Does it make sense for me to go back to school for Cognitive Psychology?

19 Jan 2012 - 10:26am
2 years ago
4 replies
629 reads
BitterD
2011

I majored in Industrial Design and HCI but am interested in Cognitive Psychology, but after reading Don Norman's article about the flaw in design education, I think what he says makes sense in that a lot of designers end up as pixel pushers because they don't really know much about people and how they behave to be designing for them, so they end up focusing on visuals only, which further causes companies to think designers are there to make things "pretty" rather than solve problems.

Would I benefit from getting a Masters/PHD in Cognitive Psychology? I want to be an expert in human behavior and really know what I'm talking about when I make design decisions. I don't think people take me seriously because I have a design degree. I was thinking about going back to school for IxD, but I'm afraid of ending up as a pixel pusher again once I get out.

Comments

23 Jan 2012 - 10:34am
pkdaly
2010

Sounds like you have your answer already.  Put simply, design 'education' is not education, but 'training'. It is an important distinction--education provides the basis to develop new knowledge, where training is applying knowledge, tools and techniques to achieve a specific end. If your training is all about pushing pixels, what do you do when the solution doesn't involve pixels, computers, or technology at all? You can draw on your education to make connections and provide new solutions; and more importantly apply the scientific method to understand what you don't know, as Dr. Norman points out.

If you want to be an expert in human behavior you can't get that through any design school. You also need some understanding of social psych, industrial/organizational psych, learning theory, etc. as well. Look for a program that has some applied perspective since you are a practicioner.  I got an MS in Applied Experimental Psychology, focusing on CogPsy but with the broad background, and courses in human factors taught in the school of engineering. A lot of what I do now is pushing pixels, but the understanding of the problem and solution to get to that design draws on all the psychology I learned.

23 Jan 2012 - 11:05am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

pkdaly, please watch your generalizations. There are many good design schools our there that do give you "education", in addition to training, providing that foundation for developing new knowledge.
Jack
On Jan 23, 2012, at 10:50 AM, pkdaly wrote:

Sounds like you have your answer already.  Put simply, design 'education' is not education, but 'training'. It is an important distinction--education provides the basis to develop new knowledge, where training is applying knowledge, tools and techniques to achieve a specific end. If your training is all about pushing pixels, what do you do when the solution doesn't involve pixels, computers, or technology at all? You can draw on your education to make connections and provide new solutions; and more importantly apply the scientific method to understand what you don't know, as Dr. Norman points out.

If you want to be an expert in human behavior you can't get that through any design school. You also need some understanding of social psych, industrial/organizational psych, learning theory, etc. as well. Look for a program that has some applied perspective since you are a practicioner.  I got an MS in Applied Experimental Psychology, focusing on CogPsy but with the broad background, and courses in human factors taught in the school of engineering. A lot of what I do now is pushing pixels, but the understanding of the problem and solution to get to that design draws on all the psychology I learned.

23 Jan 2012 - 10:47am
Vicky Teinaki
2008

I agree on an applied Masters of sorts.

As a current PhD student, I'd be wary of commiting to doing the subject unless you're really keen about becoming an expert in cognitive psychology. It's pretty intense, and if you're moving from another discipline you'd have to ramp up on background knowledge. 

23 Jan 2012 - 11:55am
Moses Wolfenstein
2010

I have to second Vicky on this one. The road to the PhD is a long one and in almost all cases it's really not designed to prepare people for doing applied work. This is actually a major contemporary issue in higher ed. as institutions keep cranking out PhDs and in virtually all fields there aren't enough jobs for all those newly minted degree holders.

Even though UX/IX is greatly influenced by cognitive psychology, PhD programs in that field are also pretty much designed to prepare their students to be researchers and academics. If you think you need another degree to buy you more credibility or just to get another tool set, I'd definitely say look at MA/MS programs. If you find you love academia, then by all means go for the PhD.

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