Any Ixder's working on physical products...
Most of my career in interaction design since 1984 has involved both
the physical aspects of hardware/devices as well as the software
aspects of displays, audio, the information systems behind them, and
the usage architectures by which they're used and the experience is
Partly this is because I came from the product and industrial design
side of things, and also partly because much of my work has been in
unique or new device or system domains.
In my own career and approach, I've never separated the hard from the
soft in my view of what comprises the whole user experience. In fact,
the design of any interactional domain's primary elements (hardware
controls and affordances, software widgets or other informational
components and elements) constrain and shape the potential and nature
of all the interactional experience that will take place within it.
The architecting and design of an interactional domain (e.g.: a
completely new device and interaction system, etc.) is like the
creation of a new language. Not all devices or systems fall into the
category of "completely new," so there are often many known and
familiar elements and approaches that can be applied, modified, or
combined in developing a user interface/experience. But unlike
applications within a desktop OS GUI, or sites/services in the web
domain, devices often require a more unique approach, and careful study
and integration of physical controls and the informational/functional
experience they're tied to. Failure to do so leads to overly complex
and confusing products. Often this stems from the abominable
management practice of having one team doing the hardware and
industrial design, and another separate team "adding the interface."
This is a recipe for utter disaster that's been played out countless
times in the product world. At best, it leads to greatly diminished
user experience efficiency, simplicity, and ultimately overall quality
Creation of a truly simple, learnable, efficient, extensible, and
elegantly integrated user experience with devices requires a seamless
development effort between the hard and the soft. The two cannot be
separated. Hardware shapes how a system or device can be interacted
with. Conversely the needs of the users, along with the architecture
of a system's software UI, information architecture, and functions
*must* shape how the hardware and controls are embodied. These two
efforts cannot be separated, nor can one preceed the other in a
sequential, linear fashion.
Experience design in devices and systems must be seen and approached as
a whole and iteratively explored and integrated from the start.
The design of embodied functions and applications within an
interactional domain (which comprises most design) is like writing in
that language, or working with an established set of building blocks.
Most established interactional domains, such as desktop GUIs, etc.,
have great dimensions of freedom within their constraints to fail or
succeed at the kinds of tasks and experiences they're best suited for
or matched to. But problems often occur when misguided attempts are
made to use the models and interrelationships within these familiar
domains for problems, devices, or systems that really would be best
suited to having their own, unique interactional domain and experience
This is the old "when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail"
Herein lies a significant problem in the user experience field. Very
few designers are experienced in analyzing, exploring, and developing
at the unique or new interactional domain level. Most are skilled at
the issues and methodologies pertaining to the elements and
interrelationships found within particular, already-established
interactional domains. Many devices and device-centric development
projects lie somewhat between these two poles. There may be some
familiar interactional strategies that can be legitimately and
successfully applied, but there are often other aspects that call for
fresh thinking and new approaches. Of course, newness (even
well-designed) can bring its own challenges (unfamiliarity, etc.), so
these issues have to be weighed and dealt with within the development
process as well.
Much, or perhaps the majority of interaction design (or UX, IA, et.
al), takes place on a high level within these already-established
interactional domains (i.e.: desktop/laptop GUIs, and more recently
palmtop stylus GUIs, mobile phones, and others) or web-based sites and
applications. Consequently, over the past couple of decades,
interaction design involving whole systems and devices have gotten
short shrift, primarily because they do not represent a significant
portion of design work being done. For every OS GUI, there are hundreds
or thousands of applications designed. For every generation of web
standards, there are millions of individual sites and services that
utilize them. But the impact of these efforts, because they form the
foundation of everything built atop them, is among the most crucial
architectures to get right.
Again, products and devices fall somewhat in between. There are so many
new products appearing around us all the time, but everybody is
familiar with how inherently bad many are in terms of their experience
and usage design. Often products are lauded for their "good design"
while at the same time having pretty poor user interfaces, or the user
interface is ignored completely when evaluating the industrial design.
I can point to the way in which design reviews in the traditional
design magazines have limited the definition of interaction design to
just "Media Design," while failing to adequately recognize the
experience architectures of products and systems in the tradtional
"Product Design" categories. In these venues, it's often been either
one or the other. Recognition for and discussions of designs and
strategies for integrating both have been sparse in comparison to the
predominant UX and Design discussions in the field.
There are numerous sub-topics that can be explored, regarding the
design of device-based interactional architectures. The "button-laden"
(e.g. typical remote controls) approach vs. the "drivable" (e.g.: a few
interelational controls that can be "driven" without searching for
specific buttons to press) interface, etc.. Design for different types
of environments and activities. The special issues related to the
interactional constraints encountered in extremely small displays. The
issues encountered when designing devices that will be part of
interactional/informational "ecologies." Issues involving tradeoffs
presented by component prices and associated differences in
capabilities/resulting variances in the overall user experience, etc..
And the list goes on and on. My own projects over the years have
encompassed dozens of unique, yet archetypal interaction issues, and
strategies for dealing with and integrating them into wholistic
The easiest way to discuss and study these issues is via examples and
lessons learned in these kinds of real world projects. I often wish I
could pause my career and engage in a more formal analytical
documentation and teaching of these many unique interaction design
issues. But unfortunately that's not yet been possible. It's
difficult to take the time necessary to properly examine and address
these issues in today's world of sped-up development schedules and
increasing practitioner-related pressures. But it's something that
really needs to be done, as so much could benefit from these lessons
already encountered and explored.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
> [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On
> Behalf Of Mark Canlas
> Sent: Thursday, November 03, 2005 11:11 AM
> To: 'Vishal iyer'; discuss at ixda.org
> Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Any Ixder's working on physical
> products inthegroup?
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant
> quoted material.]
> Most Ixd discussions in this group are related to web/desktop
> applications. Wondering if anyone working with design of physical
> product is here? Looking to start a general dialogue
> specifically in this area.