Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Blog Layout & Article of Interest

When I was meeting with Stephen Gilbert today, we were discussing how the posts have been very high quality so far (we've been enjoying reading them); however, it was rightly pointed out that the blog could use better tie-in with Iowa State's HCI program. I have borrowed the program's banner and renamed the blog to connect it to Iowa State. Thus, posts in this blog are not only helping to market your own skills and knowledge in HCI but also market Iowa State's HCI program as a whole.

On to the more interesting reason to blog... Even though HCI is an interdisciplinary I often run into people studying in the field, regardless of background, who do not want to learn one of the knowledge sets critical to being a leader in the discipline. Whether it is a programmer not wanting to learn the psychological concepts involved in evaluating an interface, a designer not wanting to learn how to program, or a social scientist not wanting to learn the basics of design. While I think it is wrong to assume that any people will become an expert in all areas that make up HCI, I think at least a good understanding in each area is critical for one to learn and develop as both an academic and professional in the field. Part of my motivation behind the way I teach and have developed HCI 596 is that I see it as a class where students can develop (in a low risk environment) the skills and basic knowledge of an area they are less comfortable with while also creating portfolio material that shows off their core talents. For more on the blending of skills in HCI, see the article that inspired me posting about this today as it offers a nice point and counter point for building a generalist toolbox (it pays better, there are more jobs out there, but the counter point is that often companies expect more than they should without offering up the extra compensation).


  1. This is an interesting point and this discussion comes up in Interaction Design circles when members start talking about different Master's programs. Some criticize the requirement to take classes they may not be interested in while others back this method. From experience, I'm glad to broaden my knowledge of disciplines that mesh with HCI. For example, I wouldn't take a Python course if it wasn't required but I'm glad that I am learning the fundamentals of programming. In fact, I'm really enjoying it.

  2. I'll second Bo's comment and take it a step further.

    I would suggest, there are myriad opportunities for the generalist practitioner to separate themselves from the pack.

    Let's take programming for instance. I am not a programmer. However, I do have good understanding of OOP programing practices and I have a solid grasp front-end web programming, as well as the tech we use on a daily basis. Not only does this allow me to suggest more appropriate solutions – but often, I find that it differentiates me from my peers. The more I know about what's going on around me, the more effective I can be.

    I saw a quote from Thomas Jefferson (I believe) – That went something like this: "I have found that the harder I work, the luckier I get."

    To the counter point of compensation. I have found that compensation is linked to employer culture.

    Is your compensation linked to performance?

    If it is, I would suggest, that the better you are at you job – the more value you offer, the more money you will make. On the other end – if your workplace does not link performance with compensation – I would argue there are larger issues at play...

    That said – be a generalist. But make sure you are darn good at at least one particular area.

  3. Not too long ago, I remember reading a job description from a startup in the Valley which required a User Interface Designer to be proficient in front and backend coding. Pluses if the UI Designer had prior knowledge in print design, Flash, and 3d animation. While it is definitely a beneficial factor for both an employer and an employee, is it possible that companies (not merely startups) are looking to cut costs by hiring a super designer who does 2 – 3 people jobs and does it present a fair playground for the programmers in the software industry?

  4. I think we have all run across job posts that are asking for the world. I saw a post looking for a UI designer proficient in Visual Basic, a while back.

    But to paraphrase Cooper- the mental competency of a brilliant visual designer, and a brilliant coder, are at odds with each other.

    I have yet to meet a fantastic designer, who was a fantastic coder. Can you be competent at both. Probably. Is there a person out there who is actually fantastic at both? Maybe.

    But I don't think that is the core issue.

    I think the heart of Dr. Oren's post - is about understanding the people who sit next to you. Being able to propose solutions that are spot-on based on the technology you are using. Being able to call BS on a developer who says "That will take 4 weeks" and also being able to provide competent feedback in meetings.

    I would suggest again, that compensation is linked to culture - and I will add,profitability.

    For example, is it a startup culture with a few people wearing lots of hats and working till dawn every day? Where compensation may be linked to a promise of future riches?

    When money is tight, people do what they can to scrap for success. You can almost hear the pitch in the interview "We don't have a lot of money (right now) but we do have a good idea." To sacrifice and risk or not, is your decision.

    But hey, if that company looking for visual designer actually found a person great at design, more power to them. I hope he negotiated a great salary. Because he's a pretty rare commodity. Is it fair that he knows more than I do – well, that seems like an altogether different discussion.


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