Is Interaction Design a dead-end job?

IDEO’s Bill Moggridge made a comment last week after a screening of Objectified that hit close to home. To paraphrase, he said interaction design has become pervasive, that anyone and everyone can be an interaction designer, and so the role of professional interaction designer is (or is becoming) unnecessary.

So, is Interaction Design a dead-end job?

As an expertise, no. But as a discrete service offering or a career path, I say absolutely.

This position has not made me any new friends around the office, but to be clear, I'm not suggesting our profession is akin to flipping burgers at the mall. Instead, it's that interaction design has reached a point of maturity where growth is constrained. I see three major factors behind this and hope that by acknowledging them we can find a way forward.

1: Developers get it

The practice of "interaction design" grew from the need to present software experiences to users in a way that makes sense, meets their needs, is consistent and coherent and "usable" and ultimately desirable. Other actors in the creation of software, from senior management to product managers to developers, had little exposure to these values nor the abilities to deliver on them.

The landscape is much different today. Developers have a much stronger sense of "good" and "appropriate" interactions. Entire development methodologies revolve around delivering value to users by understanding their needs. There are many developers and development-driven organizations with little or no professional Interaction Design involvement making good software.

Modern development frameworks provide a strong baseline for producing interfaces and interactions that in the past required a skilled interaction designer to realize. On iPhone, for example, while it’s certainly hard to produce great experiences, it’s just as difficult to produce bad UI. On the Web, AJAX libraries offer very usable UI patterns right out of the box and greatly reduce the custom design and coding efforts required to build good online applications.

So from the software side, as the level of interaction design awareness and quality continues to improve throughout development organizations, Interaction Designers are no longer as frequently or as heavily needed to bring a successful product to market.

2: Interaction is not an on-screen activity

Another factor is the emergence of more direct input and feedback mechanisms in today’s software-enabled devices. Interaction designers are vital to help translate between human and computer when interfaces are composed of virtual abstractions with no corresponding physical affordances to aid comprehension. As software manipulation becomes more "natural," the work of designing appropriate interactions moves from the screen out to the device as a whole.

Design of physical devices has traditionally been the purview of industrial designers, a profession with its own long history of considering context and user needs to design products driven by and responding to user interaction. And industrial design education today can include much of the same user-centered design training familiar to interaction designers.

So from the hardware side, Interaction Designers are encroaching upon an established discipline with deeper roots and a better understanding of physical materials and human ergonomics.

3: Experience is a brand attribute

Risen from the ashes of the advertising industry’s digital agencies is a new type of creative agency that sees as its mission defining a product’s overall experience. They strive to enable "engagement" and to develop the "brand experience." These agencies typically forge a more strategic relationship with clients and manage a product’s entire ‘interface’ with its users, including physical objects, packaging and supporting materials, online service offerings, personal touchpoints, advertising and marketing campaigns.

So from the marketing side, Interaction Designers are brushing up against savvy brand management professionals with more creative control and the executive buy-in necessary to execute their ideas.

A way forward

But all is not lost. The acknowledgment and appreciation of good interaction design has allowed the practice to evolve to include a broader mandate encompassing product and service strategy throughout the customer relationship lifecycle. We've adopted terms like "user experience" or simply "experience design" to express our attention beyond individual interactions with screen-based interfaces. Strategic 'interaction design' today considers the total experience a person has with your products, your service, your entire organization, and your brand.

We can build on that as all of these practices converge along with the products and services we're creating. What’s important to recognize is that in doing so we are not entering virgin territory but treading on ground that is already occupied and whose occupants are blazing similar trails in their quests to understand how it all fits together.

The challenge we face is to determine and capitalize on that part of our expertise that is uniquely valuable while working with other disciplines towards a greater whole.


