus, we hazard a unifying definition centered on teaching the UX process through hands-on approaches such as engaged learning. We close our article with recommendations for continuing to refine UX pedagogy in the future.

Longitudinal Study of Usability and User Experience in Technical and Professional Communication Research

Erin Friess; Christina Liles

While usability/user experience (UX) has a long and intertwined history with technical and professional communication (TPC), it is unknown how usability/UX is reflected within TPC research and how that reflection has shifted over time. Literature review: Prior studies on the role of usability/UX in TPC have found that usability/UX appears infrequently in TPC research and curriculum requirements. However, usability/UX remains a routinely referenced core identity of TPC. Research questions: 1. To what degree is usability/UX studied in TPC scholarly journals? 2. When TPC researchers study usability/UX, what are they studying? Methodology: A database of TPC-based usability/UX articles was collected through a defined search method. Articles were coded for primary or secondary emphasis on usability/UX, contribution to TPC, object of analysis, method of data collection, and major takeaway. Results: Less than 8% of the total publications in the field are tied to usability/UX, though the percentage has increased in the most recent timeframe (2020–2022). Publications are shifting from research that expands usability/UX knowledge to research that uses usability/UX to explain TPC phenomena. In addition, the object of analysis has shifted to process-centric analysis, design thinking has become an increasing component of TPC usability/UX research, and over a quarter of the research on usability/UX provided did not provide enough methodological description to enable replicability. Conclusion: Although usability/UX has been consistently published in the TPC research journals, the amount of research suggests that usability/UX is not core to TPC’s field identity.

Finding the Gap: A Comparison of UX Industry Practices and UX Course Outcomes in TPC Programs

Samantha Jo Cosgrove

Background: The intertwined fields of technical and professional communication (TPC) and user experience (UX) have positioned graduates of TPC programs as strong candidates for careers in UX. Literature review: Although there is some scholarship addressing competencies required for UX positions as well as some investigation into UX course content within TPC programs, there is still a need for a comparative analysis of outcomes in UX courses in TPC and industry expectations for UX positions. Research questions: 1. What qualifications are essential to current UX industry positions? What qualifications are stated in current UX industry advertisements? 2. How do these qualifications compare to a sample of existing UX outcomes within TPC programs? Research methodology: A qualitative content analysis of two datasets—a collection of UX job advertisements and a collection of UX course outcomes—was conducted through a systematic coding of texts. Qualifications and outcomes were categorized by UX competencies needed prior to employment. Results/discussion: Results show job ads prioritize on project management including Agile and Scrum, and other skills such as writing, designing prototypes, software and coding languages, and portfolios. Course outcomes reflect strengths in writing and design, but do not include significant reference to specific concepts or tools. Suggestions for improving TPC/UX courses include diversifying existing skills and addressing deficient skills in project management and digital literacies. Conclusion: Challenges for re-envisioning UX courses in TPC programs are considered and addressed.

What Can Technical and Professional Communication Do for UX Education: A Case Study of a User-Experience Graduate Certificate

Quan Zhou; Zarah C. Moeggenberg

Introduction: We present a case study of a user-experience (UX) graduate certificate. This program is part of a stackable group of credentials offered by a larger technical and professional communication (TPC) program. Our goal was to gather feedback from graduates, supervisors of graduates, current students, and instructors to identify best practices, challenges, and other lessons that can help TPC programs contribute to UX education. About the case: The UX graduate certificate program is a 16-credit, fully online program that learners can complete in nine months. The program draws learners of diverse backgrounds and has enabled them to become UX professionals. Situating the case: UX education programs have sprung up across the academy and industry. Little scholarship, however, has examined the effectiveness of these programs. As TPC competes with other organizations in UX education, it is critical to investigate TPC-originated UX programs. It is particularly helpful to juxtapose the perspectives of the classroom and industry. Methods: We conducted 13 semi structured interviews. These interviews examine, among other topics, what draws learners into the certificate program and how the certificate program has helped them in their subsequent career advancement. Results: We found that a short-term, asynchronous certificate program is effective for novice learners to get into the UX field and advance their career. The most prominent strengths of this program include its conceptual depth, its quality of teaching, and its flexible learning. Conclusion: TPC programs have a distinctive role in shaping UX education. The power of their rhetorical foundation enables them to cultivate UX leaders and advocates. In turn, UX education helps TPC programs adapt to the changing landscape of higher education.

Fostering Advocacy, Developing Empathetic UX Bricoleurs: Ongoing Programmatic Assessment and Responsive Curriculum Design

Scott J. Kowalewski; Bill Williamson

Introduction: As a field, we have tended to look at user-experience design (UXD) as a data-driven design process, anchored by usability studies, and anchored in fulfilling user needs and expectations. How then might technical and professional communication (TPC) curricula respond to evolving trends in user-experience (UX) scholarship and pedagogy? About the case: Addressing this question, we share our programmatic journey, a teaching case that represents more than a decade of reflection and evolution, culminating in the launch of a redesigned major and a UXD minor in a stand-alone department at a regional, primarily undergraduate teaching-focused university. Situating the case: Our programmatic identity began to shift toward a designer mindset that embraced three core frames for professional action–information design, problem solving, and civic engagement—and three complementary design tenets—empathy, advocacy, and bricolage. Methods/approach: To better understand this shift, we recognized the need for a multimethod approach of data gathering. Beginning with an annual assessment of our introductory and capstone courses, we collected data through examination of key course artifacts, through department self-studies, which includes surveys, interviews, and focus groups with relevant stakeholders, and through an external review. Results/discussion: Our self-study data indicated that our students would benefit from stronger audience awareness and design competencies. From these data, we discuss curricular revisions, which include creating a UXD minor. Conclusions: We conclude this article by considering the following three questions: 1. What strategies might other programs consider if they want to design empathy-driven UX pedagogy that is responsive to prevailing scholarly and pedagogical trends? 2. Why might programs cultivate student-researchers as UX bricoleurs? 3. What might other programs expect from student-researcher UX bricoleurs?

Toward Integrated UX Instruction With Symbiotic Classrooms

Kylie M. Jacobsen; Danielle DeVasto

Introduction: Preparing students to pursue user-experience (UX)-related writing careers requires infusing UX instruction into several technical communication courses throughout a degree program. But university writing programs that seek to add UX courses into their curricula often work inside a slow-paced system where amending course objectives to align with job market demands is a slow process. About the case: For this collaboration, we forged a symbiotic relationship between a lower- and upper-class course to introduce students to UX early in their program of study and apply additional or nuanced UX methods in several writing courses as they progress through the program. Situating the case: Faculty in a writing program that does not currently have stand-alone UX classes can collaboratively improve the student UX in a timely fashion while maintaining the flexibility to adapt best practices and contemporary UX processes across classrooms. Methods/approach: A close reading of test plans (n = 14), usability reports, and reflection essays from 200-level students provided key insights into the understanding of UX strategies. Results/discussion: Introductory students struggled to make explicit connections between UX strategies and their work, but they demonstrated gained UX skills by the end of the project. Conclusions: Students realized many benefits from learning about and conducting UX research that helped them become more empathetic professional writers. However, instructors should consider additional symbiotic relationships between courses in a professional writing program at several points in the writing process.


Keywords in Technical and Professional Communication (Yu, H. and Buehl, J., Eds.) [Book review] by Josh Case

Technical Communication for Environmental Action (Williams, S.D., Ed.) [Book review]

2023 Index IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication Vol. 66