This is Interaction Design, Reconsidered
As seen from the last day of the first semester of a Masters in Interaction Design
*This is in response to an earlier post defining interaction design*
While I do not disagree with my descriptions of interaction design from the beginning of the semester, I would reframe my thoughts. My definition has expanded and I have gathered nodes of explanation. Interaction design is a particular response depending on the questioner and the context of the question. For me, it has become fuzzier around the edges but I feel much more comfortable and confident in this ambiguity.
In the freshman class that I TA, students were asked to synthesize lectures into photo essays. Confused about project feedback, students would email for more explanation, writing that they had crafted beautiful images and expected the audience to interpret for themselves their intentionality. In Catherine Shen’s first post on interaction design, she wrote of “art as one-directional sometimes, but design as two-directional always.” I was grappling with that idea throughout the semester, because I do think art also involves two-way interaction (as does all media). But I think that the students were speaking to a mentality where, because an artwork is often in very specific contexts (a gallery for example), the artist can leave interpretation ‘open.’ Design is an effort to craft and communicate a narrative more directly. The students were learning about using visual language to have a particular perspective and tell that a story. Design is perhaps not just the artifact (whether a physical object or digital screen or human connection) but the narrative around it — how it is to be used or perceived.
A professor this semester said to me, in an effort to get me to put more effort into the final visual design of a piece, that without that polished visual design, an artifact could have have been created by any engineer. But within interaction design, visual design is just one method for providing a framework and giving this direction. Perhaps this is why the methods I see presented by design professors are splintered — there are so many ways of crafting this narrative.
I still struggle in defining interaction design’s relation to technology. I’ve noticed on multiple occasions that guest speakers have assumed that ‘interaction design’ means we’re focusing on screen-based interaction. On one of these occasions, professor Peter Scupelli provided what I thought was a very elegant explanation of how CMU’s vision of interaction design evolved out of the computer. Humans, he explained, have been designing interactions for as long as we have existed, but with the advent of computers, we had to be concrete about these decisions in order to program and test them. We can take these learnings and apply them to human and non-digital objects and even human-to-human interactions. Now, having adopted this concrete framing, we can leave it behind and adopt something more experiential. My partner told his new colleagues that I was studying design at CMU. They assumed that he meant the HCI program, but in an apropos slip of language, called it human interaction design.