Discovering Human-Computer Interaction at UC Berkeley
When I walked into Jacobs Hall in 2018 to take a course about user interfaces, I had no idea that it would completely change my academic trajectory. Since then, my desire for an interdisciplinary education has led me through pockets of resources and communities threaded across campus that form the vibrant fabric of the expansive HCI community at Cal.
A common question I get during my chats with prospective graduate students and current undergraduates interested in HCI at Cal is: what communities and resources exist for students who want to study and research at the intersection of technology, communication, society, arts, and design at UC Berkeley?
In this post, I’ll share some of the departments, groups, resources, and courses that helped me tap into the HCI community at Cal. I hope this post helps future Cal students experience the magic of engaging with communities adjacent to their current academic interests and maybe even decide to pursue HCI at Cal as I did three years ago!
How to use this list of resources…
…if you are a prospective or current undergraduate student:
I recommend checking out the sections below on Campus Departments and Centers as well as Student Groups to find ways to get exposure to new fields of thought on campus. If you are looking to deepen your coursework in areas related to HCI, you may find it useful to check out the section below on Courses.
…if you are a prospective graduate student:
I recommend checking out the section below about Faculty and Research Groups to learn about individuals and labs whose research interests may align with yours. Additionally, check out the sections below on Campus Departments and Centers as well as Courses to get an idea for the academic community around HCI at Cal!
…if you’re confused by the many acronyms at Cal:
You can use this post as an HCI-themed glossary — just ctrl+F!
Campus Departments and Centers
The HCI community at UC Berkeley is distributed across various nodes scattered throughout campus. Each of these nodes harbors core connections to HCI faculty, research groups, and course offerings while simultaneously presenting distinctive opportunities for engagement. In this section, I’ll share some departments and centers on campus that offer HCI-related resources, as well as what made them uniquely useful for me as a Cal student!
The EECS department is home to some of the HCI faculty at UC Berkeley as well as various research centers that engage in HCI research. Check out the EECS department’s page about HCI for some of these connections.
The technical courses offered by the EECS department helped me build a strong foundation in engineering, prototyping, and end-to-end product development as a student in this department for five years.
The School of Information is a professional and research community focused on topics including computer science, design, social sciences, management, law, and policy. For a current listing of HCI faculty, publications, and news from the School of information, check out the I School page about HCI.
I tapped into the resources at the I School to supplement my EECS education with courses on interface aesthetics, natural language processing, and human-computer interaction literature. Engaging with the I School community was also a great way for me to network and build professional connections that promise to last beyond my time as a student.
The Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation is UC Berkeley’s interdisciplinary hub for learning and making at the intersection of design and technology. Located at Jacobs Hall is a collection of labs and equipment for prototyping as well an active all-purpose Makerspace staffed by design experts, accessible to students with a Maker pass. The Jacobs Institute website also lists other fabrication spaces found across campus and around the Berkeley community. The Jacobs Institute is also home to a set of design innovation courses, offers the Berkeley Certificate in Design Innovation (BCDI), and awards the Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalyst Grant to student teams working on novel projects. There are also several student roles available at Jacobs.
My time at Jacobs Hall gave me a new lens on my academic trajectory that shifted my focus from programming and building software to prototyping and building experiences. This shift gave me an opportunity to merge my technical skills with my artistic interests, which I explored through courses at Jacobs including user interface design and development, critical making, and visual communication and sketching. The Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalysts Grant also supported two of my projects (Vibrato and RainyDay) as an undergraduate student.
The Berkeley Center for New Media is an interdisciplinary research center that studies and shapes media transition and emergence from diverse perspectives. With approximately 120 affiliated faculty, advisors, and scholars from 35 UC Berkeley departments, the BCNM is a rich network for students interested in trans-disciplinary critical thinking and making. The BCNM offers the BCNM Lyman Fellowship and a Designated Emphasis in New Media for PhD students, a Graduate Certificate in New Media for Masters students, and an Undergraduate Certificate in New Media for undergraduate students.
When I walked into my first event at BCNM, nestled in a cozy room next to the Free Speech Movement Café at Cal, I knew that this community of interdisciplinary scholars, researchers, and experts had a spark that no other campus community offers. As a BCNM student and alumna, I regularly attend talks and panels about the social, technological, political, and cultural currents in the American and global spheres (e.g. the semester-long series of talks and conversations on Indigenous Technologies and Fandom and Piracy).
Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute
Located at Sutardja Dai Hall, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute sponsor access to a variety of labs, facilities, programs, and events. In particular, the Invention Lab is a makerspace facility focused on innovation, with a network of design specialists with expertise in prototyping and fabricating novel interactive products, embedded sensing systems, and integrated mobile devices.
I reflect back fondly on my memories of ideating and building prototypes in the Invention Lab with teammates and friends, sometimes late into the night, as we experienced the magic of turning sketches into physical devices with our own hands. For me, the Invention Lab was one of my go-to locations for prototyping resources, design advice, and learning from observing others’ creative projects.
Berkeley Arts + Design is a central node in the arts and design landscape at Berkeley, with a helpful compilation of art- and design-related programs, centers, venues, news, and groups that includes many resources also listed in this post!
In Fall 2019, I took a fun course called “Thinking Through Art and Design @Berkeley” (L&S 25) offered by the Letters & Science department and sponsored by Berkeley Arts + Design. The lectures and guest talks for this class took place in a real theater in the BAMPFA!
A public-facing visual arts center, BAMPFA presents over 20 gallery exhibitions and 450 film programs each year, with an expansive repository of art objects representing various global cultures and historical periods.
