: How to Get Into Interaction Design?

27 Jan 2004 - 8:59pm
10 years ago
10 replies
781 reads
Jim Hoekema
2004

Christian asked about getting into interactive design...

David Heller wrote:
"I hope others share in their path's to the glory of IxD w/ the rest of
us. I think sometimes we oft feel we are under credentialed b/c many of
us came from related fields or are grassroots such as myself."

I can't resist joining in on this thread.

Keep in mind that IxD did not exist a few short years ago. That means, by
definition, that everyone in the field came here from some "other"
background!

In my case: my degrees are in art history & archaeology - Greek & Roman
mostly, with a bit medieval, Renaissance, and 19th century thrown in. And
how does art history prepare you for interactive design, you ask? Well, the
work of art history is largely putting into words some equivalanet or
analysis of what exists visually and experientially (paintings, buildings,
etc.). In IxD, a good part of the design task in putting into words (and
drawings) the sights and experiences you are trying to bring into existence!
One is the reverse of the other!

Anyway, my sojourn went from art history to book publishing... then to a
design office, where I stumbled into designing an early interactive
videodisc program (I'll explain if necessary to any subscribers for whom
videodisc is about as remote as cuneiform). From there to a training &
education company (more videodiscs), consulting, a production studio,
consulting, an electronic publisher (CD-ROMs), a internet startup, more
consulting, a consumer-electronics firm... this recitation is exhausting!
Currently I make websites.

In short, on-the-job is an excellent way to learn a good deal, if perhaps
not all, about interactive design. Teaching yourself is also good - just
going through the discipline of completely designing a product, however
"theoretical," will take you through a lot of decisions, which you can then
compare to other products and other design experiences as you get into the
field.

Also, bear in mind that technology changes so quickly that often the best
experts around have only 6 months experience, because that's how old the
technology is!

- Jim Hoekema
www.hoekema.com

Comments

28 Jan 2004 - 9:00am
Peter Boersma
2003

> David Heller wrote:
> "I hope others share in their path's to the glory of IxD w/ the rest of
> us. I think sometimes we oft feel we are under credentialed b/c many of
> us came from related fields or are grassroots such as myself."

Okay, here we go:

Halfway through my Computer Science major, i realized I was missing
something: all courses were about the machine, and none about the human
operating it. I looked around for other subjects and found courses on
Ergonomics and Human-Machine Interaction and got triggered. Some more
shopping-around made me select courses like Knowledge Technology for the
Educational Domain, Writing Computer User Documentation, and Impact of
Information Technology on Business Processes from otehr majors.
I put together a program that still had a (minimal) core of CS courses
(mostly around Information Systems design) and a lot of HCI related courses.
I graduated with both a CS/IS and an HCI professor.

My first job (1995) was exactly righ for me: "consultant" (everyone was
called consultant) at a small usability startup that had jumped on the
internet train and was designing black & blue-on-grey-backgrounds websites
and needed an additional body. That company (General Design) grew, and I
grew with it, first becoming a Project Manager, then a UI specialist again
since I lacked some PM qualities, then a Department Manager, then I burnt
out, then a real Consultant: Consultant User Understanding in the User
Experience Consultancy group.

Around the time when consultants got a bad name, and I was basically back to
being a Senior UI Designer (late 2002), I made the switch to a company that
needed a slightly different kind of specialist: I became the Senior
Information Architect ("BIG IA") at EzGov, an e-Government Technology
Specialist that was expanding it's UID group in her Amsterdam office.

That group is now called the User Experience department where we have 4
Information Architects, 2 Visual Designers plus 1 Art Director, and 4 System
Analysts, all dedicated to gathering requirements for and designing the user
experience of transactional web applications. The IA's also play the roles
of Content Specialists (inventories, editors, etc.) and Usability Specialist
(test plans, scenarios, reports, etc.). Interaction Design is somewhat
shared with the visual designers, and Information Design is on the other
side of the equation.

Our deliverables are input to the work of Producers (who create the HTML
templates0 and Developers (who make it all work) and are being reviewed and
used by the Quality Assurance team to validate the end result.

