How Worthwhile is an
MS in Human-Computer Interaction…

…and how do I know if it’s for me?

A few days ago I was chatting with a coworker who is busy retooling her skill-set with a focus on user experience (UX) and interaction design (IXD). She asked about my experience in the DePaul Human-Computer Interaction Masters program.

I found my education to be very worthwhile, but
formal education is also super expensive.

For anyone considering an MS I would recommend taking a job (any job) at the school of your choice to get low-cost or even free tuition. Then you can transition out into the job sector without a huge debt.

But, before making any decision, I’d recommend reading a lot.

There are great books out there, and by picking them up in the right order and reading them thoroughly you’ll gain a solid understanding of what you’ll be learning in any sort of formal education. If you find reading these books to be boring or a burden, you may want to reconsider an MS.

And, you’ve only invested 2 months and $300 instead
of diving into a two year commitment costing $20,000.

If you decide formal credentials are for you, you’ll also be exceptionally well-prepared to tackle an MS at most schools.

Seven Books to Learn
You Some UX/IXD

There are seven books that have really stuck with me. Some of them I read a while ago and some of them I’ve recently picked up. Either way, I find myself referencing all of them on a regular basis. I recommend buying these reference books as hard-copies so you can refer to them easily.

I’ve put the books into a specific order so you’ll learn
“the why” and then move along into “the how.”

The books you should read are…

Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro
If you’re going to be a designer, this is essential reading. I recommend reading it right away to understand what you will be doing professionally. To be effective it’s important to understand how you fit into the bigger picture.

Cadence and Slang by Nick Disabato
Nick will guide you through the basics of what you need to know in plain english. It’s not pretentious and provides you a great foundation for what you’ll be doing in UX/IXD without a deep-dive into methods.

About Face by Cooper, Reimann, Cronin, and Noessel
It’s long but About Face is the most clear and comprehensive discussion I’ve found of the process and principles of our profession. It’s light on research methods but deep on overall rationale, principles, and execution.

Just Enough Research by Erika Hall
You’ll learn the basics of research like defining problems, interviewing, testing, analysis, modeling, and most importantly how research benefits your projects. My favorite section is “No Labs, No Masters.”

Observing the User Experience by Goodman, Kuniavsky, and Moed
This is a deep dive into the different ways you can learn through observation. When/why to use various methods, how to use them, and how to analyze the outcomes of your observations. It’s thick and it’s very detailed.

How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert
Abby wrote a book about Information Architecture but it’s so much more. It concisely teaches us how to organize, classify, diagram, and structure information to convey meaning. This book is like the Tao Te Ching of UX lit.

101 Design Methods by Vijay Kumar
This book outlines 101 analysis methods you can apply to the many problems (and feedback) you’ll discover. I recommend reading the first section and mode overviews. Then keep the book handy for when you’re stuck.

Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro
You’ll notice this is on here a second time. If you’re going to be a designer, you need to internalize what Mike is talking about in here. Read it again!

If you worry this seems like a lot of reading, it is. Reading is important so you learn. As a UX/IXD practitioner you should be curious and love learning.

I would set a reading goal, like “read a chapter a day.” That’s achievable (it’s what I do), so start there and don’t skip any days. You’ll read a book every 2–3 weeks, which feels really great.

I have omitted some great books, but these are the ones that I feel provide a very clear overview of the field and will prepare anyone to proceed into formal education or just enjoy your new-found knowledge.

Next Steps

Observe people in coffee shops, on the train, at the movie theater, or at the park. Try to understand what they are doing, why, and if there’s something you can see that isn’t working. Go back and analyze what you’ve found using the methods you’ve learned.

You don’t have to be creepy about it or try to change the world.

Build comfort with techniques you’ve learned so you’ll be ready to apply to grad school, or just apply the techniques when the need arises.

Hit me on Twitter @inhll and thanks for reading!
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