Giving a Voice to the Voiceless
“If you really think about it, we all have communication issues. We all have unarticulated needs that we have difficulty expressing, which we then hope can be met through the structure of an interface,” Joshua Line, two-time Kent State University School of Library and Information Science alumnus, said.
“It all becomes kind of limiting, especially when we know what we want, but we can’t find it because someone made a decision to set up an interface in a particular way.”
This is a particular challenge for people with expressive/receptive language issues (ALS, cerebral palsy, autism) and for those who care for and work with them, including parents, professionals and nurses, Line said.
That’s where Line uses his considerable skills to make an impact in people’s lives.
Combining UX and LIS Skills
Line has a unique advantage in the user experience design (UXD) field: he has both a Master of Science with a user experience design (UXD) concentration and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Kent State's School of Library and Information Science.
As senior UX designer at Tobii Dynavox in Pittsburgh, Pa., most of Line’s work relies on his UX expertise. But he says the library and information science (LIS) background merges nicely into UX when he is dealing with classification schemes and data structures necessary to categorize information.
“If anything, library and information science helps me construct navigation and wayfinding structures to help someone around an interface, whether it is on a smartphone, tablet, or on the web-based experience. This has largely contributed to the success of many of my designs and the products delivered to users,” he said.
Line earned his master’s in library and information science (LIS) in 2003 and returned to school later for the UXD credential, graduating in 2010. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Eastern Michigan University.
“User experience design seemed like the perfect synthesis of my background: library and information science, psychology and web design,” Line said.
He draws equally on both advanced degrees in his chosen profession. The library and information science degree helps him think about information and how it is or could be used by individuals, while the UXD degree helps him focus on the information delivery system — websites, mobile sites and apps — and how they are used.
Removing Barriers to Communication
What Line enjoys most about the field of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is that he feels like he’s giving these individuals a voice so they can communicate with the rest of the world and grow and thrive.
“There is so much going on in the internal thoughts and lives of these individuals, but they have not had the opportunity to express them due either to limitations in technology or barriers to access,” said Line. “It truly is amazing to hear what they have to say once you give them the means to do so!”
Line said he believes Kent State prepared him for his career by setting the stage for critical thought and inquiry into the surrounding world. The university forged his sense of “grit,” he says — his ability to persevere in the face of adversity, which helps him continue to work hard on problems even when some of his teammates have given up.
In the future, Line would like to take on more of a leadership role in the UX field, mentoring new designers and leading discussions on team approaches to UXD. He is also building up his own design company and teaching UXD courses at Kent State SLIS.