Georgia Tech MS-HCI Student Project Provides Real-World User Experience

MS-HCI students present one of their projects to company partners

Master’s students in Georgia Tech’s MS-HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) program focus on the point at which computing and daily life intersect. The research here seeks to develop user interfaces that are useful and usable in a number of focus areas like industrial design, health care, language, media, psychology, and much more.

The opportunity to learn practical skills that helps students learn how to apply technology and innovation to society is crucial. That’s why a semester-long project in the program’s Psychology 6023-Research Methods course in the fall was so beneficial.

The project called for the 65 students in the course – divided into 15 teams – to work with seven different company partners to engage in a user-centered design project over the course of 15 weeks. The teams tackled a specific problem each corporate partner faced in the real world, issues related to website and mobile application redesign, technology needs of field-based service technicians, visitor engagement at exhibits, food ordering and purchase processes, and merchant service options for small businesses.

"This course has evolved into a great partnership with companies and organizations in the Atlanta area," said Carrie Bruce, a research director for the MS-HCI program, senior research scientist in the School of Interactive Computing, and the instructor of the course. "Our students get to work on real problems and network with people across a range of industries."

One team focused on the design for a new shark exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium, encouraging visitors to move from “fear to fascination, then to conservation and celebration.” Another aimed to help Zoo Atlanta improve its conservation mission awareness by appealing to college-age and young professionals. Two other teams worked closely with Georgia Tech’s own College of Computing, one of the home schools for the MS-HCI program, to evaluate its existing website and redesigning the information architecture and navigation.

Teams conducted their own extensive research to define the project space, identify user needs and design criteria, develop and refine concepts, and evaluate prototypes. To the students, the benefits that come with working with corporate partners are clear.

They receive hands-on knowledge about what major companies face in their day-to-day operation, from appealing to customers to increasing brand or mission awareness, and more. They also hear from users that offer insight into the kinds of experience they want or their tendencies as consumers of a product. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they receive genuine feedback straight from the people that will be taking advantage of their innovations and designs.

It’s more than just the students who benefit, however. Companies that partner with MS-HCI aren’t called upon only to judge a class project. They are real consumers of the recommendations, and many actually implement many of the ideas and recommendations presented by the teams themselves.

"We have had wonderful external partners involved in the last three years and will continue to develop this course into a mechanism for strengthening our local user research and design community," said Dick Henneman, director of the MS-HCI program and professor of the practice in the School of Interactive Computing.

The PSYC 6023 course and projects received substantial assistance from teaching assistants Courtney Allen, Rishma Mendhekar, and Rachel Stuck.

Explore some of the projects from the Fall PSYC 6023-Research Methods course below.