What is IxD and What does an IxD do?

1 Jul 2010 - 2:53pm
4 years ago
11 replies
2059 reads
Dave Malouf
2005

[From my blog @ http://davemalouf.com/?p=1865 .  I'm interested in y'all's thoughts.]

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.

Comments

2 Jul 2010 - 1:48pm
Adam Korman
2004

Last year  (http://www.ixda.org/node/19483) you wrote:

...if I was to come up with a real definition at this point, it would concentrate on Behavior and there are 2 axis to behavior.

Interaction Design is a design discipline used within many different design practices applying specific theories of current understanding of human behavior & psychology towards:

  • Designing the behavior (I.e. what products are listening for & how they should respond) of products or systems in response to human & environmental stimulus.
  •  Design the encouragement or facilitation of human behaviors through the above designs."

My reaction to your new definitions (which are basically variations of the above) is the same as it was then. Rather than start from scratch (again, again, and again), I think it would make sense to consider the definition used by IxDA:

Interaction Design (IxD) defines the structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond.

What is it about this description that you are trying to improve upon?

2 Jul 2010 - 8:22pm
Dave Malouf
2005
  1. IxD is not limited to the digital or even the computational.
  2. IxD is a discipline in the academic sense which in practice can be applied across any other design practice: spatial, 3-dimensional, vitual, intangible (service), etc.
what I'm trying to express is that while the roots of IxD are squarely in computing, the discipline has surpassed its roots and has much wider influence and importance that that. In practice for most on this list the definition that IxDA uses is just fine and will do them well. But for those of us working more conceptually we are finding that what we've been forced to learn due to the complexity inherent in digital systems can be and needs to be applied in other areas. 
Going back to my "Foundations of IxD"--time, metaphor, abstraction, movement--you can see that "digital" is not really that important. It's just that digital forced us to think about these things more directly. We (designers) were not forced to think about "complexity" nearly as much as we have in the last 25 years and yes that is in large part because of technology. It is also because of what technology has done to us culturally. I.e. the debt derivative market could not exist w/o digital technology, but the complexities of managing that system are now way beyond the mere technologies that allow it to happen.
3. This isn't a critique of the IxDA definition, but more something I've been thinking about, which was how to describe what the relationship is between what we do and experience. And conceding that an experience is something that happens b/c of us, not something we create.
Is that good?
-- dave
3 Jul 2010 - 9:05pm
Christopher Rider
2009

I'm not sure I understand how this rather unconventional definition of IxD is useful - but maybe I'm just not following you. Can you supply some concrete examples of how you see the discipline being applied in other contexts?

Are you talking about specific techniques developed in the context of computing (e.g. UCD) or something more fundamental?

-- cjrider@gmail.com 773/575-8597

On Jul 2, 2010, at 7:42 PM, David Malouf wrote:

> 1) IxD is not limited to the digital or even the computational. > 2) IxD is a discipline in the academic sense which in practice can be > applied across any other design practice: spatial, 3-dimensional, vitual, > intangible (service), etc. > > what I'm trying to express is that while the roots of IxD are squarely in computing, the discipline has surpassed its roots and has much wider influence and importance that that. In practice for most on this list the definition that IxDA uses is just fine and will do them well. But for those of us working more conceptually we are finding that what we've been forced to learn due to the complexity inherent in digital systems can be and needs to be applied in other areas. Going back to my "Foundations of IxD"--time, metaphor, abstraction, movement--you can see that "digital" is not really that important. It's just that digital forced us to think about these things more directly. We (designers) were not forced to think about "complexity" nearly as much as we have in the last 25 years and yes that is in large part because of technology. It is also because of what technology has done to us culturally. I.e. the debt derivative market could not exist w/o digital technology, but the complexities of managing that system are now way beyond the mere technologies that allow it to happen. 3. This isn't a critique of the IxDA definition, but more something I've been thinking about, which was how to describe what the relationship is between what we do and experience. And conceding that an experience is something that happens b/c of us, not something we create. Is that good? -- dave >

3 Jul 2010 - 10:05pm
NOIXD
2010

Check for ingredients! Learn from the classics!

