Phd proposal update

Designing Interaction Design

essential qualities and capacities for interaction design practice

What am I doing?

Fifteen years ago, you could find Interaction Designers – if you traveled to Silicon Valley, or maybe a few select Universities across the world. Today, the profession supports a global network numbering in the thousands. Many of the professions leaders have backgrounds in related disciplines, such as Industrial Design, Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Computer Science, Communication Design, Cognitive Psychology & Anthropology (to name a few). While formal Interaction Design qualifications are rare in industry veterans, the increasing trend in hiring is to require formal Interaction Design qualifications from new graduates.

Interaction Design is at a tipping point: the field has rapidly emerged from collaborations between the aforementioned disciplines, into a profession that now seeks formal structures, definitions and career pathways. This situation provides the impetus for my research.

This research explores the rapidly forming field of Interaction Design, and seeks to answer the following questions:

  • What qualities and capacities do Interaction Designers deem essential to their practice?
  • How can this knowledge inform academic and professional roles in the development of this emerging field?

Why am I doing this?

There is an ever-widening gap between where we are going in the practice of design and longstanding assumptions about design education.” (Davis 2008 )

With the incredibly fast rise of Interaction Design from a field of related disciplines into a profession in its own right, the gap that Davis alludes to above is wide and largely unexamined. Initial work by Cooper (1995) and Winograd (1996) helped set the agenda for Interaction Design education, situating it at the intersection of HCI, Anthropology and (to some extent) Design. The ensuing decade gave rise to the world wide web, digitally enhanced products and services, and a rapidly diversifying practice of Interaction Design. Intervening work by Preece, Rogers & Sharp (2002) and Norman (2002, 2005) Recent work by Löwgren and Stolterman (2004) in the area of reflective practice and aesthetics, Saffer (2006) , Moggridge (2007) , Kolko (2007) and Cooper et al (2007) in areas related to practice and craft of Interaction Design demonstrates that the ‘gap’ between practice and education is increasing. While these two stances are complimentary, we are seeing a growing distinction in how the academy understands the profession, and vice versa. Meredith Davis refers to this in her essay as the difference between “know-that” or design as discipline and “know-how” or design as craft.

As our world is filled with more complex devices, and our lives are increasingly mediated through digital networks, the profession turns to the academy to fill its ranks with qualified Interaction Designers. How successful is the academy in this regard? What qualities do Interaction Designers deem essential? How are these qualities developed? How are they evaluated?

a little about me…

For over a decade I have designed, taught, researched and collaborated in the fields of Communication, Interaction and Sound Design. My collaborations have taken many forms, their results ranging from fantastic successes to tremendous failures, but I know that I have learned something from each project.
In the past 3 years, I have moved from managing widely distributed research teams working in collaboration between Academic and Industry partners to firmly embedding myself into these teams as a designer. This experience has introduced me to a wider cross section of disciplines, research approaches, methods, individuals, and values. As I move from a managing role to one of a designer, I have started to identify what I actually do when I design in these kinds of projects.

Approach and Method

  • I will review the literature around interaction design, seeking to understand the current discourse on practice and the field.
  • I will reflect on my practice as an interaction designer, through case studies of projects undertaken in 2008-10.
  • I will use qualitative methods to build a mental model of interaction design practice. To begin this I will undertake a series of interviews with practicing interaction designers and educators.
  • I will engage with the field through a series of events, beginning with a symposium in late 2009 to bring a nascent community together to discuss approaches to the practice and education of this emerging field.


Overviews of the field, with references to other disciplines and an emphasis on practice.

Buxton, B., 2007. Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design, Morgan Kaufmann.

Cooper, A., Reimann, R. & Cronin, D., 2007. About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design 3rd ed., Wiley.

Löwgren, J. & Stolterman, E., 2004. Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology, The MIT Press.

Moggridge, B., 2007. Designing Interactions 1st ed., The MIT Press.

Norman, D.A., 2005. Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things 1st ed., Basic Books.

