The heat was on at Franklin Hall’s Presidents Hall. Students from the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering’s Human-Computer Interaction Design program scanned laptops, and smartphones, seeking information and finding solutions, writing them on whiteboard and post-it notes while a deadline clock ticked toward a presentation and a trip-to-Indianapolis prize.
“I love deadlines,” said Varun Pimplé, a second-year HCI/d student. “I’m very productive around deadlines.”
He got the chance to prove it at the Streaming Wars Design Challenge 2023, part of the recent HCI/d Connect’s career preparation event in which human-computer interaction design students got a real-world look at their potential futures.
The design challenge was to re-envision what it means to consume streaming video media given the rising trend in streaming subscription fatigue. The goal was to present a solution that gained customers or at least slowed their loss.
The prize included a tour of the Indianapolis company Innovatemap, which shapes technology ideas into high-growth businesses by bridging the gap between a company’s products and buyers. The winning team also would have lunch with CEO Mike Reynolds and receive mentoring on how the company is run.
Nine teams gave five-minute-or-less presentations in a Shark Tank format judged by Christian Beck, a Luddy School graduate and Innovatemap’s executive partner for growth strategy and design, featured speaker Tarun Gangwani, a Luddy School graduate and award-winning product and design professional, and Travis Brown, Luddy School senior executive assistant dean.
Evaluation was based on the quality of the pitch, the quality of the solution and its feasibility.
Pimplé had targeted the design challenge early on, and it paid off.He was part of the winning team that also included Waleed Zuberi and Mandar Bhoyar.
“They keep you flexing your creative muscles,” he said. “You don’t want to lose (that competitive edge).”
Pimplé, who graduates in May, will start this summer as a product designer for Palantir Technologies, which does data analytics that includes work for intelligence agencies such as the CIA.
“I’m lucky to have a job.”
The HCI/d program provides a competitive edge, said Erik Stolterman, professor of human-computer interaction and senior executive associate dean.
“This is a robust program,” he said. “It’s been around for over 30 years. Your education will make it possible for you to come out on top.”
Where can that education lead? Consider Preiyal Bhalla, a second-year master’s HCI/d student. Set to graduate in May, she already has a job as a video game designer for Amazon Prime in California.
Her current project is New World, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game in which a character is stuck on the supernatural island of Aeternum searching for treasure. New quests are created regularly involving weapons, battles and more.
As a member of the Center of Excellence for Women and Technology, Bhalla helps run web design workshops for undergraduate students. She used the HCI/d Connect event to network, find speakers for future workshops and get insight from Stolterman, Gangwani and Martin Siegel, professor emeritus of Informatics, and the founding director of the human-computer interaction design program.
“I wanted to meet new people, create new networks and hear their perspective on what’s happening in the industry right now,” Bhalla said.
Perspective was a big part of HCI/d Connect, which also included Michael Hardy, a senior product design manager at Etsy, an e-commerce company focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies. He joined Beck and Gangwani on the alumni discussion panel. They discussed key design topics and answered questions.
Jenny El-Shamy, HCI/d program coordinator, said the event allowed students extensive one-on-one time with the speakers.
“They advised students on the current state of the industry and prepared them for what to expect,” she said.
Sonal Jaiawal, who will wrap up her master’s in human-computer interaction design in May, continues her paid internship as a New York Times product designer.
She said the HCI program has helped her build a fundamental-strong background.
“I’ve developed design thinking, the strategy side of design, which gives me a good foundation.”
Jaiawal eventually hopes to find work “in the intersection of product design and vision.” Working for a start-up as an education tech for literacy is also an option.
Jaiawal said HCI/d Connect taught her ways to better navigate the job market and polish her interview skills.
“It’s a hard (job) phase. I hope the future is bright for me and everyone else.”
Pareshi Rajveer came to the Luddy School after earning a computer science engineering degree in India.
Her goal is to work on autonomous vehicles to improve accessibility for blind and physically impaired people, as well as reduce the overall accident rate.
Rajveer, who graduates in May, used HCI/d Connect to gain real-world insight and tips from the speakers, and improve her job search prospects.
“I want to understand how work is done in a professional setting,” she said.
During his featured talk, Gangwani, who is also the president of the Luddy School alumni board, offered real-life perspective in a designing job market that saw 200,000 layoffs in the last year.
He said the Luddy School’s human-computer interaction program builds great storytelling skills. It develops versatility and fluidity so students can flow from one idea to the next, an advantage in an environment where breaks can come in unexpected ways.
Gangwani referenced Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist and actor from the 1970s, whose philosophy centered on being like water -- if you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup. If you put it in a bottle, it becomes the bottle.
As far as finding a job, Gangwani said, be an animal. Especially in these challenging times, it’s a hunt and not a search. Work in a pack with others and not as an individual. Be a scientist and investigate, be an actor and portray your best self.
Finally, tell great stories.
“It’s not where you end up,” he said, “it’s the journey. What matters is being part of something.”