I think the issue is that Interaction Design is more a SKILL than a position. Face it, anyone can learn Photoshop, Flash, and Dreamweaver, but it takes someone with some knowledge of Interaction Design to make a good layout of a web site or interface. What needs to happen is that Interaction Design becomes more the way of a skill, a talent that's added on to an already there position. So the Interactive Art Director needs to know more than just drawing up a layout. That or the Quality Assurance person is also versed on Interactive Design and Usability and thus will offer more to the table to make the right design. Finally, the client needs to be better educated and put in a small level of control. Granted they have a final say, I've seen more bad designs come out mostly due to a client who seemingly has no clue what he/she is doing, but yet tries to make everyone believe they are as skilled as a Creative Director. They need to be educated on the right path and the wrong path, as well as shown they need to step back and trust the experts they've hired.
Dave Cronin
I guess I see it as more of a craft than a skill or a job. As with other crafts, mediocre ability can be replaced by mass-production, but as far as I can see, there is still a huge need for finely honed and truly compelling execution of interaction design, which requires practice and talent (see Outliers). Just because developers have a leg up on stock interface patterns (which I totally applaud), doesn't mean it's trivial to figure out how to use them to create an engaging experience. And just because some ad guys know that interaction is a great way to deliver on the brand promise, doesn't mean they're great at the mechanics of doing so. (I'll take the inside of a Virgin America plane with its late 90's nightclub decor and attractive yet flakey entertainment system as case in point). And finally, while there are some fantastic industrial designers who really care about usage context, there are just as many who will choose the number and position of buttons on a device for purely aesthetic reasons. So while I really appreciate the suggestion that it is unreasonable to suggest that people called "interaction designers" should (or even could) make all the interaction design decisions, I'm not terribly worried about a future where there isn't a need for people who are very very good at it (even if some of their job titles happen to be “engineer”, “product manager”, or “CEO”). Maybe think of it like architecture: a lot decisions get made by clients, engineers, building supply manufacturers and building codes, but there's the need for someone to facilitate the big picture vision and detailed design process and to apply their craft to solve tricky problems and to impact how the space feels to the people looking at it, moving through it, and inhabiting it.
Dan McKenzie
Great subject--it's healthy to stir up things from time to time! I think what everybody is saying is that to be just the "wireframes guy" isn't enough. In order to earn their keep, interaction designers should be extremely well-rounded and have a good understanding of the many facets of digital product design: research, aesthetics, marketing, branding, copy writing, engineering, SEO, documentation, etc. Limiting your job to just deciding the best place for a particular button doesn't cut it. There are so many design elements that go into each project. To master just one aspect of design construction undermines the ability to see how each design element (functionality, graphics, layout, writing, brand, etc.) influences the other. A valued interaction designer is one who sees all these elements and is able to mold them into the desired order for the best user experience. Interaction designers can earn their keep and ensure a long career by having a strong curiosity in these many "design elements". Picking up a few books on different topics such as search engine optimization, copy writing or marketing on the Web is a start.
While I agree that developers (and marketing) are getting better about not making products terrible, that is different than intentionally crafting a UI or an experience. Mechanical Engineers are better about making products for people too, but we still have Industrial Designers. I am increasingly more involved in integrating physical UI elements, gestures, and on-screen behaviors to make things cohesive. Still IxD, not traditional UI design. IxD is dead! Long live IxD! I'll see Bill M in "bad product" purgatory!
Dave Malouf
Hi Tim, A few days b4 I heard this story about Bill Moggridge I wrote this: I think it relates directly to your piece and to what Bill is saying (who I met w/ at the end of March to discuss a new IxD Masters program and get very good feedback on which has led me very confused about the statement. I find myself in strong violent agreement with your post though. I agree w/ the total agreement with Bill. That the practice of IxD as a separate role is probably fading. Looking at the trends in ID education and where Web Design/Interactive Design as practice is heading with tools like Flash/Flex & Expression Studio the lessons (avoiding craft/skill debate) of IxD is permeating strongly these form giving disciplines. IxD as a discipline is form agnostic, and only guides form givers. Our history of staying out of aesthetics and leaving that to form givers (GD & ID) has left the practice of IxD in the background. It makes it hard to justify ourselves in these economic times when it is (and here I disagree with David Cronin) so easy for other designers to learn what it is we do with serious precision. I think the issue we are facing is not irrelevance, but rather it is over relevance. No one coming out of a design program today can get a job w/o some understanding of IxD. They are learning it in GD and ID programs b/c they have to. We are a victim of our own success and lack of planning. Without the same critical mass of designer creation there is nothing we can really do to sustain the flood of need of IxD. And because IxD gets applied to so many different mediums it is easy for crafters of those mediums to just take up the charge. But I juxtapose this problem of practice next to a non-problem of discipline. it is more important than ever to forget about the practice and focus on our discipline. We need to solidify our pedagogy and our vocabulary so that we can teach and communicate clearly across a much broader audience than ever before. So unlike Dan Saffer's recent call to just do it, and stop defining it, I twist it and we need to do it in order to define it. Dan is doing just that, w/ his work at Kicker. Doing it and then turning his work into instant public case studies that can be used by educators and practitioners a like to help define the boundaries and the blurriness of what it is we need to be doing. Anyway, I hope the conversation continues. -- dave
Doug LeMoine
It's funny, as I was reading this, I kept thinking: Yes, finally, IxD as a separate practice is fading, and thank goodness for that. We've been pushing development, business, and brand boundaries for the last decade; I haven't worked on a single project in the last decade that was solely focused on interface problems. And that's the thing: IxD doesn't fit neatly into the existing gears/siloes of business, and I think that the "challenges" that you point out are actually indications that businesses recognize this. I also think all of the above arguments are actually the reasons why the CRAFT of IxD is MORE relevant than ever.
Janna DeVylder
