A photograph of Santa Monica College

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Creating Futures in Interaction Design

Santa Monica College student Casey MacAllister dropped out of college to support her family in 2008 when the stock market crashed. Then, she stumbled on her dream career: Interaction Design (IxD). She started looking at four-year programs and could find only two in California that offered bachelor’s degrees in interaction design, a field closely related to “user experience design.”

The degrees at these two colleges cost around $160,000 — more than she could afford.

That changed in May 2015, when SMC received final approval from the California Community Colleges Board of Governors to be part of a landmark pilot program allowing 15 community colleges to offer Bachelor of Science degrees in interaction design, a field of study not offered by the California State University or University of California. SMC’s four-year degree would cost a little over $10,000 — a sharp contrast to $160,000.

The median salary for Interaction or User Experience Design professionals in Southern California is $115,000, according to a 2014 salary survey.

“The interaction design field has evolved so quickly, even the tech industry can barely keep up with its growth – the shortage of skilled interaction designers is just overwhelming,” said Steve Vincent, Vice President, Music & Soundtracks for Disney Channel Worldwide. “We need these graduates to continue our symbiotic relationship with the economy of Los Angeles and California.”

“The interaction design field has evolved so quickly, even the tech industry can barely keep up with its growth — the shortage of skilled interaction designers is just overwhelming,” – Steve Vincent, Vice President, Music & Soundtracks for Disney Channel Worldwide

Daniel Ice, founder of LA-based startup Commerce.io, found it even more difficult to find qualified interaction designers than engineers. The rise of mobile applications or “apps” changing how people interact with digital things is credited with interaction design finding its own niche.

Jill DaSilva, a single mom and former business owner, relocated from Orange County to attend SMC, the only school that she found offered what hiring managers were looking for in graphic and web design. She made $40,000 a year at her first job with a tech startup in Santa Monica, after completing SMC’s certificates in graphic and web design. In two years, she was making $120,000. But, said DaSilva, a bachelor’s degree would have helped her command a higher salary.

“I am living proof of why SMC is the perfect place for this degree – they gave me the foundation I needed to be successful,” said DaSilva, who was Head of User Experience Design at General Assembly, a training center for tech professionals in Santa Monica.

And as for Casey MacAllister, SMC’s bachelor’s degree is nothing short of a dream come true.

“To think that I would be set up for a great career with so many options and not have to worry about debt weighing me down – I can’t tell you what that means,” she said.

The Interaction Design program is headquartered at SMC’s new Center for Media and Design. The 120-unit baccalaureate degree will offer ways for students to also earn an Associate degree or a certificate in interaction design. Check out smcdesigntech.org for updates.

(A longer version of this article ran in the May 20, 2015 issue of SMC in Focus)

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