If you’ve been thinking about going to graduate school for human-computer interaction, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, you should consider both the positives and the negatives. There are also negatives of both poor interactions between human users and technology and, yes, of the work of improving those interactions. In terms of the disadvantages of this degree path, the interdisciplinary curriculum and the focus on the human aspects of computer technology may not help you achieve your goals if what you’re most interested in is programming or software or hardware engineering.
The Effects of Poor Interaction Between Humans and Computers
What happens when technology is designed and implemented without any attention to effective human-computer interaction? Poor user interfaces and experiences can change technology from a useful tool to a frustrating waste of time.
Productivity suffers when workers have to spend their time working around designs that are counterintuitive and processes that are convoluted. Users might choose not to embrace a technology for personal use if they find it too aggravating or if its features aren’t useful. Even worse, technology that ignores the concepts and practices of positive human-computer interaction can contribute to a greater risk of human error in operation. Depending on what the work being performed is, even a relatively minor human error could have a serious impact on cost, safety and other important factors.
Generally, the purpose of studying and working in the field of human-computer interactions is to reduce these disadvantages that go along with the use of technology. For the most part, the field of HCI has an overall positive impact on the personal and professional lives of technology users. That said, there are some effects of better human-computer interaction that could be seen as disadvantages, depending on your perspective.
For example, workers who have access to intuitive, easy-to-use technology can get through their work faster and with less wasted time. That may mean a smaller number of employees are needed to accomplish the same workload. While this increased productivity is a win for companies, the downside is the potential that it could translate to fewer job opportunities overall. Similarly, as new technologies become more accessible, older competing technologies may fall out of favor. For the average user, smartphones have replaced pagers and, in many cases, even landline phones. These changes can shrink established industries, resulting in losses in revenue and, again, decreased job opportunities.
Researchers today understand that the effects of automation, artificial intelligence, and better human-computer interaction on the job market are nuanced, bringing benefits and opportunities as well as losses and shifts in jobs and job responsibilities.
The Downsides of Studying HCI at the Graduate Level
A master’s degree in human-computer interactions is, undoubtedly, a good educational path for some students to pursue. Like every program of study, though, human-computer interaction is not the right choice for everyone. You need to think about your own personal and professional strengths and weaknesses, as well as what you would like to do with your degree. In particular, you should know that this interdisciplinary program includes a balance of coursework in technical areas of computer science and in the human-focused aspects of the field.
Professionals who work in the field of human-computer interaction necessarily focus on human behavior, human motivations and human challenges. If you’re more interested in the technical aspects of coding and engineering than in the human factors, you might find that the focus on social sciences and qualitative methods of study doesn’t quite match your interests. You might get more value out of a master’s degree in a more traditional area, such as computer science, computer hardware engineering, computer software engineering or information technology.
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in those psychological and cognitive science factors, the necessary courses in computer science may be too technical for your liking. You need to be willing to put in the work to conduct user studies to test design effectiveness. Otherwise, you might be better focusing on an area like design or one of the social sciences, such as psychology.
The positives of studying human-computer interaction are developing the skills to improve human-computer interactions, allowing you to earn a lucrative living while contributing to the benefits of technology for individuals and society.