Thanks for your thoughts. This is a great addition to the conversation I was having yesterday. We need to get past businesses asking us to monetize what we do. This way of thinking, this way of approaching the work should simply be the way we DO work, not be something that can be itemized and thus removed from project plans. Now, the stickier question for me is how we get IxD experts in organizations without the silos. Some agencies are creating specializations within the creative function (ie. creative director, interaction design. creative director, content strategy). Seems to me this kind of internal organization tells a strong story to the other groups you work with as well as your clients.
David Malouf
Craft of IxD is a big topic of mine Doug. I'm still having problems though because I really don't see most "interaction designers" actually doing IxD craft. Or more importantly, I don't think most "interaction desigeners" even understanding what "craft" is and what is the craft of "interaction design". I really believe that until we have reason and validity for a strong undergraduate education system (besides the graduate and continuing ed systems) that Bill's message will come to fruition. Without "entry level" we really are creating a career of upper crusties. Personally, I'm satisfied with concentration of ixd for IDs or Interactive Designers and then grad education for those who want to focus, but that means that as a practice the role of IxD is going to fade per Bill M. -- dave
Dave Cronin
Professor Malouf, I agree with your observation that many interaction designers aren't really practicing with much craft. I guess my point is that those people's jobs *are* more likely to be dead-end, but for those who are artful in their work there will be a huge need, though the job title may change with trends in hemline length. As to whether the future is characterized by "industrial designers" or "interaction designers" tackling what we currently characterize as interaction design problems doesn't really make much difference to me, as long as they're good at it. (And if it is IDs who are responsible for doing this in the future, won't that be an interesting nomenclature change? Channeling Alan, I might suggest that those kind of designers might best be called "post-industrial designers.")
I intend the following comment in the healthy spirit of debate. Please tell me I'm wrong if I'm wrong. "A is shortsighted, we need to take a step back and look at B" (circa 1989-1999. A = software design, B = usability) "B is shortsighted, we need to step back and take a look at C" (circa 1999-2009. B=usability, C= user experience / interaction design) "C is shortsighted, we need to take a step back and look at D": (this article. C=UX/IXD. D= product / service / business strategy) Slightly different songs, but it's the same tune alright. I'm surprised everyone gets so excited when they hear it over and over again. The other thing to bear in mind is that all organizations are different. Some have problem A, others B, C or D. Lets not be too hasty. But then a balanced, moderate argument doesn't get people excited, does it.
Dave Malouf
I don't think anyone is saying that IxD is short-sighted. I know I'm not at all. I'm saying that technology has matured to a level where the expertise in IxD can be more easily achieved by form giving design professionals than in the past. And hti sis not about "product/service/business" at all. It is about form giving designers vs. more horizontal designers (IxD & IA). I think your framing is really part of the unnecessary demonetization that is not really going on here. Further, I want to say that Bill is not saying that interaction design is unimportant. His support of many IxD programs would be counter to that. He is saying that as a separate practice in industry it makes less and less sense to differentiate a role of IxD. I think David C's point is well taken that there will always be room for truly expert practitioners who can bring value to the IxD and work hand in hand with form givers. Regardless, I think your attempt at equating parallel history is misdirected and conflates issues. -- dave ps. Is this Jess and is Jess McMullen or JJG or some other Jess. I hate not knowing whom I'm talking to/with/about.
Doug LeMoine
@Dave Malouf: I don't understand your contrast of IxDs with "form-giving designers." Are you talking about form only in the physical sense? To me, "form-giving" in many fields is collaboration between parties who understand and articulate: - what is desirable - what is possible - what people will buy - what the business can endure Of course, each of these "parties" is not always a distinct person, but in my experience, for complex physical/interactive/etc products, "form-giving" is conversation between people who are expert in the practice of each one of them.
Tim McCoy
DaveM, I like your characterization of "form giving" design professionals (visual/graphic design and ID, and I would put programmers in this camp too) being distinct from "form-agnostic" design professionals (UX). And it's because IxD is form-agnostic that it is in this vulnerable position. When done well, it's a craft that influences and informs "form-giving" work. So as other more established disciplines increase their user-centered design literacy, we run the risk of being marginalized. As a profession we need to avoid the classic trap of marketing myopia and recognize that we're not in the interaction design business, we're in the making things that meet people's needs, bring them joy, make companies successful, save the world business. The craft of understanding needs and delivering value is so much bigger than the tasks or skills of designing interactions. I certainly don't fear its demise any time soon.
Dave Cronin
UX professionals are "form-agnostic"? Really? Maybe you two (@Tim, @daveixd) are, but I'm certainly not. Nor are either of the two other interaction designers with whom I've spent the last several months crafting the form and behavior of an interactive experience. I do recall a time when we thought we could design behavior without being concerned with form, but that kind of gave up the ghost around the turn of the millennium. Now, I understand the distinction between form-designing and form-giving, but ID's and Architects also do the former, without the latter, and while some are certainly myopic, I'm not sure I'm willing to concede that if you're not in the business of construction you're not useful. But I should say that I wholeheartedly agree with Tim's point about not being in the interaction design business, but rather in the business of making things that... (etc), and that design alone isn't really capable of achieving those objectives.
Tim McCoy
I would argue that if UX professionals don't approach the situation from a form-agnostic perspective they're not truly considering what's most appropriate. To be fair, we don't always have the mandate to be form-agnostic in our work today. But I believe that what will increasingly differentiate us is the freedom to identify the right "form giving" disciplines to bring to bear. --- It's not that I think any of us in the IxD/UX profession believe that because we don't directly produce a tangible end-product that we're not useful. It's because of that that we're not visible.
Dave Malouf
