A stake in the ground

Thoughts on interaction design, revisited.

I started off this semester, by defining interaction design as

the process of identifying a problem and understanding the context it exists in, simplifying the complexities of the situation, and trying to find the most efficient, and visually appealing solution.

Over the last four months, we’ve taken a closer look at every aspect of this definition, and more. Turns out, there’s a lot more to it. (Bet you didn’t see that coming.)

The “problem solving” definition of design is often repeated. However, sometimes the problem is just too complex to define. And sometimes, even when we think we’ve defined the problem, there might be no “right answer”, or perhaps many of them. Other times, we might solve the user’s problem, but create a whole bunch of new ones. Welcome to the wicked world of wicked problems.

Sometimes, the only way to understand the context is to become part of it. However, it’s important to not let our own cognitive biases influence the situation. Other times, when we try to design solutions, we infuse them with internalized biases without even realizing that’s what we’ve done. It’s important to understand not only the users’ immediate context, but also the politics of the world they inhabit. We must be conscious of the intentions behind our designs.

Finally, It’s not enough to develop and effective solution. We also need to consider the form through which it is delivered. And sometimes, the user will surprise us by doing something completely different with a design than it’s original intention, because at the end of the day, the users we design for are intelligent, creative people who probably know better than us anyway.

I’ve come out on the other side with the realization that…there’s so much I don’t know. But, realizing that this is and always will be the case, it’s great to have identified just what it is that I don’t know but should be thinking about. And that by itself is no small accomplishment.