Interaction Design, Generalism, and the Missing Pieces
15 Mar 2005 - 3:42pm
10 years ago
This general area of discussion has interested me for nearly a quarter
of a century, if not more. I graduated with a degree in design
(concentrating in product design) in 1983, and shortly thereafter my
experience with the Macintosh set my career's goal - to be a pioneer in
human interaction in products, software, and systems, and to approach
this as designers in my own tradition had always done. That is to be
broadly generalist in their education and interests (math, science,
materials, art, psychology, economics and business, anthropology,
I just recently have stopped in my career to look back across a
sampling of the very diverse range of projects and interaction
architectures I've done over the past twenty years. I presented this,
an admittedly very personal and non-academic presentation, at the
IASummit 2005 in Montreal. I was happy to finally meet David Heller,
and I now know why he's such a great voice and moderator here on our
I've been reading through the lists of books that people have been
listing here. I would say that in my own experience, the book that
resonated most with my own experience (albeit across a very different
range of design in systems and products) has been Jesse James Garrett's
book, "The Elements Of User Experience." More than any other book on
UX that I've read, his perspective matches what I've found in so many
of my dozens of projects.
While my retrospective leaves out many of the projects I've done
(including complex financial portfolio analysis and management
software, collaborative environment systems, and military wearables and
information architectures), I concentrated on experiences that were
representative of the lessons I'd learned from my experiences. There's
both a 12,500 word text document, and a set of the slides I spoke to:
I am a huge believer in education. When I got out of college I was
broke and stranded in the Midwest. I would've *loved* to have gone on
to graduate school. As it was, however, I had to get to work, and for
me that ended up being on my own and finding my own path and
discovering my own truths about interaction design.
As the years went on, especially in the 1990s, as the voices grew
around this general field, I felt very isolated and different in my
approach. I was not an academic, and the academics and researchers
paid little attention to(or just plain slammed the door on) intuitive
practitioners such as myself. I reached out many times to researchers
and academics (some of which have written the books listed in these
threads), but they were never willing to examine my project
documentation and results, let alone the many conceptual models I'd
created, beginning back in the 1980s. Academics and researchers need
to understand what they're missing out on and blind to.
I believe that the designer's job is to get the rubber to meet the
road. In the end, it's our REAL WORLD work that matters. No amount of
reductionistic thinking, abstract research, or bits and pieces of
psychology will ever be able to be reassembled *whole* into solutions
for the rest of humanity without a missing bit of creative soul that
designers and architects have understood for millenia - the personal.
Coming from the tradtional design and architecture fields, I've always
been amazed at how the field of IxD, UX, IA, and all the rest, have
evolved to be so incredibly analytical, with so little attention paid
to the risks and lessons learned by wide ranges of practitioners. I
come from a farming background, and as my father and grandfather taught
me, "You can't learn farming from a book!" Sure, there are facts and
knowlege that are important, but in our field, that's about *ALL* you
hear. This is why I stopped going to BayCHI. I hardly ever found any
reflection of my own experiences and values.
If our field is to grow and develop beyond the theoretical, there will
have to be many more pioneers willing to go beyond not only the
challenges in the business and technology worlds, but also transcend
the dogma that's become a wall in our own field.
Doing my retrospective brought about some important changes in my own
life and career. I've now been able to move past my own experiences,
lessons, and struggles, to begin searching out the stories, struggles,
and triumphs of others in this field.
If you are in IxD, IA, UX or other fields, and feel as though you've
taken some unique approaches, or faced particular struggles that you
worked to overcome, or feel that your own life and *who you are and
where you came from* is an important part of the soul you seek to imbue
your design work with, I'd like to hear from you.
I've been inspired to start seeking out this missing part of our field.
I've heard from others that there was some criticism of my approach at
the Summit. Twelve years ago when I presented at the Third
International Conference on Cyberspace, I heard similar criticism
second-hand. As a result, I withdrew from a field that I felt I had
trespassed on. Now, I no longer feel that way.
I sense that there's a great and growing awareness among both
experienced and young practitioners that know that there is much
missing from the literature, lectures, and pronouncements from the
It's about the work. It's about the real-world struggle. It's about
risks taken, and vision followed.