Hi David, Please don't confuse practice with discipline. IxD as a discipline is defined as defining behavior. And I know that Cooper as a practice is way beyond most practices out there today. BUT! and this is the crux of the argument that start in the panel at Interaction is that WAY too many IxD's in their real world practice are not making things. Are not giving consideration to the final aesthetic form and its influence on behavior. I think to qualify IxD practice as such is dishonest and I'm sorry is out of touch with the vast majority of IxD practice out there today. Please look not at your own advanced practice, but look south to the Valley and see the stark differences in practice down there, or on Madison Ave. But to read your message, it sounds like your practice is like mine. You ARE an ID. You didn't get there through ID School, but you ended up there. What is more important though is that IxD as a discipline still needs work. We have not matured as a discipline enough. There is more work to be done in methods, in definitions, in critique, in pedagogy (formal & informal) and this needs to happen as an identified separated discipline. I look at Cooper, Kicker, AP, etc. and you are no longer IxD practices, but rather are product & service design organizations and THIS is Bill M's point.
Doug LeMoine
Oh my gosh, is this The Big Chill? It's like we're all back in 2002, in a Yahoo Group, debating whether we're interaction designers or UX designers or experience designers! ... ;-] ... Seems like we're all talking about (slightly) different things when we use the term "interaction design." Tim's original point is that the discipline may be endangered because it's too strictly focused, because too many other, more established disciplines now want to play (and can play). But what Dave M. is saying is that Cooper, Kicker, and others are beyond interaction design, or his definition of it. And I guess I'd agree. [Also, I now get the "form" thing, but I do want to add that "form" also describes a "framework of perception," and it's confusing to use the terms "form-giving" and "design" as contrasts. Maybe I'm the only one who cares about this semantic point.]
Renato Costa
I see IxD as an design process approach or methodology. Like user-centered design, participative design or ethnography. But they are not competing approaches, they are additional approaches to make good products.
Jess McMullin
@Dave M - nope, not me. My thought is that many (most?) buildings today are designed without an architect in sight. Big buildings being the exception, many home builders & small commercial developers do fine without. That doesn't mean no one is doing architecture. Interesting parallels.
The work of the interaction designer can also encapsulate ideation, concepting, strategy and management. At our company, as an interaction designer, I often facilitate the ideation phase of projects, working to kick off the big picture visualization. Particularly in this brave new world of online media experiences where behavior and animation are key to the interaction design, where there is less of a strict site structure and so much happens dynamically in-page and as state changes rather than page or screen changes. That, and we see the interaction design role as the perfect role to lead the design team on projects since they are there from day one and often follow through to the end. So, I see the interaction designer as the big picture guy/gal.
I'm an encapsulation. I'm integral to the large application project, and far far from obsolete. They've recently taken to calling me a UI Developer.
Ian Hallworth
I really liked the way Tim Brown from IDEO, in an interview on BBC's In Business programme discussed how IDEO are applying their Design Thinking to the design of a business. His ideas were pretty expansive – it really tickled my brain anyhow. Tim's vision of things clearly encapsulated more than branding alone – designing the worker's experience inside a factory, or how that factory interfaces with it's suppliers, or defining a new business model and how it interfaces with the marketplace – they all seem like natural avenues for interaction design to traverse. I think there's light at the end of the tunnel Alan :)
Daniel Montano
But we should not get stuck within the box of "job titles". What matters is skills. As Interaction Designers we have plenty of opportunities to develop closely related skills as entrepreneurs, inventors, designers, strategists, marketers, SEO specialists, Content Specialists, Information Architects etc. An IXD/UXD with well-rounded skills should be a good candidate for management within UX department. Over time, with continuous dedication to develop more skills this same individual may qualify for upper management and even executive positions within a company. I have seen a few folks take that path and they have been very successful.
Darrell H
IxD may fade as a title but those with the skills therein have brought the mid-sized web shop's work to a whole new level. For those of us who are not Coopers and IDEOs, the death of IxDs is greatly exaggerated.
Mariano Viola
"The whole is different from the sum of its parts" or the unique interaction/foo/bar designer contribution can't be implicitly embedded in the project now or in the future. I believe that is the human will and not an anachronistic positivist theory to determine the relationship with the "artifacts" in a "do it yourself" or "professional" way.
Dave Cronin
I should probably let it rest, because we might just be arguing over semantics at this point (though who ever said *that* wasn't a good time ;) but... @Tim, saying "what will increasingly differentiate us is the freedom to identify the right "form giving" disciplines to bring to bear" does not sound like being "form-agnostic" to me. Or perhaps it means starting out as form-agnostic (which I'd rather call "open minded"), and then figuring out how to coordinate all of the various form-giving to create a specific experience. I can get on board with this, but I do strongly believe that there is a certain kind of form-giving that is inherent to IxD. Interaction design is not just the design of behavior, but also the design of form as it relates to behavior (including more static "behaviors" like reading or apprehension). Now I admit that some IxDs are not as refined as graphic designers or industrial designers in their touch with form. This certainly results in the need for teamwork, but it doesn't in any way reduce IxDs' concern with form. (@Dave M, I suspect you've heard this argument about behavior/form from Robert Reimann, and I'm guessing if he hasn't convinced you by now, we'll probably just have to agree to disagree.)
Thomas Benoit
I find the comments very interesting. However, I think this post is misleading on several points. The main argument of the post is that «Interaction Design is more a SKILL than a position.» (summed up by Alex comment). See Jared Spool discussion on specialization in the field of design... Point 1: «Developers get it» + now there are Flex libraries... Come on, with all what they have to do, how a developper can do the job of an interaction designeras well? He can use Flex libraries, this is not the solution, it is the trap. However I have nothing against a developer specializing himself in the IxD. Gretchen comment is very appropriate: «Mechanical Engineers are better about making products for people too, but we still have Industrial Designers.» Point 2: «Interaction is not an on-screen activity» Sure Industrial Designers do and have always done Interaction Design, why the IxD community started thinking that they will bring something new to Industrial design? The same is true for User experience strategy, design research in the field of product design is not new... Point 3: «Experience is a brand attribute» Sure, and I work in one of this new type of creative agency (Sid Lee in Montreal). IxD is not an easy thing for these creatives who try to innovate in the field of Brand experience and they often fail at usability for example, so all the creative efforts remain unoticed. Their expertise in IxD remains, I am sure, a big advantage for IDEO.
