28 May 2007

Book Review: Thoughts on Interaction Design

After having the book on my desk for a few months, I just finished Jon Kolko’s, Thoughts on Interaction Design and really enjoyed it.

I first encountered Jon on a discussion board. His posit that an interaction designer’s job is to change behavior irked me. I spend a lot of time encouraging designers to evaluate behavior and build interactions that accommodate them. As a product strategy, the best diffusion situation you could ask for is a product that adds value while NOT changing behavior. After hearing Jon’s side, I think he is a bit idealistic. Few designers ever have the chance to change behavior, much less hold the requisite skill.

That being said, Jon presents many viewpoints with solid research and experience. What I like most about this book is that Jon takes on subjects that are too mundane, too esoteric or too difficult. I found a lot of similarities between his topics and those that tend to consume my idle time. Topics, mind you that I rarely find discussed. Jon touches on process, management and tactical implementation such as fieldwork and politics.

Jon is a good solid writer, but not a great one - partly due to the complexity of his subject matter. He supplements his own material with several articles by other professionals in the design field. This makes for a nice cadence and breaks the reading up nicely. I particularly enjoyed the final chapter in the book, a chapter entitled, “Getting design done” by Ellen Beldner. Ellen is a designer at Google and does not mince works. She has a straightforward style, does not hold back and yet I had no choice but to smile in empathy at multiple points in the read.

This book is an important step for the continued dialog in interaction design.

23 May 2007

The power of context in interaction

The business publications are still quite enamored with design in spite of what Bruce Nussbaum says… and the obsession will only continue to grow. So let me set the stage. In the minds of many, interaction and context (if they have heard of it) are the domain of designers working on web sites, web 2.0, and software applications. Experience is this fuzzy feel good thing that most businesses don’t really get (even thought they go on and on about it.) But everyone else that call themselves a designer… they just make stuff the way they know it should be.

About the time that applications find their place on mobile – and I mean in a workable and successful way – business will start to get it. They will see why their desktop aps do not work on a portable hand held device. They will get that the application is all about context and how the use interacts with it. It has little to do with features and capabilities - it has everything to do with leadership and flexibility.

Interaction (or experience) design is bursting from the seams of its genesis. Traditional definitions such as human factors, human computer interface, and information architecture no longer hold. Hr professionals and recruiters have no idea what to call us, what makes us qualified, and how to match us with a reasonable ob title. That is cool!

SIG-CHI, UPA, the ISDA, and AIGA are all fighting for a piece of the turf… but I would not bet on any of these groups. Even the IAI and IxDA are not looking likely to hold the ownership. The problem is that what currently separates IxD (interaction) designers form other designers is not the medium they work in. It is the added value of considering context, interactions and the user. I hope that every design out there is soon calling themselves and interaction designer whether they are working on a web site or a T-shirt graphic. Context and interaction should be ubiquitous concerns.

22 May 2007

Memes, lemmings and the next big wave

When Richard Saul Wurman coined the phrase, “information anxiety”, I would guess he really had no idea how extreme it would become. The rush for success and the fever of money have put many of my friends into an overdrive state that simply cannot be sustained.

The outcome of this overwhelming access to information and the time it requires can suck the life out of a person – and a company. Balance is lost and we tire… it becomes so easy to follow in areas we deem less critical. So comes the one, big, giant wave. You know, that single provider that seems to take control. It just becomes easier to buy the iPod, drink Starbuck’s, wear Prada, and read TechCrunch. Rather than find a specialty search engine, we’ll all just use Google. From the undercurrent of cool and hip, to the real insiders, and then of course blogs and even the dinosaur press – we are all seeded with the early memes that aspire to become the singular choice.

Does it make sense to sit back and watch this from outside of Silicon Valley? Can an objective perspective be had, while immersed or drowning in the currents… mush less participating in the froth? Maybe if I dive below I can spot the undertow and the next potential hit? The longer I stay there…