Re-defining Interaction Design and How it’s Changing My Life (and yours, too!)
Reflections on first semester of grad school, being a Designer, and FOMO.
I started out this semester by attempting then failing to define what Interaction Design was. And here I am, three months later, and I am no closer to succeeding. If anything, I’m starting to feel like I was never truly an Interaction Designer, but I don’t think I mind. I’ve come to realize that we’re all Interaction Designers to some degree — civil engineers, horticulturalists, wedding planners, bank tellers, emergency line respondents, and of course, pixel pushers like my former self — we all design certain aspects of everyday interactions. I don’t yet know where I’ll fit into the bigger picture, or how. I’m still trying to figure that out.
I thought I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do after grad school — work for social innovation design firms like IDEO, or take part in making cool stuff at Google (I understand that these are polar opposites, sort of) — and while these are still very attractive and I’d jump at the first chance to collaborate on projects like these, I’ve started to think beyond Glassdoor’s “This Year’s Best Companies to Work For” lists. I just know that more than ever before, I identify myself as a designer for interactions — human to human, human to machines, systems, organizations, and governments. And I’m being taught to notice the enormous amount of responsibility that I carry on my shoulders as an Interaction Designer in facilitating interactions that are both functionally smart but also morally right.
It’s definitely going to shape me as a very different type of designer than what I identified myself as before. Was I ever a Designer? I mean, sure: a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Communications Design was invaluable for building practical skill sets; throw in a BA in English Lit for good measure, go out into the world and weave pretty stories. I’d still call it a great day if I do nothing else but fiddle with Photoshop, take cool photos on a DSLR, admire Basel typography posters, practice color theories, golden rules, all that jazz. But all this and working for an early stage startup in the Silicon Beach, was only scratching the surface of the definition. I’m starting to realize that being a Designer isn’t about pushing pixels, getting the white balance right, or even writing clean lines of code; it’s defined by what you are and what you’re trying to bring into the world. And it defines the type of person you will be — constantly learning, trying, practicing, creating, co-creating, voicing, listening, communicating, reconsidering, and iterating. The ultimate Cybernetic life. A Designer’s life.
I feel as though I’ve just been hit on the head from the sheer amount of responsibility as a Designer, and freaking out mid-semester from an existential crisis (both as a human being and as a designer) definitely helped (not really). But I’ve started to appreciate the big pictures in things and relationships. Gone are the innocent bystander days.
In short, moral of the day is that FOMO is real, and grad school’s the perfect place to learn how to cope with it.
A big thanks to molly w steenson for making all this possible for us!
To recap our first semester’s learnings at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design and at Professor Molly Steenson’s Seminar course on Service Design & Interaction Design Concepts, we’ve covered introductory Design subjects like:
- The progression and spread of the concept of Design Thinking
- Promoting the Service Design concept in HCI
- Developing technology, discoveries in science and implications in Designing with these changes
Laid out foundations of Interaction Design concepts, such as:
- Physical artifacts having embedded politics and conveying different meanings to different groups of people
- The medium in which something is presented plays a significant part in delivering the message
Covered tools that Designers should practice with:
- Service design blueprints, customer & stakeholders’ journey maps
- Participatory design & co-creation of experiences
- Behavioral change design
We’ve also delved into the more complex design questions on:
- Information exchange & Cybernetics
- Defining problems and the heuristics with which we can attempt to solve those problems
- Approaching Wicked Problems and the importance of asking the important questions
- Infrastructures and social systems
- Seams and seamlessness in multitasking and managing a gazillion different devices and online presences
- Ubiquitous Computing
We’ve explored the fine lines of humanistic and moral practices of building (deep) machine learning systems with:
- Internet of Things
- GOFAI (Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence) and the resurrection of AI Research, how to design for the human-machine relationships
Not to mention, ambiguous topics that I’m still trying to grapple with:
- Designing for Embedded Interaction
- Considering moral implications of Data mining, Metadata collection, and governmental (and commercial) surveillance
Who knew that just three months could change your life around?