Guidance for someone interested in your field

2 Apr 2004 - 6:20pm
10 years ago
11 replies
523 reads
pnason at rcn.com
2004

Hello!

I am new to the list, and am interested in getting into
Interaction Design. I have a degree in Industrial
Engineering, and my course work included human factors and
human-computer interaction. I have been working as a
Manufacturing Engineer, and am currently a Production Manager,
and I have no real software design experience. I am currently
reading "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" by Alan Cooper,
am am really enjoying it.

As people working in this field, what suggestions might you
have for someone wanting to become an Interaction Designer?
Do I need to go back for a masters degree? Is there anything
else I can try?

I apologize if this is not the right forum for this post.
Thanks for any advice you can give me.

Patricia Nason

Comments

3 Apr 2004 - 10:46am
Dan Saffer
2003

There's two ways to break into this field (that I know of anyway):

1) convince someone to pay you to do it
2) go to school and get a degree in it (after which you have to do #1)

(Somehow I got it wrong and did both...)

In either case, you'll need some sort of portfolio. So you might need
to do some work for free at first, or just some side projects. Design
an application. Do Christina Wodke's challenge to redesign Netflix:

http://www.eleganthack.com/archives/003928.html#003928

or take Cooper's test:

http://www.cooper.com/content/company/d_test.asp

You just need something to show that demonstrates how you think and
approach design problems.

Any other tips on good portfolio building?

Dan

Dan Saffer
M.Des. Candidate, Interaction Design
Carnegie Mellon University
http://www.odannyboy.com

3 Apr 2004 - 4:42pm
Dave Malouf
2005

I wanted to add one other direction to go.
Most people who come to IxD are doing so b/c they are either visual
designers who want to go deeper into strategy, or developers who want to
have more of a role in developing requirements for what they are given to
code. Basically, people "who get it!".

I think about how I got here. No education and no portfolio (to counter
Dan's 2 points).

I got here through being a project manager, producer type. This role gave me
the middle man piece that I needed to find my way to IA and IxD. It's a role
that doesn't really require expertise in anything except being very
organized.

Just a thought.

-- dave

3 Apr 2004 - 6:31pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Apr 3, 2004, at 4:42 PM, David Heller wrote:
>
> I think about how I got here. No education and no portfolio (to counter
> Dan's 2 points).
>
> I got here through being a project manager, producer type.

Dave, you hire people for these sorts of jobs. Would you ever consider
someone without a portfolio now?

I've yet to go on a job interview for a design job where they don't
want to see one.

Dan

3 Apr 2004 - 10:51pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Hi Dan,

What I was alluding to is that a PM or Producer position can shift into a
more creative role, turning into a portfolio. You don't hire a producer for
their portfolio, as much as for their experience and organization skills.

Also, while you are a producer you can take on more and more of a creative
role and thus develop a portfolio.

But yes you are right, that I would need the portfolio first. I think I was
just suggesting a backdoor way to get paid to create one.

-- dave

-----Original Message-----
From: Dan Saffer [mailto:dan at odannyboy.com]
Sent: Saturday, April 03, 2004 6:31 PM
To: David Heller
Cc: discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] Guidance for someone interested in your field

On Apr 3, 2004, at 4:42 PM, David Heller wrote:
>
> I think about how I got here. No education and no portfolio (to counter
> Dan's 2 points).
>
> I got here through being a project manager, producer type.

Dave, you hire people for these sorts of jobs. Would you ever consider
someone without a portfolio now?

I've yet to go on a job interview for a design job where they don't
want to see one.

Dan

4 Apr 2004 - 1:52pm
Cindy Alvarez
2004

> But yes you are right, that I would need the portfolio first. I think I
> was
> just suggesting a backdoor way to get paid to create one.

Right - and I'd go farther and say that personally, I wouldn't do it any
other way if I had my career to start over again. I draw upon my product
management, web development, design, and even tech support experience all
the time.

Effective communication and negotiation is a big part of the interaction
designer's job, and understanding more pieces of the puzzle helps with
that a great deal.

The tricky part, I suppose, is finding a company which will give you the
freedom and support to move from the position you were hired to into
design strategy. Startups were great for that; there are fewer of them
now, but small companies still often have no one who cares much about
design - if you're the person who cares, it's yours for the taking. :)

Cindy Alvarez

5 Apr 2004 - 10:00am
Josh Seiden
2003

For what it's worth, I rarely look at portfolios when
hiring interaction designers. I find portfolios next to
useless, because they don't demonstrate the skills I'm
looking for.

