Specialization Spotlight: Design and Interaction

Jan 30 · 14 min read

What’s your year in school, specialization, and position?

Maya Iyer: I’m a fourth-year at UCSD specializing in design and interaction and minoring in communications. I’m the media chair.

Daniel Li: I am a third-year specializing in design and interaction and double minoring in business and political science. I’m also the secretary of CSSA.

Samantha Cheung: I am a second-year and my specialization is design and interaction. I am one of the design chairs.

Andrew Nguyen: I am a fourth-year and treasurer of CSSA. I’m specializing in design and interaction and minoring in computer science.

Viviana Davila: I am a fourth-year specializing in design and interaction. I am also the web developer.

Felicity Yin: I am a fourth-year specializing in design and interaction. I am one of the design chairs for CSSA.

What’s a fun fact about you?

MI: I’ve been to all seven continents with my family. We like to travel a lot.

DL: I’ve been in the live audience for James Corden’s late-night talk show!

SC: I do not like eggs.

AN: A meme I posted online got almost 200k views in a week.

VD: I met the dad from Drake and Josh when auditioning for a TV show! He gave me an autographed picture of him.

FY: I love going to art museums and shopping at the design store inside.

What got you into Cognitive Science and your specialization?

MI: I came into UCSD as undeclared. I took COGS 1 (Introduction to Cognitive Science) because I knew about the program and how good it was, but I didn’t really know what it was. I liked the class because it was so interdisciplinary. I chose my specialization at the end of my sophomore year after taking DSGN 1 (Design of Everyday Things). I thought that class was so interesting because we read the book The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, one of the founders of cog sci. It just taught me that making small changes in products can have a really big impact on the user. Also, I realized how user experience is so important and am fascinated by the psychology behind human behavior.

DL: In high school, I had always been interested in psychology and the technology industry, but did not know that the two subjects could be connected. When I was looking at majors, I found UCSD’s cognitive science program and was hooked to the design specialization because it seemed like a perfect combination. As I took more design and cognitive science classes at UCSD, I’ve also come to realize that I also enjoy the writing aspect of design. More specifically, I am interested in crafting verbal flows to enhance user experience. Because of this, I have been looking into content strategy internships.

SC: When I was applying to colleges I really wanted something that combined my interests in computer science and design with my interest in psychology and the brain. When I was looking for majors I found cognitive science and that just like perfectly combined them.

AN: I was part of a robotics team in high school where I was tasked with figuring out a way to use leftover scrap metal and wood planks to build a practice field that sparked my interest in problem-solving. At the same time, I was taking AP Psychology and the teacher really opened my eyes to how psychology could be used to do such a thing, this coupled with my interest in technology (and disdain for math) led me to look into cognitive science and informatics as potential avenues for my college career.

VD: I was initially undeclared and felt really lost as to what I want to do. I took COGS 1 on a whim, and I felt super inspired by the design specialization. It’s such a unique specialization that allows so much room for creativity.

FY: I wanted to delve deeper into science and math without giving up my interests in art and design.

What’s the most important thing you have learned in this field?

MI: I learned that really small changes can have a big impact. Also, I learned that our brain is so influenced by our environment and like there’s no one way to explain human behavior. There are so many different factors that we have to take into account.

DL: The most important thing I’ve learned is how important networking is. These days, with so many people applying to internships, it is really hard to stand out. There are so many qualified people and the reality is that it’s about who you know. It is crucial to maintain relationships with people and reach out to those you know; the hardest part is just getting the interview. Don’t be afraid to network; everyone is willing to help out and give advice.

SC: I have learned that it’s very important to make good friends in your major so that you can reach out to them whenever you need help. And just to keep learning as much as possible.

AN: How to approach problem-solving through user-centered fieldwork which involves talking and working in collaboration with users rather than off of one’s own expertise.

