I posted this to my blog earlier today, but I thought it would be worth contributing here as well. Lots to discuss around the idea of material in interaction design.
Here's the post originally seen at http://blog.emenel.ca/post/749792140/the-designers-relationship-with-materials:
I read a great short post on the Frog Design blog this morning about Apple’s design process (article: http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/why-apple-is-the-new-master-of-craft.html thanks to Dave Malouf for sharing this in his gReader). It highlights their relationship with the materials that they use, and how integral that is to their design process.
A quote from Jonathan Ive from the article:
"The best design explicitly acknowledges that you cannot disconnect the form from the material—the material informs the form. It is the polar opposite of working virtually in CAD to create an arbitrary form that you then render as a particular material, annotating a part and saying ‘that’s wood’ and so on. Because when an object’s materials, the materials’ processes and the form are all perfectly aligned, that object has a very real resonance on lots of levels. People recognize that object as authentic and real in a very particular way."
A lot of what we do as interaction designers is still in the “annotated CAD drawing” category. We make our static boxes and text and send that off to somebody else to give it form (sometimes with our direction and/or collaboration, but not always). We never work with the materials of the final product.
The properties of a material are also aesthetic. Again, from Jony Ive:
"… we experiment with and explore materials, processing them, learning about the inherent properties of the material—and the process of transforming it from raw material to finished product; for example, understanding exactly how the processes of machining it or grinding it affect it."
Interaction designers seem to have some aversion to aesthetics, but we really need to starting thinking about how interactions feel along with how well they work. How does different material respond to different types of input, feedback, and animation? How does colour, texture, and spacing change people’s engagement with your product? Does it make them like it more? Less? Easier to use? More fun to use?
It might sound like I’m making the interaction designers job a lot bigger and more complicated… and well, in some ways I am. But, in other ways, I’m trying to bring interaction design in line with the complexities, challenges, and potential rewards of other design disciplines. There have been members of our community asking where the Jonathan Ive of interaction design is? Where is the Eames, the van der Rohe, the Rand? I think we will never get there as long as we avoid the larger challenge of designing in a holistic way. As long as others are alone responsible for the final form of our designed objects - the aesthetics, the feel, the implementation - we will never see the full potential of interaction design to make amazing things.
We are more than wireframe jockeys. We are designers and are responsible for the output of our designs. We need to stop making piles of blueprints and CAD drawings, and start making the things that we envision.