Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology: A Possible First Step Towards Being a Usability Engineer

By James Collister on February 8th, 2009

RorschachLooking for an alternative to counseling, Meredith Silvia accepted a job as a usability engineer after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in psychology and government. She seeks to understand the ways in which people learn and remember knowledge and applies that information towards making hardware, software, and websites more user-friendly. Silvia ‘s job makes other employees’ jobs simpler.

With the end user in mind, Silvia meets with a variety of parties during the design process. She first interviews groups of customers to determine their needs for the particular program or website. Next she moves on to the software engineers, promoting layouts and colors that will help to avoid employee confusion. Finally, Silvia draws on her education from her bachelor’s degree in psychology to anticipate what employees will want to accomplish with the program or website. Determining which choices will be available and when users will be able to make them is one of the most important steps in designing efficient tools.

In order to better determine what users will want to accomplish, Silvia regularly performs usability tests. Initially, a piece of paper with the program layout is placed in front of the test subject to mimic what he or she would see on a computer screen.Silvia¬† then asks the user to point to a button of his or her choosing. After pointing, another piece of paper is whipped in front of the viewer to replace the previous “screen”.

Another benefit of a bachelor’s degree in psychology is the training to be a good investigator. Usability engineers must probe test subjects in order to discover the reasons for their choices. For example, Silvia says that sometimes a user will say a page should have a print button available. Further investigation into the reason for that need may reveal that the user simply wants to get a better look at the page. The need would then best be served by creating an improved display rather than adding a print button.

Silvia also holds that a usability engineer must be skilled in the art of persuasion in order to work with the user and introduce changes. Usability engineers also require good oral and written communication skills along with a certain amount of creativity to find innovative solutions to difficult problems.

There is no formal path to becoming a usability engineer. However, having a bachelor’s degree in psychology is very helpful in understanding the behavior and choices of employees. Technical knowledge is a must as well.Silvia¬† learned her technical skills by working as a tester, technical writer, and trainer. In addition, usability engineers should be comfortable working in a fast-paced environment in order to meet the tight deadlines sometimes imposed.

Students interested in more information on becoming a usability engineer may go to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society webpage. Prospective students may also contact Ashford University for more information on starting a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. is another useful source of information with an extensive list of available programs and additional educational resources.

Category: Bachelors Degrees,Medical and Nursing

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