Can an interaction designer creat (great)interaction without (great) visual design skills?

24 Oct 2008 - 3:19am
7 years ago
1 reply
1062 reads
Mike Padgett


I totally agree with Christine and I think it's right on topic. Like her, I wasn't "formally" trained in visual design and like many in our line of work, I sort of "fell into" this thing when there were no "accepted" qualifications and the technology was still open doors to everyone.

I really dislike how, at least in the UK and parts of Europe anyway, new entrants into the visual design field need to have degrees and certificates coming out of their ears (indeed, the general lack of a sense of "apprenticeship" in this industry bothers me, but maybe I'm just a bit too traditional). Anyway I'm good at what I do and I think that's down to 90% experience.

Of course, I made some mistakes and a few clients will have duly received the results of them, but we have only really started to understand this medium in a truly holistic way relatively recently.

I think there's still a lot of narcissism in "pure" design and I see what we do as being more in the Bauhaus tradition of striving for perfection through function, otherwise in my opinion you're trying to be an artist. We are not aesthetes and that for me is the key difference - people need to actually use our outputs in a way they don't with posters and "pure" design, where grabbing attention for a moment is often the sole object of exercise.



>I don't know if this is a different tack on this topic or not, but I'll
>throw it out here.
>I think it is one thing to have visual design skills, and another thing to
>be current in the field of visual design. I have been a visual designer,
>going back to the time of print-only publication design (makes me feel long
>of tooth these days).
>One thing I did not do was study graphic or visual design at an art school,
>and my MFA is not in art.
>However, I have no desire to be a visual designer on the web. There is a lot
>about print design that still intrigues me, but the idea of only doing web
>visual design feels to me... <blasphemy alert> boring </blasphemy>. Sort of
>like, what if all I did as a visual designer was design print stationary
>letterheads. I know there are people who live to design letterheads, and I
>don't mean to put down their profession, but I could not do it.
>I have the skills and understand the basic principles, can use the tools,
>have taught visual communications grad seminars, etc. That is not the issue.
>What I get bored with is following the "hemlines" of contemporary commercial
>graphic design, particularly on the web. What colors are hot this year? What
>fonts are in and what fonts are out this year? Trendy design, in other
>There are many things in this world I find fascinating, stimulating. But as
>with when I worked as a professional photographer and photojournalist, I
>lose interest in work when it starts feeling formulaic, when I feel like I'm
>just a hack following the latest trendy fashion. I used to shoot sports, and
>especially loved shooting fluid movement sports, where action didn't stop
>and start, like basketball, soccer, rugby. But that bored me eventually,
>because there's only so many different ways you can put a ball through a
>Interaction design fascinates me when content sets are complex, when
>interactions are like puzzles to solve. Interaction design bores me when
>design patterns are routine and I see no reason to reinvent the wheel, esp
>not for a gratuitous flash or graphic effect. If I were doing nothing but
>visual design for repetitive patterns, I'd be going crazy, I think! Page
>banners, tab menus, simple outline hierarchies. How many different ways can
>you as a visual designer put that ball through that hoop?
>There's nothing you can do but follow the hemlines, watch the rise and fall
>of this year's font trends, banner color palettes, or 3-d pops. Try to push
>on it a little.
>Now that is a skill, to do it really well, just as it is a skill to be an
>art director on a slick glossy print magazine, or to be the kind of
>photographer who shoots concept cars in big studios with soft boxes the size
>of the car, with 8x10 view cameras. That's art school kind of skill, and my
>visual design skills, while perfectly competent to design and shoot for for
>a good quality university admissions viewbook and win some awards, won't
>ever dance at that level.
>And ultimately, that's why I'm drawn more to interaction design. This kind
>of design has deeper puzzles to plumb the depths of, bigger problems to
>wrestle with. I do love beautiful design, but our screens are still small,
>images display in even smaller postage stamp frames inside them, templates
>are constantly becoming oppressive (from a dramatic visual design
>perspective-- I loved doing double-truck full bleed print designs, heavy
>with photos, 20x30 color posters, etc), and bandwidth concerns are always
