ID + Human Factors/BME/Visual Comm Design

Right now as a 26 yo late bloomer entering OSU’s undergrad ID program, I’m trying to figure out if it is both possible and feasible to double major in ID (and human factors/biomedical engineering, visual communication design), or major in ID and minor in one of those subjects.

I was wondering, from those of you already in the workplace (and who might be potential employers) … how would you view a recent ID graduate who has studied human factors, BME, or visual comm design, in addition to ID? Obviously it’s an advantage compared to a recent graduate who say, only majored in ID. I guess I’m partially asking if there is a real-life/workplace relevance of these three subjects with ID (Is one more appealing to employers than the others coming from a general ID firm? Coming from a niche ID firm?), and if so what it is and how does it translates into the job market as well as workplace (ex. if I join a company with an BA in ID and BME minor, will I be expected to essentially take the place of 2 ppl. the industrial designer and engineer?).

For example, although I’m not set on specializing in a particular ID niche (automotive, soft-goods, footwear, etc), my strength is biology/medicine from previous schooling. Thus if I were to apply for a medical device ID firm, BME would probably be the most logical choice to go along with ID … and bridging the sometimes wide gap between design and engineering specifically when designing a medical device could be very appealing to employers.

I realize there are probably a lot of differences in opinion, especially coming from particular ID firms and companies, but any input/comments would be great.

Personally, I’d just focus on the ID degree. The worst possible case is you triple major, or double minor, don’t focus enough on your ID skills, and end up without the skill sets necessary to get into ID. When I see candidates who have minored in a subject, and their ID skills are sub par, or even average, I always question them on why they didn’t use that time and energy to improve their ID abilities, which is why they were in school in the first place. It is a red flag for me that maybe ID is not enough to hold their interest.

If you already have another degree to contextualize your ID degree, why have two other majors or minors at all. You already have a background that gives you the predisposition to medical, why add to that?

Thanks for the advice yo. I see what you’re getting at and I’ll keep it in mind.

I’ve already contacted some OSU profs to ask them if it’s even possible because I have a feeling that it’s simply impossible to double major in ID + something else. OSU has a graduate program for human factors but no undergrad major/program for it or minor (it seems). I also don’t think it’s possible to do ID + Visual Comm Design because they are two different tracks within the same design program (and I know for sure that OSU IDers are not allowed to minor in another track). However, I believe it is possible to do ID and get a minor in BME. I’m just not sure about the workload because I know BME in general is a difficult subject.

I have a feeling I’ll probably stick with majoring in ID and doing some human factors or BME research (Is such thing as ID research at the college level?). But we’ll see what my options really are once I collect and digest all the relevant info.

You cannot fail in pursuing Human Factors these days. Most US companies (consulting and corporate) have very limited resources on staff to support HF requests. I’ve worked for many ID consulting firms across the Midwest and the South that claim to have HF experts, but generally that doesn’t mean that they employ a degreed Human Factors Engineer. In Europe, there’s even less knowledge and education available for someone interested in a career in HF. I know our company (medical) has a staff and they have more work than they can possibly handle. I chose to work for this company partially to have exposure and the chance to work with the HF Engineers knowing that the exposure will gain me some credibility (similar to IDers working closely with ME).

I can’t speak for OSU, but I was able to pursue ID and an engineering program at the same time at my university. You will be in school at least a year longer from what I’ve seen and experienced. The down side to this is that there aren’t any shortcuts. You really do have to put in double the work of your classmates to remain competitive. Of the people that I know who have pursued this, all have found desirable jobs working in product design and development. I would give it some thought - maybe even take an elective or two in the HF curriculum or BME to decide if you want to do it.

Thanks you two for the helpful advice. I didn’t expect to get any more feedback but was pleasantly surprised.

No. Many people would argue that 4 years isn’t enough time for an ID degree by itself. And in recent years, Masters Degrees have really taken off. So I agree with Yo–go with ID, and don’t minor in anything. If there is a specific concentration like BME or HFE, you can apply those interests to your ID portfolio.

I have a BFA in ID and:

  1. As a Senior I was approached by a well known design firm specializing in HFE and med-device design as a result of my focus on Universal Design.

  2. I’ve had two PhD HFE’s and two MFA Interaction Designers working under my direction–and I had more practical experience applying HF to design than either of them.

yeah, I agree, what you are describing sounds more like a master’s (uncannily like the master’s I’m doing now…) than an undergrad type thing.

