Individuals who want to study human-computer interaction (HCI), or usability engineering, can enroll in undergraduate, graduate or doctoral programs in the field. This relatively new subject is most typically offered as a concentration within computer science programs at the baccalaureate level. At the graduate level, studies in human-computer interaction can lead to careers in design and engineering, while at the doctoral level, these studies can lead to careers in research, engineering and academia.
Bachelor's programs typically take 4 to 5 years to complete. Applicants are expected to have graduated high school and have at least a rudimentary knowledge in computer use.
Master's programs often take 2 years to complete, and online options are available. Applicants must have completed a baccalaureate program. While many programs prefer applicants that have an undergraduate degree in a computer science-related field, some programs will accept students that possess a degree in a non-computer field if they can demonstrate knowledge or work experience in computers, programming or software development. Additionally, an undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale may be required for admission into some programs.
Including the completion of a thesis or a final project, doctoral programs may take 2 to 3 years to complete. Ph.D. programs generally require that applicants have previous graduate-level coursework and can demonstrate proficiency in HCI, either through previous coursework or work experience. Applicants may need to submit GRE scores, letters of recommendation and an entrance essay outlining their career expectations in the HCI field. Most programs encourage students to have either prior coursework or work experience in computer programming prior to acceptance.
Bachelor of Science in Human-Computer Interaction
Programs are available either as human-computer interaction (HCI) programs or as HCI concentrations in computer science. Because these programs focus on the interface between people and digital processors, students learn to translate human desires into a language computers can understand. In addition to increasing productivity, students examine how people aspire to interact with technology, working on projects such as wearable computers and interactive Internet applications.
In order to re-think the computer's place in modern life, students investigate how design can influence human attitudes about technology. Course topics at this level include:
- Multimedia experiences
- Systems design and analysis
- Database management
Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction
Besides ensuring consistent website functionality, graduate programs teach students about system capabilities and how people sort information. Usability students learn how to streamline processes and categorize software data in hierarchical clusters so that end-users do not get turned off by a website on account of an overly complicated design structure.
Companies that provide services and information directly to the public need to fluidly support mobile phone, TV, digital music and computer functionality. To prepare for this, students need to know about design for various technologies, as well as user concerns in a variety of situations. Programs typically train students in areas such as:
- Cognitive psychology
- Geometric modeling
- Statistical computing
- HCI implications of society
- Computer graphics
Doctor of Philosophy in Human-Computer Interaction
Doctoral students collaborate across a variety of disciplines in order to prepare for careers in academia, research, industry or business. Research at this level can include projects in increasing the level of automation at a workplace or applications that are aware of human context.
Students learn to design applications to maximize social inclusion, working on programs to help people living with an impaired memory or applications that can emulate a human tutor. Coursework may include:
- Ethics of design
- Collaborative technologies
- Statistical research methods
- Visual communication
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data showed that 1,365,500 applications software developers were employed as of 2018 (www.bls.gov). Graduates of bachelor's degree programs are typically qualified to find positions ensuring product consistency and making sure that designs do not ruin user-experience. These jobs can include:
- Graphics engineer
- Online-user experience associate
- Interaction designer
- User-experience specialist
Jobs within the HCI field can be found in Web-based companies, insurance companies and within the entertainment industry. Job titles available to program graduates include:
- Interaction designer
- Design director
- Web developer
- Research associate
- Usability analyst
- Usability interface research and design engineer
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
BLS job outlook data for 2018 to 2028 showed an expected 26% increase in employment for applications software developers. The job outlook was expected to be particularly bright as the demand for mobile technology increases the need for applications. Applications software developers earned an annual median wage of $103,620 in 2018, according to the BLS.
The newer field of human-computer interaction, or usability engineering, can be studied at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels. Graduates can expect faster-than-average job growth as applications software engineers, but may choose to work as usability analysts, interaction designers and more.