Whose profession is it anyway?

XII.3 May + June 2005
Page: 34
Digital Citation

Defining interaction design

Elizabeth Bacon

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Introducing the Interaction Design Group. What's the future of interaction design as a profession? Will we, its practitioners, become respected members of cross-functional development teams, admired executives delivering great products, and noted academics making important contributions to the body of human/computer interaction research?

Surely we all share these goals, but we can't expect to achieve them without clearly defining the special value that our design discipline offers. The multitude of terms that people have used for our field has created confusion among our associates. After years of simmering debate about what we should call ourselves, a serious dialogue about this subject began in 2003 with an online discussion involving practitioners from around the world. That forum flourished. By the end of the year, animated and challenging conversations had generated a consensus that interaction design is the right name for our discipline.

Once we'd decided on a name, we formed the Interaction Design Group (IxDG) to define the practice of interaction design, disseminate information about proven tools and methods, and foster professional community. As IxDG Steering Committee member Josh Seiden says, "We want to promote better clarity and understanding within the practice of interaction design, so we're interested in supporting the development of interaction design curricula, collecting interaction design tools, and reaching out to other efforts that promote better practice."

What is Interaction Design? Now, the focus of IxDG must turn toward better articulating what the practice of interaction design is, especially within the context of the emerging field of user experience (UX). IxDG can help practitioners speak confidently about the professional application of interaction design expertise within product development teams and differentiate the methodologies of interaction design from those of related disciplines. Within the UX community of practice, interaction design is an important specialization, but it cannot survive without defining clear language for its tools and methods.

Even the term design, which implies iterative problem solving, requires greater precision within the context of this new profession. Design skills involve a blend of analytical and creative abilities, but interaction design especially requires the ability to understand and empathize with people, as well as to communicate complex design solutions for a target audience. The successful practice of interaction design requires skills that let one understand what people want to achieve during work and at play. Other skills enable us to clearly define the means by which digital systems communicate with people and how people interact with digital systems. Further important aspects of the typical problem space for interaction design practitioners to consider include the constraints that a context of use imposes, requirements that must meet business goals, and design patterns that derive from usability principles. What sort of curricula could hone such a wide range of talents and inculcate the necessary skills to produce top-notch interaction design professionals? IxDG intends to address this important issue.

Fostering Community IxDG encourages active communication and the sharing of ideas in order to help practitioners of interaction design succeed over the long term. Recent topics on the IxD discussion list have ranged from questions about the business relationship between design, development, and marketing to discussions of internationalization and academic degree programs. When is the best time to employ a prototype during a design project? What considerations arise for products whose user interfaces must scale across multiple platforms? How should we measure quality on an interaction design project? When are personas most useful and what are their limitations? What kinds of scenarios support the smoothest transition from product concept to development? If defining interaction design interests you, please join our dialogue.

IxDG provides venues for presentations and discussions that foster a healthy cross-pollination of ideas among our diverse community. Interaction design practitioners have backgrounds in many different disciplines and schools of thought. Broadening our choice of tools and techniques strengthens our problem-solving abilities. With your support and participation, IxDG can become the organization in which interaction design practitioners work together toward our common goals of professional advancement and the evolution of our practice.

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Elizabeth Bacon
Interaction Design Group

About the Author:

Elizabeth Bacon, M.A., received a "post-grad" education in interaction design at Cooper, designing interactive systems and helping refine methodology and practice. Today she works at St. Jude Medical designing solutions for implantable medical devices. She helped launch the IxDG Web site, and is passionate about obtaining professional recognition for the field of interaction design.

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(IXDG) www.ixdg.org

Today, participants in IxD Discussion number over 1,000. We're organizing IxDG Face-to-Face meetings around the globe to bring practitioners of interaction design together. Other current initiatives include development of a Jobs Board and creation of an online collection of Tools and Resources.

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©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/0500  $5.00

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