My management/industrial engineering classes at MIT were mostly through the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and were largely math and theory focused - we studied things like production processes, statistical process control, costing, and analysis of stock value vs. price. My management/IE classes at Stanford were mostly project and case based, and had names like "Fostering Creativity." I did study organizational structure and culture, but that was in the Sociology department.

While interface design and industrial engineering may seem like a strange combination, the mix has proven valuable. For one of my class projects in IE, my group acted as a creativity consultant to a service organization affiliated with Stanford University. Their list of problems included repeated incidents of clients who entered their building, ignored their receptionist/information desk, and headed up into private office space to look for help.

In addition to helping facilitate my group's creativity exercises, I did a fast interface/usability analysis of the premises (and a day's worth of unobtrusive hanging out). I discovered the following:

  1. The information/reception office was labeled with the name of the person who had donated the money to fund it, not with the name of the organization as a whole. (No clear indication of function)
  2. While the information office was directly visible from the front door, to get to it clients had to walk through the lobby (well lit atrium, plants and couches, area rugs) and cross a hallway that was clearly private office space (more dimly lit, lined with bulletin boards and office doors, industrial carpeting). [Imagine a T shape, with the path from the front door as the leg, the hallway as the arms, and the office at the center top]. Visitors invariably stopped at the border between the lobby and the hallway, and usually then turned around to wander in the other direction. (Interface commands should be with an appropriate cognitive group, novices shouldn't be forced to navigate deep functionality to access basic functions).
  3. The signage directing people to the information center and other offices was on the same board as the center's schedule, and next to a table and bulletin board filled with flyers and other information. Folks walked right past it. (Insufficiently parsimonious, no highlighting of contextually important information).
I suggested several changes, including a change of signage, some green plants in the hallway to make it look more "lobbyish," and a large, colorful rug runner spread between the front door and the info. desk (spanning the hallway, and providing a - literally - clear path of entry). It seems to have helped.