inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #0 of 117: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sun 1 Oct 06 22:59
It gives us great pleasure to welcome Dan Saffer to the Inkwell.

Dan Saffer is an interaction designer and the author of Designing for
Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices. For the past
decade, he's been involved in the design and development of applications,
websites, and devices for a wide range of clients, from Fortune 50 companies
to start-ups. He has a Masters degree in interaction design from Carnegie
Mellon and currently works for the design firm Adaptive Path. He also plays
the cello (badly).

Leading the conversation with Dan is our own James Leftwich.

James  Leftwich, IDSA is principal and founder of Orbit Interaction,
(, in Palo Alto, California.  He has over twenty-three
years of broad consulting and leadership experience in Human Interface
development for products, devices, systems, and software, ranging from
desktop software, mobile devices, consumer electronics, wearable computers,
palmtops, gestural slates, webpads, and gyroscope-based remote controls in
the fields of consumer, industrial, military, and medical devices and
systems.  His work has won the Medical Design Excellence Award and an
Industrial Design Excellence Award.  He holds ten utility patents and has a
BFA in Design from the Kansas City Art Institute.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #1 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Mon 2 Oct 06 14:24

Hello Dan!  It's a distinct pleasure to have the opportunity to participate
in an interview and discussion with you here on The WELL.  I've followed
your posts and participation on various design forums and mailing lists over
the years and have had the pleasure of meeting some of your brilliant
colleagues at Adaptive Path in San Francisco.

I've enjoyed reading your new book, "Designing For Interaction: Creating
Smart Applications and Clever Devices."  It's a great introduction and
comprehensive overview of the field, and should be a valuable resource for
everyone in the field of software and product development, as well as
business people, students, and laypeople.

With computing power continuing to increase and network infrastructures
continuing to advance, it's an exciting time to be involved in the
development of products, systems, and services.  And yet the fundamental
challenges we've always faced with products and services remain - the
challenge of designing and developing them to meet the real needs of people
and to make them simple, efficient, and valuable.

One of the first  questions I'm always interested in, when speaking with
fellow interaction designers, regards the path by which they've arrived in
the discipline.  Some, like myself, have come by way of product and
industrial design, while others have come from the fields of traditional
building architecture, technical writing, cognitive science, programming,
graphic design, new media, and filmmaking.  This reflects, I believe, the
integrative nature inherent in developing interactive products and systems
and the many aspects involved in designing and implementing successful user
experiences.  It also reflects the wide and growing field of things in which
interaction design is playing an increasingly crucial role.

Can you begin by telling us a bit about your background and how and why you
became an interaction designer?
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #2 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Tue 3 Oct 06 01:04
Thanks for your kind words, Jim. This should be an excellent

Like many people, I became an interaction designer almost by accident.
About seven years ago, in 1999, I'd been working in "new media" for
four years, as everything from project manager to copywriter to
developer. I'd done everything from setting up servers to visual
design. But none of the roles I'd had felt quite right. I wasn't a very
good coder or visual designer and my temperament is ill-suited for
project management. But while I was working for one company, Organic in
New York, I was exposed to people doing some very interesting stuff:
the information architects, including such brilliant people as Robert
Fabricant, Lawrence Lipkin, and Ben Cerveny. I did several projects
with them, and was impressed with what they did and how they did it. I
wanted to do what they were doing (although I didn't exactly know what
it was called): interaction design.

A bit later, I found myself doing just that at the online brokerage
Datek (which was later bought by Ameritrade). I cut my teeth there
doing some really interesting design work on their applications. But I
always knew that I was pretty poorly trained to be doing that work. I
was a good interaction designer, but knew I'd never be a really good
one without learning more about the "design" part of interaction
design. I knew I had to go back to school. So I went to the best
program I could find--Carnegie Mellon--which turned out to be an
excellent place for me. I had some tremendous teachers and mentors
there: Shelley Evenson, Dick Buchanan, Dan Boyarski, Jodi Forlizzi,
Marc Rettig, Golan Levin, Karen Moyer, and a host of others. What they
gave me was a framework for the work I was doing. They taught me tools
and methods to do interaction design, but more importantly about Big D
Design, which has vastly improved my work and also how I think about
the work.

