“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

The Interaction Design (IxD) of a Sugar Dispenser

When I was in Brazil I had some wonderful conversations with Jonas Löwgren. It was so fortuitous that we finally meet after conversing and collaborating across the miles so far away from both of our homes.

We were sitting at breakfast 1 morning talking about interaction design (that was every morning) and somehow we ended up discussing how interaction design was not a discipline at all. That it is really just an understanding that’s been forced on us due to the rise of complexity caused by digital technology. As I was sitting there I noticed our sugar dispenser …

I said to Jonas that this sugar dispenser is interaction design. It’s design is a reaction to human behavior and the properties of sugar.

If this was a sugar bowl, it would require the use of a spoon in order to dispense the sugar. This means many people would be unable to fight the common human faux pax of taking the 1st serving with a dry spoon and their second or third with a wet spoon. Even when a dedicated spoon is offered for such a bowl, it is either ignored or used outright, made wet.

And what is so bad w/ a wet spoon? We all know that wet sugar clumps and clumps of sugar are yucky.

This next image of course represents the counter balance of the above stated interaction design. The classic sugar bowl with dedicated spoon, while nobel in its attempt to pre-empt people’s temptation to use a wet spoon, it doesn’t create a behavioral context that works nearly as well as its cousin above.

Here of course is just a variation on the industrial design. Different lines and textures and even materials and color come together even to the point of effecting “functionality”. E..g I can’t tell as easily when this dispenser is empty due to its opaque material, color.

But I have to throw in one more example that brings it all together in a very innovative way. I love the automatic measurement dispenser in this model. Now THIS! is something I want.

My point here is not to say that IxD is al design, no. Actually, it is quite the opposite. It is that All design requires IxD. That we need to all whether graphic designer, architect, industrial designer, fashion designer, interactive designer, etc., take on what we have learned because of what created IxD and apply it to our own work.

Of course, I’m acutely aware that it could be said quite easily that this type of thinking has been around design practices since their inceptions, especially industrial design and architecture. The book, “Designing for People” by Henry Dreyfus is prescient in its take on human factors. Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language” does the same for architecture.

In some ways these are exceptions that prove the rule, but in other ways are models that express the deep empathy that has always underscored all facets of practiced designed. That being said, I do believe there has been something new in the last 20-30 years. That mixing in of hard & rigorous science through psychology, anthropology, computer science, sociology, etc. with the abductive style of “the arts” which causes our brains to get all warped. This is bringing us to think differently about our universe, our societies, our cultures, our modes and manners of communication.

The sugar dispenser at its center represents not just the melding of IxD and Industrial Design, but a change in our intention in regards to all aspects of design. The base communication of form is now understood as behavioral and not visceral. That through form we can communicate more than meaning and elicit emotion, but we can convey contextual intention.

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