Shoddy economic future be damned; the last few years have been a rollicking time for Interaction Design. A brief attempt at synthesis of the poorly understood field of Creative Seeds last year began with the words “Hot, hot, hot”, and things do not seem to have slowed down a lot, like the labor market as a whole collapses all around. The IxDA conference in Vancouver last month, for example, was known for his remarkable enthusiasm and relative lack of darkness and doom (though this could be a function of it is populated mostly by the still-employed). Rob Walker, I finally had the pleasure of meeting (short) by personal appearance at South by Southwest Interactive last week, said on his blog on the festival’s conclusion that:
… The last day, it came up in a conversation that no one seemed to be talking about the economy at all … People were revealed business ideas, lining up for movie openings, crowding panel talks to here more about what is the next Twitter or how to be me any more awesome, or whatever – and calculate where the next party was.
Given that these are probably the two biggest events of the year for Interaction Designers, and throws in IXD’s stellar performance in the latest design salary survey, we may have been a. .. I dare say? … Recession-proof discipline on our hands.
I will temper this proposal with the observation that the average Interaction Designer seems to be working awfully hard, and if there was an overall learning to be drawn from all these panels and party conversations in Austin, it was to succeed in the IXD is large been a matter of hard work, long hours and endless improvement. That said … so is every other creative disciplines. What makes this one different?
It turns out to be an incredibly difficult question to answer, especially since the actual skill sets that define the IXD is so poorly defined. Last year’s CS post ended up on an abstract, unsatisfying note:
Ask any ten Interaction Designers what they do all day and you’ll get nine or ten different answers. The tool used to optimize an interaction can range from Visio charts to Flash animations, storyboards to text-only essays …. It’s a constant self-evaluation of the field, but you just let the process by asking to be sufficient. It is also a field unwilling to cling to a particular tool, …
One commentator was even more succinct in expressing his confusion:
This post sums up the absurdity level of frustration I’ve felt throughout my learning process. I know I do not have the experience to “be” an Interaction Designer, but no one can point me to a “real” path to follow (unlike say web design, where I get a solid understanding of HTML / CSS and build from there to special areas)
Like most of my friends and colleagues in the creative industries, I have trouble explaining my mother what I do for a living, so it’s not like bewildered laity is an indicator of intentional obscurity. But IXD seems to be in another category altogether. Not only does it confuse outsiders, it confuses Interaction Designers as well.