I am concerned that your desire to do Human factors and visual communication sounds like you want to do interaction design, in which case why even bother going to school for industrial design, just go for interaction.

One thing I thought of after I hit post, I would say double in ID and Vis comm/Graphic design, I’ve seen people have good luck with this combination, and read an article about that recently that I’ll post if I can find.

It might get you shortlisted for an interview when compared to other candidates who don’t have these specialties. But ultimately it’s your portfolio vs. theirs. I am most concerned with “recent ID graduate” because what I want from a recent grad is depth (mastery of a subject), not breadth, which comes with experience.

In my experience:

BME (Biomedical Engineering) adds very little to an Industrial Design portfolio. The BME’s I know tend to be technologists or repairmen. They “design” in the same way an Mechanical Engineer “designs.” Which is to say their focus is on the technology, not the user. On the pro side, that might make you more of a pragmatist. On the con side, it makes you less human-centered and probably a bit less innovative than the designer whose thinking is less burdened with the perceived limits of technology.

Viz Comm is something you should study as an Industrial Designer. You shouldn’t need any more than that because the role of viz-design for an Industrial Designer is in the presentation of their work, and the application of graphics onto products. If you find yourself designing print materials, websites etc, then that’s not ID anymore, so you need to decide what you want to be.

HFE (Human Factors Engineering) is also something you study as an IDer. A degree will give you more experience with designing and executing rigorous test plans. It will turn you into a scientist. But again, as an Industrial Designer, do you really want to be spending your time that way? It’s a full time job. I can see this being beneficial if you want to work for a small company in which you’re forced to wear this hat. Otherwise, I would rely on professionals to do this work while you focus on design.

here’s a semantic debate, it’s probably better to integrate graphics into a product than apply them to a product. Would you agree CG?

Well I definitely know I want to be doing ID. However interaction design and human factors both sound interesting to me. I actually think that at OSU, Interaction Design is more a part of Visual Communications than the ID track. It’s a bit of a no-brainer that supplementing my ID major with visual comm and human factors classes is good and the fact is I have several open class slots because I’m coming into OSU with a BA in Biology already, so some general education classes have already been fulfilled. However, the real question is should I be pursuing a degree (minor, major) in any of these supplementary areas? With the ID (and ID-related) workplace continuing to be a extremely competitive environment for newly graduates, I’m thinking about how important it is to differentiate myself from other newly graduates. I would say that it’s almost a given that upon graduation, my portfolio needs to be absolutely top-notch, and that my internships, and the work that comes out, need to be solid as well.

One thing that I seem to be confused about is how transferable ID-related areas of study (vis comm, human factors, interaction design) are to ID itself. For example, there was a human factors research position opening that I saw a month or two ago on core77 (or one of the sister sites). Is there any chance that a typical ID graduate would have the qualifications to get an entry level human factors job? How about a visual design or interaction design job? Are all these fields really that distinct from each other that you need to major in them specifically in order to have a chance to get jobs in these particular areas?

When I take a look at some of the things that I’ve read about companies like IDEO (my first encounter with ID was watching their redesigning a shopping cart dateline story in high school … - YouTube), their IDers seem to be very much multidisciplinarians, doing ID but also dabbling in human factors/vis comm/interaction design. This is perhaps, ultimately what I would like to be doing … ID, but also a little of everything else. If you watch the dateline video of IDEO you’ll notice that that particular team had a lot of different members from different backgrounds. Nowadays I’m not sure if IDEO is considered an ID company per say, but they used to be my dream company. That’s why I also am a bit confused about how IDEO does company restructuring (I assume their IDers aren’t a part of these particular projects?).

It’s all still ID. I think you need to get into the program. Do a search on what frog design did to help NPR redefine their future. Still design based thinking applied to buusiness. We have technologists and business strategists on the teams, but still lead by creative directors and with graphic and industrial designers also on the team.

On a side note, CG, thanks for taking the time to define all of the roles. Finding it usefull myself.

@cg: Thanks for the detailed breakdown. I agree that if you can show HF and Visual Comm mastery in your ID portfolio, it doesn’t matter whether you have a degree in either areas. But I still feel that a lot of employers view an newly graduated ID candidate with a degree in HF or Visual Comm more highly than one who simply supplements his ID coursework with HF or Visual Comm. Also I’m very much someone who wants to design creative but also practical products (that’s the scientist in me). My current ID outlook on creativity is that its ultimate purpose is to come up with useful, working solutions (the inspiration of other ideas/possibilities is also another goal).