For what it's worth, Tim's thesis very much echoes JJG's comments at the IA Summit. And, as I said at the summit, don't allow yourself to be defined by your job title. One thing I've seen in this community, whether its from interaction designers, information architects, visual designers, design researchers, or anyone else, is that they wear the label as cloak of identity, and it obscures their ability to see the bigger picture, and understand how the context of their efforts.
Aaron Houssian
"Developers get it"???!!! In my experience the majority of developers may understand what interaction is, but they still just code things the way they want it/the way they think it should be. There isn't a lot of thinking about the end user in any way that is not massively influenced by self instead of others. Perhaps I am confounding UCD (User-ce with IxD, but in my experience those who call themselves IxD are well versed in UCD and/or usability. Is IxD dead? not by a long shot.
Yes, yes, "everyone" is an interactive designer as much as "everyone" is a graphic designer. So picking up a hammer qualifies me as a carpenter? This is weak.
Daniel Montano
I thought about the value that a job title has within an organization. - indirectly it validates the discipline represented by the job title - indirectly it validates the time and money the company must spend on the methods and processes required by the discipline In other words, remove the job title and (at least to some extent) you remove the "value" that is associated with the discipline it represents. As a result, it becomes harder to justify the budget and the time that must be spent on doing IXD work. This would be an issue for anyone doing the work. No matter what the job title is.
John Trainor
"Developers get it". Thank you very much for that line. I haven't had such a good laugh in a long time. Maybe you're fortunate enough to work at a place with developers who do understand the value of good design, but there are plenty of companies where not only is that decidedly NOT the case, quite the opposite is true. At my current job, development is openly hostile to our UX people. "People don't buy good design" is one quote I've heard. They code what they want, take our UX people's designs which they've slaved over for weeks and either make a half-hearted attempt at implementing it sort of, or at worst, ignore the designs completely. Good design begins with understanding that your user has far less patience with your product than you do, and I work with over a dozen living examples of people who aren't even in the same zip code as understanding that.
UX Designer
I have to agree with Aaron Houssian's comments - In my experience many (certainly not all) developers don't get it. They take the path of least resistance and build it how they want. I have defined functionality only to get it back the complete opposite because the developer "felt it worked better this way" or "that's not how *I* would want it to work and I am the average user" or "I didn't feel like reading the spec" or "thought it was a lot of work to do it the way you asked for it". Now perhaps one might say I've worked with some pretty dysfunctional engineers and that may very well be right, but I've also worked with excellent developers and good UI/UX people are a critical viewpoint in a project to ensure success. That said, I do agree that we should "capitalize on that part of our expertise that is uniquely valuable while working with other disciplines towards a greater whole."
Christopher ODonnell ( \m/ )
I agree with so much of what you say, but would present it very differently. Here is my take on the facts that you offer: Some people are especially talented at the skills collectively known as ux or ixd. These folks are bright, sensitive to the needs of a broad and diverse user base, visually inspired, well organized, and capable of architectural-level thinking. As you walk down the street, the chances that the person walking in front of you meets this description are very small. The same goes for the person walking behind you. This is true even of Cambridge, Mountain View and Rio de Janeiro. Ok. Above all other skills, these people know how to learn. With all of the advancements of the last ten years in the development/programming world, a massive number of tools are available to these designers. Want to learn how to code that RIA you just envisioned? Great, here's Flex. Need a slick way to pop up a nice ORM REST interface to talk to your RIA? Ruby on Rails, meet ?{designer}. With me? There are more designers putting developers out of business than the other way around. So what does a rockstar designer with enough programming chops to do some damage do with his career? That brings us to those fancy agencies you discussed. The IxD guy who the agency supposedly put out of a job had to come from somewhere! (and he's probably making decent cake at that agency, btw). Maybe I'm misunderstanding the role of IxD as you think of it, but my contention is that knowing how to architect great experiences these days is an amazing professional asset. Barriers to entry in the fields of design, development, branding and other related fields mean that the T-shaped person who can span disciplines can more easily start a company on their own or work their way into the leadership tier of their current organization. For now... count me in. Way in. -Christopher ps. get good at interaction design for mobile devices and other small form factors and you'll be eating for another decade at least, guaranteed.
Addendum to my previous comment. Yes, I basically agree with your premise, just to add that the 'discrete discipline' of IxD or a UX professional may be the umbrella under which these broad, useful skillsets are identified. Great piece.
Tim McCoy
Thanks to all for your comments. Christopher, I couldn't have said it better myself (apparently I didn't). Your comment encapsulates the spirit of my assertion quite well. It's not that interaction design is becoming unnecessary, it's that the role of "interaction designer" is being squeezed by talented, cross-disciplinary people and organizations who consider good user experience a baseline and foundation for their work. As Andrew points out, a good IxD/UX designer today is looking at the "big picture." What's important to recognize is we're not the only profession who thinks that way.
Jennifer Wilkerson
I love a good reality check, thank you! Here's my humble opinion: We will always need usable interfaces and I agree that as connectivity becomes ubiquitous (mobile, wearable projectors and so forth into the future), more people will innately understand the difference between a bad interface and a good one. (Man, I can’t wait to be designing for wearable projectors!) Will we all be user experience designers in one way or another? Maybe. Can a 12 year-old on the other side of the world create an awesome app? Sure! But I work in a huge organization and right now it still takes a special set of skills, a boatload of patience, and serious attention to detail to mash-up legacy systems, data, business rules, best practices and more into usable interfaces for multiple languages on multiple devices, all within the context of a business model. Don't get me wrong, I would love it if good IA/IxD just 'happened' and I think it's an excellent goal. In the meantime, we need people who know how to navigate the user experience process ala Designing for the Digital Age and About Face 3, and I don't know many developers or marketers who honestly have the time to sit down and read those powerhouses of interface and interaction design knowledge.
Jennifer Wilkerson
