Some Things of Interest

I’m happy when people find my posts interesting or useful, especially when they take the time to share them with others. Here are a few things that have piqued my interest this week.

Have you been listening to 99% Invisible? You should be. Meet Roman Mars.

I’ve been looking for a good Thunderbolt dock ever since I got my iMac. They’ve been slow in coming, paltry on ports, and expensive. This one just might fit the bill.

I’ve written a book about working with developers, but I’m not the only one talking about it. Jonah Bailey of Mutually Human just presented on the topic at GLSEC Monday. If you missed that, he’s speaking again at self.conference at the end of the month.

I’ve always enjoyed DTDT discussions. Heck, I collect design definitions and diagrams. This self promotional piece from Smart Design will fit nicely into my Design Issues course introduction.

Have you seen the debate between Dan Klyn and Matt Nish-Lapidus hosted by IxDA Grand Rapids? Architecture & Interactions is two intelligent guys saying really smart things about the way they approach and understand design.

Unicorn Quest - Part 3

Josh Seiden’s article, which we worked through yesterday, catalyzed some thoughts for Dave Malouf, currently at Rackspace, who came out guns blazing with a robust, nearly 4,000 word post on his own blog titled Thoughts on code, programming, design, production, development, technology and Oh! Design. There’s a lot of chunky goodness in this stew—much that we agree on and a few opinions that I take issue with. We’re going to savor this one in a few spoonfuls.

Dave kicks things off with this little nugget:

But the question isn’t whether or not designers should know HOW to code, but rather, “Should They Code”. Implicit in this question is that the code they do has a purpose and I think where I disagree most with Josh is the purpose of not the knowledge of technology, but the application of that knowledge to production.

If I read this correctly, Dave is saying that it is important for designers to learn how to code, but they shouldn’t be writing production code. If I were to stop there, well, them’s fightin’ words! But the issue is more complex than that, and Dave does a great job breaking it down.

First, let’s talk about design and designing…
Dave and I are both academics, so one thing we have in common is that we’ve given a lot of thought to “defining the damn thing”, as they say. Dave dances around the definitions here without picking one, and that’s wise, as definition isn’t his point. However, your personal definition(s) of design say quite a lot about your perspective on design issues, such as the relevance of learning to code. So, I will share with you my favorite definition of design to give you some insight to my biases.

Design is the human power to conceive, plan, and realize products that serve human beings in the accomplishment of any individual or collective purpose. - Richard Buchanan

The reason I particularly like this definition is that it includes conception, planning, and realization as equal siblings. The definition doesn’t say that the same person has to do all three to be considered a designer (It’s not the definition of a designer, but the definition of the activity.), nor do I believe that you have to be able to do all three to be a good designer. However, I strongly identify with this tripartite and believe that truly great designers will be capable of doing all three. I strive to be a truly great designer, thus I feel compelled to excel in all three areas. You can agree or disagree with my personal conviction, but now you know where I’m coming from and, rather than taking umbrage at my commentary, can compensate by applying your own lens to my thoughts.

Dave describes five changes that have brought us to the current conditions in which designers are often expected to know how to create production code:

  1. Greater accessibility through tools
  2. Startup culture
  3. Agile/Lean (which is in large part a response to #2)
  4. Maker/DIY culture
  5. Open source

This is very insightful, but I don’t believe it paints the whole picture. I see historical influences at play as well. If you ask an Interaction/UX Designer the history of our field, you will get a different story depending on the background of the person you ask. Dave alludes to this in his earlier listing of focus pairs:

  1. HCI - people & technology
  2. New Media - graphics/interfaces & technology
  3. Information Design/Architecture - graphics/navigation & people

The fact is, Interaction Design grew out of several disciplines at the same time. One of the significant contributors was Graphic/Communication Design, which also happens to be my background. Graphic Design, along with Industrial Design, has a tradition of craft. Graphic Designers don’t just conceive and plan things—they make things. There was no such thing as a Graphic Designer that couldn’t produce their design. Some of the greats were able to produce both 2-D graphic design and 3-D industrial design. To this day, I get dumbfounded reactions from my students when I explain that a large percentage (likely a majority) of Interaction Designers and UX professionals are not visually trained and have to rely on a Graphic Designer to realize their wireframes. I believe that this tradition of craft still has a huge impact on the field, which we see surfacing in “design studio methods”, sketching workshops, discussions of materials and foundations, and yes, the pressure/attraction of learning to code. There is a drive for designers that resonate with this tradition to realize—to produce—what they have conceived and planned.

