Georgia Tech Adds Industrial Design to Human Computer Interaction Master’s Program


October 28, 2013

For the casual observer, a game in which a Tyrannosaurus Rex chomps only on a correct pattern of colored tokens might appear to be only that – a color-sorting game. But to Jim Budd, Chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial Design, the game represents an essential interdisciplinary collaboration that brings such products to life.

In the school’s new Interactive Product Design Lab, Budd’s students work together with students from the College of Computing’s GVU Center to put digital tools to practical use in everyday products. In the lab, the students design games, kitchen utensils and appliances, museum tour equipment and other products.

“It would have taken the GVU students several days to build these models,” Budd said, noting the detailed cuts of the dinosaur figure for the color-sorting game. “With our students and tools on hand, they can laser cut the perfect pieces or rapid prototype 3D assemblies in just a few minutes.”

Likewise, it would have taken his industrial design students considerable time and effort to design and program the sensors needed to operate the more complex games and product systems; thus, the necessity of teamwork.

Recognizing this convergence of expertise, Georgia Tech this semester added Industrial Design as the fourth partner in the interdisciplinary Masters of Human-Computer Interaction (MS-HCI) degree, which focuses on bringing together the broad mix of practical skills and theoretical understandings required to design and implement modern human-computer interfaces.

Georgia Tech has offered the MS-HCI degree since 1997. Until this semester, the degree was offered jointly by the School of Interactive Computing (IC); the School of Literature, Media and Communication (LMC); and the School of Psychology. The addition of a fourth partner – the School of Industrial Design, which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary – made perfect sense to the degree coordinators.

“From my perspective, it’s a logical thing to happen, and we need a focus on bridging the gap between the physical and the digital,” Budd said. “Over the last 15 years, the merging of technology between physical and digital has grown dramatically.”

Professor Jim Foley, who helped start the degree and is now director, calls it “a natural marriage.”

“The marriage of ID and HCI is driven by computers being embedded in all types of physical products and forms like toys, exercise equipment, ATMs, wearable devices such as glasses and watches and body function sensors, and on and on and on,” Foley said. “So it is only natural that designing things containing computers draw on the skills of both disciplines.”

When computers were first placed into general household and personal objects, little consideration was given about exactly how to incorporate digital elements into the products. But as computing became more ubiquitous, it became evident that more thought, research and care had to be put into creating the whole product as a team and not designing each element independently.

While the computing side brings in the digital elements, the industrial design side has to consider the elements of user experience including form, aesthetics, ergonomics, human factors, materials and even the actual assembly of the product.

And with the MC-HCI program, students – no matter their initial school affiliations – gain full exposure and expertise with all of it.

All 65 of the students enrolled in the program take a common core curriculum , specialization electives from their individual schools, and general electives from the nearly 100 HCI-related courses offered by the four participating schools plus courses in Management, Music Technology, Industrial and Systems Engineering, and even International Affairs . The students do an internship between their first and second years, and work with one of the nearly 50 HCI-related faculty on a master’s project in their second year. They also interact with Atlanta’s lively community of HCI and UX practitioners.

Students interested in applying to the program can visit the online application available here.