What do Interaction Designers do?
Interaction design is a fairly new profession. The name might have given it away. It is a field of study that focuses on meaningful communication, or “interactions” between human beings and technology. It helps people intuitively carry out tasks by making them aware of every screen and what devices can do for them, as well as how they can instruct them to do so.
In real life, a washing machine knob offers the ability to turn and the icons visually represent the functions of the machine. Similarly, on a digital interface, the user must know what they can click, pinch, swipe, double tap and where these interactions will take them.
To understand all that goes into an interaction designer’s job, it is essential to understand what user experience design (UX) is.
The aim of user experience design is to make sure every customer’s interaction with every touchpoint in a brand’s ecosystem is a pleasant one, every single time. Really good user experience design can even make the interaction fun and amusing.
Laptops, tablets and phones are the most engaging mediums of communication and entertainment right now, and where our users spend most of their time, hence why most of the projects taken up by UX Designers now are websites, mobile sites and apps.
In UX, the user is the king. Interacting with user centred designs has proven to affect user behaviour in a more cohesive, predictable and desirable way. This behaviour boosts user engagement and eventually, revenue generated by a business.
There are five jobs or areas of expertise under UX design:
- USER RESEARCHER
The main goal of user research is to find out what the user’s needs are. Businesses approach them to test what they assume are the users’ pain points. Interviews, activities and focus groups help in ascertaining or disproving these assumptions.
User researchers have a deep understanding of the users’ needs, motivation and behaviour. They know how to approach users and to extract necessary information.
- USABILITY ANALYST
Analysts identify usability problems. They filter out the noise from the data gathered by user researchers.
They answer key questions essential to set project goals, such as: “What is the user trying to get done?” (the problem), “How are they currently doing this?”(the competition) or “How can it be done better?” (the solution).
User research is also analysed during product improvement phases. The similar research is carried out to answer questions, like: “Why are users dropping out?” (the problem) and “How can it be done better?” (the solution).
They interpret key actionable insights from the research and figure out what the objectives and goals of the project are.
- INFORMATION ARCHITECT
Information architecture is the practice of classifying information to create well-structured navigational systems. It helps users access various parts of the product, find what they need and ultimately understand what they’ve found.
It draws its roots from librarian information sciences, the classification systems you’d find at your local library to index and locate books.
Personas and scenarios help develop UX strategies and user flows. Good information architecture has a cohesive strategy and makes it easy for a user to access various parts of the digital experience.
I have a whole rant boiling in me about the advantages of having effective information architecture. But that’s for another time and article.
- INTERACTION DESIGNER
Okay, Breathe in.
Research, analysis and information architecture deserve a lot more written about it. But I’m going to make this section wonderfully elaborate, because the title says so.
An interaction designer draws upon user data, research and team input to generate interaction concepts that enable seamless and relevant experiences for their users.
The strategy is broken down into emotional and physical interaction concepts to ensure that the user finds the product engaging, yet easy. Features and interactions are chalked out, while keeping in mind the business needs and the technical effort to execute them. This involves studying the company dynamics, knowing how code works and understanding user psychology and behaviour.
An interaction designer finally does rely a lot on gut instinct. This only grows stronger with experience and practice, which is why UX teams are built top down. You start as a junior designer and move up the ladder. The more you learn and prove your intuitions, the higher you go.
Cyclical, iterative and collaborative tools help interaction designers create prototypes of the intended experience. Rapid prototypes are refined with user testing and client feedback. The final high fidelity wireframes essentially look like blueprints of apps and websites. This is essentially how a website would look in grayscale, with geometric shapes and devoid of branding.
Wireframes also have annotations that point to every intractable item on the screen and the user interactions associated to them.
- VISUAL DESIGNER
As the title suggests, a visual designer turns wireframes into visual designs while keeping the user and the brand in mind.
They make sure that the interface is engaging, easily consumable, and of course, aesthetically delightful.
They also use user research and testing to validate the effectiveness of the design; effectiveness in communicating, what the user can do and how they can do it on every page.
- USER EXPERIENCE DESIGNER
UX Designers are jacks of all trades. They create successful user experiences using user research, client feedback, analysis, testing and best practices.
User Experience design has various definitions due to its very recent birth and organic growth. Perks of this is that formal education is not as important as good portfolio pieces. Employers look for what you are capable of through process and results more than degrees. The sad part is, you’ve got to start at the bottom to get to the top. You observe, you understand, you grow.
Depending on where you end up, your role as an interaction designer will change. In an early stage start-up, you might be the only UX designer doing everything mentioned above. In a small design studio or a mid-stage start-up, you may have a small team with you, giving you the chance to specialise in research, interaction or visuals. In established corporations and large design agencies you get to work across the UX spectrum and learn different aspects of it.
To all those thinking of being a UX designer, I’d say this: UX design is new. Be open to it. You will forever be learning and informing yourself. Once a designer, you are cursed with an incessant need to analyse every website, every app, every newspaper and magazine. You will observe people, their conversations and their behaviour. It may drive you nuts and make you behave weird. But that’s a part and parcel of being a UX designer.
- Design is a job — Mike Monteiro
- Thoughts on Interaction Design — Jon Kolko
- Articles Dear Design Student medium account. .