“We know what’s technically possible, but we can’t decide what’s technically reasonable. Therefore, we have to combine it to real views, perspectives and stories.”
– Technically savvy inhabitant of a Siegen retirement home in an interview, concerning the design and evaluation of a memory aid app
Starting a new degree is always an adventure and a journey into a completely different world. When I started the HCI Master programme at the University of Siegen, I barely had an idea how many opportunities and surprises were awaiting me. Coming from a background in psychology and computer science in Würzburg, I encountered a totally different approach to user-centered design: Sociology, philosophy, art and crafts. While previously, my focus was on ergonomic experiments and quantitative data – the “hard stuff” – here in Siegen, we believe in “soft stuff” like interviews and qualitative data. But this soft stuff can tell you so much more about user behaviour, preferences, needs and concerns. And it connects generations, cultures and communities. Talking about computers with pensioners, developing VR applications in Palestine or sketching lion protection software in Botswana – everything is possible here.
In complete contrast to these sociological methods, I got to know ultra-modern gadgets and techniques for the first time: 3D printers, laser cutters and Arduino controllers. Diverse projects allow you to try the newest technology like appliances for the smart home, smart watches and even Japanese robots. The best part: You can request all the new and crazy materials your heart (or project) desires, and hope the faculty is intrigued to see them used here in the future.
This kind of open atmosphere in the faculty really inspires new ideas. There’s a reason the lecturers’ office area is called “aquarium” – fully made of glass, allowing for both physical and ideological transparency. The professors emphasize the importance of exchange: They give you knowledge and you give them ideas and workforce. Enter their office and start a conversation whenever you feel like it. Talk about your project idea, ask questions or report problems – everything on eye level, so that you feel truly involved in what you are working on.
And you better do: Siegen is expecting a lot from its students. There is an unwritten agreement that each year, a team from the University of Siegen has to defend their first place in the Usability Challenge, one of the competitions awarded at the “Mensch und Computer” conference. You are subtly forced into participating – whether you like it or not. But I definitely enjoyed the challenge. It was my first time taking part in a nationwide competition and feeling so much pressure from all sides. You and your team are pushed through the whole process: Choosing a topic, planning the development, conducting interviews, sketching and designing a prototype and evaluating it – and writing a report about it, all the while keeping the merciless deadline in mind. And that’s not the only time you make this insane experience.
Does it prepare you for the future? It’s definitely one of the important aspects setting up your career – be it research or economy. Whether you want to be a designer, consultant, developer, analyst, or researcher – the HCI community opens doors to more than you can imagine. To make sure you can follow your dreams, the vast selection of modules invites you on a trip into the fields of economics, statistics, media aesthetics, e-commerce, IT security, law, robotics and much more. Having a broad set of skills is essential to survive and grow in the professional world – so take as many with you as you can. And you will never lack opportunities to apply your skills, creativity and passion practically if you want to.
In Siegen, everyone can be involved. It seems like the professors and assistants are in constant search for new colleagues – so be curious, have courage and find the niche where you belong. Or create a new one. Slowly but steadily, HCI in Siegen with its renowned projects is a growing research community. If you get hooked, there surely is a place for you to stay.