How crazy am I? UI Designer moving to ID

I’ve got a Master’s in Human Factors, and I’ve been doing software user interface design (Web, Mobile, PC apps) for my whole 14 year career. I’d like to move toward designing the interaction of hardware user interfaces (products), and ideally toward the design of the form and layout of the products themselves.

For example, if I was designing a new cordless drill, what I’d like to do is be the guy say, “Ok, in order to make the motor direction (CW/CCW) switch accessible to the user, we need to move this switch above the trigger, and it needs to be larger so that for users with gloves, they’ll be still able to click it, and have a long enough switch travel length to know that it’s been changed.” I’d like to be able to do quick concept/whiteboard sketches to communicate these ideas. Then work with other designers and modelers to communicate this change.

A few questions:

  1. Would the position described above be a Human Factors person or an Industrial Designer?
  2. Have you or anyone you known made the such a career change? If so, what additional education, coursework, and skills did you have to develop?
  3. What programs would you recommend to me? (location-wise, I’m in Chicago).

Thanks very much,


your not crazy - it can be done. the VP of design at Whirlpool has dual HF ID degrees. Your skills are most desireable in a Design consultancy setting.

as far as getting started - how do you feel about a paycut?
you’d need to round out the rest of the skill-set to design your hand drill example. there are several very good programs in Chicago, I suggest touring them and talking to faculty, take a couple nite classes to test it out.

If you decide on getting a degree, you could probably get a full ride if you were willing to teach HF classes.

Thanks for the advice. Regarding a paycut, yeah, I kind of figured that. That’s not a big deal for me–I’ve been living beneath my means for a while, so that should be OK. The teaching in exchange for tuition sounds like a good plan (esp. since tuitions have gone sky-high since I was in school)–I’ll have to look into that.

P.S.: is “no-spec” kind of like “no requirements” for a project? :slight_smile:

What you’ve described is definitely a Human Factors position.

But here’s a few facts to consider:

  1. Industrial Designers would do everything you’ve described and more. So most companies (like drill manufacturers) would rather hire an Industrial Designer over an HFE. HFE’s these days tend to focus on more complex problems than where to position controls on consumer devices–particularly in a software age.

  2. Software interaction is rapidly replacing hardware interaction (the so-called “atoms to bits” transformation), so you’re moving in the wrong direction.

  3. I need HFE’s on my staff, but I hire Interaction Designers instead and look for strong HFE skills. My version of an Interaction Designer does not limit them to influencing the design of software products. It sounds like this is where you’re at now.

  4. There are new hybrids coming out of the “D-Schools” like the IIT Institute of Design right there in Chicago–check it out.

So my advice is that if you really don’t have the heart for software, and want to influence product design in the way you’ve described, consider entering the Industrial Design profession, or getting “D-School” training to hone your specialist positioning.

cg’s right about IIT, hands down the best option for you. they have strong connections to medical products which is possibly the one place you might not have to take a pay cut.
but you might want to check out the rest just to understand more about the feild UIC in particular, definitly go see the Art Institute though - opposite end of the spectrum of ID work.

…and your right about my moniker.