HCI Program Wishlist

These are things I wish they taught in UX bootcamps and HCI colleges majors.

Design is Everywhere

Seriously, look around you. Everything you see, touch, taste, hear, and smell. Everything has passed through human hands in it’s construction. When you smell the gas leak, did you know that was designed on purpose because natural gas is actually oderless?

Since natural gas doesn’t actually smell like anything, a chemical called mercaptan is added to help you detect a leak. Mercaptan has a very distinct and unpleasant odor that many people compare to the smell of rotten eggs.

Con Edison

Designers need to be taught that problem solving is the essence of the job.

You think peaches really look like that? Wrong. We designed better fruits and veggies. You think the trees and grass look like that naturally? Wrong again, we designed everything about our environment.

I think design students should learn about how design has been the central theme of every single human advancement since we started using tools.

The History of User Interface

This is a tragedy to me. How can students become designers if they don’t learn UI History? From Xerox Park where they invented the modern user interface (among other things) to a steady stream of gesture innovations including:

  • Keyboards
  • Mice / Trackpads
  • Voice commands
  • Mobile/Touch UI
  • Pen Tablets
  • VR/AR Headsets

Each of these has a story. When capacitive touch sensing was introduced in smart phones, it changed the way we designed interfaces. I wish there were courses that went through different operating systems and how they evolved over time.

Great Interfaces

The king obviously is the spreadsheet. The craziest UI ever made, which also happens to be the best UI ever made. However, look at interfaces like Visio, PowerPoint, Salesforce.com, Trello, Craigslist, and others. Each one tells a story of how design is used to create value. Some are ugly and some are beautiful, but they are all great interfaces.

I wish students left school with a full knowledge of what makes software great and not an irrational love of everything Apple does.

Business Software Design

For some reason, they focus almost exclusively on mobile design in school. Why? I believe that business software has more opportunity and pays better. The irrational focus on mobile makes no sense to me at all. It means that new designers know nothing about Information Architecture and Data Visualization. These are key skills to make it as a designer. I can imagine entire courses focused on these topics.

Technical Expertise

The obvious is Figma. Why aren’t schools teaching students to be advanced power users? It’s the primary tool. Teach it to the kids! Additionally, students should know the basics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Maybe jQuery would be good enough, but they need to know how to inspect a page and mess around with it. If they don’t, how are they going to speak with engineers? Finally, they should know tools like JIRA. It’s not the most glamourous part of the job, but if you are JIRA fluent, you will bond more with your engineers.

Storytelling and Presenting

It’s amazing to me how poor the presentation skills of designers are. To be a leader, you need to be able to present your ideas clearly and concisely. How many people still load up pages with bullet points and read them to the audience? It’s embarrassing. Learn to tell a story and get people inspired by your ideas.


I don’t think any of these things are taught in HCI programs and UX Bootcamps, but I don’t understand why not. They are clearly valuable. Is it because they don’t have any teachers who know the content? Is it because no one has written the curriculum?

I don’t know the answer, but I wish the designers of the courses (yes, courses are designed too!) would do a better job.


4 responses to “HCI Program Wishlist”

  1. Bill Lazar Avatar

    Hi Glenn, hope all is well with you and yours these days. Are you on Fediverse yet?

  2. Hey Glen! 👋

    Great points all. 🎯

    Having taught several UX bootcamps at General Assembly, I’m happy to say that we did teach many of the skills you mention.

    Here’s how the curriculum stacks against your list:
    ✅ Appreciation of the omnipresence of design
    ✅ Information Architecture
    ✅ Form design (including spreadsheets)
    ✅ Collaboration with developers (via hackathons)
    ✅ Design presentation skills
    ✅ Figma (taught Sketch in the first one, which was a while back, and then switched to Figma)
    ✅ Design for enterprise
    ❌ Coding

    Also, I imagine that usability testing is implied in your list, which we taught as well…

    1. Feature request for your blog: the ability to edit comments.

      Left out one item from the list above:
      ❌ Jira / Shortcut (I agree that this should be covered)

      1. Glen Lipka Avatar

        I’m sorry Shalom. Every single junior designer I meet from a bootcamp or HCI program is nearly illiterate on these things. When I say Figma power use, I mean 8 or 9 out of 10. They don’t know even moderate use. They don’t know the history of UI. They don’t know good Ui from bad. They are not learning what you think you are teaching.

Whatya think?