Designing for Interactions: Complexity and Connectedness

I’m now three semesters deep into learning to “design for interactions”: and what do I have to say for myself? I still have trouble articulating concisely what exactly it is that I do. My grandparents think I design smartphone apps, and I’m letting them believe that. (They’re pleased enough with those job prospects for now.) But for a more long-winded answer that can take up more space than a spotty Skype call across the Pacific Ocean, here’s where I stand on what interaction design is to me.

Design for Interactions: Technology

The biggest shift in my understanding over the past semester in particular has been my role in designing for technology. I’ve never seen myself working in the Silicon Valley technology culture, nor do I feel particularly passionate about technology. My choice to transition into a career in design from a background in chemistry has a lot more to do with the design process than with traditional design outputs. However, being critical about technology as we’ve been doing in our seminar has revealed a layer of responsibility as designers that I was afraid to approach.

As designers, we should be able to hold users’ needs and desires in balance with other stakeholders, and that responsibility will fall to us. The complexity inherent to this balance is one thing we’re learning over and over: there’s always more complexity, more perspectives to consider, more entanglements. But being aware of and critical about the complexities that emerge from technological innovations like big data and machine learning can bring a perspective into the conversation that is more user-centric and more focused on the long-term effects of data collection and sample data sets used for machine learning.

In addition, there is constant talk about how the technology that has become nearly ubiquitous in our lives is hindering, rather than enhancing, human engagement with each other and our world. Thinking critically about the behaviors our designs create is crucial to designing more human experiences. Various ways of designing exist to make our relationship with technology more thoughtful and responsible, like Amber Case’s work with Calm Technology and Tristan Harris’s advocacy group TimeWellSpent.

Design for Interactions: Experiences

While I do see the role of interaction designers as being essential to designing for more mindful relationships with technology, my main interest now is in designing for more human experiences: that is, experiences that engage more complex sides of us that might not typically be engaged. Where our technology is mindless and individualized, how could we introduce more mindful, deep connections to a bigger picture? Where certain solutions are about rational thinking and efficiency, how could we introduce emotional engagement and slowing down? When might these “interventions” be most appropriate?

I’m fascinated by designing for service, whose methods emphasize the orchestration of smooth experiences across various channels with the stakeholders, keeping in mind the value exchanges that make interactions between stakeholders worthwhile to everyone involved. I’d also love to learn more about designing for social interactions: what environments, contexts, and media are most conducive to different types of interactions? When could digitally mediated interactions be most beneficial, and when would face-to-face interactions be more appropriate?

Designing for interactions, to me, is about understanding all people (“users,” “stakeholders,” etc.) as they are–perhaps even beyond the depths to which they’ve communicated about or even have considered. It’s about taking that understanding and applying it to designs that keep their humanity in mind. To me, recognizing humanity is simply about recognizing the multi-faceted nature of each of us, and the individual desires and dislikes that make us who we are. I’m in design because I believe in the potential of the human-centered design process to bring a greater sense of complexity and connection to the experiences we engage with.