Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 by Kristian Simsarian
A career in interaction design means a lifetime of creative, ever-changing, exciting, and fulfilling work. Interaction designers work in the real world in a way that connects and contributes. They are making the future every day, so it’s no surprise that they love their careers and never get tired of learning and growing.
So what is interaction design? If you haven’t noticed, our lives are filled with interactive products and services. Phones, computers, games, cars, appliances, kiosks, and even buildings themselves—from airports to museums to skyscrapers—invite people to communicate in interactive experiences. Interaction designers are the ones who design how it all happens. By developing a deep understanding of people’s needs and wants, taking advantage of new opportunities offered by technology, and recognizing the goals of companies and organizations, interaction designers shape today’s and tomorrow’s experiences—both everyday life and the occasional amazing moment.
Interaction design has been around for as long as humans have been augmenting their abilities, but only recently, with the explosive growth of interactive technologies, has it gained recognition as a discipline in its own right. This means that there has never been a more exciting time to enter the field.
What do interaction designers say about why they love their work?
Interaction designers have impact. Raphael Grignani, an interaction designer for the international mobile phone giant Nokia, says he’s astonished and humbled by “the impact that design and technology have on improving people’s lives.” Interaction designers are at the center of enormous changes: “For example, in less than 30 years mobile phones have forever changed the way people communicate, live, work, play, et cetera, whether [the nearly 5 billion people who have them] live in the USA or elsewhere in the world. The potential of interaction design to achieve positive social change is fascinating.”
Interaction designers are always learning. Abbe Don, a senior interaction designer who has worked for Apple, Disney, Hewlett-Packard, and IDEO, says, “I love that regardless of how technology has changed in the last 20 years (from software to CD ROM to web to mobile phone), the principles of interaction design are similar, which means I can keep evolving with the technology—even moving from consumer software to media to health care.”
Interaction design is about people. Among its key principles is the idea of human-centered design, conceiving of people and their needs as central to processes of innovation. Will Carey, a designer who has combined the practice of industrial/product design with interaction design, says he is inspired by “considering the various relationships among people, technology, and culture, and combining these three aspects to create relevant and innovative experiences.”
Interaction design is also about creative interpretation and challenging the status quo. Nadav Savio, who studied at CCA and is now a lead designer at Google, says: “I think of interaction design as an ambassadorship, where you work to understand the various factions involved in a given situation and then create something that is mindful of all those different needs. You translate between users and businesses, between humans and machines, between the ideal and the feasible, and make it all work somehow. I find the act of surfing all this messiness both challenging and exhilarating.”
Tomorrow’s interaction designers will find themselves working across boundaries that have traditionally separated industries and disciplines. They will also have opportunities to work around the world, as they are, in a sense, universal translators. In my own practice, my group’s recent projects span the globe and the spectrum: clean water for the poor, video games, a cutting-edge car dashboard, a music collaboration with one of the biggest rock groups in the world, communicating global health issues, ATMs, high fashion, mobile phones, cable TV, news, government services, sustainability, political campaigns.
Interaction designers are in demand. As technology advances, technology companies such as Apple, Google, Motorola, and [insert your favorite website, app company, or gadget maker here] need great interaction designers to make their products work. And there is also increasing demand for interaction designers in the realms of entertainment, retail, health care, governments, nonprofits . . .
Most interaction designers working today have had to learn their trade on the job; some, in graduate programs. Now there are finally a few great schools offering undergraduate programs, and CCA is one of them. By the time they get their degrees, our students will be sophisticated and experienced, with portfolios, professional connections, and clearly articulated theoretical frameworks, ready to launch their careers.
There are several things to look for when you choose a school in this field, and CCA has it all:
Numerous other strong programs, enabling students to gain a multidisciplinary education that encompasses industrial design, graphic design, fashion, architecture, film, sculpture, and more.
Strong faculty with practical experience, who are themselves working at the forefront of the field.
Deep connections to industry and internships. Internships are a core part of the learning experience, helping students make connections with companies and organizations where the future of the field is actively unfolding.
A geographical area that appeals to you in the long term. The place where you spend your first four years of study is the place where you will make your first professional connections. So look for a vibrant area that will sustain you for your educational, cultural, and professional life.
If you want to use your smarts and creativity every day to effect positive change, and to work in an in-demand field where you’ll always be collaborating, learning, and growing, interaction design offers an education, a career, and a life that you can truly fall in love with.
-Kristian Simsarian, chair of CCA’s Interaction Design Program
(This text is a revised version of an article that appeared in the October 2010 issue of Creative Outlook)
Learn more about CCA's Interaction Design Program.
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