After I left school, I went to work at the design firm Adaptive Path,
where I design websites, applications, services, and devices. This
pretty much takes us up to the present.

Of course, all of this is preceded by the stuff I did as a teenager,
setting up and running a dial-up game back in the mid-1980s on my Apple
IIe. My first interaction design work was indeed done in my parents'
basement. My, how geeky that sounds. Of course, I think there's a lot
interaction designers can learn from games like MUDs and MUSHes and
World of Warcraft and even things like Second Life, that aren't exactly
games, but have retained the structure of games with different

That all, of course, is the how. The why is trickier to say. Perhaps
because I'm good at it. Or because it's interesting work. Or because I
think I can change the world by doing it. I'm not entirely sure. It's
probably all of the above.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #3 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Tue 3 Oct 06 09:59

A great path you followed, with many luminaries along the way!

I like to think of the discipline of interaction design as a newly forming
star.  The past few decades have seen people from a variety of fields and
endeavors slowly drawing together, overlapping, catalyzing each others'
skills and experiences, and now beginning to shine.  One thing I immediately
notice about the winding path that lead you to interaction design, was the
influence of other experienced practitioners and teachers.

For me, my early college career bounced between engineering/science and fine
art/humanities until I found a Bauhaus-like program in design that
integrated those two poles.  And then, just as I was coming out of school in
December 1983, with the great pioneering European modernists as my heroes,
the Macintosh was introduced and it was my epiphany.  I knew that this
product represented far more than just good industrial design and software
engineering, both of which I'd studied separately.  It integrated them, and
carried the whole user experience forward in a way that was transformative.
It was a fundamental leap forward.  From that point on I wanted to pursue
*that type of design,* and *that level of design integration,* whatever that
type and level of design was!

Though I'd started doing user interface design on products in Dallas, Texas
the mid-1980s, I was greatly influenced by two designers that had worked at
Xerox PARC in the 1970s.  I co-consulted with Tom Noonan, who was an
industrial designer and had designed the mouse for the Xerox Star
workstation, and later worked with Norm Cox, who was a graphic designer that
had done all of Xerox' original icons and graphical elements.  In 1988 I
worked with Norm and Alan Mandler on the development of Sun Microsystem's
Open Look GUI, and during that time I also met your professor Dan Boyarski
and another leading information designer, Edward Tufte.  Shortly after that
project I moved my consultancy to Palo Alto, California and my career in the
field expanded from there.  These designers greatly informed my knowledge of
the field's history, which helped me to decide the direction I wanted to
take my own work and career.

I'll never forget the first time I heard the term, "interaction design." It
was 1988 and I was sharing a studio in Plano, Texas with Tom Noonan and Doug
Laube when one day Tom said, "Jim, you need to read this piece by Bill
Moggridge, from the design studio IDTwo.  He's describing all the design
activities you're doing as 'interaction design'."  And so when I moved to
the Bay Area in 1989, IDTwo's studio in North Beach was one of my first
stops, and I met both Moggridge and Bill Verplank.

It was also in the late 1980s that "multimedia," which at the time was
mostly HyperCard stacks and interactive CD-ROM media, really began to take
off.  This was an adjacent field from the more product interface and desktop
software design I was pursuing, but formed the large pool of designers that
immediately seized on the early web and began shaping it into what it is
today.  In many ways, multimedia design, or what we now call new media
design, went on to dominate interface and interaction design.

Dan, one thing you said about the many reasons *why* you became an
interaction designer was because "you're good at it."  I take that in large
part to mean that you've got a knack for tackling large, hairy, ill-defined
problems - what you reference in your book as 1960s design theorist H. J.
Rittel's term, "wicked problems."  I like to say, "Making things easy is
hard work."

Can you expound a bit on the things that make the pursuit of successful
interaction design such a uniquely complex endeavor?
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #4 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Tue 3 Oct 06 10:48
So you heard the term "interaction Design" more than a decade before I
 did. Funny. My professor Dick Buchanan once said that design is like
California: few people are born there. Almost everyone comes from
someplace else.

Just quickly to define "wicked problems," Rittel was talking about
problems that have many stakeholders, no clear boundaries, and no
obvious solution. And sure, most interaction designers deal with these
sorts of problems all the time, especially if you are a consultant or
work within a large organization. Half the challenge is creating a
solution, the other half is getting that solution built. It amazes me
how difficult both things can be.