On 7/3/10, Chris Rider wrote: > I'm not sure I understand how this rather unconventional definition of IxD > is > useful - but maybe I'm just not following you. Can you supply some concrete > examples of how you see the discipline being applied in other contexts? > > Are you talking about specific techniques developed in the context of > computing (e.g. UCD) or something more fundamental? > > -- > cjrider@gmail.com > 773/575-8597 > > On Jul 2, 2010, at 7:42 PM, David Malouf wrote: > > > 1) IxD is not limited to the digital or even the computational. > > 2) IxD is a discipline in the academic sense which in practice can be > > applied across any other design practice: spatial, 3-dimensional, vitual, > > intangible (service), etc. > > > > what I'm trying to express is that while the roots of IxD are squarely in > > computing, the discipline has surpassed its roots and has much wider > influence and importance that that. In practice for most on this list the > definition that IxDA uses is just fine and will do them well. But for those > of us working more conceptually we are finding that what we've been forced > to > learn due to the complexity inherent in digital systems can be and needs to > be applied in other areas. Going back to my "Foundations of IxD"--time, > metaphor, abstraction, movement--you can see that "digital" is not really > that important. It's just that digital forced us to think about these things > > more directly. We (designers) were not forced to think about "complexity" > nearly as much as we have in the last 25 years and yes that is in large part > > because of technology. It is also because of what technology has done to us > culturally. I.e. the debt derivative market could not exist w/o digital > technology, but the complexities of managing that system are now way beyond > the mere technologies that allow it to happen. 3. This isn't a critique of > the IxDA definition, but more something I've been thinking about, which was > how to describe what the relationship is between what we do and experience. > And conceding that an experience is something that happens b/c of us, not > something we create. Is that good? -- dave > > > >

4 Jul 2010 - 10:09am
Dave Malouf
2005

Hi Chris,

Great question ...

So, I don't think that UCD in and of itself is the thing. It's more about how Interaction Design has brought a new understanding of how to think about people, context and what makes up experiences and how to apply that understanding to the multitude of contexts in the world.

One of my favorite examples was a submission to the IxDA Global Student competition this past year. The solution looked directly at the behavior or how people use crosswalks (what's more non-digital than that?) in China. Through observation the pattern was noticed that people are diligent in their obedience to stay inside the lindes (where they perceive them to be) but they would be all over the cross walk wreaking havoc on the bi-directional reality of pedestrians. 

The solution was based on taking advantage of that obedience, but changing how cross-walks are made. Using grooves in the pavement that they made, they constructed a new type of crosswalk where when a pedestrian is facing 1 direction they only see 1/2 the full space of the crosswalk. the other direction saw the other half. This would then fully eliminate the crashing that occurred in the old style making for a much more pleasant experience.

THAT is interaction design personified. Understanding existing human behaviors, finding what drives those behaviors, and creating a solution that manages that behavior simply. the complexity piece is that caused by the technology of urban living, automobiles, and digital (or electronic) crossing-lights.

Is this Interaction design? industrial design? urban planning? architecture? I don't really care, but it is most definitely the application of interaction design principles and the practiced discipline, in my mind. This was done by the new interaction program in Jiangnan University's School of Design.

Another one from that same competition was done by the winner and his team from California College of Art's MBA program (yup an MBA program). Their work on re-designing the dealer experience of GM was pretty great. yes there are digital components, but this leads me really to one of my biggest points out there today. Technology doesn't really exist. Computers today are as ubiquitous as the automobile as the car in the 60s and air travel is just as impactful as telecommunications. Yes, there are special properties within digital technologies of interest, but what we learned from these systems is now a part of every facet of where human beings engage with any system. if we think that technology is most successful when it is invisible (D. Norman; I'm sure others) then it is not the technology that is the medium.

That means what we do is not about digital, but can be applied generally. yes, we are best when we are working directly with our digital world b/c that is our roots, but just like Frank Lloyd Wright was as much a furniture and kitchenware designer as he was an architect, so are we as much systems designers and cultural designers as we are software designers. 

