About 2 months ago I resigned from Motorola. During the last 5 years, I gained tremendous amount of experience and worked with many immensely talented people. There is never a good time to end such a great relationship but personal life and new prospects call for a shift in direction. It was my time to turn a new page.
After reflecting on my past 5 years, I found my perspective on interaction design to be very different than when I left DePaul University in 2003. Here’s what I learned:
Interaction Design is an exercise to define context
One of my recent favourite quotes is Alice Rawsthorn’s comment on the new generation of products in ‘Objectified‘, to which she thinks “the form bears absolutely no relation to the function.” If that is a trend in product design, it is a tradition in digital interaction design. Most digital UI controls lack volumetric and tactile properties. Many designers, including myself when I started my career, seek arrangements of controls that ‘make sense’ and to create ‘affordance’ in the design. What I have come to realize is that correctly and efficiently communicate a context of use with the user is a much more reliable path to a usable and engaging design.
Generally speaking, users perceive an user interface in aggregate, not by individual component. If all the components on the first few screens efficiently and coherently communicate what type of application it is (e.g. an media player with online contents on my mobile) and the rest of the application also aligns with that character, usage is generally clear and fluid. Focusing the on the arrangements and placements of controls along is not enough. In fact, being overly stringent in building and applying usability guidelines put undue restrictions to the designers and leads to interaction designs are that overly instructional and non-engaging. Usability and rationality in design are of course important, but letting them lead the creative process is like letting a carriage lead the horse.