A day in your life as an interaction design professional?

23 Jun 2010 - 10:51am
4 years ago
5 replies
1680 reads
kineticX
2010

Hi everyone,
I'm contemplating a career move from engineering to interaction design, but I don't have a clear idea of what an interaction designer actually does day-to-day.  I've read a bit on what interaction design is all about (e.g., http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/complete-beginners-guide-to-interaction-design/) and I also have taken classes in interaction design and usability testing, but I was wondering if you professional designers out there could tell me what your job entails - how is your day/week structured? What kind of activities do you perform? Is there variety of projects in your work? How much time do you get to work on a project? Do you work on a team or individually? What do you love (or hate) about working in the field? Or anything else that would help me discern my 'path' :)

Thank you in advance for your feedback!

Kinetic

Comments

23 Jun 2010 - 3:38pm
Samantha LeVan
2009

I think you'll find some greatly varied responses depending on industry, team size, and support level for UX within the company. From a small commercial software perspective:

-As a solo designer on a major product, I was responsible for representing the team in various development and planning meetings. Depending on the phase, it could be 25 hours a week or 2 hours a week.

-When actively working on design (3-4 months a year), 80% of my time was spent designing and iterating. Lots of wireframing and mocking ideas, getting user feedback with usability testing, and collaborating with engineers informally to see if ideas are feasible. This time includes "working group" time. Each feature had a group of engineers, tech support, a product manager, and myself who brainstormed and critiqued ideas.

-To look ahead for future release, I also did a lot of user research but I don't think most Interaction Designers do that. Between usability testing prototypes and alphas of current release features and researching for next release, I spent about 6 months on that nearly full time. There's always meetings. :)

-The rest of the time was working with product managers, engineers, and marketing to plan next release. I was deeply involved in feature spec writing but this may or may not be common in other companies.

The culture of each company is unique. I hope others will respond with their experiences.

27 Jun 2010 - 6:05pm
elvenmuse
2010

..it is basically human-machine interface design with some product design.

> Hi everyone, > I'm contemplating a career move from engineering to interaction design, > but I > don't have a clear idea of what an interaction designer actually does > day-to-day.  I've read a bit on what interaction design is all about > (e.g., > http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/complete-beginners-guide-to-interaction-design/) > and I also have taken classes in interaction design and usability testing, > but I was wondering if you professional designers out there could tell me > what your job entails - how is your day/week structured? What kind of > activities do you perform? Is there variety of projects in your work? How > much time do you get to work on a project? Do you work on a team or > individually? What do you love (or hate) about working in the field? Or > anything else that would help me discern my 'path' :) > > Thank you in advance for your feedback! > > Kinetic > > ((

28 Jun 2010 - 7:01am
alisonboncha
2010

I work at Kodak in the Digital Capture & Devices User Experience Group. Typical day for me: Analysis of the latest test product we have been working on (includes checking workflows, checking design elements such as highlights and transition animations, and then enter any bugs, so that the team can review and asses), work on screen comps for the next product coming down the line based on feature set given by the Future Marketing Team, meeting with the Human Factors Expert to discuss and brainstorm the screen comps. Meet with supervisor and Human Factors Expert to plan a usability study.

It's an interesting mix and every day is different! That's what I enjoy about being an interaction designer, lots of variety. Right now I work on Pocket Video Cameras, but I could have a meeting tomorrow about digital cameras or a digital photo frame and brainstorm how all these Kodak products should interact with each other.

Hope that helps!

19 Jul 2010 - 6:33am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

Hi Kinetic,

I've decided to answer your questions in depth as posts to my daily blog, DesignAday. Once I've answered all of the questions, I'll post them here as a reply, but feel free to follow my blog posts throughout this week.

Best,

Jack

22 Jul 2010 - 1:18am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

As promised, here are my answers to your questions as posted throughout the week on DesignAday.

Do you work on a team or individually?

Both. I’m the Senior Interaction Designer at a small software development firm that currently employs only three designers, one of which works primarily on the marketing side. My company does custom contract work for customers, as well as development of our own products. I’m typically working in a team of developers on a project for a customer or working with a couple of developers on a product. Or, I may be assisting a sales person with his proposal. Most likely, I’m doing all of these at the same time. So, while I am always working in a team, I’m typically the sole designer. In that sense, I often work individually, though there are projects for which I get to collaborate with another designer.

How is your day/week structured?

