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You Say Interactive, I Say Industrial... Posted on 07/01/2001.

Robert Reimann's "So You Want to Be an Interaction Designer," states:

Interaction Design is a design discipline dedicated to:

Defining the behavior of artifacts, environments, and systems (i.e., products)
…and therefore concerned with:

Defining the form of products as they relate to their behavior and use
Anticipating how the use of products will mediate human relationships and affect human understanding
Exploring the dialogue between products, people, and contexts (physical, cultural, historical)...

... and more, all of which made me think of Industrial Design, so I headed to the IDSA's website and read about "What is ID?", wherein you can pretty much replace the word "industrial" with "interaction" and it will all make sense.

Is "Interaction Design" an unnecessary artifact of obsessing over this box called a computer? Is it a component of industrial design? It surprises me how little attention industrial design gets in the interaction design/information architecture world, particularly considering that user-centered methods were developed there (Henry Dreyfuss, anyone? And don't forget, The Design of Everyday Things is about industrial design). Though, I'm also intrigued by the degree to which industrial designers seems to keep "interaction design" at arm's length, and don't get involved with the community.

7 comments so far. Add a comment.

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from my experience as both an interaction designer and an industrial designer, I'd say most industrial designers definitely know what "interaction design" is (check out the number of industrial designers that are involved with the Interaction Institute in Ivrea, Italy), but most would say they don't specialize in it as a craft when it comes to the digital world. On the flipside, most of the interaction designers I know (by label-- and nearly all of them are software people) don't know the first thing about industrial design and its processes. Personally, I have always seen industrial design as a subset of interaction design, not the other way around. In the end, though, I think the two are indeed interchangeable.

Also, let's not forget the historical beginnings of industrial design: architecture. It strikes me that if there were anything that were ever about interaction design, it would be architecture, and for this reason I put architecture as a subset of interaction design, as well.

As an added note, Niels Diffrient and his human scale charts and design processes and the Navy's aviation studies come to mind as important influencers in the discussion regarding all of this early human-centered designery.
Posted by tim @ 07/02/2001 03:47 PM PST [link to this comment]

I totally agree with the previous post. Interaction design is kind of like an umbrella over, really, all fields of product-related design (i.e., industrial, graphic, interaction, as well as architecture; you could even stretch it further to encompass fashion and interior design, too, but those tend to be more about style than pragmatism).

I'm of the opinion that, of the design fields, industrial design as a practice is the nearest relative to interaction -- software/interface - design. Some of the best interaction designers I know were trained in industrial design. I think this is because an good industrial design education (as opposed to graphic design, in my experience anyway) teaches the value -- nay, necessity -- of usability and appropriateness in successful product design. Throw in form and style and you've got all the same things successful interaction design is about.

I agree, it's a shame that many industrial designers see interaction design as something of an outsider practice and separate from what they do, especially since so many of them are doing it anyway. Unfortunately, IDSA, IMHO (I'm an active member), is doing very little to promote the connection between the two disciplines -- aside from a few smart, driven members, the organization is still mired in old-school hardware design problems. *sigh*

Anyway, thanks for making the connection, Peter!
Posted by designjerk @ 07/03/2001 11:08 PM PST [link to this comment]

As an Industrial Designer (at least at school) turned Interaction Designer, It's nice to see that some other people are having problems differentiating the two also.

But I would not rule out Graphic Design or Communication Design as one of the big contributors to Interaction Design. It was probably one of the first fields to be concerned with both usability and creating a complete experience.
Posted by whatchoo talkin bout willis? @ 07/04/2001 09:14 AM PST [link to this comment]

Yes, of course graphic and communication designers have and do contribute to interaction design! What I was trying to say is that many graphic design curricula emphasize aspects of design other than usability and the overall experience of the user. (Not that there's anything wrong with that -- there's room for all kinds of design.) Most ID programs, on the other hand, are focused on the same aspects that are integral to good interaction design. Of course, there are many exceptions to both of these cases.
Posted by designjerk @ 07/05/2001 09:42 AM PST [link to this comment]

when i studied product design in the late 80's and early 90's, interaction and interface design really blurred the line between what is a product and what is information. i consider interaction design to be the cross bred child of graphic design (in a more structured sense as in information design) and product design. products have increasingly become about cognitive interaction, not that they have not been about that before. as we progress past the palm tablet into really powerful wearable computers, they replace much of what has existed in the home space. my laptop is used to watch movies, play games, listen to music, read the news... as with the term "brand", we should probably just use the terms at hand and worry about doing.
Posted by nicholas @ 07/06/2001 08:25 AM PST [link to this comment]

Peter, thanks for this link. Interaction Design is a path I've been mulling over for some months now, with graduate school and a long-term career in mind, and this article with its list of colleges is a godsend.
Posted by Paulo @ 07/06/2001 11:31 AM PST [link to this comment]

Peter makes good points about the similarities in goals and practices between industrial design and interaction design. However, I think there is a subtle but important difference in perspective between industrial design as traditionally taught and the emerging discipline of interaction design.

Interaction design is first and foremost concerned with *behavior*, and in particular the sorts of complex behaviors we usually associate with either human or digital systems-- that is, behaviors complex enough to dominate the physical aspects of a system. Form (from an interaction perspective) is thus important inasmuch as it expresses, affects, or constrains behavior. Interaction design is also concerned with the behavior of users, which is critical to understanding the behavior of products, and the behaviors of human systems that impinge on humans and artifacts.

Though much of the above could be said to be within the scope of industrial design, I believe that the perspective and methodology of addressing *behavior as that which drives form* is not in the mainstream of industrial design as it is now taught or practiced in most places (this is true also of graphic design as applied to interactive systems).

Perhaps industrial design will eventually adopt/include the perspective of interaction design, or perhaps as some have suggested, interaction design is a larger discipline that somehow encompasses and integrates methods and practices from HCI, graphic design, and industrial design. In any case, it is a very exciting time to be in the field.
Posted by Robert Reimann @ 07/09/2001 03:05 PM PST [link to this comment]

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