That is enough for tonight’s post. I’ll continue dissecting Dave’s article tomorrow.

All the World’s a Stage

Last week, I had my students reading articles about defining “design”. Some of them were specifically dealing with the struggle of finding a definition (or multiple definitions) for what we do, while others were about what it means to be a designer. We had a good discussion in class last night, but I wish I would have learned of Cameron Norman’s post on his blog Censemaking a few days sooner. It would have been perfect for inclusion.

It’s been suggested that anyone who shapes the world intentionally is a designer, however those who train and practice as professional designers question whether such definition obscures the skill, craft, and ethics that come from formal disciplinary affiliation. Further complicating things is the notion that design thinking can be taught and that the practice of design can be applied far beyond its original traditional bounds. Who is right and what does it mean to define the new designer?

Titled Defining the New Designer, Cameron’s article examines definitions and descriptions of designers and what they do. He ties in discussion of Design Thinking and cites several people that were contributors to the articles I used in class, such as Sir George Cox, John Thackara, and Bruce Nussbaum. I don’t find any conclusive answers, but it raises a lot of interesting questions that are worth thinking about and discussing.

If I could pin down a result from the discussion that occurred in my class, it would be this: The field of Design continues to grow and diversify, and thus settling on any singular definition of Design is fruitless. We must prepare today’s students to think about Design not as a WHAT, but as a HOW. We must position them with the skills necessary to act as facilitators and bridge makers in interdisciplinary teams. We don’t know where they will be applying design thinking/process/methods in the future. As Dan Roam stated in NextD Journal’s special issue Beautiful Diversion, “A whole new breed of designer is waiting in the wings, and we can’t even imagine the tools, the voice, and the stage she will have.”

Jack of All Trades, Master of Some

In Jeroen van Geel’s article for Core77, Jack of All Trades, Master of None: Danger for Interaction Design, he expresses his concern that Interaction Designers are overreaching their bounds, trying to assimilate too many other areas of expertise.

There is a growing understanding of human behavior, but currently our weakness (and chances) lie in developing more knowledge around the business side. And that is where it becomes slippery, because in our enthusiasm we want to pull business strategy into the field of interaction design. Some of us even talk about UX strategy, which is in my mind putting things out of perspective. Let’s stay curious and connect with other fields, but be aware that in our youthful enthousiasm we don’t try to assimilate everything.

I see things differently. Realize, first, that Interaction Design is one facet of a much larger landscape. Design has a history of branching out, applying itself to new fields, diversifying, and specializing. That is how the field of Interaction Design came to be. So too with Service Design. There is currently a lot of debate about “Design Thinking” and where (or whether) it fits, but I think everyone will agree that “business people” see value in what designers do and want to apply it to “business problems”. The founders of Airbnb may not call themselves interaction designers, as Jeroen claims, but the fact remains that they are designers (Graphic and Industrial), graduates of RISD. They are part of a growing group of designer founders.

Putting a fence around any area of design and saying, “Stop. Grow no further. You have reached your limit.” is an unrealistic, untenable stance. Design is as relevant today as it is because it continues to redefine itself.

Design Issues

There’s one week left in the masters-level class I’ve been teaching. It is mainly a seminar-style course with a few complimentary projects. The semester was organized into seven units. These are the readings that my students were required to write responses to and then discuss in class. This is a good survey of the current state of design theory.

