Books 05.10.2012

Just Finished: Thoughts on Interaction Design (2nd Edition) by Jon Kolko

Thoughts on Interaction Design (2nd Edition)

I should preface this—I’m new to the study of interaction design. A lot of the ideas in this book are new to me as a whole. I’m sure a seasoned Interaction Designer / UX person would have a totally different experience with Kolko’s book. But here’s an art director’s take on it.

As the title suggests, Thoughts on Interaction Design (Second Edition): A Collection of Reflections written by Jon Kolko, is in fact a large collection of [rather deep] thoughts on the practice of interaction design. This book is not a how-to for aspiring interaction designers. I found that out the hard way (this book was not an easy read, as it may provoke a lot of your own reflection with each topic discussed).

You’re not going to come away from this book with actual code, templates or quick tricks to implement on that UX project you’re diving into. You will, however, be left with a better, deeper and broader understanding of the many challenges a respectable interaction designer must face throughout his career. And you might be able to apply these concepts to your day to day designs.

Besides, anyone quoting Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark in a design book is alright by me. Here’s me quoting someone’s quote of a quote:

“The famous flutings on the famous columns—what are they made for? To hide the joints in wood—when columns were made of wood, only these aren’t, they’re marble… Your Greeks took marble and they made copies of their wooden structures out of it, because others had done it that way. Then your masters of the Renaissance came along and made copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood. Now here we are, making copies in steel and concrete of copies in marble of copies in wood…”

Kolko’s point, as he considers the design of Chrysler’s “Woodies Edition PT Cruiser,” is that one must approach design with integrity, and strive to create for honest interactions. To do so, you will have to FIGHT to make sure middle management doesn’t convolute a pure idea, or to make sure that you’re brought into the design from the beginning, so as not to be left with the task of “prettying up” a flawed design. Or as Kolko puts it, slapping lipstick on a pig.

I’d also never really considered designing with the 4th dimension in mind—behavior. What?

“Quality engineering methods are established to ensure that the product is exactly the same, time after time. Yet experiences are not the same, time after time. A focus on the mass produced ignores the subtleties of human behavior and human emotion.”

We as designers / brand owners want full control of the experiences we’re designing for. But the fact is people use products in many ways, for many reasons, for varying amounts of time over different courses of time. Because of this unpredictability, we can try to anticipate “things a person might do, want, need or desire throughout their relationship with a product, service or system…” To focus even further on a humanitarian approach to design, as Kolko later writes, we can design “with” instead of “for.” Or letting the user complete the design.

“The role of an interaction designer is less about creating a beautiful, appropriate, or even usable form or artifact. Instead, the designer now plays the role of facilitator and translator, one with deep material expertise and the ability to make connections between a wide range of seemingly disconnected ideas. Design becomes a public activity, and the designer is now the choreographer.”

I didn’t totally get what the author was writing about co-design until I considered the Lego, and the idea of letting the user complete the design. That is truly human focused interaction after all.

Some deep ideas in this book, and I’ve totally skimmed over or skipped most of them.  Check it out for yourself if you’re either an Interaction Designer, User Experience designer, or are just interested in learning about the field of IxD.




Michael S. Mioduski is the founder of GhostRanch Communications, a presentation design studio.