Tuesday, June 7, 2011

(MY) Troubles of an multi-disciplinary field!

The class lectures, discussions and some of the blog posts by classmates has brought to my attention the multi-disciplinary nature of HCI more than ever. People enter the HCI field from various different backgrounds such as psychology, visual design, industrial design, engineering, web development and many others. Different backgrounds have an immense positive effect since it brings in so many facets of the human nature into the field. This reminds of the video we saw in class about IDEO redesigning shopping cart. The video called the team an "eclectic" one which ranged from biologist to marketing to psychology. They worked in perfect unison to bring their expertise from several fields to come up with the solution to shopping cart problem. HCI is similar to that. In my experience of 1 year as an off campus student, I have met classmates from different backgrounds and each one them has provided deep insights into various topics of discussion.

While the multi-disciplinary is a great thing, it can also pose issues. You get to learn about several different fields. Since this is still a growing field and with so many several different avenues that it can lead to, I find myself lost and overwhelmed with amount of skills set that I have to learn. Other fields such as engineering or computer science have the skill set etched out. With HCI, it depends on the route you want to take. You not only need insights in psychology and visual design but also be able to program as well. Current job descriptions ask for skills that range from latest web technologies, programming knowledge, prototyping knowledge, design skills, usability testing skills, as well cognitive psychology know how. I see a lack of specialization & clear direction that I see in other professional fields.


  1. Kanchan, I totally get what you're saying.

    Coincidentally I was just talking to Deb Satterfield about this as it relates to the projects we're doing in HCI-595 this summer. There's just so much we need to understand, know and produce across the projects that it hit home how varied our expertise needs to be for this profession.

    My background is in usability and user experience design having been fascinated by it from the start of my web dev career in the 90's. But these days, with so much going on with mobile and social media, not to mention variety of tools we could use to do the work... it's daunting.

  2. Call me crazy, but this is what I love about the HCI field! Art and creativity meet psychology, social sciences, and engineering. I think it ultimately comes down to how you define and sell yourself in the field of HCI. I believe employers are looking for HCI experts that are jack-of-all-trades--the specialization is the HCI professional's breadth in knowledge. The systems engineer in the aerospace industry is somewhat synonymous to this concept--the company still needs specialized engineers in electrical, aero, software, etc. engineering, but due to the complicated nature of all these specialized fields, there needs to be an engineer who can understand enough detail to bring them all together. Perhaps this is why employers are often willing to pay HCI professionals well--their company's growth and direction depend on the HCI professional's ability to guide and create usability. A well put together HCI team can offset weaknesses.

    I think it's a very exciting field that many are beginning to value, understand and respect.

  3. Braindy, yes it does seem daunting for sure, especially with all the tools and the ever changing technology! We're trying to cram it all...

    Corey, I like your positive outlook! I guess I could see that HCI's specialization IS the breadth of knowledge. It sure is exciting for me too but sometimes a little bit overwhelming.

  4. When I was looking to make the transition from a traditional agency design job – I found this pretty frustrating too.

    For me, it wasn't so much the diversity of options that was frustrating, but the apparent lack of understanding about what employers were actually looking for. Two lines into a job posting and it was pretty clear they had no idea why they actually needed the person they were trying to hire.

    But that aside – there really are a lot of great opportunities out there. And a huge range of options. From coder to UXer to VizD.

    So here's what worked for me... Regardless of all the opportunity chaos – it all comes down to figuring out what YOU are really good at. And not trying to shoehorn yourself into what someone else wants. Me for example, not a programmer. Yeah I get the easy stuff, HTML, js, OOp principles. But I will never make a living writing real app code. Result? I don't waste time at night trying to learn Java, AS3 or Objective C.

    Why does that matter?

    When you figure out the parts you are naturally good at – the focus and specialization part falls into place.


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