Interview with Jan Spyridakis, University of Washington HCDE Department
26 May 2011
GALAxy interviews Jan Spyridakis, Chair of the University of Washington’s Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE). Through its new certificate program for Global Technology & Communication Management (GTCM), as well as through other educational programs and research, HDCE is building bridges between the localization industry, education, and human centered design research.
Organization Name: Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE), University of Washington
Organization Head: Jan Spyridakis (Department Chair)
Date Established: Emerged from a program in Technical Communication and became an independent department (the Department of Technical Communication) in 1989, renamed as Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering in 2009
Location: Seattle, Washington
Program links: hcde.uw.edu/gtcm or
Number of faculty, staff, and students: 14 Professors, 5 Lecturers, 1 Post Doc, 25Affiliate/Adjunct Faculty, 17 Research Assistants, 15 Teaching Assistants, 8 Staff, and 220 students
What is the mission of the University of Washington’s Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering? How do you seek to fulfill that mission?
HCDE’s mission is to advance design knowledge by using innovative techniques to study human activity. We then translate that knowledge into meaningful information and system designs. HCDE faculty and students design the future by considering the role of communication and technology in human activity around the world; by prioritizing the needs, desires, and behaviors of people and communities who interact with technical systems; and by addressing the specifics of design by working with interdisciplinary communities of researchers to build innovative technological solutions. HCDE fulfills this mission by offering three degree pathways (BS, MS, PhD) and three certificates (Global Technology & Communication Management, User-Centered Design, Technical Writing & Editing). Furthermore, HCDE conducts research to meet the needs described in its mission statement.
Tell us about your new certificate program for Global Technology & Communication Management (GTCM).
The Global Technology & Communication Management (GTCM) Certificate is an evening, graduate-level certificate program for students or professionals who want to master challenges in localization management. Students complete three courses that explore how communication, international policies, and market relevance affect international product design and management strategies in that arena. Graduates of the program will be able to manage a localization team and determine best strategies for managing effective global technology and communication projects.
How is this new program distinct from University of Washington’s existing localization training program?
The GTCM certificate differs from the existing localization training program in that it fulfills students’ needs to study management strategies in globalization and localization at the graduate level, while also gaining expertise from HCDE’s award-winning faculty and industry partners. Students completing the GTCM certificate also receive graduate credits that can be applied to the Master of Science in Human Centered Design & Engineering. (The University of Washington’s existing Localization training program is a non-credit certificate program.) The GTCM curriculum is overseen by an advisory board that includes professionals working at twelve localization companies.
What types of students and professionals are enrolling in these two programs?
Applicants to the GTCM program will be new and mid-career professionals (e.g., user experience researchers seeking an understanding of cross-cultural research implications and of localization management practices). Most applicants will have a bachelor's degree or higher from a four-year, accredited institution. Applicants to the localization training program are either looking to transition into an entry role as a localization engineer or as a localization project manager, or are already working in this role at an early stage in their careers, but are seeking more detailed knowledge. The Localization certificate enables students to perform localization work, whereas the GTCM program enables students to manage localization work.
How does your department work to build bridges with the private sector? And how does your department prepare students for today’s job market?
In recent years, HCDE has worked vigorously to build relationships within industry to benefit both our students and our faculty. Two major pushes within the department to build bridges have occurred through: (1) the creation of advisory boards that drive curriculum and outreach; and (2) the creation of the HCDE Corporate Affiliates Program. The advisory board that drives the GTCM program is composed of faculty and industry partners. The department felt that it was critical to have practitioners working with faculty to develop curriculum that is both rigorous and appropriate for today’s marketplace. The Corporate Affiliates Program offers companies direct access to our students, faculty, and research projects.
Realizing that today’s marketplace can be challenging for new graduates, HCDE works hard to ensure that students leave with a solid foundation in theory, methods, and design. In addition to this foundation, HCDE faculty understand the importance of real world experience, and therefore tie practical experience to their coursework. Many HCDE courses link up with local companies to provide projects that students complete alongside their learning of methods and theory.
What do you see as the major developments now unfolding in the field of technical communication, particularly since the Department changed its focus to Human Centered Design & Engineering? What are the major challenges and opportunities that such changes present to HCDE, and to the field more generally? How is HCDE responding to those challenges and opportunities?
The field of technical communication has changed over time, as have HCDE faculty hiring practices and research. Print media have morphed into online and mobile formats, and technical writers have found themselves becoming information developers and user experience (UX) researchers and designers who are communicating with global audiences. These UX professionals must understand users and conduct research about them. These specialists must also understand global markets and the implications for localization in product development and management.
HCDE puts humans at the forefront of all design processes—developing and designing information products and applications to meet the needs of users around the world. This change in how information is stored and delivered (e.g., print vs. digital), combined with the way in which we understand and interact with information products, led to the development of the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, and more recently to the development of the Certificate in Global Technology & Communication Management.
Dr. Jan H. Spyridakis, Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, University of Washington, has taught style in writing, research methods, and international communication. Her research focuses on the refinement of research methods, remote assessment of the effect of design decisions on comprehension and usability, and international communication. Jan has received many teaching and publication awards, and is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication. In addition to her university work, she consults with organizations and companies regarding their communication needs.