VD: The most important thing I learned in this field is how to effectively work in a group to create a product with your user-base in mind. I feel as if this is such an important skill that I will always carry with me, especially in the workforce.

FY: I’ve learned to be resourceful and use different knowledge from a wide range of subjects to solve complex problems.

What COGS classes did you find the most useful?

MI: Well, this one’s not really useful for my specialization, but I really liked COGS 101C (Language). I took it with a professor named Moma but he’s not teaching here anymore. He just made the material super interesting and we learned about language acquisition from the time you’re a baby until you’re an adolescent.

DL: I thought DSGN 1 (Design of Everyday Things) was really useful because it opened me up to the world of design and also gave me some projects to put on my portfolio. It also taught me how to work in a larger group setting, which is really important in the real world. I also IA’ed for the class!

SC: I think DSGN 1 (Design of Everyday Things) was a very helpful class because it really gave me a good introduction to the design process that is important for UX and UI. It also just gave me a way to connect with other people in my major and helped me make some new friends.

AN: COGS 121 (Human Computer Interaction Programming Studio) gave me a really meaningful project which helped me demonstrate my technical skills in both design and development.

VD: I found COGS 120 (Interaction Design) to be the most useful because you work with the same team throughout the entire quarter to create a web app. It taught me technical skills, while also teaching me how to work in a team.

FY: For someone aspiring to be a product designer/UXUI designer, I think COGS 127 (Designing Human-Data Interactios) is very useful. The class helps you build a strong portfolio piece step by step with TAs and professors giving critiques and suggestions in detail.

What’s your favorite COGS class and why?

MI: I’m actually a communication minor. I really liked COMM 173 (Interaction with Technology), which is a class that can be used for the design specialization. The class was really helpful and taught the theory behind how we use products and interact with them. It’s taught by Professor Alack and she’s really funny and great. We also did a research project at the end, and I learned ethnography.

DL: My favorite COGS class was COGS 101B (Learning, Memory, and Attention). As someone who has always been interested in psychology, this class touched upon topics that I enjoy, specifically memory. One of my favorite lectures was about eyewitness testimony.

SC: My favorite cogs class so far has been COGS 17 (Neurobiology of Cognition). Although it was a lot of information and memorization, I thought it was really fascinating to learn more about how the brain really works and what parts of the brain we use to make decisions. This could be really helpful when designing with accessibility in mind or designing for social impact.

AN: COGS 100 (Cyborgs Now and in the Future)was interesting in that it taught me more about the theoretical side of cognitive science. Many cogs classes put an emphasis on the brain, but COGS 100 really shows how thought is more complex than we might believe and how varying theories have their own ways for explaining it. Understanding these theories and their histories well can help people in each and every one of the specializations create better solutions, both in terms of research or products,

VD: My favorite COGS class is COGS 3 (Introduction to Computing)! It was so much fun learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and we developed a portfolio as the final project, which was super useful.

FY: My favorite class was COGS101B (Learningm, Memory, and Attention), which I’m IA-ing for right now! I think it’s super fascinating to learn about how we as humans process and absorb information.

Who’s your favorite COGS professor?

MI: I really like Professor Walker. I had her for COGS 101A (Sensation and Perception). She was just really sweet, helpful ad good at explaining her work.

DL: I really like Professor Barrera. He is a really funny and kind person and made my experience in COGS 101B (Learning, Memory, and Attention) enjoyable. I also appreciated his lecture style and how clear his slides were.

SC: I think my favorite professor is actually my MMW professor. His name is Professor Chang, just really cool and very knowledgeable.

AN: David Kirsh is a genuinely great professor once you get to know him. He seems intimidating to many students new to his teaching style but he’s willing to go above and beyond to accommodate his students if they ask. His teaching method may not be suited for everyone, but he gives students more than enough opportunities to do well in his classes.