That's the story, so far :-)

Peter
--
Peter Boersma, Senior Information Architect, EzGov
"De Schinkel", Rijnsburgstraat 11, Amsterdam, 1059 AT, The Netherlands
Phone: +31(0)20 7133881 / Fax: +31(0)20 7133799 / Mobile: +31(0)6 15072747
mailto:peter.boersma at ezgov.com / http://www.europe.ezgov.com

28 Jan 2004 - 4:08pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Jan 27, 2004, at 5:59 PM, Jim Hoekema wrote:

> Keep in mind that IxD did not exist a few short years ago. That means,
> by
> definition, that everyone in the field came here from some "other"
> background!

I have to take exception to the first part of this statement. I've been
working in interface design for some 14 years now, and interaction was
always a component of it. (Unless of course you think designing the UI
to Photoshop takes no IxD experience.) To say that IxD did not exist
until a few short years ago is to negate all the work did by so many at
places like Xerox in the 70s, Apple in the 80s and the rest of many of
us working on application design in the early 90s, before the web
become "the next big thing."

> Also, bear in mind that technology changes so quickly that often the
> best
> experts around have only 6 months experience, because that's how old
> the
> technology is!

I also take exception to this statement. Much of what occurs in IxD
these days, at least as it appears in the web space, is mostly a
different expression of what has been done in the past. It's only
expressed differently due to certain technological limitations or fads.
Some technology may be changing fast, but that in my experience doesn't
change the fundamentals about what interface design, and it's sibling
interaction design, is all about.

Here's my take on it: http://www.designbyfire.com/000012.html

Andrei Herasimchuk
andrei at adobe.com

work: http://www.adobe.com
personal: http://www.designbyfire.com

28 Jan 2004 - 10:09pm
IdoShavit
2004

Andrei

Interesting and well written article. Beautiful site design.

However, I beg to differ on your conclusions, mainly "...make the case for a
singular title, and it's old school: Interface Designer" and "...the world
now needs people who are willing to step up to the plate and immerse
themselves in all three specialties"

It's true, the architect should be "well versed and highly experienced in
multiple disciplines...", but the architect of your house will not
necessarily dictate what color you paint your walls, and where you put your
dining table, nor will he do the painting job himself. The architect will be
concern with the overall functionality and form of the building, and will
use other professionals to do the "painting and decoration" of the building.

Personally, (and please, no offence, I am taking this to the extreme to make
a point) I see interface design as the painting and decoration of the
interaction structure. Although user experience is driven by form as well as
function, you can make useful and usable tools without a clue about good
graphic design. Sadly, we see around a slew of programs that look amazing,
but the user interaction is very poor.

A building can be of great comfort for its inhabitants, while being
extremely ugly. A beautiful building without a bathroom might leave you in a
pretty tight situation.

I want to stress I am not arguing against aesthetics, only that "Interface
Designer" is good title for an interface designer but not for an Interaction
Designer, surely not for an Information Architect. Coming from a graphic
design background myself, I appreciate very much the visual aesthetics of a
tool, but one must admit you can do without the visual aesthetics.

Moreover, the interaction does not start or ends with the interface.
Interaction with a tool is not (only) where to click and how the button
looks. It is the understanding the user's goals in context. From 'what does
the tool remembers and what should be forgotten' all the way to 'when to
point an error and whether to fix it automatically'. With all due respect,
some good portions of interaction design are not about the interface.

You claim that interaction design is part of interface design. I do not
agree. If you insist on inclusion, than I would say that interface is part
of interaction, and not vice-versa.

I would also argue that if you call yourself Interface Designer you will
have a harder time positioning yourself. Generally, if asked, people
interpret "Interface Designer" as the "painter and decorator" of the tool,
and (clients, peers) will not appreciate you as a factor in analyzing and
designing the interaction, flow, information and usefulness of the tool.
Yes, once we prove ourselves, we get this appreciation and credit, but why
start at a disadvantage?

Yes, Multi-disciplinary should be taught at design schools. However, from my
experience, even if you are extremely proficient in Interaction Design and
Interface Design and Information Architecture all at once, (which some of us
are not), collaborating with other professionals, while concentrating on a
single aspect, will most often yield better results. (Especially true on
large scale projects).

