How to become a great Interaction Designer?

How to become a great Interaction Designer? Practice, practice, practice. Or as your dad used to say “Practice makes perfect.”

I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. I loved it. It is one of those books that made me think. That gets me pumped. Anyway, this book validated a lot of my observations I had about successful people and success in general.

There are 2 main things that are required to be successful at something:

  1. opportunity
  2. practice

Notice, this does not say anything about class or natural ability. Assuming an intelligent person, not a genius and not challenged you need to be provided the opportunity to work at your “thing” and then you need to work at it consistently for 10,000 hours.

Outliers have one more advantage: timing. When you are born makes a huge difference of whether or not you will have the opportunity before others do so that when you practice you will be uniquely the best (an outlier).

So what? If you want to become a great Interaction Designer or you want to hire one, aim for 10,000 ours. That would be about 10 years of work before you can start claiming yourself as an expert. My assumption is that half of your 2100 hours a year of work is actually doing design. And if that is the case it will take almost 10 years to become an expert.

So hire someone with 10 years of interaction design experience if you would like an expert. I would venture that this is true for any practice like product management, software development, QA.


Community software

Yeah I am not talking about software to make virtual communities but software for existing physical communities.

I belong to a synagogue in Massachussetts. We have over 1500 people in the community. We have some interesting problems.

  1. If you meet someone at a class or party and you get their first name and the event ends you go home. If a couple weeks later you would like to contact Joel again … well that is a tough one. You can send an email to the person leading the event if it was a small one and ask to get into contact with Joel. Hopefully there is only one Joel otherwise it is like the game of pictionary trying to guess if we are talking about the same person. I could really use a temple private “facebook” of sorts.
  2. I started up an online class and wanted to invite interested people. This is an interesting process of talking to the people who know everyone like the rabbi and trying to figure out who is interested. Then we need to contact the keeper of the email lists to see if she can email them to me. Come to find out she (the admin) does not have all the lists. Some other members have their own and they are more protective of those. I could really use a “Constant Contact” for internal mailings.
  3. The office spends alot of time managing the email lists. Who should be on what list and with what email address? Keeping all the personal info uptodate is a challenge. The office could really use a Customer Relationship Management system that is managed by the members like “facebook on steroids”.
  4. Since this is a community it would be great to get everyones oral history so that people could connect with others like them. We need a “journal” to help us with this.

Does this exist? Is this all wrapped into one. This seems like something that many organizations would find useful.

Hiring an interaction designer?

Do you know what you are looking for? Do you know what to ask? Do you know what to look for? Do you know who they would work for? Why?

In the enterprise software world, what do you want to look for in an interaction designer? What is an interaction designer? Do they just drawing pretty pictures?

Interaction designers focus on how the user flows through the application. Their goal is to make the user’s life as easy as possible to get their task or job done. So what do they do? I like to describe the responsibility of the interaction designer is to understand the context of the business problem and the limitations of the technology to deliver the best design to be built. An interaction designer spends 80-90% of their time communicating. Working with business people, product managers and users to understand the context and the problem, translating that problem into design choices that is narrowed to the best solution and then representing the different stages of design to different people in the way they need to see it.

So here is what I did.

  1. I screened my candidates by having them send a resume with a portfolio. The portfolio is a visual resume. Very little of this can show interaction but it does show communication tools.
  2. If they pass I had a 45 min conversation with the designer. I wanted to find out how well they listened to me and then communicated their abilities. I also had them descibe their design process to see how they approach design to see if they can fit with the team. 
  3. If they passed, they had to call back the next day with 1/2 hour of questions. Every good interaction designer should know how to ask questions all the time. Here I was looking at how they asked their questions and whether I thought their was a fit for the team.
  4. If they passed we had them in for an in-person interview. Here they needed to take a couple of hours with the team explaining their work. Walk through examples and answer questions. Here is where we would bring up examples of challenges to see what the candidate would do. Would they ask more questions? Did they show examples? Did they just jump into the answer?

Interaction design is not about the answer. There are many answers to a problem. Interaction design is about the questions. The interaction designer needs to gather enough information to make reasoned choices in the design process. At each stage in the process he will need to work with users, business people, product managers, designers and technologists.

Are you hiring an interaction designer? Make sure they can fit culturally within your team since they will be spending so much time trying to influence and communicate.

iPhone is a bad example

How many times am I asked to just design it like the iPhone? How big is the iPhone? 3X2 inches? I think my problem is slightly different (sarcasm).


Picture found on HarveyW’s flickr account

I have to design an application that can cover an area of 6X4 feet. The users of my application like 3, 4,6, or 8 monitors. The challenges of the big and the small may have many similarities but in this case the size difference is significant in the interaction design.

  1. How do you easily manage 6 monitors full of applications? Do you use the Windows toolbar? Do you have a special app?
  2. How do you move from the bottom left to the top left with your mouse? Picture yourself wacking the mouse on the desk over and over again until he reaches the other side. How about your keyboard? Alt-tab?
  3. How do you get the users attention as something new comes in? How many applications is he paying attention to? How many are seeking his attention?
  4. With so many distractions, so much noise, and so many applications how does the person make effective decisions? Do more screens help? How many screens is optimal?

What do you think? Do you have it all solved? How am I going to make sure the best decision is being made with the quickest reaction time?