Coming up with a solution is this odd combination of conceptual and
analytical thinking. You have to come up with something that is fresh
and new and yet usually can't be too fresh and new or else users aren't
going to understand it. You have to think broadly, but work within the
constraints you have: time, technology, business goals, and resources.

Then once you've done all that, you need to communicate your design to
 those who will build it and pay for it. They need to understand what
you are trying to accomplish with your design so that the vision makes
it through the (often challenging) development and manufacturing
process. A good portion of a designer's time is simply selling the
solution, at least in my experience. Has it been yours, Jim?
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #5 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Tue 3 Oct 06 12:17

Very much so, Dan.  Though I'm now working in teams, much of my career has
been as a sole consultant, or working in two-person projects.  So many times
I would get a call from a potential client saying, "the product's all done,
except for the user interface."  Which, of course, is the inherent problem
with so many things.  The user interface, or interactional architecture, is
seen as an afterthought or decoration, instead of part of the product,
system, or services DNA.

So like most interaction designers I've had to spend a lot of my time and
effort educating clients about all the things that really make products
powerful, easy to use, and ultimately successful.  And most of these
projects have had to be tackled with miniscule budgets, small amounts of
time, and amidst the large numbers of stakeholders and often fuzzy
boundaries that Rittel described.

So even before I could sell the solution (which had to be developed, and
took some time), I had to sell a project deeper than many of my clients
initially anticipated.  This has always meant that the first phases of these
projects are difficult.  You often face doubters, people invested in the
earlier insufficient designs, competing visions, etc..  But by working
diligently to map the problem and understand the target users, and
establishing a type of syntax or language of interaction from which the
solution could emerge as an embodiment, the stakeholders are won over.
There's usually a mid-point in most of my projects when people begin to say,
"Ohhhh, now I get what you're doing."  But before that, it's just very
difficult to express how things will be sorted out and organized to become
an integrated and logical whole.

I and my design teams have thrived in these types of situations.  We're the
inverse of formal methodological, academic, or research-oriented design
models.  We practice what we term "special forces" efforts, where we travel
light, bring a lot of experience and cross-pollinating ideas and solutions
to bear on tough or unique projects with short time frames, but great and
complex needs.  For the past few years we've actually been going inside
corporations as employees, but still remaining separate and setting up
"skunkworks"-like project hothouses to develop OS-level user experiences and
application frameworks.  We're doing that now in the mobile phone space.

Your group, Adaptive Path, has been one of the top design leaders in the web
application space.  When I think about the great new generation of
functionality and power emerging in the Web 2.0 world, I associate that with
the approaches your group has pioneered, like AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript
+ XML).  I'm also a huge fan of your colleague, Jesse James Garrett's book,
"The Elements of User Experience."

Working as consultants is very different from working as ongoing designers
within a corporation.  Can you tell us about the challenges and experiences
you and your colleagues at Adaptive Path have had in not simply being a
design consultancy, but being a pioneering one?
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #6 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Tue 3 Oct 06 14:24
This is a pretty big question we could spend a lot of time on.
Certainly, we face the same challenges most designers face, although
since we're in the public eye a lot, our failures and missteps are seen
more. And the thing with being a pioneering firm is that, as the term
implies, you often find yourself in uncharted lands with no clear path
in or out. You have to hack your own way through the underbrush. This
is how, for example, the name Ajax came about. Jesse needed a machete.

We're also always looking for the disruptive product or service to
work on. Which is why we work usually for either start-ups or large
corporations: because those are generally the two places disruptive
products come from that change the world. And with large organizations,
disruptive things are, well, disruptive, and that can be a challenge
for them and for us. Them because they might have to change their
organization to make the design work, us because sometimes that doesn't
happen, at least not initially. Sometimes our designs have dribbled
out of an organization over the course of years.