>[According to the UPA, usability engineers also perform design functions,
so that's why it is on the list. I disagree with this, and in the future
will explain my position on this issue. Just not for this article.]

When you get a chance please post your position here.

Ido

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrei Herasimchuk [mailto:andrei at adobe.com]
Sent: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 1:08 PM
To: discuss at interactiondesigners.com
Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] : How to Get Into Interaction Design?

On Jan 27, 2004, at 5:59 PM, Jim Hoekema wrote:

> Keep in mind that IxD did not exist a few short years ago. That means,
> by definition, that everyone in the field came here from some "other"
> background!

I have to take exception to the first part of this statement. I've been
working in interface design for some 14 years now, and interaction was
always a component of it. (Unless of course you think designing the UI to
Photoshop takes no IxD experience.) To say that IxD did not exist until a
few short years ago is to negate all the work did by so many at places like
Xerox in the 70s, Apple in the 80s and the rest of many of us working on
application design in the early 90s, before the web become "the next big
thing."

> Also, bear in mind that technology changes so quickly that often the
> best experts around have only 6 months experience, because that's how
> old the technology is!

I also take exception to this statement. Much of what occurs in IxD these
days, at least as it appears in the web space, is mostly a different
expression of what has been done in the past. It's only expressed
differently due to certain technological limitations or fads.
Some technology may be changing fast, but that in my experience doesn't
change the fundamentals about what interface design, and it's sibling
interaction design, is all about.

Here's my take on it: http://www.designbyfire.com/000012.html

Andrei Herasimchuk
andrei at adobe.com

work: http://www.adobe.com
personal: http://www.designbyfire.com

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28 Jan 2004 - 11:06pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Jan 28, 2004, at 7:09 PM, Shavit, Ido wrote:

> It's true, the architect should be "well versed and highly experienced
> in
> multiple disciplines...", but the architect of your house will not
> necessarily dictate what color you paint your walls, and where you put
> your
> dining table, nor will he do the painting job himself. The architect
> will be
> concern with the overall functionality and form of the building, and
> will
> use other professionals to do the "painting and decoration" of the
> building.

The architect will, if they are good, make it much easier for you to
decorate. Further, they'll make the house pleasing on the outside and
fit in with its environment. The architect does more than just make a
building with some walls and plumbing. The good ones at least.

> Personally, (and please, no offence, I am taking this to the extreme
> to make
> a point) I see interface design as the painting and decoration of the
> interaction structure. Although user experience is driven by form as
> well as
> function, you can make useful and usable tools without a clue about
> good
> graphic design. Sadly, we see around a slew of programs that look
> amazing,
> but the user interaction is very poor.

Wow. Then I would have to say maybe you need to do some of the work I
do. Your description is hardly what I do. Interface design was never
about making pretty pictures. Ever. That fallacy has lived for far too
long. Further, all of the applications I have seen that function well
but look boring are still examples of medocrity.

Imagine saying the the same thing about cars. "Well the engine runs
damn nice, so who cares that the outside looks like a brick?" How many
would sell? How many people would drive those cars? The form of the car
is implicit in its measure of quality. To accept products that lack any
aspect great visual design, information design or interaction design is
to accept mediocrity.

When I worked on Photoshop, I designed icons, organized the menus, came
up with terminology, laid out the dialogs, worked out metrics to layout
dialogs, worked out the behavioral issues, determined error handling,
etc. I helped create the logic around things like Free Transform and
much of the Layers palette interaction. I did a bunch of things that
cut across the board.

In every project I work, I do all these sorts of things. I consider
myself an interface designer through and through.

> A building can be of great comfort for its inhabitants, while being
> extremely ugly. A beautiful building without a bathroom might leave
> you in a
> pretty tight situation.

Buildings that are ugly are rarely comfortable. The Japanese have so
much on us in this regard because they seem to grasp this at more
cultural level than the west does, where they understand that its the
blending of many variables that creates harmony.

