State of the (Design) Union

On Wednesday night I attended a meeting by the IxDA‘s New York chapter talking about the current state of interaction design.  It was an enlightening conversation.  If you know nothing about the topic, here’s a laundry list of things they talked about:

  • There was an emphasis on “bringing design back”: the need to find a balance of the art and science of design.  If you’ve no idea of what this means, Frank Gehry is the poster child for design as art; Jacob Nielsen for design as science.  Each evokes fiery passion amongst their supporters.  The iPhone is currently considered the best bridge of the two: cutting edge materials science combined with an artistic, empathetic experience.
  • As interaction designers seek to find this balance, they’re exploring the “craft” aspect of their profession.  One popular tool for this is sketching experiences: think Bill Verplank (pdf) and Bill Buxton.
  • Similar to this, interaction designers are struggling to reconcile that their profession is a combination of design and engineering – which brings a set of challenges.  Engineers tend to focus on one issue and keep iterating to a solution; each iteration gets closer.  Designers are much more nonlinear; they iterate on mulitple rounds of designs but are constantly bringing old designs back into the process.
  • An interesting concept that was bandied about talked about “great design being the embodiment of a story”.  A few examples are a Nokia nano-tech phone video and the Google Chrome comic.  The iPhone come up again here; the idea being that a user’s interaction with it is a narrative and it tells you what to expect.
  • This led to a nice discussion about product ecosystems.  From a designer’s perspective, the ecosystem enables a new set of experiences when you connect people using the products inside the ecosystem.  Examples are the Nike Plus social network for runners and a Ford concept that takes performance and geolocation data from hybrid cars and shares it with other hybrid owners.
  • Here are three more random thoughts from the session:
    • Designers don’t create ideas, they create things that embody the idea
    • Dopplr is fascinating as they created a web service that was designed to require no website; in theory, you never need to go to it – you can just use APIs instead
    • Wireframes are not a good enough tool.  They do not have enough fidelity as they lack the dimension of time

A small bonus: the session was held at Bloomberg’s amazing headquarters.  I snapped this photo before a security guard ran me down and told me “no more photos”.