User Experience Center Decommissioned at UW–Stout

Elizabeth Vierkant

The User Experience Center (UXC) was recently decommissioned as a resource center at the University of Wisconsin–Stout. This center is a lab that has offered services on campus and outside of campus.

Several people in the professional communication and emerging media (PCEM) program created the UXC in 2014. One of these people was the UXCs director, Dr. John Spartz.

The idea behind the UXC was to create revenue for the center from clients both inside and outside UW–Stout. According to Spartz, he envisioned, marketed, built and created all the assets related to the center. He worked with clients, conducted usability research and oversaw the people and students that worked in the UXC. These were his jobs as the director.

Spartz stated that when the center was first created, it was given a three-year probationary period. This means that the UXC was given three years to sustain itself financially on its own.

After those three years, the UXC was given one extra year through the dean’s office. Throughout this year, a new model was built. This model focused on serving clients on campus rather than outside.

Prior to this, the UXC was a resource both on campus and to the greater region. Spartz worked through the center with several clients in the Twin Cities. This generated revenue.

On campus, the center has helped with work on UW–Stout’s website. It was also used in less official projects, such as helping career services with website design. This informal work was typically done through the Usability Design and Testing course.

According to Spartz, at the end of the 2018-19 school year, the UXC was decommissioned as a resource center. It is still functioning as a lab. This was officially processed throughout the summer after some paperwork. Because of this decommissioning, Spartz is no longer the director.

Robert Zeidel, UW–Stout’s associate dean of the College of Arts, Communication, Humanities and Social Sciences, was one of the people that evaluated the UXC. According to him, the center was reviewed in terms of self-sufficiency.

“The quality of the work [done by the UXC] was never in question,” Zeidel said. “If decisions were based solely on the quality of work that that center did and that [Spartz] did, it would be open and operational. It is a matter of the self-sufficiency and financial side. That was the determining factor.”

According to Zeidel, he and several others worked to find strategies for outside funding prior to the decommissioning. However, they were unable to find a way to keep the UXC running as a center self-sufficiently.

“I understand the budgetary constraints that we face as a university, but I’m disappointed that we were unable to find a way to support the type of work that the UXC has and could do for the university,” Spartz said. “I put five years of much more than a point two five reassign time into the development and sustainability of the center, and to have it be gone is disheartening at the least.”

According to Spartz, the UXC is still available for students, faculty and staff that wish to use it. There are student workers in the center that work as mentors, assistants and lab monitors. These students could consult and help with any projects that are using the center.

The UXC has eye-tracking, screen capture and audio capture equipment. It is made of two rooms that are connected through audio and video. One can be used to observe the other, and everything that happens in these rooms can be recorded for research.

“The sheer number of requests [for assistance with usability work] that I had over the last five years shows need for this type of work on campus,” Spartz said.

According to Zeidel, he sees two possible outcomes for the UXC. One would be that it would continue running as a lab. Another would be for it to be brought back as a center through a sponsorship, a corporate partner or another outside force.

“We hope that [the UXC] is able to come back, that we are able to find ways to bring them back and make them an ongoing part of campus and something that would last,” Zeidel said.

The UXC can be found in rooms 341 and 342 in Harvey Hall.