Norman, D.A., 2002. The Design of Everyday Things, Basic Books.

Sharp, H., Rogers, Y. & Preece, J., 2007. Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction 2nd ed., Wiley.

More theoretical (literary in approach) related to education and a wider appreciation of how Interaction Design fits into a larger practice of HCI, Design and Media

Davis, M., 2008. Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore… interactions, 15(5), 28-34.

Winograd, T. ed., 1996. Bringing design to software, ACM. [Accessed August 11, 2008].

Wardrip-Fruin, N. & Montfort, N., 2003. The New Media Reader, The MIT Press.

Winograd, T., 1997. The design of interaction. In Beyond calculation: the next fifty years. Copernicus, pp. 149-161.  [Accessed August 11, 2008].

Practitioner directed manuals on how to do aspects of interaction design

Brown, D., 2006. Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning 1st ed., New Riders Press.

Garrett, J.J., 2002. The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web, New Riders Press.

Hoekman, R.Jr., 2006. Designing the Obvious: A Common Sense Approach to Web Application Design 1st ed., New Riders Press.

Krug, S., 2005. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition 2nd ed., New Riders Press.

Nielsen, J., 1999. Designing Web Usability 1st ed., Peachpit Press.

Rosenfeld, L. & Morville, P., 2006. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites 3rd ed., O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Saffer, D., 2006. Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices 1st ed., Peachpit Press

Tidwell, J., 2005. Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design, O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Young, I., 2008. Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior 1st ed., Rosenfeld Media.

Things I’m planning on getting to next…

Ehn, Pelle & Löwgren, Jonas, 2003. Searching voices: Towards a canon for interaction design, Available at: [Accessed September 24, 2008].

Ehn, Pelle & Löwgren, Jonas, 2004. Design [x] research: Essays on interaction design as knowledge, Available at: [Accessed May 9, 2009].

Evenson, S., Forlizzi, J. & Zimmerman, J., 183. An Introduction to This Special Issue on Interaction Design Research in Human-Computer Interaction. Design Issues, 24(3), 1-3.

Fallman, D., 183. The Interaction Design Research Triangle of Design Practice, Design Studies, and Design Exploration. Design Issues, 24(3), 4-18.

Forlizzi, J., Zimmerman, J. & Evenson, S., 183. Crafting a Place for Interaction Design Research in HCI. Design Issues, 24(3), 19-29.

Latour, B., 2007. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford University Press, USA.

Meng, J.C.S., 2009. Donald Schön, Herbert Simon and The Sciences of the Artificial. Design Studies, 30(1), 60-68.

Nelson, H.G. & Stolterman, E., 2003. Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World – Foundations and Fundamentals of Design Competence, Educational Technology Publications.

Reinman, R., Cooper Journal: So You Want To Be An Interaction Designer. Cooper Journal. Available at: [Accessed August 24, 2008].

Saffer, D., 2008. Designing Gestural Interfaces: Touchscreens and Interactive Devices illustrated edition., O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Winograd, T., 2000. Design brief: Stanford University. interactions, 7(2), 66-69.

Winograd, T., 2008. Design education for business and engineering management students: a new approach. interactions, 15(1), 44-45.

Winograd, T., 2006. Designing a new foundation for design. Commun. ACM, 49(5), 71-74.

Zimmerman, J., Forlizzi, J. & Evenson, S., 2007. Research through design as a method for interaction design research in HCI. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems. San Jose, California, USA: ACM, pp. 493-502.

  • Aaron Houssian

    I have a Google alert on HCI Design and this post came up. This looks like a great thesis in the making, and I really look forward to seeing some of the results, I’m certainly adding this feed to my list. Are you coming to CHI2010 in Atlanta? If so we should get together.

  • jeremy

    HI Aaron, thanks for the encouragement! Unfortunately I wont be at CHI this year, but I will be in Savannah in February for the IxDA Interaction10 conference… With a small child, I am limited to one or two internationals a year 🙂

  • Graphic Designing Company

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