Interaction design: Making a future for humans

February 06, 2013

Last week, some colleagues and I attended the Interaction13 conference in Toronto, which marked the 10th anniversary of the IxDA. The conference is designed loosely, with about half of the four-day event filled with great speakers like Jer Thorpe (speaking on Big Data) and Dan Saffer (discussing micro-interactions). The other half is left open for networking and hallway conversations. These conversations are really the heart of the conference. Interaction Design is gathering steam thanks to a complex world that needs complex solutions to complex problems. It is an exciting time to be involved.

Let me take a little time to tell you about the goals of this field. In our day-to-day lives, we have good and bad experiences — from a product with too many (or too few) buttons, to a really great website, to a horrible moment with customer service. Interaction Designers are (or should be) responsible for thinking about all of these interactions with the aim of delivering a great user experience.

Historically, designers learn a specific craft — Industrial Design, Graphic Design, Architecture, Human-Computer Interaction, etc. Interaction Design is inherently an interdisciplinary endeavor as they need to think and design across 2D and 3D spaces as well as time. This is a challenge that those of us who attended school ages ago would likely not have been up for, but Interaction Designers are trained to think across disciplines and methodologies, so they’re well-suited for the challenge.

One of the biggest challenges Interaction Designers have charged themselves with solving is, ironically, of their own creation. The world we live in has so much interaction and possibility for interaction that some feel it’s getting away from us. As we spend more time everyday with our heads in our mobile phone screens, on FaceTime with our families while we try to keep up with the frenzied pace of life, there is a growing desire to get back to a life with more meaning and humanity. The pendulum has perhaps swung too far, and now we have to try to swing it back.

Development needs to break out beyond widgets or mobile apps to think of holistic experiences...

I was encouraged to have so many conversations about this very thing. Carla Diana spoke wonderfully on making meaning in the context of the Internet of Things and how the growing future of smart products can add value to our lives (or take it away). Although it will be difficult to realize in a natural way, Interaction Design promises to help us move beyond the physical and the digital to bring us back to the “here and now” by designing truly human experiences. The winner of Interaction13’s Best in Show award is a beautifully conceived and executed example of this.

As the world we live in continues to grow in weird and unpredictable ways, these designers will have to make the leap to truly inventive futures. We have a long way to go to remove the obstacles of technology and the legacies of bad design, but Interaction Design is an important point of experimentation. From consumer goods to government to healthcare, Interaction Designers and the businesses that hire them need to focus on creating smart design solutions and experiences that will enhance our lives and live in harmony with the world we live in. Development needs to break out, and think beyond widgets or mobile apps to think of holistic experiences, be they physical, digital, services, some combination thereof, or something else entirely. As designers and innovators, we can take that step together, but only after we understand our responsibility to our customers as humans, first and foremost.