> I want to stress I am not arguing against aesthetics, only that
> "Interface
> Designer" is good title for an interface designer but not for an
> Interaction
> Designer, surely not for an Information Architect. Coming from a
> graphic
> design background myself, I appreciate very much the visual aesthetics
> of a
> tool, but one must admit you can do without the visual aesthetics.

I would dare say you cannot. Read some more of the articles on my web
site to find out why I believe that. This is probably the crux of the
issue for most people. The aesthetic aspect of high-technology
products, and its measure of quality, is very much a holistic blend of
visual, information and interaction design.

> Moreover, the interaction does not start or ends with the interface.
> Interaction with a tool is not (only) where to click and how the button
> looks. It is the understanding the user's goals in context. From 'what
> does
> the tool remembers and what should be forgotten' all the way to 'when
> to
> point an error and whether to fix it automatically'. With all due
> respect,
> some good portions of interaction design are not about the interface.

I have no idea how you can make that claim. The "interface" is the
thing with which people interact with in a high-tech product. It is the
thing they use to use the product. That's what I said in my opening
paragraphs.

When I helped to design the behaviors for the Layers palette in
Photoshop, I had to understand how pixel blending worked, what pixels
were at their core, what people could do with pixels, and what people
wanted to with pixels, the whole thing. I had to understand what people
were going to do with the layers to achieve certain results. Are you
trying to say that the work I did on that design is not interaction? I
also designed the look of the palette, the icons, it's layout and
organization, helped choosing terms, and how much of the palette
structure was organized as presented to the user. What would you call
that?

> You claim that interaction design is part of interface design. I do not
> agree. If you insist on inclusion, than I would say that interface is
> part
> of interaction, and not vice-versa.

Then I guess we'll have to disagree. My experience has lead me to
believe you are off the mark.

> I would also argue that if you call yourself Interface Designer you
> will
> have a harder time positioning yourself. Generally, if asked, people
> interpret "Interface Designer" as the "painter and decorator" of the
> tool,
> and (clients, peers) will not appreciate you as a factor in analyzing
> and
> designing the interaction, flow, information and usefulness of the
> tool.
> Yes, once we prove ourselves, we get this appreciation and credit, but
> why
> start at a disadvantage?

There was momentum with the title of interface design back from 1985 to
1995, then the web came along and a bunch of new people got into the
field and mucked with all the job titles. Sigh. Above and beyond that,
the current crop of titles will not help, IMO, when designing the
products of the future, which will largely be uncoupled from browsers.

> Yes, Multi-disciplinary should be taught at design schools. However,
> from my
> experience, even if you are extremely proficient in Interaction Design
> and
> Interface Design and Information Architecture all at once, (which some
> of us
> are not), collaborating with other professionals, while concentrating
> on a
> single aspect, will most often yield better results. (Especially true
> on
> large scale projects).

I again disagree with this.

Andrei

28 Jan 2004 - 11:36pm
Todd Warfel
2003

Guess you've never been to Europe, LOL. Italy is full of scooters,
Smart cars and boxy vehicles. So is France. Cars are a utility there,
not a luxury like here in the states.

On Jan 28, 2004, at 11:06 PM, Andrei Herasimchuk wrote:

> "Well the engine runs damn nice, so who cares that the outside looks
> like a brick?" How many would sell? How many people would drive those
> cars? The form of the car is implicit in its measure of quality. To
> accept products that lack any aspect great visual design, information
> design or interaction design is to accept mediocrity.

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
User Experience Architect
MessageFirst | making products easier to use
--------------------------------------
Contact Info
voice: (607) 339-9640
email: twarfel at messagefirst.com
web: www.messagefirst.com
aim: twarfel at mac.com
--------------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.
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29 Jan 2004 - 1:11am
Jim Hoekema
2004

Wow. This steamy debate seems to be about two things:

1. Whether there is a name that encompasses all the things we do.
2. Whether it is reasonable to expect all those skills in one person.

1. Is there a name that embaces interaction design, information
architecture, visual design including graphics, typography, layout, not to
mention information design, usabilty, web design, etc. Andre proposes
"interface design." I've always used "interactive design." But the intention
is to include that whole range of skills and activities.

