Despite high ranking, UT computer science lacks product design focus

Mohammad Syed

The beauty of software is that it allows us to make products and commercialize them rapidly. Computer science (CS), and I’ve said this a million times in my past columns, seems to be the most flourishing market in the world. At UT, a school with a top ten computer science department and the largest graduating computer science graduating class in the country, career success seems inevitable for most UTCS students.

Yet, amongst all this, there’s still a part of technology that UTCS isn’t doing a great job of tapping into —product development, specifically in the field of design.  

Why does design matter? When creating products based on technology, functionality is fulfilled by writing code. But functionality alone won’t make a product marketable or accessible. Beyond that, a product must look nice and be easy to use. In industry, this is denoted by user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). UI is the method of interacting with the product. UX is how the user feels when they use the product. The two are instrumental in creating a product that people want to use.

At technologically oriented schools like University of California, Berkeley and Stanford (also top ten CS), both UI and UX are heavily emphasized in the undergraduate computer science curriculum. At UT, it seems you can only find this emphasis in the graduate school, specifically UT’s Information School.

This needs to change immediately. With an emerging focus on entrepreneurship within UT, students need to be well versed in both the engineering and design if they want to build an amazing product.

So how do we do this? For starters, UT needs to start offering classes that focus on this topic. Perhaps this means extending the Information School’s curriculum to undergraduates. It also seems logical to build a certificate program that focuses on design for consumer technology. Currently, design is limited to fine arts majors, which doesn’t really focus on technology and a Bridging Disciples Digital Arts and Media Certificate that primarily focuses on building videogames. By having a certificate, a computer science education can be supplemented. It’s similar to how some CS students pursue the business foundations certificate or some business students pursue the CS certificate. Either way, the curriculum needs to be extended.

Beyond curriculum, research is also another medium for expanding the school’s culture to encapsulate design. Through the Freshman Research Initiative, students interested in computer science could be given access to labs that research human-computer interaction (a field of research that encompasses design).

All of this is to say that possibilities for expansion exist. It isn’t easy to build a curriculum and it isn’t easy to expand labs, but it is imperative we start promoting product design within our school. By doing this we’ll not only be able to expand our CS department, but also, we’ll be able to increase the scope of innovation that UT.

Syed is a biochemistry and humanities honors sophomore from Houston. Follow him on Twitter @mohammadasyed.