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Liu, W. Transdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in UX Design. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 24 June 2024).
Liu W. Transdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in UX Design. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 24, 2024.
Liu, Wei. "Transdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in UX Design" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 24, 2024).
Liu, W. (2021, December 06). Transdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in UX Design. In Encyclopedia.
Liu, Wei. "Transdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in UX Design." Encyclopedia. Web. 06 December, 2021.
Transdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in UX Design

Today’s user experience (UX) educators and designers can no longer just focus on creating more usable systems, but must also rise to the level of strategists, using design thinking and human–computer interaction (HCI) solutions to improve academic and business outcomes. Both psychological, designer, and engineering approaches are adopted in this study. An invited program review committee met to review progress of the UX program at the Beijing Normal University (BNUX). They considered issues and challenges facing the program today, and the steps that it could make to develop further. During a recent augmented reality (AR) project on designing future life experience on smart home and wearables, several experiential concepts and prototypes were generated to demonstrate HCI and UX research directions.

HCI AR applications UX design teaching and learning neuroDesign

1. Introduction

In recent years, industrial distribution has been changing from manufacturing-centered to service-centered. Studies on user needs have become the basic procedure for product and service feature definition. user experience (UX) has become an essential element that should be engaged in product and service design and has been developed. Companies need talented people with user-centered, innovative, practical skills working with an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural team. The talent demand has pushed the development of UX education. However, the traditional academic research-oriented master’s degree can no longer meet the education need for interdisciplinary practical talents in UX. Teaching and learning human–computer interaction (HCI) engineering has primary been concerned with feasibility [1][2], the traditional and technically oriented approach to problem solving. As educators are asked to be more innovative in today’s commercial and industrial environment, it becomes critical to weigh in on design thinking [3][4] and design doing [5], transdisciplinary domains [6][7], and global context as well. Pleasurable UX of product service systems is obviously becoming more valued and requires us to focus much more on human values in addition to technical requirements. In recent years, several institutions worldwide have committed to cultivating both innovative research talents and entrepreneurial talents to build a world-class curriculum and pedagogy [8][9][10]. The huge demand for transdisciplinary teaching and learning in China, and the rapid development of information technology (IT), have laid a solid foundation for innovations in multiple domains, e.g., education, healthcare, and personal mobility. With social development and economic growth, the world keeps promoting innovative design and transdisciplinary subjects have become popular [11]. At present, China has a huge number of HCI engineering educators and students. However, generally speaking, Chinese universities have not set up enough corresponding transdisciplinary education programs for this opportunity, thus well-trained professionals and students are rare.

2. Approach

The teaching focuses on project-based practice, which is the outcome of the course, and the cultivation of students’ practical abilities. The teaching team integrates psychology resources from the mother faculty with industry project resources to provide theoretical knowledge and practical conditions to ensure learning outputs and encourage students to participate in social practice activities, such as product transformation or competitions. The UX program is committed to integrating psychological knowledge and practice skills in the real world to cultivate applied talents. At present, UX significantly values design education that is carried out from the human-centered perspective, but it often lacks the support from basic psychological theory. The demand for graduates’ ability in the industry is no longer satisfied by the universal ability of interface design or interaction design but needs more psychological theory to engage in user research and analysis. The core value is to research people and their cognition and behavior.
The curriculum provides a sufficient academic and theoretical basis for practical application. At the same time, the curriculum promotes the transformation of psychological theory to application and balances the relationship between academic research and practical application. The courses are composed of four modules: psychology, design, HCI technology, and business, which form an interdisciplinary system. (1) The psychological module strengthens the students’ theoretical knowledge of psychology. Teachers focus on the explanation of theoretical application and the analysis of practical cases. (2) The design module enables students to have solid practical skills. These courses are mainly project-based, providing students with a natural project training environment. (3) The HCI technology module includes the application and product development on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and intelligent hardware trains for prototype making and iteration, and further expands students’ mastery of product development and process knowledge. (4) The business module mainly cultivates students’ market and business operation ability to understand the classic business model and the latest business model innovation in the market. This curriculum enables students to foster a user-centered way of thinking based on psychology and teaches professional skills such as user research, product planning, usability testing, information architecture, interaction design, interface design, business model innovation, etc. The application of these practical skills is intertwined in various courses. Through constantly repeated training, students deepen their application of theory and understanding of methods and processes and improve their practical ability to cultivate applied talents.