1. If the portfolio consists of interactive demos, it
is difficult to tell which part the candidate worked
on. (Interactive products are rarely solo efforts, and
even if they are, how can I tell that as an evaluator?)

2. If it consists of shipping products, the same
problem exists, but is compounded.

3. If the portfolio consists of static screen shots, it
does not represent the behavior of the system, which is
what interests me.

4. If the portfolio consists of static specification
documents (rare, as these are mostly confidential) then
it is likely too detailed for my needs as a hiring
manager.

I much prefer to evaluate a series of tests. By looking
at tests, (both at take-home and in-interview) I can
get a better sense of the candidate's skills and
approach. This isn't my strategy, I learned it at
Cooper, but I have yet to see one that better predicts
the ability of a candidate to do the job for which
he/she is being considered.

This strategy has advantages for the candidate as
well--it's difficult to build a portfolio of
interaction design. Tests give candidates the ability
to demonstrate what they can do in a much more direct
manner.

JS

> Dave, you hire people for these sorts of jobs. Would
you ever
> consider
> someone without a portfolio now?
>
> I've yet to go on a job interview for a design job
where they don't
> want to see one.
>
> Dan

5 Apr 2004 - 10:10am
Gary Burke
2004

Joshua;

This is very interesting. Can you tell us more about these tests and
what they entail?

--Gary

On Apr 5, 2004, at 11:00 AM, Joshua Seiden wrote:

> For what it's worth, I rarely look at portfolios when
> hiring interaction designers. I find portfolios next to
> useless, because they don't demonstrate the skills I'm
> looking for.
>
> 1. If the portfolio consists of interactive demos, it
> is difficult to tell which part the candidate worked
> on. (Interactive products are rarely solo efforts, and
> even if they are, how can I tell that as an evaluator?)
>
> 2. If it consists of shipping products, the same
> problem exists, but is compounded.
>
> 3. If the portfolio consists of static screen shots, it
> does not represent the behavior of the system, which is
> what interests me.
>
> 4. If the portfolio consists of static specification
> documents (rare, as these are mostly confidential) then
> it is likely too detailed for my needs as a hiring
> manager.
>
> I much prefer to evaluate a series of tests. By looking
> at tests, (both at take-home and in-interview) I can
> get a better sense of the candidate's skills and
> approach. This isn't my strategy, I learned it at
> Cooper, but I have yet to see one that better predicts
> the ability of a candidate to do the job for which
> he/she is being considered.
>
> This strategy has advantages for the candidate as
> well--it's difficult to build a portfolio of
> interaction design. Tests give candidates the ability
> to demonstrate what they can do in a much more direct
> manner.
>
> JS
>
>> Dave, you hire people for these sorts of jobs. Would
> you ever
>> consider
>> someone without a portfolio now?
>>
>> I've yet to go on a job interview for a design job
> where they don't
>> want to see one.
>>
>> Dan
>
>
> _______________________________________________
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5 Apr 2004 - 12:11pm
Cindy Alvarez
2004

> I much prefer to evaluate a series of tests. By looking
> at tests, (both at take-home and in-interview) I can
> get a better sense of the candidate's skills and
> approach.

This is funny, because just a few months ago over on sigia-l, someone was
complaining about the horribleness of employee tests. "any employer who
needs to give you a test," they fumed, "just 'doesn't get it' and I
wouldn't work for them."

I never got a chance to refute that, but for what it's worth, I disagreed
completely.

I'll add a point to Joshua's list:

5. It's easy to be swayed into thinking the person with bigger client
names in their portfolio is a more experienced designer. However, in many
cases a high-profile project means that there was a substantial team
working on it, and there's no way to tell whether the applicant did the
heavy intellectual lifting or just tweaked some Visios.

I was thrilled when my current job came down to a take-home test, because
I was confident that I was the person for the job, but knew I was up
against applicants with more years' experience and/or advanced HCI
degrees.

It was a pain - especially since I had to do it over a weekend - but it
got me the job and this has been a great environment for me to work in.

