“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

What is IxD and What does an Interaction Designer Do? Discuss!

In preparing for a meeting about my program I was forced to define some things in a way that can speak to the widest education audience of administrators and teachers. Here are 2 things I came up with that seems to be sticking and even got some good feedback from people on Twitter, so I’m sharing here.

What is Interaction Design?

Interaction Design is a multi-disciplinary design discipline that uses human understanding to manage the growth of complexity due to but not limited in scope to technology.

When first posted it said “multi-disciplinary practice”. This led to some people bringing up Applied Anthropology as possibly another practice that fit under this title. I don’t really mind sharing too much and as a trained Anthropologist sharing with Anthropology is pretty darn good with me. But there is definitely something particular about being a “design discipline” that separates IxD from Anthropology. The use of abductive thinking which in my mind separates design from other problem-solving methods (see recent IxDA thread) is core to the interaction design discipline. This separates it quite dramatically from Applied Anthropology.

What does the Interaction Designer do?

The Interaction Designer designs the behaviors of systems that lead people through positive experiences.

This one seemed to get no flack from people except for its closeness possibly to “user experience” (UX). But as discussed with @nickf (1 of my favorite twitter sparring partners) I believe that UX is not a design practice, or even a discipline. It is both a result of both of those and/or a philosophy to be applied to both of those (practice & discipline). Lastly, UX is a community of practice which is different from being a practice in and of itself.

Lastly, I want to high light this. What I appreciate the most about the above statement is that it eliminates the idea that we design experiences while still acknowledging that experiences are at the heart of what it is that is created between the artifacts that we do design and the human beings that engage with them alone and in concert with others (some of which we do design and some of which we don’t control at all).

I’d be interested in YOUR thoughts about these 2 little semantic trinkets.

As I write this, I’m also caught w/ the nagging question of how do these definitions change the way you think about what you do, or more importantly inform what it is you will continue doing moving forward? Think of this in the broadest sense if you can. I’m still scratching my head, myself, but really want to make sure that all my “defining the dam thing” hobby is more than just semantic navel gazing and has applied academic purpose.

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  • http://designbyfire.com Andrei Herasimchuk

    Some thoughts:

    * “…multi-disciplinary design discipline…” is redundant by definition.

    * “…uses human understanding to manage the growth of complexity…” turns the practice into art direction. “Managing” is not designing.

    * …”that lead people through positive experiences.” I’ve never been a fan of defintions that try to reinforce what should be an assumption or common sense. This last part of this definition weakens the definition due to adding words that aren’t needed.

    Can simply make it: “The Interaction Designer designs the behaviors of systems or products.” However, there is nothing in your IxD definition that sounds “multi-discplinary” at all. In fact, it sounds very much like a silo.

  • Vicky Teinaki

    I’m also one for the elevator pitch approach – I really liked a lot of the comments from the ol’ IXDA post on that very issue http://www.ixda.org/node/18648

  • dave

    I think we disagree on some fundamental grounds here.
    re: managing – I think you misunderstand. the designer isn’t “managing” but their designs are used to manage. Complexity can never be reduced it can only be mitigated. (to contrast it from “complication”). A great information graphic that brings understanding around a complex issue is managing that complexity.

    re: multi-disciplinary – I mean to say that the practice of IxD transcends any single form. It requires an understanding of interactivity, 3-dimensionality, graphic communication/semiotics, service and space. It does not replace them, but supports them.

    re: “leads people through positive experiences” – I’m not much for Hemmingway’s pithy style. I believe that the addendum gives it soulfulness and purpose, as well as adds an understanding beyond that which most design disciplines speak save Service Design (but that’s a whole other issue). Your brief statement is exactly what I’m trying to avoid in fact b/c it does not ask why and as the MEROVINGIAN from the Matrix would say, “Without why you have nothing”. So I don’t find it superflous or ancillary at all.

    BTW, your statement about “art direction” is an interesting one. In a way it sorta rings true to practice where the IxD (or UX Designer) often is in the position of directing the overall strategy of design and through the use of evaluation techniques ends up being the final judge of design success. Interesting.


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