VD: My favorite COGS professor is Mary Boyle. She is so passionate about the subjects she teaches, and she makes you feel so inspired. She also has such a diverse background; she has an education in Computer Science and Neuroscience, which I feel is very reflective of what Cognitive Science is.

FY: My favorite professors are Professor Drew Walker and Professor Taylor Scott. Both are super down to earth, great at explaining concepts, and committed to improving their classes for their student’s benefits.

What did you do last summer?

MI: Last year, I had an internship with a startup in Chicago called QualSights. They focus on qualitative research through a mobile platform and analyze consumer behavior. I got to do a lot of UX stuff to help redesign their platform and their website. I also got to learn about different marketing tools to like increase clientele. It was a good experience to see what startup life is really like.

DL: Last summer, I was an editorial intern at the Palo Alto Weekly. I am originally from Palo Alto and had always read the newspaper growing up so it was definitely a really cool experience. I got to write all types of articles, ranging from quick news stories to in-depth feature stories. Working at a newspaper is rewarding because you really learn what is going on in your community and become more aware of issues. I also had the opportunity to interview people from all types of backgrounds and hear their stories.

SC: I worked on building my portfolio over the summer and mainly went traveling with family. I didn’t do a lot this past summer but it gave me time to do research for potential internships I’d want to apply for and to plan out the rest of my quarters at UCSD

AN: I interned as a web developer at an engineering and consulting firm called Arup in Downtown Los Angeles. There I worked on developing a dashboard that would display construction documentation for on-site engineers. Over the course of my internship, I also got a chance to apply strategies that I learned in my design courses such as usability testing, mockup creation, and user interviews in order to find and address the dashboard’s issues.

VD: Last summer I interned at a legal tech startup in Irvine as the Front-End Developer intern. I gained a lot of valuable experience and knowledge that I never would have gotten in the classroom. I became a better developer and a better teammate!

FY: I interned as a product designer at OPay under Opera Software. I learned a lot about product design and development in real-life in a span of three months and this experience reassured me that this is something I want to do as my career.

Are you involved in any research or other activities on campus?

MI: Last year, I was in the Vagina Monologues as their publicity chair.

DL: Outside of CSSA, I am the Associate Copy Editor for The UCSD Guardian and a student writer for UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering, where I report on JSOE events run for engineering students. I am also apart of JusticeCorps and intern at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego.

SC: Currently I’m a part of DFA, which is Design for America, a club on campus, which focuses on specific problems in San Diego. We have project teams that research ways to solve that problem and at the end of the year, we deliver a product or design to help solve that problem.

AN: I used to be a lab manager for the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab in the psychology department. As a lab manager, I was responsible for setting up and scheduling SONA experiments and was also given a chance to work on redesigning and developing their website. Currently, I am an undergraduate researcher at the Human-Centered Computing and Ubiquitous Computing Lab in the computer science department where I am currently working with stroke neurologists on a project involving the use of Microsoft Kinect body recordings for stroke diagnosis.

VD: I have done other activities in the past, but right now it’s just CSSA.

FY: Besides being an IA and a board member of CSSA, I am the Co-President of a student org that develops a mental wellness app. I also work at The Zone under Health Promotion Services as the web design and digital marketing lead.

What advice or resources do you have for first years and people starting in the specialization or cognitive science in general?

MI: I definitely would say to get started on working on a portfolio as soon as possible because that’s something that I started after I figured out I wanted to do UX design. Use the portfolio to highlight your projects and your case studies. Also, get familiar with design platforms like Sketch, Figma, and Invision because those will really help you in the upper-division electives later on.

DL: I would say to get involved on campus, whether it be an on-campus job or a student organization. Joining organizations not only allows you to meet people from different backgrounds but also strengthens your leadership and time management skills.

SC: I think making friends upperclassman during your first or second year is a very good idea. I just recently started doing that and I’ve gotten a lot of helpful advice from them, such as taking the 120 series as early as possible because you can add the projects to your portfolio. This will help you get more experience and it’s just easier to apply for internships or jobs.

