Interaction design bachelor's degree arrives at SMC

This fall, Santa Monica College will see its first cohort of students in the new Interaction Design Bachelor’s Degree program as part of new legislation from the California Senate. Senate Bill 850, sponsored by Senator Marty Block and approved by Governor Jerry Brown, gave community colleges the opportunity to offer a bachelor’s degree program. In January 2015, out of the 34 applicants from the 112 community colleges in the system, SMC was one of 15 community colleges selected.

“It’s within Career Technology Education and they were looking specifically for disciplines and programs where students couldn’t find those degrees or programs elsewhere,” said Jamie Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Interaction Design at SMC and faculty leader for the Interaction Design Bachelor’s Degree.

Working with an advisory board made up of industry professionals, Cavanaugh and her colleagues sought to develop an appropriate program.

“One of the things that has been apparent over the last several years is that it really would benefit our students to go more in depth into uX [user experience] and interaction design,” said Cavanaugh.

With the field growing so quickly over the last several years, the board saw a large need within the industry.

The Westside region of Los Angeles is home to over 500 tech startup companies. Major companies such as Google, Yahoo!, YouTube and BuzzFeed have all opened offices in the area.

“We’re located here in Silicon Beach — there’s just a lot of opportunity for our students,” said Cavanaugh. “So to prepare them for that opportunity, we felt really strongly that we wanted to develop a curriculum that really gave them the skill sets that they needed.”

Interaction designers work to create appealing, effective and intuitive interfaces for smart objects, mobile devices and websites.

“One of the things that is unique about out program is, other than some expensive art schools, you can’t really find interaction design degrees,” said Cavanaugh. “This has actually been true for quite a while. For our students who are interested in web and mobile, uX, interaction design — any combination of those — there really were no other programs for them to go into.”

In California, there are only two private colleges that offer a bachelor’s degree in interaction design, including Arts Center College of Design and the California College of the Arts. While the costs of these programs total around $160,000, the same degree at SMC will cost around $10,000.

When putting together the proposal, they reached out to students and industry professionals for support and received over 100 letters that affirmed the need for the degree, including those by local tech companies like Microsoft, Warner Brothers and Disney.

“I think our students were aware that in order to really secure the position that they would like to have in the industry, they needed to actually go deeper into uX and interaction design. So this degree really does that,” said Cavanaugh. “Even for those who are working within the industry, they realized that it’s very desirable to have that bachelor’s degree and to have more experience.”

Kaitlin Jetviroj, a graphics design major, was one of the many students to send in a letter.

“Before I even knew about the program, before it existed, I was trying to find something like that,” said Jetviroj. “I knew I didn’t want to just get an associate’s, I wanted to get a higher education.”

Unhappy with her options, she was planning on settling for the Graphics Design program at CSU Long Beach.

“I love graphics design, but my main focus is more digital stuff,” said Jetviroj. “And then this popped up and it’s kind of perfectly filling in what was needed in LA.”

This past fall Cavanaugh held information sessions about the new program open to anyone interested, even those outside of SMC. Jetviroj, one of the attendants, said, “She [Cavanaugh] was explaining the whole program, so I got a full understanding of what the program was.”

“The bachelor’s degree builds on the existing Associate of Science degree in graphics design,” said Cavanaugh. The A.S. degree was revised to include two different concentrations, one in print and illustration and the other in user experience design. The bachelor’s degree will build on the required courses for the user experience concentration.

The second two years of the degree include 13 upper division courses, 11 of which are interaction design courses, one an english course and one a psychology course.

“We needed something that developed our students’ skill set in writing,” said Cavanaugh. “[And] cognitive psychology is a really important skill set for being a successful interaction designer.”

As with the current Graphics Design program, some of the instructors for the upper division interaction design courses will be coming from the industry.

Currently, they expect to have between 20 and 30 students in the first cohort starting this fall. While applications were due in January for priority consideration, rolling admissions will continue until May 13.