Improving user experiences, one intern at a time: Crux Collaborative’s UX Intern Program

August 1, 2011

Supporting the local student community has always been important to us. Up until recently, it has been challenging for students to get real-world training in user experience (UX) in the classroom. In fact, most colleges and universities taught interactive design or web development as a technical class, or a supplement to more traditional graphic design classes. Students completing those programs may have gained a reasonable grasp of the technology (Flash and HTML), but few understood how to apply it to create an effective, business-focused website.

Times have changed. The Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s Bachelor of Science program offers classes that teach students about the creative business, along with fundamentals in project management, strategy, UX and client management. At the University of Minnesota, interactive design is part of their Graphic Design graduate program (our current intern will begin working on his Masters there in the fall). Many other schools are offering classes that focus on usability and user experience design. “Interactive Design” is now a whole lot more than simply learning how to create a small portfolio site to show your print work and resume.

For the past 6 years, Crux Collaborative has had a very successful intern program. Of the six interns we’ve selected, four have come from MCAD’s BS program, one came from Brainco, and our current intern was selected by winning MIMA’s Intern Game this past spring. All of the five interns who have completed our program were eventually hired as full-time staff members, with the exception of one who moved to another city.

All of our interns had these qualities in common:

  1. A natural ability to organize and create logical systems
  2. An understanding of graphic design and typography
  3. The ability to effectively communicate (writing and presenting)
  4. Curiosity and a passion to learn new things

Our interns are smart, creative, and eager to work on something “real” — and are qualified for much more than errands and getting coffee. Instead, interns at Crux Collaborative work hard. They get immersed in our process, and are taught why the user is always at the center of our work. They are given the tools to help them understand how to strategically think about business and user objectives.

Our intern program is designed to last 12 to 16 weeks. Students who join us from MCAD typically start with a part-time internship for one semester, and then continue with us for a full time externship the following semester. This gives us the ability to focus on teaching and training the students in the first half of the year; the second half of the year gives them the opportunity to get immersed in projects, interact with clients, and get hands-on experience in their area of focus.

A typical program looks like this for the first 12-16 weeks.

Week 1: Introduction


Learns how we define strategic consulting and the various tools and exercises we employ for brainstorming features, content and critical success factors.


Learns how we design and build interfaces based on user objectives and technical requirements.


Learns about our approach to user research and the types of testing we do based on client goals and objectives.


Learns how our business works, our guiding principles and the various steps in the Crux Collaborative process.

Week 2-6: Observe


  • Attends meetings
  • Shadows the project leader and UX Specialists as deliverables are created


  • Attends meetings
  • Learns about different development techniques (templates, jQuery)
  • Learns how to QA and test a site


  • Attends meetings
  • Observes sessions
  • Provides support for respondents
  • Shadows the project leader as the report and analysis is done


  • Shadows the principals and the project managers
  • Attends meetings
  • Reviews our operations manual and other documentation specific to the Crux Collaborative process

Week 7-12: Participate


  • Edits and updates wireframes and strategy documents
  • Participates in client brainstorm and working sessions


  • Provides production support
  • Builds prototype pages
  • Does QA and browser testing


  • Takes notes during test sessions
  • Observes sessions
  • Participates in post usability working sessions


  • Takes internal meeting notes
  • Updates Basecamp posts and schedules

Overall, our intern program is a win-win-win situation: The interns gain skills and experience, Crux Collaborative gains a team member that we’ve trained ourselves, and the UX industry as a whole gains one more professional who really cares about the user – and knows how to make a difference in UX.

By John Golden

John’s career in interactive media design began in 1995 and has spanned over two decades with a focus on developing simple, streamlined approaches for complex problems.

View John's Bio

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