What are the "main" differences between getting a degree (e.g., MI) from an "iSchool" vs. an getting an MDes or MFA from an IxD specific program? And which would be better for someone with a humanities background?

31 Aug 2011 - 8:26pm
2 years ago
9 replies
1753 reads
AnUnimaginaryKid
2011

Hello!

I'm new to this site and have been reading a bunch about master's programs for IxD since I've been preparing to apply for the Fall 2012 term. This whole field is relatively new to me (I only found out about it about half a year ago) and at first I was concentrating on strictly IxD programs (like at CMU or U of Wash), but have lately found threads where iSchools were mentioned as being good because it doesn't require a design background, so I started taking a look at those.

I'm going to go through and read about all the courses offered at the different universities, but was wondering if anyone has some insight as to the biggest/major differences I can expect from getting an MFA vs. MDes vs. MI. I'd welcome any advice! 

As for some background information, I don't have any formal training in design or programming, I double-majored in Eng/Psych for undergrad, and am a bit torn as to what types of programs I should apply to; maybe a bit of everything. But I am a bit worried as I am pretty "green" to design as a whole, but am very motivated to learn what I need to, as well as possible programming or html on the side.

I'm currently thinking about applying to CMU's IxD program, NYU's ITP, IIT, as well as possibly the iSchool at UMich, U Maryland, U Toronto.

If there is an older thread that you can point me to (I've searched through a bunch already) that answers this question exactly, please feel free to redirect me!


Many thanks!

Comments

1 Sep 2011 - 6:57am
Dave Malouf
2005

I have to ask. Do you want to become a designer? Answering that is the crux to answering your question. 

10 Sep 2011 - 3:30pm
AnUnimaginaryKid
2011

Yes, I do want to become a designer. But I guess with so many related fields and overlapping going on, I was/am worried because I lack "technical" skill. I am not all that interested in actually doing any hardcore programming - I want to work to come up with solutions or products that are forward thinking or easy to use. I know, that may be idealistic given the contraints of what different companies actually have an "interaction" designer do, but it's the possibilities of design that excites me.

Hmm, I think your straightforward question has led me to answer my own question... haha.

1 Sep 2011 - 11:45am
pkdaly
2010

You will find disagreement here about what IxD background should be. For some, a community college program to learn HTML/CSS/JavaScript would do it. But then you just know the tools. Actually a double major in Engineering and Psychology is excellent start. I have an MS in Applied Experimental Pscyhology, for example, which gave me a pretty broad background to apply. Take a look at human factors programs as well: http://hfes.org/web/Students/grad_programs.html. Not having gone to an information science or HCI program I can't say what they do, but being able to understand human capabilities and needs should be a core competency.  And as I hiring manager, I would be biased towards an MS or MA on a resume...didn't know what an 'MI' was.

10 Sep 2011 - 3:38pm
AnUnimaginaryKid
2011

Thanks for your reply!
Haha I need to clarify, I actually should have typed out English, which is what I meant by Eng/Psych. Oops! So... there goes my technical background bit with Engineering! But I do have my psychology side, which I hope to put to good use.

Since you have an MS in Experimental Psychology, what position do you hold now?
Thanks for the link too, I'm taking a look at Human Factors. There is a Human Factors Engineering program at a college near me, but I am not so technical and so I think actual engineeering might be a bit more than my mediocre math skills can handle. 

1 Sep 2011 - 1:24pm
Josh B Williams
2010

I think most schools are open to students who are not from the same background. Some programs will have you take additional design courses if they think you need it. The big difference between an MFA and an MA is if you ever want to teach you need the MFA. If you just want to learn the tools you need for a job a shorter MA might be enough. I will be one to disagree and say you do not need to know how to program. That is what developers are for, you just need to know what is possible when communicating with them. If you are getting an MI or an MS you are putting yourself on a path towards being a developer having computer science on your resume.

10 Sep 2011 - 3:45pm
AnUnimaginaryKid
2011

Thanks for all your replies!

I think after reading your comments, I can say that I am not looking to teach. I intend to work in a company after graduation. And I would like to be part of the team (or the person) that is involved in the design process. I guess since I am not actually in the field yet, I'm not sure what structures different companies have or the "role" they give an Interaction Designer. 

With that said, I'm guessing more IxD/design programs are what I should focus on?

15 Sep 2011 - 11:49pm
npbrethauer
2011

Hi there.