And Amen to Christopher on the mobile skills. I got a wake-up call this past weekend when I saw some graduating Journalism students produce awesome mobile apps. I've got some learning to do!
paul neervoort
Interesting discussion indeed. Furious disagreements over the semantics of words. Which I believe is not as trivial as some of you may think. The problem as I see it is that most of us have not studied user experience design or even interaction design as it simply did not exist about 10 years ago. Yes there was computer science, graphic design or human factors/ergonomics and so on. And lots of successful guys today are from there. Some are still usability experts or graphic designers or engineers who developed a particular quality at making a difference in better or even good user interfaces. But the majority are still what they were trained and are not able to design a good user experience. I think the parallel is to be draw with product design or architecture. These old professions also have stemmed from a single profession of The Architect or The Industrial Designer but now gone into various specializations. e.g. the better design companies have specialists for color and finishes, product graphics, engineering design. Architecture companies have specialists for designing the electrical systems, elevator systems, water, sewage, etc even there are specialists for interior design (which is split up also etc.). Yet the is still a strong need for the Product Designer or the Architect to put it all together and give it purpose. What we see in IxD, IAD, ID UX, HF, Usability Engineer, etc. is the same. All these names are in fact coming from the fact that we are realizing that there are different specializations. I would not ask a usability specialist to design a User Interface, but I would need his input to help see the issues I am doing wrong. Same for the visual interaction designer or the engineer. they all have a role to play to make the final design come to life. So between all the IxD, ID, IAD, UX designers there must be several specialists and there may be few real User Experience designers or architects who see the bigger picture and bring it together. As long as we are trying to get all under the same title we will be doing us a disfavor and erode the respect for the true UX designer. you will see for that matter that only true UX designers will mature to become true Creative Directors and give direction to the experience. Most practitioners will stay specialists at very relevant parts but lets not mistake them for what they are not. For that matter UX design as Product Design and Building Architecture is an ART or CRAFT. And to create real great experiences I believe all these design competencies must work as one.
Thomas Benoit
I would like to bring some concrete examples to the this discussion. If we look at digital agencies. I've looked at Odopod, Razorfish and R/GA, they are both looking to hire Interaction Designers. The way I see it, the Interaction Designer is just another speciality in this kind of agency (same as [Graphic] Designers, Flash or Interactivity programmer,...). Sure, the IxD takes off some tasks from the other disciplines but the company needs him and his role is becoming better accepted. So I think IxD is a design specialization. Regarding UX strategy and analysis, I agree with you that other porfessional are doing it too. I think it depends on the culture of the company and the product (promotional VS functional or informational). That's why, according to me, it is difficult to call oneself a UX designer (it is too general). Dan Saffer wrote an interesting post about it
Skot Nelson
> As an expertise, no. But as a discrete service > offering or a career path, I say absolutely. I said the same thing about project management a few years ago, when everybody was hiring project managers. It's a skill set, not a profession. In some organizations the skill set will be a dedicated job, in many others it won't. I'd actually suggest Interaction Design is a better skill set to keep as a discreet job with a dedicated function. I see the role of interaction designer as the user's advocate in the process. Coders are advocating for a different group: essentially themselves, trying to get things done as easily as possible. There's a conflict if they try to do interaction design. Designers /could/ do interaction design, but I see them as advocating for "making it look pretty." I don't mean that in a demeaning way at all: I love design, and hate it when clients won't invest in a quality designer. Interaction Design comes first, Pretty Design comes later. The two can be fought out in a cage match when they conflict... The Project Manager, on the other hand, is advocating for the whole group including the client. EVERYBODY should be interested in getting the project done on time and on budget, and having someone who's job has nothing to DO with the guts of the project try to make that happen has always seemed an anachronism.
paul neervoort
I disagree with the sentiment of the statement that ‘pretty design comes later’. In essence it is not true. Not only because, as Norman already pointed out and research (including in our own company) has shown, pretty things are (perceived) to be easier to use. And perception is reality for users. Also because real designers can make a user interface much more easy to understand. Wireframes and flows will not be enough to make easy to use interfaces. Why? Because the interaction is what happens between the user and the ’object’. This means the way you can interact with it, e.g. how to navigate the interface, can be designed. Feed forward, metaphoric language, attributes, structure, hierarchy, dynamic behaviors, etc. can all be made or broken by Design. This means using the visual and physical qualities of the ‘object’. Designers are much better at doing that than your average interaction designer. I have seen too many ‘functionally correct’ and logically easy to use interfaces which still fail to deliver an easy experience. No matter how much tests you throw at your flows and logic, if it isn’t looking simple it is not simple. And let’s not mistake simple for few items on screen alone. What you see is what you interact with! @Skot, when does a skill set become a profession? Look at the broad spectrum of ‘skill sets’ one can learn in engineering, these are all genuine proffessions. These specializations do happen because of a reason. To recognize that some ‘skill sets’ are adding quality to the overall result means to leverage on peoples qualities and being more efficient and effective use and thus productivity. I mean this not in a mechanistic way but also to recognize the economics of a business.
I think point #2 and #3 are right on. Does it require a separate person/position/role, which is the basis for point #1? Yes, which is why IxD--or let's just say "design" to get out of the weeds about labels--is still necessary. Designing and developing each has a unique focus, and there's a nice, complementary, and collaborative relationship in the way these two work together. The problem when they are captured by the same person is the lack of checks and balances, if you will. If you build what you design, you invariably make implementation decisions that influence your design decisions. Sure, at times this is great--and the reason why designers and developers should work closely together--but at times this is bad. When design is compromised, there's no review (like the kind you get in pair programming). Is it possible to do good work with one multi-disciplinary role? Of course, but I think two people/position/roles is ideal.