We're also curious people in an ever-changing field, so that has its
own challenges of staying knowledgeable and finding projects that let
us continue to stretch and grow. Unlike some firms, if we've done a
similar project before, we're considerably less interested in doing it
again, no matter how successful the initial project was. Projects are
only interesting if everyone learns something while doing it. One of my
favorite designers Tibor Kalman rightly said that "Everything is an
experiment." That's how you gain experience and remain challenged.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #7 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Tue 3 Oct 06 14:50

Your comment, "if we've done a similar project before, we're considerably
less interested in doing it again, no matter how successful the initial
project was," resonates with a lot of creative people.  Or perhaps I should
say a certain category of creative people.  I think about artists that
continue to push their own boundaries and reinvent themselves.  And
musicians as well.  Some creative people just relish new unique challenges
and have less interest in refining solutions in a particular area.

But also, in the discipline of interaction design, there's so much untrodden
ground that I suspect groups like yours want to gain experience in as many
areas and types of challenges as possible.  This is in large part what fuels
and informs your ability to bring successful design and solutions to a
greater range of clients, isn't it?

Can you speak to the issue of how large the need for successful design
thinking is versus the relatively small number of people that are
experienced in practicing it today?  There's a lot of talk in our field of
best practices and some of it is slowly making a positive impact in the
business world, but there's still so much need and so little expertise to go
around.  What are your thoughts on the present state of interaction design
and the future?

My own thoughts are that we need a variety of approaches, from rapid,
agressive methods in certain situations (especially those which find
themselves in great need, but without a lot of resources or time), and more
formal approaches where refinement and long-term quality and continued
innovation are possible.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #8 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Tue 3 Oct 06 21:31
The term "design thinking" always makes me a bit uncomfortable, as
though thinking could be removed from design itself. To me, designing
is thinking: thinking given form.

But I certainly agree that the world is in need of designers, of all
stripes. We're surrounded by the ugly, the ungainly, the
poorly-conceived, and more designers would hopefully change that for
the  better. Especially since, in the near future, we're faced with so
many technical advances bearing down upon us--technologies like
ubiquitous computing, intelligent agents, robots, and RFID-enabled
objects. These technologies--and I devote a whole chapter talking about
them--will have significant effects upon our society and world. Our
privacy and liberties could be seriously and irreparably harmed if
these technologies aren't implemented in a human--and humane--way that
protects human dignity.

As to the approaches interaction designers use, I do outline four of
them in the book: from the now-ubiquitous user-centered design, to
activity-centered design, systems design, and what I call "genius
design." These four approaches can be used in a variety of situations,
sometimes within the same project, depending on what needs to be
designed and how. Interaction designers should become familiar with
them all, so they can hop between them as necessary, depending on the
project and their personal style.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #9 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Tue 3 Oct 06 23:10

Now that you point it out, I see that the term "design thinking" was a
rather poor choice of words, when I really should've said design effort, or
the whole range of activities associated with design.  Words and terminology
and phrases have continued to be contentious in the field of interaction
design and user experience.  There's the annual "what do we call ourselves"
thrash that I always enjoy.  Sort of like the return of the Autumn football
season!  Ha!  You've spent some time separating the various activities that
comprise the greater user experience field, and I think that's very

You also bring up a number of concerns of growing importance in an ever more
connected world.  Most technologies are double-edged swords, and the
information technologies are no different.  For example, communication and
GPS technologies bring us many new handy and powerful capabilities.  Just a
couple of weeks ago when I was returning a rental car to Boston's Logan
Airport, I realized that I'd forgotten to fill up the gas tank.  I left the
airport and went searching for a gas station.  By the time I found one, I
was also hopelessly lost.  But luckily, the GPS system guided me on a
circuitous path back to the airport.  But the very same technologies could
be used to track our whereabouts.  The same goes for our use of mobile
communication technologies.

These issues are already present in many other systems we're using today,
including transaction services and how site navigation and usage is tracked.
 Such information is crucial to tailoring and individualizing user
experiences to useful ends, but there's always that potential problematic
aspect looming in the background.  As you point out in your chapter on the
future of interaction design, this will only grow in complexity.

How do you believe interaction designers can most effectively contribute to
preserving the humane qualities in the products and systems they design?
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #10 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Wed 4 Oct 06 07:53
The first thing is that interaction designers should adopt physicians'
first principle: First Do No Harm. Users trust us with personal
information like passwords, their money, their personal data, and in
some cases their lives. We need to respect that.

One method I've adopted is measuring against this ethical baseline: is
the interaction a pleasant one for both the initiator of the
interaction and the receivers of that interaction? When I send you an
email, it should be a good experience for me to send you the email, but
also for you to receive it. 