Bill Moggridge in his recent piece about his talk at CIID said this about IxD: 

Some argue that interaction design, meaning the design of everything digital, can no longer be considered a separate discipline, because all of the design disciplines now reside in a digital world. I agree that everything that can be digital will be, but I still think there is a lot of value in learning how to design in virtual space, gaining fluency in thinking about the abstractions of the digital realm, such as user’s conceptual models or navigation journeys.

I don't disagree. But I do think he has it backwards (shall I dare). That everything can be digital and that it is important for the few who focus on the virtual and the abstractions of the digital realm apply them to where the non-digital exists, or leads. 

I offer this in the same way that sci-fiction offers a looking-glass of hyperbole that prevents us from avoiding our subtleties so does looking at the highest end of technology prevent us from avoiding how all insertions into the human condition relate to humanity the same way.

So I'll go back to (was it Richard Buchanan) the oft sited, "Interaction Design is the humanities of design".

-- dave

4 Jul 2010 - 12:05pm
Christopher Rider
2009

That's fascinating.
So, how do you feel about this definition:
Interaction design is the practice of applying observational methods to inform the design of systems that mediate human interactions.
Is that what you're trying to get at? I'm sure that I'm cribbing at least part of it from Cooper, but it's early and I'm too lazy to go look it up.
--cjrider@gmail.com773/575-8597
On Jul 4, 2010, at 8:10 AM, David Malouf <dave.ixd@gmail.com> wrote:


4 Jul 2010 - 12:23pm
Dave Malouf
2005

I tink that "observation" is too limiting (bet ya saw that coming a mile away?). Like said, it is about all of the humanities as well as social sciences. it is as much about applied rhetorics as it is about psych and anthro. Thats why I preferred "human understanding". Also, its not just about "mediating human interactions". Gaming for example can be about isolation. yes, there is the interaction between the designer and the game player but I oft feel that gets lost in "mediating human interactions". It feels like it focuses too much on "communications". 

I think Dan Saffer uses the "mediating human interaction" thing a lot. I don't know if he attributes it or not.

oh! and you missed the whole bit about "design". This isn't just any way of doing this stuff, it is a "design" way of doing it. (see earlier threads about design vs. other things in the archives).

- dave

4 Jul 2010 - 4:05pm
Christopher Rider
2009

Ok. I think I see what you're getting at.

My concern is that you may be claiming as "ours" a lot of work that fed into us. The crosswalk example you cite has a lot of precedent in architecture and landscape architecture - there are volumes of study out there on optimizing pedestrian flow through the built environment.

What was "interaction-ish" about the crosswalk example is the fact that the designer employed a novel technological/systems approach. The method of thinking about the problem was entirely conventional.

There has always been a great deal of cross-pollination between different design disciplines, but by convention, the fields have delineated themselves primarily by the kind of thing being designed. We can define our field however we please, but if we want to be taken seriously by other disciplines, we need to find something that fits into the larger canon of design literature, and is constrained enough to be useful.

The vast majority of us are involved in designing the human-facing parts of digital systems. I think any useful definition of interaction design must acknowledge that fact.

-- cjrider@gmail.com 773/575-8597 > >

5 Jul 2010 - 2:40am
Dimiter Simov
2006

I think a lot about interaction design, interface design, usability engineering, user-experience design, information architecture. I practice all of these. When people ask me what I do, I say that I make things easier to use. Kind of sophistic.

I agree that a definition is necessary.

As Adam Korman pointed out, the IxDA definition is pretty good.

Interaction Design (IxD) defines the structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond.

I do not agree that Interaction designers create the structure of interactive systems. I think that the system/information architect creates the structure, and the interaction designers are responsible for presenting the structure in a way that will make the system understandable to users.

My thoughts on Dave's definitions:

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 I read this, I did not understand it. I think "multi-disciplinary" must go away; everything is multi-disciplinary today. Do we use only "Human understanding"? What about behavior, physiology, psychology... Does "manage the growth of complexity" mean "try to make things easier to use"?