Sidenote: I think stevephillips79 is a spammer/bot based on the regurgitated post and post history.

@carton - I don’t know if I need to specialize so much in one area like interaction design in order to get an interaction design job. Based on what yo said (maybe not explicitly), it seems like you can get an interaction design job by doing ID and showing interaction design skills through your portfolio. This sort of is what I mentioned in my previous post. It seems like with ID you might be able to be qualified (depending on what you supplement your ID major with and what you show in your portfolio) to work in a lot of different ID-related fields (visual comm, human factors, etc).

@yo - I’ll take a look into the frog design + NPR story. Are these types of companies (frog design and IDEO) considered to be a different kind of company from what I typically think of as ID/product design companies (in-house for Nike, Honda, Apple)? I don’t think I fully grasp the types of ID/ID-related companies that are out there. I mean I’ve heard about in-house vs consultancies, but are there other types of ID/ID-related companies out? Since you’ve been involved with both (I think?) when you worked at Nike/Converse and now frog design, could you give me an idea of the differences between both?

I don’t know if I agree with what you have taken from yo’s comments. I cannot speak for him, but that doesn’t seem to jive with what he was talking about.

In order to get an interaction design job, you need to be an interaction designer, just like if you desire an ID job, you need to be an industrial designer. We are assuming you want ID (b/c you say you do) so you need to focus on ID. What I got from cg was that you should take a couple classes in interaction and graphic design to know the basics, but if you want to be in an interaction design role, being something else with a class or two in interaction isn’t going to cut it.

Like I said before if you want to be an interaction designer by all means be it, but that is not the same as industrial design nor is it a sub-section of industrial design like consumer product design or footwear. That isn’t to say that many industrial designers haven’t gone on to be great interaction designers, but only after learning an entire new set skills in addition to those required for industrial design. Interaction design is arguably more likely a subset of graphic design than industrial.

By this same argument, you could assume one would be able to graduate in industrial design, having taken a handful or less of graphic design classes, and then expect to succeed as a graphic designer. I think that would prove a poor assumption.

What I got from Yo’s post, was that you could end up working on a team with graphic and ix designers, but that you would be the ID role. And to cg’s point, if you find yourself wanting to design print materials, websites (the other larger part of interaction design that isn’t devices) and, to add to cg’s post, user interfaces and interactions, that isn’t ID anymore.

Hmmm … I guess what I get out of this discussion is that “design jobs” aren’t so straightforward (like in medicine where there are a set number of specialties with which you can enter as a doctor), and while there are very traditional ID jobs per se (like working for Nike as an IDer designing shoes), there are also a lot cross-discipline or just somewhat-ID-related jobs out there that require very different mixture of skills.

Maybe I should be approach this in terms of (at the moment) what my dream job is, and how do I get there with OSU’s design program as my waypoint. Simply stated, I want to do what the people in the IDEO video I mentioned do (- YouTube … you can skip to 3:39). I want to be involved in all the aspects of design from the beginning slivers of an idea to the very end of a product line’s life (whether it be an actual physical product or a service or something entirely different). I want to be brainstorming, drawing, researching, building prototypes, and using technology. I want to understand the psychological and ethical implications of new devices, learn about materials and manufacturing, interact with clients and users/consumers, figure out trends, and fulfill needs. Any ideas of how to go about doing this?

Edit: Is it reasonable to expect to get a job that will fulfill everything I mentioned … probably not? Working at IDEO as an IDer, would I have the opportunity to get involved in all those areas of interest? Seems like it’s more likely compared to if I work for an in-house design company like Nike or Honda. Maybe this is more of a discussion of if I have such a varied interest, then I should do ID and look into getting some training in other areas (instead of saying “oh, I like interaction design, I should choose this particular specialty now because that may make me a better candidate specifically for interaction design”, but not give me the broad education that ID will). Then enter the workforce as an IDer working for a design consultancy that designs both products and services while building up workplace experience in HF/visual comm if I really want to be involved in a bunch of things.

Sorry for the rambling and stream of consciousness posts. I should probably be more concise. Thanks for all the replies by the way. I appreciate all the different perspectives and advice.

Similar to what I was poorly articulating. What I mean is that as a modern designer, you will have to have an understanding and a bit of the skill set of all the disciplines, and you may even play the role of a UX designer on a limited project, but you may also end up working with talented UX designers in a collaborative way. Pick where you want to focus and course correct as necessary.