What areas outside of programming will I study during an undergraduate degree in Human-Computer Interaction? 

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I think there is a world market for maybe five computers – Thomas Watson, President of IBM in 1943.

A laughable quote in retrospect, but not unrealistic at the time. Initially, the computer functioned as a digital calculating machine. On June 14, 1951, UNIVAC or Universal Automatic Computer developed the first commercially available electronic digital computer. It occupied 15,000 square feet, had 17,000 vacuum tubes and 6,000 switches. These first-generation computers evolved to smaller units capable of performing a thousand more operations per second. The introduction of the transistor made this possible. By the 1980s, the microprocessor’s invention created smaller and smaller computers; consequently, laptops, handheld computers, and cell phones were born.

During these early years, the computers’ developers did not emphasize the human into the equation. The focus centered on the machine – what can it do?  Therefore, in the context of the first behemoth electronic machines, Mr. Watson’s statement is plausible. Predicting future technology is complicated. He was not alone in dismissing what humans (users) want. At the introduction of the Apple iPod, Motorola’s CEO, Ed Zander, criticized it. Who listens to 1,000 songs, he scoffed. Their music device, the ROKR, held only 100 songs. The president of research and media development (Alan Wurtzel) at NBC expressed that streaming movie companies like Netflix would not replace broadcast television. Today, network TV companies have slipped behind Netflix, Hula, Amazon Prime Video, and others.

What do the above scenarios have in common? One could argue that Zander, Wurtzel, Watson, and more failed to consider what the user (consumer) can adapt to, learn, benefit from, and must-have. HCI was not recognized as a critical element of these inventions and services.

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Programs that integrate psychology courses into the HCI curriculum recognize its importance in research in this field. Understanding the cognitive processes aids in analyzing what works best for the user or operator. It can improve efficiency, effectiveness, and in certain circumstances, improve safety. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a Human Factors Division that studies air traffic controllers. Their research extends to pilots, operations specialists, and aircraft maintenance technicians. This division studies the physical, behavioral, social, and cognitive characteristics of aviation professionals. Some of the goals are reducing human error, increasing performance, facilitating technology changes, and enhancing skills. Researchers study its effect on the air traffic controllers before changing colors or fonts on control tower screens. What works best for humans?


Typically, you will encounter trigonometry, calculus, algebra, statistics, and geometry in HCI and computer science programs. These courses may be part of the General Education Requirements. The Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Fort Hayes State University includes 17 credit hours of math. Math is an abstract language, which is akin to programming languages. Algorithms in math carry over into complex algorithms in computer science. Math also supplies the problem-solving and analytical skills needed in the HCI field. Discrete mathematics, number theory, graph theory, and linear algebra are relevant to computer sciences.

Software Development

Independent of an HCI degree, you could choose a B.S. in Software Development that covers many topics indigenous to HCI work. Network security, data management, information technology, programming, and software engineering are course examples from Western Governors University. Related to these are credit hours in Website Development that teach building sites using HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). This information provides the student a view of what the user wants and what the computer can do to satisfy this desire.


Design might be an elective; regardless, HCI programs offer 3D Design Fund, Design Fundamentals, Designing the User Experience (UX), Design of Educational Products, Game Design, Computer Graphics are all names applied to different curricula. UX covers the design and evaluation of the human-computer interface in interactive computer systems. This process blends the user with the product taking into account the usability and the function of the device, software, or machine. For example, the smartphone could be at the apex of UX. The attractive design and usability have made it immensely popular. The Interaction Design Foundation refers to this as a user-centered work process. It is evidenced by how consumers continue to replace one smartphone (iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, for example) with the latest technology, even though the existing one performs perfectly.

In summary, these courses referenced above are just a few examples of study areas. Curricula vary by institution and degree title. Choices in undergraduate programs in HCI are not plentiful. However, you can find a suitable study plan that affords the requisite classes to enter this field upon completion.

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