Re: Education: why "HCI"?

21 May 2004 - 7:25pm
854 reads
Dan Saffer

On May 21, 2004, at 4:57 PM, David Heller wrote:

> I was reading the last part of the Ph.D. thread and well it occurred
> to me
> that people were using "HCI" to mean interaction design. HCI is seldom
> a
> design degree (that's one piece), and it is not equal to Interaction
> Design.

Decidedly true, although I would posit that the PhD degrees in both
fields are (and probably should be) focused on research, on advancing
the knowledge base of both fields.

> I wonder if any of us really need a Ph.D. to do our jobs.

It depends on what your job is. Are you trained to do long-term,
strategic research on the future of design? Few are, and granted, there
are very few jobs jobs out there that need someone with those
qualifications. But for those jobs, there are a handful of PhD
graduates out there.

We shouldn't forget that IID was the first school in the US to offer a
PhD in design, in *1991*. Add 5 years to that to actually do the PhD,
and the first Doctors of Design only graduated some 6 years ago. That's
not a lot of time. And considering how few of them there are, well,
their impact on our profession probably remains to be seen.

> I can see a higher
> degree in design being very effective for jump starting an education to
> match 5 years or so experience in the field, but if you have that 5
> years,
> is an education really going to ad any more value? Has it just become a
> lithmus test for recruiters? Are we as a society so turned on by
> letters
> after our names?

I worked for some 8 years in the field before returning to get my
Master's degree, as have (roughly) some of my classmates. And while no
Master's program is going to turn a poor designer into a great one, I'm
pretty sure they can turn poor designers into mediocre ones, mediocre
designers into good ones, and even good ones into great ones.

The reason it can do this (and why I went back) is simply because you
get time away from the constraints of business to hone your craft, to
learn the things you don't have time to learn while on the job. And to
learn the things you'll seldom get on the job, like history and theory.
Things that might not be exactly *useful*, but make your designs

You also get to apprentice with people who are experts in things like
typography, cognition, theory, drawing, motion graphics. Even if it was
possible (which I doubt), it would have taken me many years out of
school to assemble the curriculum and teachers/mentors I've enjoyed
while back at school.

So the value a degree adds for businesses is that it makes your skill
set more quickly and accurately known. They can assume that you are
reasonably well-trained, at least mediocre, probably good, and possibly


Dan Saffer
M.Design Candidate, Interaction Design
Carnegie Mellon University

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