Defining Design
Beautiful Diversion - NextD Journal
Are Designers The Enemy Of Design? - BusinessWeek
In which design is subjected to Lakovian analysis -
Defining Design -

Design Leadership
Design Vision
Managing is Designing? Exploring the Reinvention of Management - NextD
Design Vs. Design Thinking. - BusinessWeek
Leadership Is THE Strategic Issue - AIGA

The Design Landscape
What is graphic design? - AIGA
What is Industrial Design? - IDSA
What is IA? - IAI
Definition of IxD - IxDA
Designing for Interaction - Dan Saffer (pages 2-8 and 20-22)
Ladder of Fire: Unpacking Advocacies - NextD
IA Summit 09 - Plenary - Jesse James Garrett
What is Design? (Yes, all 10 definitions!) - Demystifying Usability
Why Does Interaction Design Matter? Let’s Look At The Evolving Subway Experience - FastCompany
10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design - Mashable
What is service design? - Design Council
Engine Service Design
Richard Buchanan Keynote – Emergence 2007 « Design for Service
An Evolving Map of Design Practice and Design Research - Dubberly

Design Methods
The students researched specific methods individually and presented them to the class, rather than having assigned readings, but I did provide the following resources as starting points.
Stories - Boxes and Arrows
NASA - Process: User Centered Design Methods
Use our methods - Stanford 
Design methods - Design Council

Design & Business
AIGA Center for Practice Management - Trademark Basics for Graphic Designers
AIGA | Aquent Survey of Design Salaries
Intellectual Property: What does “Work for Hire” mean for designers? - AIGA
Why Does My Firm Own Everything I Do? Intellectual Property & You - Core77
The State of our Contracts - AIGA
American Firms Now Embrace Design, But They’re Aging Fast. What’s Next? - Co. Design
The Cost of Frustration - UIE
No Accounting For Design? - Fast Company
Dos and Don’ts for Designers Dealing with Business - Core77
On Being T-Shaped - Core77
Ten Ways to Measure Design’s Success - BusinessWeek

Social & Organizational Change
Hourschool: Learn from your network, one hour at a time. - AC4D
AIGA | Design for Good
Redesigning America’s Future
Introduction: Design and Organizational Change - Richard Buchanan
Marc Rettig - How to Change Complicated Stuff - IxDA Library
RED Paper 02: Transformation Design
The Designers Accord
Navigating a Sea Change - Lauralee Alben

Design Ethics
AIGA | Ethics and Social Responsibility 
AIGA | Logo Warehouses, Crowdsourcing, and a Lack of Understanding 
AIGA | What’s the harm in crowdsourcing? 
AIGA | AIGA position on spec work 
AIGA | Design Business and Ethics 
AIGA | AIGA urges the Obama 2012 campaign to reconsider its jobs poster contest 
What is AIGA’s position on spec work? And how are ethical standards determined?
AIGA Standards of professional practice
Ethics in the Design Field - Webdesigner Depot
The Politics of Desire and Looting - Design Observer
"This is what I have learned" by Milton Glaser
First Things First 2000
First Things First 1964
In Search of Ethics in Graphic Design — AIGA

Design Education
Design Research and Education: A Failure of Imagination? - Core77 
Why Design Education Must Change - Core77 
Teaching Social Innovation - Austin Center for Design
What this Country Needs is a Good Five-Year Design Program - AIGA

So you want to be an Interaction Designer…

Quite frequently, people post to the IxDA forum asking what they need to do to get into Interaction Design (or interactive design, or whatever they call it). They may have a background in library science or psychology or programming or instructional technology or technical writing or any other tangentially related field. They typically have questions about education options, books, resources, portfolios, and how to find a position and get hired. Sometimes, they get a reply from an experienced interaction designer with good advice. Sometimes, they get a reply from somebody trying to help, but without the experience and knowledge to impart. Often, they don’t get any reply, because those of us qualified to answer their questions are tired of answering their questions. This is unfortunate. Everyone coming to the IxDA community deserves the same opportunity to learn about the field. So, I’m going to do something about it.