Whenever I visited the BAMPFA, sometimes as a student of L&S 25 and other times en route to Starbucks or Cinnaholic, I loved looking through the latest BAMPFA exhibits to enjoy the well-designed multimedia installments (including cool VR experiences!). I see the BAMPFA as an accessible campus resource for students to learn more about curating and constructing meaningful art exhibits.
With connections to over a dozen affiliate departments and centers at UC Berkeley, CNMAT is dedicated to multidisciplinary research and the creative use of sound, linking the concert hall to the laboratory. CNMAT offers educational, performance, and research programs focused on the creative interaction between new music and emerging technologies.
As a student of a CNMAT course called “Sound and Music Computing with CNMAT Technologies” (MUSIC 158A) in Fall 2019, I learned how to use Max 8/MSP, a visual programming language for music developed by Cycling ’74. At the end of the semester, I got to present my final project (RainyDay) at CNMAT, which is surrounded by nature and greenery (and the occasional deer!), slightly north of the main UC Berkeley campus.
As an undergraduate student, I completed the Human-Centered Design Course Thread, which let me deepen my coursework in HCI-adjacent fields. I also enjoy staying connected with the Townsend community via Twitter to learn about talks and panels that it sponsors!
A “think tank for the arts,” the Arts Research Center acts as a hub and a meeting place, a space for reflection where artists, scholars, curators, and civic arts leaders from a variety of disciplines can gather and learn from one another. Along with Berkeley Center for New Media, the ARC co-sponsors the Art, Technology, and Culture (ATC) Colloquium.
I enjoy attending talks and panels from the ATC colloquium to learn from stories and provocations presented by inspiring speakers from diverse backgrounds and experiences!
The Center for Technology, Society & Policy is a multidisciplinary research and design/build center focusing on the emergent social and policy issues arising from the development and adoption of technology.
While I have not engaged directly with the CTSP, I enjoy keeping up to date with the current projects that it sponsors, to learn about the latest work related to policy, technology, and equity. This semester, some of my friends are CTSP fellows doing critical work in these areas.
Faculty and Research Groups
Among the excellent HCI faculty at UC Berkeley are Professors(/Lecturers) Eric Paulos, Björn Hartmann, Niloufar Salehi, Kimiko Ryokai, Marti Hearst, Ken Goldberg, Anca Dragan, Rediet Abebe, Michael Ball, Sarah Chasins and Aditya Parameswaran.
In addition to individual faculty research groups, here are a few specific research labs relevant to HCI:
The Berkeley Institute of Design (BiD) is a research group that fosters a deeply interdisciplinary approach to design for the 21st century, spanning human-computer interaction, mechanical design, education, architecture and art practice. The BiD website has an excellent compilation of over 100 locations for prototyping resources around Berkeley.
The Hybrid Ecologies Lab is Professor Eric Paulos’s research group. Members of this lab explore scientific research, design, and art through the innovation, development, deployment, and evaluation of novel physical devices and interactive systems that advance our computing culture, encourage broad participation by non-experts within science and engineering, improve human health and well-being, and provoke critical debate and inquiry concerning our existing and emerging technological society.
AFOG is an interdisciplinary research group housed at the UC Berkeley School of Information that conducts research and aims to educate, develop policy, build systems, bring theory into practice, and bridge disciplinary boundaries. AFOG’s mission centers human values in the design and use of technical systems to support more equitable and just societies.
Over 50 faculty, over 300 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and undergraduate research assistants at the Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research (BAIR) Lab focus on computer vision, machine learning, natural language processing, planning, control, and robotics. Specific themes of research include multi-modal deep learning, human-compatible AI, and connecting AI with other scientific disciplines and the humanities.
Cal has several student groups for engaging in activities related to design, art, and technology. Some such groups with awesome undergraduate communities are Design at Berkeley, Innovative Design, Cal Blueprint, Extended Reality @ Berkeley, Pioneers in Engineering, and the Platform Art Space.
To find HCI courses offered at UC Berkeley, you can start by looking at the HCI at Berkeley website, NWMEDIA course list, DESINV course list, and INFO course list. Additionally, you may find it useful to consult the BCDI curriculum and the semesterly approved course list for the BCNM certificate programs. Here are of my recommendations for specific courses:
- CS 160 — User Interface Design and Development
- CS 260B — Human-Computer Interaction Research
- INFO 217A — Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Research
- NWMEDIA C203 — Critical Making
- NWMEDIA C265 — Interface Aesthetics
- INFO C262 — Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces
- INFO C263 — Technologies for Creativity and Learning
- ART C166 — Critical Practices: People, Places, Participation
For me, settling into the HCI community at Cal has been an experience full of twists and turns, unexpected connections, and refreshing perspectives from people and groups throughout campus. If you are a student interested in HCI at Cal, I hope you can use my HCI discovery journey as a reference in starting your own! If this blog post is a helpful starting point for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit from it as well.
If you’d like a summary of the resources listed in this post, check out this Twitter thread!
Janaki Vivrekar is a Masters student at the Hybrid Ecologies Lab in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department, where she is studying human-computer interaction and new media, with research interests in critical design, embodied interaction, social media interventions, creativity support tools, education, and accessibility. Previously, Janaki earned undergraduate degrees in computer science and applied mathematics at UC Berkeley, along with the BCNM Undergraduate Certificate in New Media, the Berkeley Certificate in Design Innovation, the Sutardja Certificate In Entrepreneurship and Technology, and the Townsend Center Human-Centered Design Course Thread. In Summer 2021, Janaki will be a lecturer for CS 160 (User Interface Design and Development) at UC Berkeley.