Human-Centered Design & Engineering Degree Program

Sep 08, 2019

Many colleges offer specialized concentrations or full bachelor's degrees in human-centered design and engineering. Read about the wide array of subjects that may be included and some interesting job prospects related to this degree.

Bachelor's Degrees in Human-Centered Design and Engineering

Though only a handful of colleges currently offer bachelor's degrees specifically in human-centered design and engineering, there are many schools with related programs that offer human-centered design coursework or concentration options. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the field students should expect to take a broad range of coursework including social science, qualitative research, information systems, computer science, and ergonomics engineering. Many programs require hands-on studio coursework and the completion of a self-directed senior project. The breadth of programs available and different areas of specialization within this burgeoning field are discussed below.

Admission Requirements for Human-Centered Design and Engineering Programs

Admission requirements will largely depend on the school to which a student applies. Some schools require and expect a certain minimum GPA or demonstrable extracurricular activity in engineering or computer science. Others will only expect transcripts showing the successful completion of an accredited high school diploma or GED program, SAT/ACT test results, and possibly letters of recommendation. Whatever the case, it may be worthwhile to develop a portfolio showing a student's aptitude and interest in product development, technology, computer science, or related subjects.

Human-Centered Design and Engineering Program Coursework

Human-Centered Research Practices

A human-centered designer must be able to both find and solve problems for any person or set of people regardless of context. Students might look at general techniques such as interviewing, surveying, and crowd-sourcing data to locate exactly what the human problem is and where it resides. Depending on the scale of the problem students could practice how to analyze the data they collect and research solutions. These methods are widely applicable and could be used in developing a viable prosthetic for a specific amputee or in designing air circulation systems for an entire hospital.

Digital Information Visualization

Students in any human-centered design program must be able to clearly communicate their research and solutions to their end users. Coursework in digital visualization will help students condense large and complicated data analysis into readily clear infographics. Human-computer interfacing techniques may be addressed.

Digital Design and Prototyping

Human-centered design is an iterative process. This means that the first solution will not likely be the final solution and will require a back-and-forth dialogue between the end user and the designer about the proposed solution. Rapid digital prototyping is therefore a required skill, so the designer is able to quickly make adjustments according to the user's feedback and 3D print or otherwise manufacture prototypes until the solution is just right.

Human-Centered Design Theory

Students must understand why a human-centered approach to the design process is important and how such a process might be structured. Students might explore the underlying philosophy of human-centered design as well as its fundamental tenets and how to apply them to real-world projects. Various problem-solving techniques may be addressed.

Senior Capstone Project

By the end of the program, students pursuing a degree in human-centered design and engineering will likely need to apply all the skills and knowledge they have learned to a self-directed personal project. They might be expected to conduct original research, either as an individual or in a team, and produce a viable solution to an apparent problem using the processes and principles of human-centered design. The student or group will likely be required to formally present their project to faculty members for review.

How to Choose a Bachelor's Degree Program in Human-Centered Design and Engineering

Because human-centered design and engineering is a widely interdisciplinary subject it is important to consider a college program's emphasis. Some programs focus primarily on ergonomics and the design of mechanical components, while others focus more on computer science and aim to develop the user interface of websites or software. Still others actively maintain no specific focus and allow a student to tailor their own emphases while gaining solid training in the human-centered design process. It is important for applicants to know their own interests and to thoroughly research a program to see if it will truly address those interests. Students will also need to find out how much hands-on learning is incorporated into a program, since human-centered design is based on the ' 'skill' ' of research and iterative problem solving which may be best learned through studio coursework and practice.

Career Options with a Bachelor's Degree in Human-Centered Design and Engineering

A human-centered designer or engineer could apply their skills to almost any field of product development or engineering that focuses on the interaction between people and technology. A graduate with a bachelor's degree in human-centered design and engineering could pursue a general field like mechanical engineering, but some careers will require a specialized master's degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018, engineers earned a median yearly salary of $91,010. Engineering job prospects are expected to grow at the national average for all jobs, at around 4%, from 2018-2028, and jobs related to infrastructure, computer systems, and robotics may be in particular demand.

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