A few weeks ago, I got an email from a young undergrad interested in SVA’s Interaction Design MFA program (where I teach a class in the fundamentals of interaction design).
The student, a talented web designer, was curious about the relationship between “web design” and “interaction design” and “user experience”, and what the future holds for UX and IxD. I thought it would be nice to share some of my response:
It’s hard for any IxD program to avoid the overwhelming presence of the web as the epicenter of most people’s (technological) interactive experiences. And the faculty of the program at SVA certainly draws deeply from the web design world. But the meaning of “the web” itself is blurring — when you use an app on your iPhone, or get a DVD from Netflix (or view a streaming NetFlix movie via your DVR), or read a book on a Kindle, are you not, to some degree, interacting with the web? My point is that “interactive systems” are bigger than just the web even if the web is a big part of them: that they involve so much more in terms of physical processes (Netflix had to invent a warehousing system), business models (should Kindle books cost the same, less, or more than physical books?), and that they’re always incorporating new technologies (touchscreen UIs fundamentally change how web design is done, and imagine how Apple’s tablet will shake up “web” design). Interaction design is influenced by entertainment, games… and global concerns like sustainability and digital accessibility.
In my class, we’ve worked on web sites, mobile apps, physical devices, and even just social system design (for example, how does a taxi driver “work” as a planned interactive system?). I think I am typical of SVA’s faculty in my attitude that great web design is just a flavor of great interaction design, which in turn is a flavor of experience design. So we don’t teach web design specifically, but students who want to focus on web design are absolutely free to do so, and we are happy to evaluate, guide, and teach ideas and concepts that advance web-based experiences. But I’d be lying if I told you that the web as we know it now is going to be the dominant interaction design paradigm of 2020. The fundamentals of interaction design aren’t about HTML and CSS, nor even about hard drives and keyboards. It’s about human beings, our relationships with each other (socially, business, culturally), with media, and with technology.
There is definitely a lot of demand for people who can bring this higher and broader thinking to projects. What I like about the SVA program is the dialogue students have access to — with each other and with the faculty. It’s something you can’t get in most workplaces, and especially not so rapidly and intensely. You are required to talk not just about what you did, but how and most importantly WHY. It’s one thing to design something, it’s another thing to justify why in the world the world needs what you designed. Hopefully, that’s what the program gets students to think about and know how to express.
Finally: I wouldn’t be in this field, or teaching in the program, if I didn’t think that UX was *the* most important factor in creating beauty and happiness in the coming decades. Making stuff that people like to use, well, I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid making stuff out of paper and legos.
I hope that gives a little more insight into the program and perhaps even into my thoughts about IxD and UX overall. Good luck, and let me know if I can help any further.