>>1: Developers get it Doesn't this mark a complete retreat from the central premise of "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum"? But, it's also possible that I'm mis-remembering that book. It certainly made the case for the role of Interaction Designers, but perhaps it didn't make the stronger case that developers are inherently focused on the affordances of the system rather than the needs and goals of the end-user? Whether it explicitly made that argument or not, I'd like to. I think there is a strong case to be made for always keeping these concerns (user interaction, technical implementation) in separate, specialized heads that no amount of "dumbing down" of the programming side (via applications to support programming by non-specialists) or sensitization of the programmers (all personas are mirror-personas in the trenches of a project) will overcome. Whether HCI/IA/IxD/ID are ultimately sub-specialties of Industrial Design, or not, may have more to do with academic department politics and how the best-timed book happens to divide up the world than any strictly conceptual matter. Computer code is a uniquely plastic material which requires a high degree of technical specialization to handle well and which can be applied to a vast problem space. That a separate set of professions might arise -- one for defining clear solutions to problems arising out of the morass of human endeavor (user-oriented analyst) and another for competently instantiating those solutions in a complex and ever-changing technical medium (computer programmer) -- without obvious analogy to other forms of human production -- should perhaps not be so surprising. Mature industries tend to be fragmented in terms of roles much further than what is being discussed here -- but has anyone ever tried an empirical approach to these questions? How do successful commercial organizations tend to divide up this work at various stages after having started to differentiate from their initial start-up constellation of roles and responsibilities (that is, at varying degrees of "maturation")? Is anyone aware of work addressing this question? Great discussion! - TomA
Thomas Benoit
@paul neervoort. I partly agree with you. Visual design and interaction design are closely related. But it is not all [visual] designers which are goods at planning the interactions (and other communication or functional aspects) of a digital products (i.e website, most of the time). Plus visual designers have to focus on the emotional and branding aspects of the design. I think it is healthy that an other [interaction] designer (if the organisation can afford it) focuses on the logical aspects of the digital product (information delivery, navigation, findability, usability, user needs, business objectives). Since, for most of digital products, there is a large quantity of info to communicate, and this requires strategy, structure, planning and flow. In order to create a great experience, it requires both logic and emotions. I would say that the IxD and the [visual] designers have to work in a close collaboration.
Nathaniel Flick
The same thing happened to Graphic Design in the 90s and early 2000s where as the use of the computer and software grew, everyone started feeling like they were a designer (Powerpoint, I'm looking at you here!) Now Graphic Designers can't just do print, they must also do web and other media. Unless you're well known for a particular niche, that is. And before this if you worked on a printing press you had to learn computer skills or you were replaced. It's the same with Interaction Design. No one outside of developers and web designers I meet knows what it is, and clients just look wide eyed when I say this term, as if I had just said "Abracadabra". Referring to practitioners, even Cooper, don't really give the profession the credibility it needs. There's not enough history there to show. The trouble is, as it is with any subjective profession, that perception is shaped by forces larger than itself and these forces are driven by the free access to technology and information. AIGA deals with this connundrum by setting up standards that all members follow, and so goes the GAG. However, Interaction Design still doesn't have one or two orgs that really unify the profession, hence the blurring of our message. Hopefully this will change. However, I agree with Bill Buxton in "Sketching User Experiences" that designers sketch. Using the software is not enough.
Bill Moggridge
INTERACTION DESIGN - DEAD OR ALIVE? Wow, what a stir! I don't have a transcript of the conversation after the screening of Objectified, but at least I can restate what I was trying to say. To give it to you in a single sentence, I think Interaction Design is now pervasive enough to have become a part of every design discipline, so far from being dead, it's everywhere! I think of the initial differences between design disciplines as being about learning about the context. The ceramic designer needs to learn about clay, glazes and so on; the industrial designer needs to learn about the ways in which mass produced objects a made; the interaction designer needs to know about software and hardware, how code is created, pixels, screens and input devices. When we started with this, there was a lot of new material to understand and it seemed that you had to have a new discipline to pull it all together. Now, over twenty years later, every design discipline operates in the digital as well as the analog realm, so every designer has to be some kind of interaction designer as part of their own discipline. Recently I was very happy to see that Dave Malouf is starting an Interaction Design Masters Program at SCAD, particularly as I think masters level is just the right place for interaction designers to specialize. I think of undergraduate design programs as the places where you can learn the skills of designing, and as such, every undergraduate design program should now include some interaction design, along with all the other pervasive factors that are needed for successful design synthesis. At the masters level, students should already have the skills, so they are learning more about how to think. This is where we need to tackle the more specialist challenges of interaction design, for example "user's conceptual models" or system design. And, by the way, if a design school teaches an interaction design masters program, the same faculty and facilities can be used to offer the component of interaction design that is needed as a part of the undergraduate courses. I hope this helps! Cheers, Bill
Michael R. Faddis
I'm not saying I agree 100% with this article but if it's true, as a User Experience Architect, I don't think it's the end of the world. I think this is great news. It means we are doing a good job of spreading the word and educating the masses.
Gillian Crampton Smith
I agree with Bill Moggridge that interaction design is far more pervasive today than ever before. However, in my view what distinguishes interaction designers is a delight in and appreciation of the potential of the invisible "material" of interactive systems—computation—as well as the form in which it is made manifest. We see interaction design as a broad church encompassing a range of skills and perspectives. Our interaction design Master's course in in Venice has students who have mostly studied graphic or product design or informatics. We believe that everyone, whatever their background, can contribute in the research and concept-generation phase—deciding what should be designed. But in the design development phase—deciding how it should be designed, what it should look or feel like, how it should be built, how it becomes economically sustainable—everyone needs a craft: the skill and knowledge of how to make or do something necessary for the concept to become real. This might be the information design or the business plan, prototype building or graphic interface design, the design of a device or the art direction of a video scenario, the design of the information architecture or the user tests. Different artifacts and different companies will have their own list. Few people can manage to be good at more than one or two, especially as students; we try to get them to identify and deepen what they are good at and like doing, while having an appreciation of the problems and preoccupations of people practicing the parallel crafts.