2. Is it reasonable to expect all those skills in one person? Well, it's
unusual, but it does happen. Practically speaking, most work is indeed done
in teams, but certainly the best practitioners are indeed those whose skills
embrace are large part of the territory.

As for architects, I have to take exception to Todd's statement:

"The three most respected architects in the industry Frank Gehry, Frank L.
Wright, and I. Pei don't concern themselves with structural engineering or
interior design. In fact, Gehry has a staff off 120 who try and figure out
ways to structurally support his monsterous creations. He sculpts and then
lets them take over."

Yes, Gehry has a huge staff today, but he was a good architect 30 years ago
when he was wrapping chain-link fence around his Santa Monica bungalow!
Louis Kahn was very concerned with structure -- he said he liked to "ask the
bricks what they want to be." F.L. Wright was constantly experimenting with
structure -- the cast concrete houses in California, the Kaufmann house
cantilevers pushed beyond the limit, not to mention the floating foundation
of the hotel in Tokyo that survived the earthquake. Wright not concerned
with interior design -- he liked to design all the furniture, fixtures,
lighting, fabrics, etc, and got really mad if his clients had the temerity
to install furnishings he didn't design!

Speaking of architects, the qualities of a good building cited in the 1st
century AD apply well to a software program or website: Firmness
(reliability), Commodity (functionality), and Delight (no translation
needed).

Jim Hoekema
Hoekema Design & Editorial
www.hoekema.com
845.568.3038 845.401.7466 mobile
jim at hoekema.com
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29 Jan 2004 - 2:00am
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Jan 28, 2004, at 8:36 PM, Todd R. Warfel wrote:

> Guess you've never been to Europe, LOL. Italy is full of scooters,
> Smart cars and boxy vehicles. So is France. Cars are a utility there,
> not a luxury like here in the states.

I have been to Europe. And Japan and many parts of the world. And if
you to degrade this conversation into that sort of personal level, then
the conversation is over.

Beyond that, the point was simply that in the design of vehicles, if
the form of the vehicle is not somehow pleasing or reinforcing to the
overall design, then even if the engine runs well, I make the claim the
car as an entity is mediocre. I have seen many of the boxy cars in both
Europe and Japan. Many of them are actually well designed, as their
boxy form enhances the utility of the vehicle. Or makes them practical
for everyday lifestyles. They also fit in with the culture on an
aesthetic level. That and the engines run for years.

But the engine is not the only thing that matters in the design of a
car. That was the larger point.

Andrei Herasimchuk
andrei at adobe.com

work: http://www.adobe.com
personal: http://www.designbyfire.com

29 Jan 2004 - 8:46am
Todd Warfel
2003

On Jan 29, 2004, at 1:11 AM, Jim Hoekema wrote:

> Yes, Gehry has a huge staff today, but he was a good architect 30
> years ago when he was wrapping chain-link fence around his Santa
> Monica bungalow! Louis Kahn was very concerned with structure -- he
> said he liked to "ask the bricks what they want to be." F.L. Wright
> was constantly experimenting with structure -- the cast concrete
> houses in California, the Kaufmann house cantilevers pushed beyond the
> limit, not to mention the floating foundation of the hotel in Tokyo
> that survived the earthquake. Wright not concerned with interior
> design -- he liked to design all the furniture, fixtures, lighting,
> fabrics, etc, and got really mad if his clients had the temerity to
> install furnishings he didn't design!

Falling Waters is another great example of F.L. Wright. But he wasn't
doing the structural engineering of his buildings. He was doing the
architecting. And they're two distinct, yet interdependent disciplines.

You are correct that Wright was concerned with the furniture in his
homes. So, I'll concede that he was concerned with interior design.
However, he wasn't a structural engineer as well.

As a side note, many hard core architecture students I know don't
really like F.L. Wright, they feel he's too commercial, too much of a
sell out. I wonder if it's because he showed interest in interior
design, or because they have yet to hit the real world...