Of course this brings up the issue of What is a "good" experience...
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #11 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Wed 4 Oct 06 09:40

For many people, a "good" experience might simply be one that's as
transparent as possible.  In other words an experience where the actions and
interactions required to invoke, progress toward, or facilitate the goal
don't feel unwieldy, tedious, or arbitrarily complex.  People have so many
interactive systems, devices, and interactions demanding their attention
these days, the less interaction any one of these things requires to achieve
its intended function or facilitation, the more appreciative users are
likely to be.  In other words, a designer can greatly aid people simply by
not adding to the complication and demands steadily accumulating in their
lives.  This seems to fit nicely with the "Do No Harm" principle you've
pointed out.

As you point out, products and services are becoming increasingly
interconnected.  You also highlight the difference between the relatively
static form of physical products versus the dynamic and ever-evolving nature
of services associated with products, such as interactive television
products and mobile devices.

Can you speak to some of the issues both shared and unique between
interaction design for sites and software versus products and environmental
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #12 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Wed 4 Oct 06 13:54
We're moving away from a time when any one product stands alone.
Nearly everything is being designed (or should be designed) as part of
a system  of use these days. Your mobile phone, for instance, has a
physical form, a digital interface, a service plan, and probably
several websites tied to it.

As technology creeps into the service sector, we're starting to see
more designers get involved in crafting services for retail, medical,
and entertainment services, especially. Some of the techniques
interaction designers use for designing products translate pretty
easily to services, but there's a bunch of new methods--including a
little theater--that interaction designers are going to have to learn
and practice. Many services are created in real time between two
people: the service provider and the customer. The only way to
"prototype" such a thing is to act it out. Which can be really odd.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #13 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Wed 4 Oct 06 15:19

Yes, the acting out of human interactions in such a design process is very
much correlated to the making of all the foam models to get the feel of a
handheld product right.  It's very much a discovery process to find the
right shape.  In services, there's also a "shape" of sorts, to the sequence
and flow of interaction.  It's indeed odd, but I've also found it amazing
how little it takes in the ways of props and structure to put a group of
people into a realistic and effective modeling process in order to explore
and test options.

Some of my most interesting observational sessions have been in operating
rooms, as part of  projects to design interfaces for medical equipment.
There are so many overlapping issues to be mindful of in medical-related
design efforts, from the simplicity and efficiency of operation of
equipmentt, to paying close attention to how the surgeon and the attending
staff communicate and cooperate during the procedure, to the issues that go
toward the comfort and reassurance of the patient.

And beyond this are the enormous amounts of data, from patient records to
bedside charts and the complex choreography of nursing and doctors' shifts.
I expect that we'll eventually have more and more interaction designers
specializing just in medically-related areas.  There's so much to observe
and analyze in order to get a picture that's encompassing enough.

You've got a great section in your chapter on research, involving different
observational methods - Fly on the wall, Shadowing, Contextual inquiry, and
being an undercover agent.  What have been some of your more interesting
observational experiences?  Are there things that have really surprised you
or completely changed your preconceived notions?  Tell us a story, Dan!
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #14 of 117: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 4 Oct 06 16:46

(Note: offsite readers with questions or comments may send them to
<> to have them added to the conversation here)
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #15 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Wed 4 Oct 06 17:21
Every time I do research, I'm surprised by something. Either I am
wrong about an assumption I've made or else I'm grossly wrong about an
assumption I've made going into it.

My first research experience was probably the most enlightening. About
six years ago, I was on a project for a handheld device and
accompanying website and software for maintenance workers. That is, in
less politically-correct terminology, janitors. My team and I did a
number of visits with them, in basements, workshops, even the
maintenance office of the United Nations building. Simply observing
what these men--and they were all men--did during the day and what they
had to deal with--constantly putting out fires when something
breaks--gave me an entirely new viewpoint on how people maintain
buildings and what these people were like. I instantly gained an
insight into their world and how they worked that has lasted with me
strongly to this day.

I sometimes enjoy doing "undercover agent" work: posing as a customer
or a user and going into the situation "undercover." I've done this a
few times, recently as mobile phone customer in several stores.