Andy Braxton
I think the role of interaction designers within businesses is being elevated to a level where design is less about deciding how a user interacts with something and more about strategy, facilitation, communication and getting something done. I think we are starting to think about our deliverables as being owned by a group of collaborators that include Product owners, Marketing, developers. The skills that we bring to this are those of creative facilitation and visualisation as well as an understanding of development culture and zeitgeist, market trends, building a brand and an overall experience. Its not that the job is obsolete its that its nature has changed so that 'interaction' is only the output, not the role.
Hrm. Trying working within an established company outside of Silicon Valley, especially not on one of the coasts. Many of those companies are just learning about Product Management, much less Design, much less IxD. It's easy to forget that you're in a bubble when you're looking from the inside out. "Pervasive" where?
Steffen Konrath
Yes everyone can order Photoshop et. al. But for heaven's sake, who can help me to develop a first-class search feature for an entertainment site? - Believe me, we will still need professionals in that area.
Janice James
In the consulting world, you can't specialize in just one individual skill that contributes toward the greater total user experience. How many job postings do you see today looking for just an Interaction Designer? Not many. I agree that Interaction Design is not a job--it's a skill and one of many that you need to have to provide a positive and successful user experience. I disagree that developers generally get it and know how to understand and meet user needs. I think a lot depends on what area of the country (U.S.) you live in, which industry you're working in and even what company you work for. I still see many developers that have no connection with the actual users of an application and are still designing for themselves. Good Interaction Designers definitely possess a skill for designing interfaces that factor in user needs, behaviors, expectations and attitudes, not to mention business and technology objectives.
When a designer or developer can sit down and "architect" a complete site using an iterative site map, task analyses, use cases and wireframes, then it will pervasive. As of yet, I don't think many can do that.
Bob Mann
"To paraphrase, he said interaction design has become pervasive, that anyone and everyone can be an interaction designer, and so the role of professional interaction designer is (or is becoming) unnecessary." If that is actually what he said, then it's utter nonsense! If that is actually what he said, then it's complete nonsense! My background: - Industrial Designer/Interaction Designer (both visual and UI) - designing software apps, web, multimedia, and product for the past 15 years. IxD is absolutely not something 'anyone and everyone' can do (unless you are talking about bad design). It requires extensive skill, talent and experience to get it right. I don't have to look very far to find examples of poor interface design.. and most of this comes from bad CEO's thinking they know the users, bad marketers influencing design, bad developers running wild, or bad hobbyist designers that know their way around Photoshop. Needless to say I'm not worried about the competition! As far as being a 'dead-end job'; you can say the same thing about any profession. In terms of growth prospects the future is bright - technology changes come faster and faster, and the need for innovative UIs is not going away anytime soon. The next paradigm shift is always just around the corner.. and whether it touch tablets or usable speech recognition devices - the basic design process is the same - there are no patterns for this in a dev toolkit.
Bob Mann
Please ignore the 2 repeated lines above - they were meant to be deleted.
Just stumbled across this post and oh my GOD!!! My experience with most Interaction /UX /UI /IxD Designers is that they love to sit around on the clock and pontificate about design theory and what it is they do, but by the end of they day, nothing really ever gets done. If you all would just shut up and design something, maybe you all wouldn't need to continue this pointless conversation. Now get to work or you're all F.I.R.E.D. How's that for an official title? jesus...
There are problems on both sides of the coin. Many developers have no clue about the user-centered design process or its value. On the flip side, many IxDs are drowning in self importance. I can understand the frustration some developers feel when working with IxDs. I personally feel the idea of having IxD as a "job description" is kind of silly. It is a skill, a skill that should be learned and put into practice by the actual developers.
I studied design as a multidisciplinary field and I have always seen my work as such. I think to understand a situation one must understand all aspects of it. To understand all aspects of it one must go beyond the definition of one discipline. To me interaction design is understanding and designing the interaction between two point A and B. This interaction become more and more important when computing is involved. The problem is that today there are so many bad designs by bad designers. Most companies don't hire an experience designer, Interaction designer, UI designer, all at the same time. Their budget does not cover that. They expect one person to create an entire product. So they morph a job formula that meets their budget, a one man army. This one man army happens to be a fake version of superman who says he knows and can do everything but can't distinguish black from white. But in no time he becomes the interaction designer even though by discipline he was a programer. He knows no methods or methodologies of interaction design. He browsed her and there or worked with a designer in the past and feels now confident that he has earned the title. Partially it is his and the company's lack of understand of the disciplines. My manager for example, for a very long time, thought that design is nothing more than coloring stuff.
Paul Daly
Greetings from the future! In Feb 2013 there are over 25K job postings for interaction design on (or 144K for user experience). And Computerworld (in a Jan 18 article) says demand for (and salaries of) UX experts is on the rise! So the answer to your question is: No. It is not a dead end job.
Joseph Rivera
Folks, it is NOW 2013. After 4 long years since the original blog post by Tim McCoy, Interaction Design as an education and profession are still increasing in great numbers worldwide. So, to answer Tim McCoy's blog post in 2009, Interaction Design is NOT a dead-end job! Again, Interaction Design is NOT a dead-end job, both as career and expertise. Tim McCoy is unfortunately wrong folks. Get it? Thus, let's close this debate. Fast forward: Year 2020, Interaction Design as a career is still ALIVE!
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