I’m starting a series intended for beginners with the intent of building up enough content that, whenever somebody asks how to get started, they can be pointed to DesignAday. Consider it a long-form FAQ. Each post in the series will have the IxDn00b tag, so they’ll be easily linked to.

So, to kick things off, let’s clarify some terminology.

Interactive Design is a term used by advertising agencies and marketing departments. Using this term is a sure way to flag yourself as an IxD n00b. Those of us practicing Interaction Design do not use the term. For more on this, see the Interaction Design vs Interactive Design thread on the forum.

Interface Design refers specifically to the design of a user interface (UI). This is what most of us interaction designers do on a day-to-day basis, and we consider it to be an activity within the domain of Interaction Design. Not everyone sees it that way, and you are welcome to wade through the semantics in the Interface Design vs Interaction Design thread.

Interaction Design is defined by IxDA like this:

Interaction Design (IxD) defines the structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond. Our practices are evolving with the world.

So, you see, Interaction Design encompasses more than just websites and computer applications. As a practice, it is also distinguishable from Human Factors, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Information Architecture, and “usability professionals”. However, it is deeply connected to, and intertwined with, all of these.

The x in IxD is there to distinguish the abbreviation from ID, which has long represented Industrial Design.


In honor of the tremendous impact Steve Jobs has had on the computer, music, movie, animation, television, mobile phone, consumer electronics, and design industries, I devote today’s post to my favorite quotes from one of the most passionate, design-oriented CEOs ever. You may notice some common themes.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like… People think it’s this veneer—that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But, of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. To design something really well, you have to ‘get it.’ You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something…. Most people don’t take the time to do that.”

“When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.”

“I want to put a ding in the universe.”

Whining About Defining

There were a number of Interaction 11 attendees that expressed annoyance at the fact that many of the sessions, including several keynotes, were dealing with the definition of Interaction Design. Carl Alviani explained how we should be describing IxD to the outside world, Richard Buchanan addressed who we are, where we are, and where we are going, and Bruce Sterling’s closing was equal parts appreciation and slap upside the head. Many feel that we’ve had enough of these discussions—that we should stop talking about it and get back to making stuff. I strongly disagree. Certainly, I want there to be some content in a conference that I can immediately apply to my daily work, but that isn’t really what I go to a conference for. I want to expand my understanding of design at a higher level, and definition is integral to that. To continue growing as designers—to continue growing as a discipline—we should continually evaluate who we are and what we do, identifying changes we believe should be made, and then act accordingly. The day any design discipline stops critically questioning itself is the day it dooms itself to irrelevancy.

Defining Design

I kicked off my course this semester with a discussion about the definition of design. Here are some of my favorite quotes on the subject.

“Defining design is not about coming up with a single definition, but resolving the seemingly conflicting and incompatible definitions.”
Dan Brown,

“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But, of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. To design something really well, you have to ‘get it.’ You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something…. Most people don’t take the time to do that.”
Steve Jobs

“To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit; it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse.”
Paul Rand

“Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.”
Paul Rand

“If I’m going to talk about design, that purely arbitrary and immensely human construct, I should say that by design I mean the process both physical and mental by which people give an order to objects, community, environments and behavior.”
Bill Stumpf

“The answer is probably that we shall never really find a single satisfactory definition but that the searching is probably much more important than the finding.”
Bryan Lawson, How Designers Think

Current Design Issues

I’m planning my course for the Fall semester, when I will finally be able to reuse the material I first taught in 2005. It will be a seminar—that is, it will be much more reading, writing, and discussion about design than the act of designing, although we’ll do some of that too. When I taught the course four years ago, I assigned readings on the following topics:

Design Certification
Offshore Outsourcing
Design & Business
Formal Education vs. Self-taught
Design Ethics
Design Leadership
Making a Business Case for Design
Experience Design

Some of these are still relevant topics for discussion, while others may not be quite as en vogue. What do you consider to be current design topics of importance? Please let me know in the comments.