My week is structured based on deadlines. As described above, I’m working on a multitude of different projects, and I decide what to work on at any given time based on who needs my output and how soon. I try to make sure no developers are twiddling there thumbs,waiting on something from me. I try to meet the needs of any sales people that are trying to close deals. Hard deadlines for external customers take precedence over soft deadlines for internal ones. The trickiest problem is when I’m working on two projects of equal importance that have similar delivery schedules. So, there is no set structure to my week, other than weekly status meetings and our traditional Friday lunch out.

What kind of activities do you perform?

As I mentioned, I am typically the only designer working on any given project, so I must perform a wide variety of tasks. When my company is bidding on contract work, I will assist in analyzing requirements and estimating work. After winning a contract, I’ll research the domain and perform user studies. For example, I most recently toured an aircraft carrier and submarine. During the design phase of a project, I’m writing scenarios, sketching concepts, creating task flows and navigation maps, and drawing other diagrams for purposes of understanding and communication. After the initial concepting, I create pixel-perfect mockups and various design documentation. Occasionally, I’ll create animated mockups or interactive prototypes. I present designs to the customer, the users, and other stakeholders, gathering feedback and iterating the designs.

During implementation, I work closely with developers. If the product is a web application, I’ll implement the HTML and CSS myself. I’m currently writing sample XML content for one project, modeling over 200 DTD elements in the HTML output that our software must display. I create any graphics required and specify color, type, and dimensions where I can’t do the implementation myself. I continue to revise and document the design throughout the process. I perform functional testing as each build is complete, logging bugs in JIRA and filling out test documentation for the customer. I’ll often assist in creation of user guides, style guides, and other documentation. For some projects, I’ll have the opportunity to observe our product in use, feeding observations back into the next round of development.

It requires a broad range of skills, but the variety of work is one aspect of my job that keeps me engaged. I’m always learning something new.

Is there a variety of projects in your work?

Oh, my, yes! I’ve worked on projects for the oil and gas industry developing software tools to assist in offshore platform and refinery maintenance. I’ve worked on a number of projects in the auto industry, developing software tools to assist in the maintenance, diagnosis, and repair of automobiles. I’ve worked on a project in the field of power systems engineering, developing software to support inspection of large electrical systems. I’ve worked on a number of software products involved in the authoring, management, and distribution of technical data.

I’ve worked on quite a lot of projects for organizations within the U.S. military. I’ve developed software used in aircraft maintenance. I’ve designed software for use in planning and running explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) missions. I’ve worked on solutions for maintenance and data logging in naval vessels. And there have been projects involving maritime intercept operations—that is, intercepting and boarding suspect watercraft.

I’ve developed software for desktops, laptops, PDAs, tablets, and wearable computers. I’ve designed UIs that support keyboard, mouse, stylus, touch, and wheel input. I’ve worked on a number of different platforms, including both native desktop and browser-based, web applications.

You can probably detect a theme or two running through all of those projects, but the variety of subject matter keeps things very interesting. Almost every time I start a new project, I get to learn about an entirely new domain. It’s exciting and rewarding work.

How much time do you get to work on a project?

That depends on a large number of variables. Many of the projects that I mentioned above were ongoing for several years. One in particular has been running for almost 10 years now. Of course, any project of that size is broken down into phases. A phase could last anywhere from a month to a year.

What do you love (or hate) about working in the field?

As I began to answer this question, I realized it could be interpreted two different ways. At first, I took it to be a question about fieldwork—getting out and getting dirty with the people that will use the software I’m designing. On the other hand, it could be a general question about the field of Interaction Design. So, I’ll provide answers to both potential questions.

I love fieldwork. There is no better way to understand your users’ needs than to immerse yourself in their world. I’ve followed a technician around an oil refinery as he took readings with a ruggedized PDA. I’ve interviewed mechanics at a Mercedes-Benz dealership. I’ve tailed an electrical engineer as he took inventory of a factory’s electrical system, and I’ve stood behind blast shield with EOD soldiers while they controlled a robot to safely set off a bomb. You can learn a lot from reading reports or watching av video. You can intuit some things when talking with people. But to really understand the domain, nothing beats first-hand experience.

I love the field of Interaction Design for many reasons, but I’ll specifically mention why I ended up here. As I was growing up, I was a very creative child. I loved making art. When personal computers became available, I was fascinated by them, and I began creating things with them. Graphic Design was a perfect marriage of these two interests. Then, while I was in college, I attended a conference about ”multimedia”. Having seen presentations by Jim LudtkeLaurie Anderson, and Dan Boyarski, I knew that I wanted to “do that”. I made it my goal to get a masters degree in Interaction Design. It allows me to combine a lot of my talents and interests in work that truly does benefit people. It’s perpetually challenging, ever changing, and interesting much more often than it is boring.

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