Cindy Alvarez

6 Apr 2004 - 3:07pm
jstanford
2003

I have to say that I agree and disagree a bit with Josh. I like to do tests
in interviews as well but I also like to review portfolios. In particular I
like to ask a lot of questions to understand reasoning for design decisions.
It also shows the quality of deliverables and the candidate's style for
discussing designs -- a skill that they will need to have on client work. On
many occasions, I have also seen things in screen designs portfolios. that I
think are particularly examples of bad designs. On those occasions, I like
to ask questions to understand the thinking behind the design decision -- if
it was something that was designed by a team and the individual thinks it's
a bad idea, this is an opportunity for a discussion of what they did vs.
what someone else did vs. what the client wanted (another source for bad
design). Or, alternatively they might think it is a good idea and try to
explain why. On numerous occasions, this discussion has lead to better
understanding of an individual's interaction design abilities.

-- Julie Stanford

-----Original Message-----
From:
discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.
com] On Behalf Of Joshua Seiden
Sent: Monday, April 05, 2004 8:01 AM
To: 'Dan Saffer'; 'David Heller'
Cc: discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: RE: [ID Discuss] Guidance for someone interested in your field

For what it's worth, I rarely look at portfolios when
hiring interaction designers. I find portfolios next to
useless, because they don't demonstrate the skills I'm
looking for.

1. If the portfolio consists of interactive demos, it
is difficult to tell which part the candidate worked
on. (Interactive products are rarely solo efforts, and
even if they are, how can I tell that as an evaluator?)

2. If it consists of shipping products, the same
problem exists, but is compounded.

3. If the portfolio consists of static screen shots, it
does not represent the behavior of the system, which is
what interests me.

4. If the portfolio consists of static specification
documents (rare, as these are mostly confidential) then
it is likely too detailed for my needs as a hiring
manager.

I much prefer to evaluate a series of tests. By looking
at tests, (both at take-home and in-interview) I can
get a better sense of the candidate's skills and
approach. This isn't my strategy, I learned it at
Cooper, but I have yet to see one that better predicts
the ability of a candidate to do the job for which
he/she is being considered.

This strategy has advantages for the candidate as
well--it's difficult to build a portfolio of
interaction design. Tests give candidates the ability
to demonstrate what they can do in a much more direct
manner.

JS

> Dave, you hire people for these sorts of jobs. Would
you ever
> consider
> someone without a portfolio now?
>
> I've yet to go on a job interview for a design job
where they don't
> want to see one.
>
> Dan

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Interaction Design Discussion List
discuss at interactiondesigners.com
--
to change your options (unsubscribe or set digest):
http://discuss.interactiondesigners.com
--
Questions: lists at interactiondesigners.com
--
Announcement Online List (discussion list members get announcements already)
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--
http://interactiondesigners.com/

6 Apr 2004 - 7:50pm
id at ourbrisba...
2004

Quoting pnason at rcn.com:
> As people working in this field, what suggestions might you
> have for someone wanting to become an Interaction Designer?
> Do I need to go back for a masters degree? Is there anything
> else I can try?

Patricia,

"It depends". What specifically do you want to be designing?

Before just jumping in and 'making up' a portfolio, I'd suggest you choose a
focus and do what you are alluding to - get some solid grounding. There are a
number of options here, and in my opinion you've already touched on the best two
in your coursework and so may wish to pursue them further:
HCI - great for more granular tasks such as designing software components of a
specified system. This area traditionally focusses primarily on the cognitive
aspects of designing efficient software systems. However, recently this avenue
of study has evolved to include other considerations; or
Human Factors - aimed at more holistic solutions - designing any type of system
to fit the person/s that will use or be part of the system. Human Factors *is*
Interaction Design (by a diffferent name) if you go by the definitions of ID
I've come across to date.

There are also other avenues. If you are more interested in socio-tehcnical or
political systems, there's always the study of Activity Theory. It all depends
on what you want to do.

I hope this helps.

Best regards,

Ash Donaldson
User Experience Designer

13 Apr 2004 - 5:45pm
Dave Collins
2004

>For what it's worth, I rarely look at portfolios when
hiring interaction designers. I find portfolios next to
useless, because they don't demonstrate the skills I'm
looking for.

>...(Interactive products are rarely solo efforts, and
even if they are, how can I tell that as an evaluator?)

This point seems to capture the gist of several different criticisms of
port folios, so I'll address it, and generalize to the rest.

I thought the way you tell as an evaluator is to invite the candidate to
discuss it. The port folio is nothing more than a prop. (In fact,
submitting it is nothing more than a teaser to entice you to go to the
next step: the interview, just as the cover letter entices you to read
the resume, and the resume entices you to look at the port folio).

Your evaluation is based on the candidate's eloquence and deftness in
the talking through their port folio. Strategically placed questions
will root out poseurs and those attempting to take more credit than
their due.

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