I think I can relate to an extent what you are going through here.  I am also looking at a way I can become a "designer" of sorts via a master's program from an iSchool (UMD College Park: MIM)  I have a broad humanities background (communications) and do not have any formal design or programming training. 

However, despite this, and (I think) having been blessed with an ok "eye for design" I actually have developed some graphic design and web development skills over the years, to the point where I actually worked these last two years as a creative director for a small engineering company, doing their web/graphics stuff.

The thing that I ran into was that at some point, the visual design aspect became not interesting enough to me.  I feel that if I continue to design graphics and interfaces and/or build them, I am going to get a bit stuck into that role.  Hence, I decided that a generalist iSchool-type program would give me the flexibility to sort of design the degree I need.  In my case I would lean away from visual design (art) and programming courses and a bit more toward user experience theory and practice, information systems, and other good stuff in that vein. 

You might want to do something similar but include some design and programming courses in the mix.  It takes some time to develop visual design / artistic skills, so I think after learning the hard way (no classes) I would probably think seriously about speeding up that process with some design coursework.  But to me a blend is essential so you don't end up with only one skillset, but really it probably just depends on your own personal priorities.  Hope this made sense (it's late).

17 Sep 2011 - 4:47pm
AnUnimaginaryKid
2011

Hi,

Yes, I can definitely relate. And your post made sense! Are you currently working and thinking of applying to schools? Or have you already been accepted?
I also had looked (briefly) into the iSchool program at Maryland CP. And I am considering applying there too. I guess, the schools I'm considering vary in their "specialities" or types of programs offered.

It's cool that you got to pick up some skills and actually employ them at work. I have some photoshop skills, but I haven't really had the chance to work on them since college. I used to design flyers and posters for my organizations while in undergrad, but never looked into or picked up any official desing/web design skills, though I am more interested in learning about it now that I kind of have an idea of what I do like and want to get into. Kind of was in a rut for a while. Call it the quarter-life crisis.

I guess I'm torn between more of the design aspect and the other more user experience theory/practice aspect. Both are appealing to me. But, I do think focusing only on visuals would get to be a little boring. I'm interested in conducting research, or surveys, into finding out what the users want, what features a product should have, etc. I guess it's also design, but more than just purely visual. I wish I knew more terminology, but there is just so much out there. So yes, I also would like a mixed/blend of skillsets, and then perhaps concentrate a bit more on what I like.

Have you looked into any other programs besides Maryland's? I was looking into CMU, NYU, UMich, IIT, Parsons and Maryland.

M

17 Sep 2011 - 5:05pm
Diana
2008

If you're really interested in a higher education that involves user experience research, might I suggest looking into things like applied anthropology programs? 
As someone with background in web development, graphic design, server administration, a MS in applied anthro, and working on m PhD in Information science, I have to say the most useful program so far in terms of UX was my anthropology degree. 
That said, I do apply my entire background to my job as a user experience designer. 
-- 
Diana
Sent with Sparrow

<p>On Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 4:56 PM, AnUnimaginaryKid wrote:</p> <blockquote type="cite"> Hi,<br /><br />Yes, I can definitely relate. And your post made sense! Are you currently <br />working and thinking of applying to schools? Or have you already been <br />accepted?<br />I also had looked (briefly) into the iSchool program at Maryland CP. And I am <br />considering applying there too. I guess, the schools I'm considering vary in <br />their "specialities" or types of programs offered.<br /><br />It's cool that you got to pick up some skills and actually employ them at <br />work. I have some photoshop skills, but I haven't really had the chance to <br />work on them since college. I used to design flyers and posters for my <br />organizations while in undergrad, but never looked into or picked up any <br />official desing/web design skills, though I am more interested in learning <br />about it now that I kind of have an idea of what I do like and want to get <br />into. Kind of was in a rut for a while. Call it the quarter-life crisis.<br /><br />I guess I'm torn between more of the design aspect and the other more user <br />experience theory/practice aspect. Both are appealing to me. But, I do think <br />focusing only on visuals would get to be a little boring. I'm interested in <br />conducting research, or surveys, into finding out what the users want, what <br />features a product should have, etc. I guess it's also design, but more than <br />just purely visual. I wish I knew more terminology, but there is just so much <br />out there. So yes, I also would like a mixed/blend of skillsets, and then <br />perhaps concentrate a bit more on what I like.<br /><br />Have you looked into any other programs besides Maryland's? I was looking <br />into CMU, NYU, UMich, IIT, Parsons and Maryland.<br /><br />M<br /><br /></blockquote>
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