understanding professional and academic notions of interaction design practice
What am I doing?
Fifteen years ago, you could find Interaction Designers – if you looked really hard in Silicon Valley, or maybe a few select Universities across the world. Today, the profession supports a global network numbering in the thousands.
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.
Many interaction designers 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 these industry veterans, the increasing trend in hiring is to require formal interaction design qualifications from new graduates.
As our world is filled with increasingly complex devices, our lives are increasingly mediated through digital networks and the profession turns to the academy to fill its ranks with qualified Interaction Designers, how do academic and professional notions of interaction design practice intersect and differ?
I seek to understand the differences that have emerged between academic and professional notions of interaction design, and to use this understanding for the betterment of interaction design practice.
What qualities do the academy and the profession deem essential in an Interaction Designer?
How are these qualities communicated?
How are they developed?
How are they evaluated?
Why is this important?
“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. Groundbreaking work by Cooper (1995) and Winograd (1996) helped set the agenda for Interaction Design practice and education, situating it at the intersection of HCI, Anthropology and Design. The ensuing decade gave rise to the world wide web, digitally enhanced products and services, and a rapidly diversifying practice of Interaction Design.
During this decade, work by Preece, Rogers & Sharp (2002) and Norman (2002, 2005) extended those early ideas into the classroom and practice.
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 this gap widens, the interface between teaching and practice becomes strained. Practitioners feel they must train graduates to appreciate the “real world” as academics exhort the need for understanding, process and theoretical rigor. I am interested in the tension this gap creates, and what an examination of this tension could uncover for the practice and education of Interaction Design.
How will I do this?
I am a designer, who enjoys making things. Over the past three years this making has moved from digital artefacts for exhibition, through systems for performance, to my current practice; designing not only the spaces of interaction, but also the research projects, project teams and the way they work. I will situate my research in this practice, by describing some key projects undertaken in 2008-10.
Also during this time I will review the literature around Interaction Design education and practice, Academic collaborations with Industry, Work Integrated Learning, Studio Practice and Management models.
In order to gain a richer understanding of the context this research is situated in, I will undertake a series of facilitated conversations with people from representative academic and industry research centers and practices.
Methods include a literature review to help me to know what to look for in my own and others projects, as well as helping to position this research internationally.
Action research, reflective practice and ethnography: I manage projects for an Academic/Industry nexus, ACID. I work with students and professionals on Interaction Design projects. Selected projects will be analysed and reported as case studies.
I am also closely involved with the Interaction Design Association, where I facilitate global education intiatives. Select initiatives will be analysed and reported as case studies.
Interviews and comparative analysis: I will interview international practitioners and educators in the field about their practice, and educational experiences.
Designerly Investigations: I will undertake a number of solo and collaborative design led investigations, including:
- curation of an exhibition of Interaction Design projects sometime between 2009 – 2010
- design of systems to enable flexible interaction between professionals and students
- conference themes on Interaction Design education and Interaction Design aesthetics
Throughout this program of work I will build a body of writing and designs around the topic. These will take the place in response to the activities outlined above, and will initially be published on my blog. I will work toward publishing these in online and print Journals.
Some initial topics I have identified include:
- Interaction Design education and its relationship with the profession
- Interaction Design aesthetics, and its role in helping unite the discipline
- Studio practice and the creation of Interaction Design lexicons