2.1. Human-Centered Design (HCD)

HCD requires us to collaborate with and understand more fully the approach of social scientists in the cognitive psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology fields [12][13]. Our challenge and opportunity after developing expertise in the social sciences is to understand human values, and this needs to be near to the same extent that we understand technical and analytical issues. This allows us to design products, services, and experiences that people truly value as individuals and as a culture. Instead of inspiration coming primarily from new technical advancements that we are trying to exploit, we take the approach of studying and observing humans to understand their wants and latent needs and to design appropriately satisfying solutions that make a difference. BNUX houses the disciplines of human factors engineering and design science. The emphasis of both disciplines is on the interaction between human and products. Key aspects are the expressiveness of products, usability, and aesthetics; the meanings that product forms have for their users; and the place of design and designing in a socio-cultural context. The program incorporates the above elements into both research and education. BNUX focuses on user, context, emotion, interaction, technology, and human factors through practicing innovation design thinking.

2.2. Engaging Transdisciplinary Teaching and Learning

While many traditional design disciplines still draw heavily on studio-based traditions and themes of disciplinary knowledge that have roots back to the Bauhaus or École des Beaux-Arts, efforts to define inter- and transdisciplinary engagement have been the focus of many emerging design disciplines. The introduction of new approaches is needed to support innovative practices but brings with it the complexity of selecting among multiple sources of disciplinary knowledge and traditions, and then building alignment across program staff. The Design Enterprise Model from Faiola [14] proposed integration of knowledge domains that included social (human and culture), design (graphic and interaction), business (market value and return on investment), and computing (building and testing), with attention to integration across these domains through theory, application, and management. This model mirrors contemporary transdisciplinary engagement in UX design practice, with connections across multiple domains of disciplinary knowledge, such as psychology, computer science, anthropology, cognitive science, design, and ethics. This multiplicity of knowledge domains points towards complexity relating the epistemological challenges of forming coherent educational experiences, and complexity relating to the identity construction work students need to undertake to effectively work within and across disciplines [15][16].

2.3. Student Teams

Students come from different backgrounds and disciplines, e.g., psychology, industrial design, HCI, and economics. The diversity assures that teams take multiple perspectives on the given design briefs, increasing the probability of breakthrough discoveries and innovation. All students have core competencies in their respective fields, and many have prior design project and HCI research experience in academia or industry. Unlike many other academic psychology projects, which require students to optimize one variable, students must design an experiential AR and NeuroDesign system while being mindful of not only the primary feature but also the usability, desirability, and societal implications. BNUX trains students’ comprehensive abilities through coursework and practice in workshops, including user research, product research, design innovation, technology integration, reflection, criticism, leadership, collaboration, visual and interactive expression skills, and international perspectives. Students apply these skills to solve real-world problems. They complete tasks and gain skills and experiences at the same time. Each team visits the corporate partner regularly for reviews and presentations. This learning experience improves students’ communication and professional skills.

2.4. Corporate Partners

Companies, small and large, from immersive HCI industries are invited to bring forward their innovation design briefs. The BNUX researchers consult with corporate liaisons to define the right scope and scale of a project. Liaisons are recommended to keep in regular contact with the design teams to provide feedback. The student teams are assigned industry supervisors who are the stakeholders in the companies and working in a field related to the design briefs. They provide a great resource to the student teams who can access a wealth of knowledge through the supervisors and their social network. In the organization of teaching, teachers transform the position from professors to organizers and coordinators, coordinating all resources. In the process of teaching, teachers and industry supervisors develop teaching plans and methods together to ensure that needs are real, methods are practical, and solutions are down-to-earth. This provides the student teams with sufficient practical opportunities that are in line with the industry. After being employed, students can quickly adapt to the working environment and rhythm, which shortens training time.

