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Purdue and UEGroup Partner on User-Friendly Tech Education

Purdue Polytechnic Institute and UEGroup are preparing a new collaborative center for students and tech companies to design more user-friendly products so that evolving technology doesn’t leave people behind.

The new Purdue XCenter will be housed in the university's Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration.
The Purdue Research Foundation last week unveiled a new research and education hub for the development of future technology products. Officials say the new 5G-connected Experience Innovation Center, or XCenter, established in partnership with technology research firm UEGroup, will focus on designing future digital tools with accessibility and practicality in mind.

Gary Bertoline, dean of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, said the center will teach students about designing for the user experience, involving degree programs such as engineering technology, computer graphics technology, computer and information technology, and technology leadership and innovation.

Bertoline said the goal of the new center will be to encourage collaboration with the commercial tech industry to make products more accessible for everyday use. Without this, he said, the growth of emerging tech will be stunted, and the digital divide will continue to grow.

“Society and the world is being driven because of transformational technologies like artificial intelligence, data and cloud computing, but the way we interact with all of this technology is in many cases visual, and it’s only going to be as good as the user interfaces that we have,” he said.

“Instead of releasing some application or some piece of software and finding out later that it has all kinds of problems, and people have difficulty using it, we want to get in front of that and make it part of an early phase that we do that becomes integral to it," Bertoline added. "That’s what I hope to be able to see, is that maybe we could start looking at this in a different way.”

The XCenter, located in Purdue's Discovery Park District, will host workshops and conferences with a focus on product design, usability and management.

UEGroup CEO Tony Fernandes, a 30-year tech industry veteran who has worked with Lotus/IBM, Netscape, Apple and Xerox PARC, said he formulated the concept of XCenter when he noticed a need to improve how digital tools make use of outdated functions.

“We still have fundamental usability problems that are just arcane historical things,” he said, touching on the way today's web browsers work. "They have nothing to do with how to optimize these technologies for use by people.”

Fernandes noted that many common digital tools today make use of functions that hearken back to the ‘70s, when mice and graphic user interfaces were first developed.

“There’s an enormous opportunity now to really begin to rethink how people interact with technology and harness the full potential of the information that’s available,” Fernandes said. “It’s really going to take a concerted effort that combines the best of what academia has to offer with the expertise that exists in commercial settings of how to drive adoption of these types of solutions. In my mind, that’s what the center is all about.”

Troy Hege, vice president of innovation and technology at Purdue Research Foundation, said the center will be housed in Purdue's Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration, where UEGroup will work closely with students and faculty as a tenant of the facility. XCenter is set to open this summer.

“Purdue University and academia, in general, are really great at certain things, and the commercial marketplace is really great at other things,” he said. “But there’s an opportunity to bring those two spheres together through engagement and collaboration that allows and unlocks a lot of new things and new innovation to happen.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.