I also simply like observing in foreign--or even not so
foreign--situations. Simply going to the local mall and observing how
people interaction and how they shop can reveal so much. I like going
to different work environments and seeing the processes there. Simply
walking down the street can be design research: observing colors and
patterns and architecture.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #16 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Wed 4 Oct 06 18:33

Well, speaking of (unintended) undercover observation, I'm just back from an
experience and freshly annoyed!  I just experienced the frustrating hell
that is The Home Depot's "self checkout" process.

They've replaced all but one of the traditional human-based checkout lines
for these wretched touchscreen checkout stations.  It's the most annoying,
tedious, and frustrating thing ever!  I had over twenty small cabinet
handles, and each of them had to be unfolded and waved over the scanner
window (which didn't work so well, by the way).  Then you're scolded
repeatedly by this machine voice to "PLACE THE ITEMS IN THE CHECKOUT AREA!",
which I do.  At some point, I'm moving bulkier items into this ill-defined
area when something went awry.

and it continues to scold me as I'm sitting there moving things around and
trying to comply with it.

I look around and the people in the line are just shaking their heads.  They
know this just plain wrong.  This is a perfect example of bad interaction
design being foisted on either a system that shouldn't be there at all (my
opinion), or should simply wait until RFID tags can do this without any
interaction on the part of customers whatsoever.

Honestly, I was about ready to walk over to the tool aisle, grab a shiny new
sledgehammer, and smash the whole devilish folly to bits.

Dan, isn't this representative of a whole class of things problematic and
growing moreso in the world today?  I know that good interaction designers
and their methods could greatly improve these wretched do-it-yourself
systems, but where do we draw the line and advocate not going down some of
these paths to begin with?  I know that what I, as a customer really want is
for somebody who's an expert at checking out items to do this for me.  I
don't *WANT* to become a checker.  Are we facing an ever-more dystopian
world of this kind of thing?
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #17 of 117: Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Wed 4 Oct 06 19:35
>The first thing is that interaction designers should adopt
physicians'first principle: First Do No Harm.<

The "do no harm" principle brings to mind the "Precautionary
Principle" that came to my attention in the EU late in my career in
international medical device standards. The wikipedia gives a
reasonable discussion of the idea and its uses. 

Some wag (a lawyer, if I remember right) from Harvard turned the
principle on itself by offering that the "precautionary principle"
should be shoulder the burden of proof before it is implemented.  I
seem to remember examples of damage due to delaying implementation of
new ideas that have some severe side effects. 

Since we don't understand in any detailed way much of the world and
even less of the interaction of humans and human systems, introduction
of additional interactions by virtue of new designs strikes me as a
challenge. Perhaps we could add to the "do no harm" principle, a
corollary: "do not aggravate existing sources of harm".

Identity theft comes to mind.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #18 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Thu 5 Oct 06 08:43
It's definitely a challenge. Brings to mind one of my favorite Lord of
the Rings quotes: "Even the wise cannot see all ends."

That's an excellent corollary, though, with lots of direct
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #19 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Thu 5 Oct 06 10:07
Gah, those self-checkout things are a nightmare at almost every store
you see them in. Yes, they allow you to check yourself out, but at
significant cost to the users (in added time and aggravation) while
allowing the store to have less checkers. The benefits are inequitable.

I hope that designers are able to affect products in a strategic way,
now and in the future. We should be able to say, "This is a bad idea.
You shouldn't do this" rather than simply being brought in to make
things after the strategic decisions have all been made. This is, of
course, what designers have been lobbying for for years.

And I think, from my perspective, this is happening more and more. You
see Design on the cover of BusinessWeek. Businesses are looking at
Apple's stock price post-iPod. Companies like Procter & Gamble are
serious about including design into their product creation cycles.

The flip side is, of course, that there are large corporations,
government agencies and indeed whole industries and governments
(including the US Government) that don't give much of a damn about
design at all. And those organizations affect us every single day in
profound ways.

My guess is that smaller-scale products and services will be better
designed in the near future, while larger scale will continue to not
be. I'm not sure how to change that prediction.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #20 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Thu 5 Oct 06 10:42

Your comment about the inequity of benefits is spot on.  Good design really
needs to be win-win, or a win for all the stakeholders.  You also allude to
one of the challenges facing designers wishing to have that kind of bigger
picture impact, which requires being able to affect the product, service, or
system at higher levels.