2.5. AR and Experiential Prototyping

Prototyping is at the very heart of the design process because it is the most effective way to transform ideas into tangible products [17]. Students create numerous prototypes to articulate their vision and test their design assumptions. Through iterative prototyping in many ways, broad problem statements are refined into concrete concepts that are eventually incorporated into a fully functional prototype [18][19]. AR overlays digital content and information onto the physical world, as if they are actually there in the users’ own space. AR opens up new ways for the Internet of Things (IoT) devices to be helpful by letting the users experience digital content in the same way they experience the world. It lets the users search things visually, simply by pointing cameras at them [20]. It can put answers right where questions are by overlaying visual, immersive content on top of the real world. For example, the users can use AR to place 3D digital objects right in their own space directly from Search or from websites on Chrome, and with Live View in Google Maps, they can quickly orient themselves and know which way to go with directions overlaid right on top of the world. In VR and AR design and development workshops, multidisciplinary knowledge is integrated through interdisciplinary team collaboration. The application of psychological theory enables the student teams to define motivations behind design principles and create HCI solutions that satisfy people’s perception, attention, cognitive ability, and emotion.

2.6. The Applied Psychology Research Labs

Across over 20 applied psychology research labs at the Beijing Normal University, a human–machine interaction (HMI) lab was designed to train psychology students and junior HCI engineers to conduct experiments on future ways of teaching, learning, transporting, and playing. We specifically investigate HMI for creating new AR, virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) experiences and experiential prototyping solutions; and test the usability by analyzing data collected from eye-tracking, electroencephalograms (EEG), electromyograms (EMG), and functional near-infrared brain spectroscopy (fNIRS) devices.

2.7. NueroDesign

Based on the research by Reiss, Saggar, and others [21][22][23], a new research track called the Leifer NeuroDesign Research Program (, accessed on 7 October 2021) at the Stanford University emerged. Other universities have joined, including the University of Potsdam, the Beijing Normal University, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology. This intersection between psychology and design has since evolved into design thinking, a practical approach to innovation. The program aims to investigate thinking in design, team performance, and practices through approaches from HCI, design research, experimental psychology, and neuroscientific instruments. It aims to examine team practices that produce meaningful, innovative, and practical design [24][25]. Our research investigates design activities and related thinking from various perspectives, including neuroscience, embodied cognition, Gestalt, and other phenomenological perspectives.

2.8. Reflecting and Validating the Approach

The recent emergence of new undergraduate and graduate design programs with a focus specific to UX offers new opportunities to engage with the complexity of these educational HCI practices. In a series of twenty interviews with students and faculty to describe transdisciplinary teaching and learning between BNUX and the UX Design program at the Purdue University, the research team reflected on how each program was created, developed, and iterated upon, describing program goals and student experiences across both programs from student and instructor perspectives. This approach implies the need to identify opportunities for educational partnerships that enrich student experiences and future industry success that are culturally and locally bound while also recognizing the role of subverting or extending institutional support and structures. This finding points toward the need for future work that engages with the experiential qualities of HCI and UX curriculum, representing a shift from past approaches that have primarily focused on objective and visible elements of education. More research should identify the implicit norms of existing curriculums, using action-oriented research methodologies to propose new student experiences in UX-focused programs. The research team identifies a range of factors that influence the formation and performance of studio culture in these environments, including instances where culture, social, and contextual factors constrain or enable particular kinds of educational experiences. The team concludes with opportunities for future research on UX and HCI educational practices, including a greater focus on local educational practices, VR and AR HCI, and a multiplicity of curricular philosophies.