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
User Experience Architect
MessageFirst | making products easier to use
--------------------------------------
Contact Info
voice: (607) 339-9640
email: twarfel at messagefirst.com
web: www.messagefirst.com
aim: twarfel at mac.com
--------------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.
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29 Jan 2004 - 10:36am
Todd Warfel
2003

Andrei,

Perhaps you didn't see the "LOL" at the end of the statement about
going to Europe. It was a sarcastic remark, not a personal attack.

My point is that culture's have different tastes, needs, desires.
Plain, vanilla, boxy cars that run well are fine in Europe. Not so much
in the U.S.

On Jan 29, 2004, at 2:00 AM, Andrei Herasimchuk wrote:

> I have been to Europe. And Japan and many parts of the world. And if
> you to degrade this conversation into that sort of personal level,
> then the conversation is over.
>
> Beyond that, the point was simply that in the design of vehicles, if
> the form of the vehicle is not somehow pleasing or reinforcing to the
> overall design, then even if the engine runs well, I make the claim
> the car as an entity is mediocre. I have seen many of the boxy cars in
> both Europe and Japan. Many of them are actually well designed, as
> their boxy form enhances the utility of the vehicle. Or makes them
> practical for everyday lifestyles. They also fit in with the culture
> on an aesthetic level. That and the engines run for years.
>
> But the engine is not the only thing that matters in the design of a
> car. That was the larger point.

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
User Experience Architect
MessageFirst | making products easier to use
--------------------------------------
Contact Info
voice: (607) 339-9640
email: twarfel at messagefirst.com
web: www.messagefirst.com
aim: twarfel at mac.com
--------------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.
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29 Jan 2004 - 1:41pm
Bob Baxley
2004

I don't know how it supports or disrupts this argument but we should
also admit that FL Wright was a piss-poor interior designer. His
furniture in particular was horrible. Perhaps the lesson being that
there is not only the skill of being a designer but there is also the
knowledge, understanding, and aptitude for solving a certain class of
design problems.

Perhaps the dimension we've been discussing -- visual vs. interaction
vs. ia -- is the wrong dimension. Perhaps we should talk instead of
specialists in consumer applications vs. content-centric marketing
sites vs. enterprise database applications vs. standalone devices.

...Bob

........................................................................
..
Bob Baxley :: Design for Interaction

design :: www.baxleydesign.com
blog :: www.drowninginthecurrent.com

On Jan 29, 2004, at 5:46 AM, Todd R.Warfel wrote:

>
> On Jan 29, 2004, at 1:11 AM, Jim Hoekema wrote:
>
>> Yes, Gehry has a huge staff today, but he was a good architect 30
>> years ago when he was wrapping chain-link fence around his Santa
>> Monica bungalow! Louis Kahn was very concerned with structure -- he
>> said he liked to "ask the bricks what they want to be." F.L. Wright
>> was constantly experimenting with structure -- the cast concrete
>> houses in California, the Kaufmann house cantilevers pushed beyond
>> the limit, not to mention the floating foundation of the hotel in
>> Tokyo that survived the earthquake. Wright not concerned with
>> interior design -- he liked to design all the furniture, fixtures,
>> lighting, fabrics, etc, and got really mad if his clients had the
>> temerity to install furnishings he didn't design!
>
> Falling Waters is another great example of F.L. Wright. But he wasn't
> doing the structural engineering of his buildings. He was doing the
> architecting. And they're two distinct, yet interdependent
> disciplines.
>
> You are correct that Wright was concerned with the furniture in his
> homes. So, I'll concede that he was concerned with interior design.
> However, he wasn't a structural engineer as well.
>
> As a side note, many hard core architecture students I know don't
> really like F.L. Wright, they feel he's too commercial, too much of a
> sell out. I wonder if it's because he showed interest in interior
> design, or because they have yet to hit the real world...
>
> Cheers!
>
> Todd R. Warfel
> User Experience Architect
> MessageFirst | making products easier to use
> --------------------------------------
> Contact Info
> voice: (607) 339-9640
> email: twarfel at messagefirst.com
> web: www.messagefirst.com
> aim: twarfel at mac.com
> --------------------------------------
> In theory, theory and practice are the same.
> In practice, they are not.
> _______________________________________________
> Interaction Design Discussion List
> discuss at interactiondesigners.com
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