It's true that design has made some very significant progress in the
corporate world.  I've watched my own professional organization, IDSA
(Industrial Designers Society of America) work hard over the past twenty-
five years to raise awareness of the value of design to business.  Through
the efforts of influential business journalists like Bruce Nussbaum, and
magazines like Business Week, more and more people are exposed to good
design and more companies are giving design a more strategic positioning.

Still, I hasten to point out that even in these venues, it's mostly
industrial and physical form design, and often mostly about aesthetic and
ergonomic styling, that's being held up.  I wouldn't downplay the importance
of styling and emotion in products of course, as these are extremely
important aspects for multiple reasons.  The famous pioneering industrial
designers, Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss broke a lot of this ground many
decades ago. But I've always been frustrated that the leading design
organizations and magazines still separate product and industrial design
from interaction design, which is usually assumed just to be the separate
category of "interactive media."  Whole product interaction design,
particularly in the more complex networked products, is still not well
recognized, though it's the source of much of what people associate with
user frustration.  As I'd pointed out in an earlier post, product design and
product interfaces are still seen as separate efforts in many development
efforts.  Ironically, even in some organizations where design is ostensibly

Interaction design, unlike cool and ergonomic physical forms, can't be
instantly recognized in photographs or by simply picking something up.  It
has to be discovered through usage over time, and then, ironically, when
it's done best, it's the lack of frustration rather than the presence of
something more tangible, where the value resides.  This makes what
interaction designers do both extremely important, yet difficult to
understand in a simple way.  It's a very challenging dilemma for our field!

How do you think interaction designers can best follow the product designers
and move to the higher levels of more corporations, when what we do is so
difficult to photograph or turn into soundbites?
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #21 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Thu 5 Oct 06 12:51
I'm a member of IDSA as well (and AIGA and IxDA) and its great to see
them getting play in non-design magazines. But I absolutely agree,
design is still being covered as form, not functionality. Like you say,
Jim, it's hard to take a picture of how something works or feels.

Now that I think about it, this is an issue especially for mobile
phones. Motorola, for instance, has beautiful forms--the Razor and the
Pebble phones for instance--but pretty poor interaction design. But how
would you know that in the store? The phone isn't turned on and you
have no service. You get maybe an image of a static screen if you're

There's no easy way to demonstrate value there, although you can see
companies like Nokia and Apple pushing hard in that direction. perhaps
the answer is to have more web-based simulations/prototypes that can be
demonstrated and played with? Why couldn't mobile phones be loaded up
with a demo version made in Flash Lite or Java in stores? Why can't 
BusinessWeek online link to online prototypes?

I wonder if ubiquitous computing will be the killer app that really
shows off interaction designers? Remove the interface, have the form
dissolve into everyday objects, and the functionality will be front and

I think interaction designers being involved in strategy is already
happening, just unevenly. Industrial designers have had decades of
pushing and groundwork to get where they are now. Interaction design as
a formal discipline hasn't been around nearly as long.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #22 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Thu 5 Oct 06 13:23

Great points there Dan, particularly about the value of having interactive
demos readily available to run on products in stores and online.  I'm
thinking that if the companies that were most successful at creating good
interfaces and embodying excellent interaction into their products and
services began doing that more, it could very well create pressure on other
companies to demonstrate similarly great user experiences.  A virtuous
circle, if you will.

As it is today, as you note, too often a product will look brilliant, but
have terrible usability once a person gets it home and begins using it.

One thing it will take to bring about more and better interaction design
will be more and better interaction designers.  This brings up the issues
surrounding education and real-world experienced-based mentoring of new
interaction designers.  You went through Carnegie Mellon's excellent
program, and I've been heartened to see more and more schools beginning to
teach interaction design.  In my work I've also had the opportunity to work
with some really good interaction designers across Europe, and more recently
in India and China.  I think this bodes well for interaction design growing
in importance globally.

What are your thoughts, observations, and insights into educational issues
surrounding the discipline of interaction design?