I like the definition of what interaction designers do. I am not 100% sure about the positive experiences.

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

My take on the definitions:

What is interaction design?

Interaction Design is a problem solving discipline of specifying how systems (products, services, tools, devices, appliances, features) behave when humans interact with them.

The ultimate goal of Interaction design is to provide humans with experiences that lead to safe and fruitful activity completion, save time and resources, and bring satisfaction.

What does the interaction designer do?

The job of the Interaction designer is to understand the specific people (user needs, goals, experiences, skills, constraints...) who interact with the specific technology (computer, website, service desk, crosswalk, elevator...) and offer a solution that meets the ultimate goal (provide users with experiences that lead to safe and fruitful activity completion, save time and resources, and bring satisfaction).

The Interaction designer is also a user advocate. Interaction designers represent the user interests in the reality of often clashing limited time, financing, worker skills, available technologies, and market pressures.

5 Jul 2010 - 9:06pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Ok, here are my issues w/ your take (Thanx for taking on the challenge).

  1. Your only reference to emotion is "sataisfaction" which does not go nearly deep enough to express aesthetics. It feels too reduced to "usability" for me. Or just too close to it to feel safe. (yes, weird choice of words, but i'm stickin' w/ it).
  2. I do not believe in our role of "user advocate". We don't only advocate for the user. We advocate for success for all stakeholders in the system including the business or the planet or the universe. In fact, through behavior economics or persuasion technology our goals may be to change the user and not just do as the user "needs" or "wants". Advocating for them often does not allow for a more "parental" role that a designer should be open to. I know many take issue w/ this, but it is the reality for any designer who wants to take on great cultural and political change--the type we need to save this society and planet.
On your comments of my definition:
re: multi-disciplinary
You are right all design these days is pretty multi-disciplinary, so the word may not be the right one. I'm trying to get across in a pithy phrase that interaction design transcends the other disciplines on a different plane (I use the term horizontal). It relies on those disciplines to express forms that embed the total IxD solution.
re: "Human Understanding"
I am including the social sciences and humanities here. All of them. It is one of our most important pieces of collateral. Others have it, but we seem to study it more directly.
re: "manage complexity"
Definitely does not mean make things easy. I'm not a big fan of "easy" as being a goal for design. clear yes, but clear is sometimes hard to achieve and sometimes difficulties lead to great meaning, so long as complexity is mitigated and complications are dealt with.
re: Positive experiences
They lead to something, right? I hope I add something positive to this world. ixDA talks about "improving the human condition".

8 Jul 2010 - 12:12pm
Rez
2009

Dave, this is a great thread and I'm sure it is a real eye-opener for some, since as you say

...for most on this list the definition that IxDA uses is just fine and will do them well.

But if that is the case, then your definition is aspirational (what IxD should encompass) and does not help people outside the IxD community to understand what IxD is, at the moment. In an education context I'm totally behind you in getting people who are learning IxD to adopt a broader, more holistic perspective; but in practice, such a definition might not be helpful in managing client expectations.

It sounds to me like the definition you propose is moving closer to what could be understood as service design. When the boundaries between fields are bluring should we not move towards greater specificity if we choose a specific title over another?

I think Chris's use of "Mediating Human Interactions" is very good. I didn't read it as interactions between humans, but rather humans' interaction with things and their environment. Tangible outcomes of IxD are often about managing and asserting a specific human behaviour, as exemplified in the Chinese pedestrian crossing example you mentioned. This 'desired behaviour' often represents the needs and agendas of stakeholders in the commissioning body. Some IxD improvements to systems are not necessarily improvements for individuals. Any designer who wants to take on great cultural and political change should also consider to what extent their contribution leads to disempowerment and zombification. Adam Greenfield likes to quote Marshall McLuhan's statement that “every extension is [also] an amputation”.

This leads me to problematising the use of "positive experiences" in your definition. When different agendas are on the table, the resulting experience may be positive for some and not for others.

 

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