>nipping at our heels. As a visual designer, I still find the constraints of
>the web too... constraining. Good thing I'm not doing that full time,
>nothing but visual design, obsessing on fonts, color palettes, pixels, and
>res. I think I'd be going crazy.
>Sorry in advance if I am blaspheming overmuch. I mean, because we do still
>have trendy wireframe fonts, and are rounded corners in this year, or out?
>Hemlines. Should I wear a miniskirt? Or are the hemlines coming back down
>On Fri, Oct 24, 2008 at 12:03 AM, Hernandez, Barbara <
>b.hernandez at> wrote:
>> Hi all
>> I work every day with multi-talented designers who are the whole package
>> and more. They take our designs from concept to finished art. They are
>> masters of both interaction and visual design (and no you can't have them
>> :)).
>> That said, I have worked on both sides of this argument. I have worked as
>> an interaction designer who relied on graphic artists to create the
>> for my designs. Looking back, and now having worked with the designers on
>> team, most of the graphics artists I worked with in the past with could
>> function easily as interaction designers. Some of them did - but only on
>> their portfolio sites, not at work.
>> In other cases, I struggled with graphic artists that worked in the print
>> world and didn't get the interactive component so it was near impossible to
>> get the visual design to support the interaction.
>> Is there room for both specializations, sure, IMHO we get great, world
>> class design from designers with talent for both interaction and visual
>> design. And yes, we call them User Experience Designers because they design
>> the whole experience.
>> Regards
>> Barb Hernandez
>> User Experience Manager | TechSmith Corporation
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: discuss-bounces at [mailto:
>> discuss-bounces at] On Behalf Of Todd Zaki
>> Warfel
>> Sent: Monday, October 20, 2008 11:32 AM
>> To: Dennis, Alan
>> Cc: IxDA list
>> Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Can an interaction designer creat (great)
>> interaction without (great) visual design skills?
>> On Oct 17, 2008, at 8:53 AM, Dennis, Alan wrote:
>> > Basically, my point is that if you want to make great designs, I do
>> > believe you need to have somewhat of an understanding in the various
>> > disciplines involved. Visual design is one of those disciplines that
>> > can help immensely.
>> Having an understanding and appreciation for a related discipline
>> isn't the same as being a master of it. Good visual design can enhance
>> interactions, or can break them. The interaction design is the
>> foundation of a good design.
>> I believe that being a good interaction design who has good visual
>> design skills is better than one who doesn't. However, I don't believe
>> for a minute that you can't be a good interaction designer if you
>> don't have good visual design skills. As long as you understand the
>> practice and appreciate it, then you can be a great interaction
>> designer.
>> Stating interaction designers have to be good visual designers is like
>> saying good programmers have to be good interaction designers.
>> Software development is an evolutionary process. We rely on each other
>> as a team.
>> Cheers!
>> Todd Zaki Warfel
>> President, Design Researcher
>> Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
>> ----------------------------------
>> Contact Info
>> Voice: (215) 825-7423
>> Email: todd at
>> AIM: twarfel at
>> Blog:
>> Twitter: zakiwarfel
>> ----------------------------------
>> In theory, theory and practice are the same.
>> In practice, they are not.
>> ________________________________________________________________
>> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
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>> ________________________________________________________________
>> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
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27 Oct 2008 - 10:41am
Erik van de Wiel

Hi Rein,

I believe as Interaction Designer you should work closely with your
visual designers (and developers, industrial designers, etc). In my
opinion this part can never be missing. Some interaction problems can
best be solved graphically or can better be combined with a nice piece
of visual design. IxD is important, it makes sure that everything
works the way it should (sounds easy when I type it :-) ). Anything
big until the tiniest of nuances needed so the user has a great
experience working with the product - or at least doesn%u2019t get
irritated using it.

Truth is that the visual design is often the first thing the user
will notice. Any mistakes made on this part aren%u2019t necessarily
killing (take myspace), but success will become more difficult and
maybe even a guessing game when you ignore the visual designer. IMHO
both should always go hand in hand.



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