“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

design = making things

I have had a real problem lately. I realized that I don’t make anything. I do stuff, I create ideas, I structure behaviors, and I organize flows. But as an interaction designer, I really don’t make anything. Now, not all interaction designers face this problem. Some actually do make things. They make the tangible usable (not like usability) interfaces that people will poke at with their mice, pens, fingers, styli, etc. However, I don’t.

Part of this is that I used to do this. I used to be neck deep in HTML and fireworks every day making interfaces. But the languages of HTML got so complex. I mean JavaScript isn’t hard, but it isn’t easy to do right. And then you throw in PHP and Python and CSS and AJAX and, and, and, and. I didn’t even get into Flex, and Flash, and XAML and Java.

Basically, making something, is hard.

Boo hoo!

It is hard, but it should also be a primary part of the job, the same way that other designers all have their own model making skills. We have to make models. We have to make a true, realistic representation of the things we want others to build production quality versions of. We need to do this because it is the only way to really do our designs. We can’t communicate without them. Annotations are nice, but the visual design–the layer of communication between system and user–is what communicates the interactions we design for. If we cannot control this layer, if we cannot be clear in our intentions for presenting the behaviors we design as interaction designers we are all very lost indeed in the long term.

Now, I know this is hard and quite honestly, I’m not sure I’m all ready to make this leap myself from UX Practioner/Designer to Interactive User Interface Designer, but I firmly believe that the greatest impact we can have as designers is to become interactive designer developers. Where we bridge interaction design, visual communication design, and UI engineering. We do this from the point of view of designer, where we focus on the right design and getting the design right for all stakeholders, especially users.

There is an alternative here. Find partners. Find people who have the skills you lack and bring them in. A kick-ass UI team is an IxD, a VD and a UI Engineer working in collaboration. But this is not always cost effective, nor is it always efficient. Many organizations want this in ONE person and while there have been many in the UX community who have scoffed at this, I believe that arrogance will come back to haunt us all.

I have been humbled by my fellow industrial designers of late and while I can always stand a bit of humility, it is not a good place to be right now. I need to grow as a designer, as a craftperson, and I need to catch up.

An industrial designer is a visual design and a model maker. They supply a complete communicated vision to the designs they work on and in the case of my peers here at Motorola Enterprise Mobility, they work very closely with mechanical engineering to make sure that final product goes into tooling knowing what will come out the other end of production. They specify finishes, and exact mechanical specifications. They own every last detail of the physical 3D design. Most importantly for this conversation, they also own the graphics. They own all of it, and I have never heard a single ID in the studio where I work utter the words, “but we need a graphic designer to do that.” Many of them are even great interaction designers to boot.

I have seen the same in the interactive world, where there are really good interactive designer doing great interaction design. They can’t always articulate the theories or otherwise explain their unconscious decisions, but they are molding the foundations of interaction design just fine and they are doing it in real time with production.

We need to not be in the way. We need to own the solution.

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