And to those joining us here, please feel free to jump into the discussion
with Dan with your questions, gripes, favorite user experiences, and
anything else related to interaction design.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #23 of 117: Dan Saffer (dansaffer) Thu 5 Oct 06 17:10
The main tension in interaction design education is one that can be
seen in my book: how much grounding/theory should be taught vs. how
much craft/making skills should be taught. Theory is harder, less
initially useful, and seemingly doesn't affect the work at all. But if
you ignore it, students' work will suffer because they won't have a
framework for evaluating and understanding design work. Craft is easier
to teach, although the mediums for interaction design work (the web,
mobile devices, software) change very rapidly. But craft can be pretty
shallow as well.

You can teach standard methods of course, and some things like design
research probably aren't going to go out of style any time soon. I try
to focus on that stuff in the book and in the workshops I teach.

The main problem with interaction design education is that there's not
enough of it. There's only a handful of programs that I know of that
teach interaction design as a design discipline. CMU, the Royal College
of Art, Malmo University, SCAD...The number of universities with
programs is small enough to count on two hands and still have some
fingers left over.

Interesting that you note India and China. Both I think could easily
become major centers of interaction design, since there is so much
software development in India and so much manufacturing in China. Not
to mention their enormous, under-served populations. 

One of the challenges of being a designer in the US is how sheltered
we are from the rest of the world. We're so advanced in some things,
and so behind in others, like mobile phones. It's a struggle here to be
international in outlook, which I don't think is as much of a problem
in Europe or in Asia.
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #24 of 117: James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Thu 5 Oct 06 18:35

My experience developing OS-level user experiences and application
experience frameworks has involved quite a bit of collaboration with both
Europeans and Asians, from business and marketing people, to engineers and
technologists, to designers.  One primary reason the United States is behind
in the mobile technologies is because other countries didn't have our wired
infrastructure and were thus had greater incentives to develop cellphone
technologies.  This is particularly true in Japan, where obtaining a wired
phone a few years ago involved a lot more hassle than it does here.  And in
many developing countries, it became easier to put up cell towers than lay
phone lines everywhere.  Also, here in the United States, the numbers of
desktop computers really began to take off in the late 1980s and throughout
the 1990s.  So the mobile technologies leapfrogged us.

So we're still preparing to make the move to 3G mobile technologies here,
where greater bandwidth, and hence services will be available, while it's
already in use in Europe and Asia.  In fact, Japan will soon make the
transition to even faster and higher-bandwidth technologies.  But this also
presents us with a great opportunity to learn from their current products.
That's why I think it's important for interaction designers around the globe
to communicate and collaborate.  I've learned so much from my colleagues in
Scandinavia where they've really been working with and evolving ideas about
mobile connectivity and interaction.

The design organizations (AIGA, IDSA, IxDA, IAI) do a great job of providing
forums for designers all around the world, both face to face and online.
Design is so globally important, that it's great to be exposed to the many
shared and unique needs as they exist around the world.  I have great hopes
that American designers will become more and more global as we move forward,
because we'll all benefit so greatly.

But even in the public internet sphere, we're seeing more and more coming
together (and sometimes collisions) of cultures.  Many people here on the
WELL were early members of Fotolog and experienced the period when, through
an interesting series of events, became very popular among Brazilian
photographers and young people with cameraphones.  Many of us found it
amazingly cool, but it also led to a number of clashes because of different
expectations, styles, and uses for the same underlying site affordances.

The benefits of facilitating communication and mutual respect and
appreciation between previously separated cultures are so great.  What are
your thoughts regarding designing products, systems, and services for very
different cultures?
inkwell.vue.283 : Dan Saffer, "Designing for Interaction"
permalink #25 of 117: Ludo, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Fri 6 Oct 06 05:41
An example of the problem you are discussing may be buying a home
versus living in one. "Curb appeal" may have little to do with the
livability of a house but is important to "make the sale".  

It could be that visual aesthetics are so powerful in the bulk of
humans that functionality has to be really bad to discourage them. One
might see problems arising in other areas of life as well.  Choice of a
spouse would be one example.  

Idealism has a strong hold on people more for the thrill of
contemplation than in the nuts and bolts of practical implementation.

The whole process of selling, particularly to consumers, is to appeal
to primarily visual aesthetics.

Perhaps when functionality can generate epiphanies that are not
mistakingly attributed to what is immediately visually and/or aurally
perceived, then design for interaction will enter the public


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