3. Discussion in the Program Review

The curriculum structure is divided into three levels: (1) The first level is the psychology theory courses, which train students to obtain rigorous research thinking and solid psychology experimental design methods. The students need to understand physiological characteristics and limits of human beings when they ideate HCI solutions. (2) The second level is the UX foundation courses, which enable the students to master basic UX design process and conduct user research through qualitative and quantitative methods. (3) The third level is the UX professional skills courses, a set of career-oriented courses designed to broaden students’ employability, including interface design, product development, and service design. These courses are all professional elective courses, which provide a platform for students to deepen their study in a particular field. At the same time, the program offers extensive extra-curricular workshops and lectures to expand students’ comprehensive capabilities. To enrich the overall curriculum, renowned experts and scholars from the industry and academia are invited to give workshops and lectures on cutting-edge HCI research to broaden students’ horizons on current trends related to UX. This curriculum structure provides students with a solid foundation in psychology and achieves practical training for applied talents through project-based learning.
BNUX is unique in China, possibly in the world, as a UX and HCI program located in a psychology faculty. Most other similar programs are located in arts, design, or engineering schools. This has both drawbacks and benefits. Drawbacks include ‘having to survive in a psychology faculty’, with a culture of journal publications and quantitative scientific method [26]. Just as in design and engineering schools, harvesting scientific articles from project work is a challenge. Many beginning writers tend to report on what was done, rather than which findings were found. Learning to write from the viewpoint of the intended reader, i.e., identify the audience associated with the journal of conference, is important to frame the work in the questions and references of that community [27]. In other words, when carrying out user-centered design for academic writing and communication, identify the user, the user’s needs, and explain the contribution in terms of those interests. Regarding these, it would help to make use of the new international developments in research for several reasons:
  • Generating attention for societal impact, as shown by companies and others making use of BNUX results. There are some examples of exercises, e.g., the Delft research assessment self-report lists some possible indicators other than the social sciences citation index (SSCI) journals and attempts to define how it relates to ‘important journals in the field’. However, BNUX should make its own map of important journals, conferences, and benchmark institutes for UX and HCI. To convince psychology colleagues that ‘quality is not necessarily three completed experiments’, BNUX must have a strong story (with examples) about what other aspects are important, and why. BNUX may try to find birds of the same feather around the world and explain that we are not an outlier. If we are not explicit, all they hear will be ‘we want to do less’, which is not what we mean.
  • Using the academic discussion on knowledge forms other than ‘high theory’, such as mid-level knowledge [28][29][30], and emerging formats, such as the pictorials at the association for computing machinery (ACM) designing interactive systems (DIS) conference (; accessed on 5 October 2021). These give academic credibility to HCI design results.
  • Part of the UX output is in design suggestions and prototypes, just as for regular ‘design’. Have some form of exhibitions to show these. It would be very valuable if we can find a format in which (some of) the psychology colleagues also collaborate, so they also have ownership, or are ‘partners in our success’. It may be important to devote attention to the aesthetic qualities of prototypes. A functional Arduino-based prototype may convince the insider of a design proposal, but for an outsider it has to look ‘real’ to be convincing. On the latter, the aesthetic qualities require getting closer to cultural aspects, not only local ones but also the study of societal dynamics and phenomena that might be happen in the world, i.e., international trends, demands from the market, and socio-cultural influences.
  • Finding examples of how other design and HCI institutes are dealing with publishing in psychology conferences and journals. Where are the psychology communities that are already convinced that design can have an impact in their field? The psychology strength could show both in the content (e.g., naming theories and principles that are used from psychology literature) and format (e.g., presenting the quantitative analysis of statistical data with the appropriate statistical measures).
  • Not leaving it up to the student teams to connect the psychology and UX and HCI courses. First, make sure we know what happens in both so in the courses we can guide students in understanding the connection. Next, develop co-creative activities with the psychology professors to help them bridge the gap from their side. For instance, a workshop with some psychology professors when HCI and design psychology experts (e.g., Prof. Pieter Desmet and Dr. Atsushi Maki) are at the faculty.


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