AN: If you know what specialization you want to major in early on, beeline the big upper-division courses as soon as possible. Many of them provide you with the experience you’ll need to join labs or get interviewed for internships.

VD: My biggest piece of advice is to get involved outside of the classroom. Cognitive Science is so broad, so it’s important to find out what kind of career you want to pursue specifically. You can accomplish this by joining organizations on campus, joining a research lab, or starting on a side project. Find what you love and keep improving on it!

FY: I would advise anyone new in the cognitive science field to explore and reach out to people as much as possible to gain exposure to this interdisciplinary field. I would also encourage people to participate in project-based organizations to expand their portfolio. But most importantly HAVE FUN and meet new people! I always think back to first-year and wish I had done more.

What’s your favorite part of CSSA?

MI: Definitely the friends that I’ve made. Everyone is really nice and welcoming. The passion that everyone has is really cool to see.

DL: My favorite part of CSSA is the people. Everyone in the club is helpful, welcoming, and really want each other to succeed. It’s also cool to see so many familiar faces in classes.

SC: My favorite part is the community because I’ve met a lot of close friends through it. And I’ve also been able to grow professionally because I’ve been doing a lot of side work in design that I could showcase on my portfolio.

AD: CSSA has given me a chance to network with a lot of labs as well as socialize with like-minded individuals who have made my school life and career more fulfilling. I’ve been able to meet and make many friends with whom I can share my struggles and successes while also having a good time.

VD: My favorite part about CSSA is being surrounded by people who are passionate about the work they do. I love how diverse we are in terms of specializations and career paths. I am surrounded by brilliant future neuroscientists, software engineers, designers, and more, and it makes me want to work harder.

FY: I love the impact CSSA makes on the student body especially the cognitive science community.

What would you do differently if you could go back in time?

MI: Well, I like to live life with no regrets. But if I could, I guess I would have liked definitely learned a lot of those like design platforms earlier and figured out that design was what I wanted to do earlier on. But I feel like it’s never too late to decide what you want to do. And if you’re still in a position where you’re not sure what you’re doing is what you love, that’s fine too.

DL: If I could go back in time, I would’ve taken my first year of college more seriously. Although design internships don’t really look at your GPA, I think it’s really important to keep your GPA as high as possible to keep all options open in the future. Even if you don’t want to go to grad school right now, you never know what will happen later in life. You might change your mind and want to get an MBA, pursue a master’s in HCI or something completely unrelated.

SC: No, I think everything happens for a reason and even if I made a mistake, it’s always good to learn from that mistake and try to do something better in the future.

AN: Maybe gain the confidence to apply to internships sooner or take advantage of study abroad opportunities. Aside from that, not much else, I am who I am today because of what I’ve already done and I have few if any regrets.

VD: I’m not sure if I would do anything differently. It’s been a great learning experience failing and getting better each year.

FY: I would hesitate less and do more: meet more students from different fields, talk to the professors more, learn about more organizations on campus etc.

What are your future plans after graduation?

MI: I definitely want to get a job in the industry after graduation but then I would like to go back to grad school and get my masters. I’m kind of keeping all of my options open.

DL: After graduation, I hope to work in the field of content strategy for some time before applying to grad school.

SC: I hope to get a job. If I can’t get a job I will try to get a master's degree. I’m just hoping for a job in like technology industry as a product designer.

AN: I plan on working in the industry for the next few years and maybe pursue a master's if I could get paid to do it. Longer-term, my interests in design go outside of screen-based interfaces and I hope to be able to work to design better real-world experiences whether it be through ubiquitous technologies that increasingly surround us or through the spaces which we inhabit themselves.

VD: After graduation, I hope to continue being a Web Developer! I love it so much.

FY: I want to be a product designer in the technology industry. But I am also applying to graduate schools at the same time because I’m super interested in social computing/persuasive technology!


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