The path to Interaction Designer parallels Game Designer?

This post at Coroflot, Sidestep: Interaction Designers, and How They Got That Way, covers the diversity of backgrounds and fuzziness that surrounds the definition of Interaction Design. While reading it I was struck by the parallels to Game Design more than once

  • “…as companies large and small seek interaction designers to do…well…whatever it is that they do.”
  • “For those of us not in the field… it can seem a bit of an esoteric, shadowy art, attracting the attention of media and employers, but without knowing quite why.”
  • “It’s a difficult to define field because it’s both extremely broad and relatively young–though not as young as you might think: the term dates to the 1980’s, meaning there are in fact seasoned interaction designers out there with 15 and 20 years of experience under their belt…” [I haven’t traced it yet, but I’d guess that game designer dates from the 70’s.]
  • “Interaction designers I spoke with at Intel and Motorola came from Graphic Design and new media backgrounds, and were able to tick off a lengthy list of fields from which their professional colleagues emerged: engineering, programming, motion graphics, psychology, cognitive science, sociology, and perhaps the occasional anomaly who actually started out in an IxD program.”

Although clearly there are differences in perception, “…in addition to the young cubs we might imagine negotiating six-figure salaries.” the other quotes are all issues that Game Designers face regularly. We work at the point where the user enters the system and a million little factors affect that experience, making it inherently nebulous to those outside of the field. The problem is severely compounded because our language of design is currently very limited. We continue to crib terms from other fields to describe what we do, or have conflicting definitions. “Fun”, anyone?

One line stood out to me however, that I think highlights the challenge of explaining the importance of both Game Design and Interaction Design:

“What also makes the questions hard is the feeling that Interaction Design is something that happens anyway, with or without the input of Interaction Designers.”

Game Design has this problem as well, everyone working in games has played a game leading to the “everyone is a designer” syndrome. Horror stories and personal experience abound of producers or other authority figures, making ridiculous requests for changes to a game because they feel their experience as a player makes them just as informed as the designer. We a,re aided somewhat by the complexity and scope of most games, it’s clear that someone has to architect that experience and define it. For an Interaction Designer I imagine that having an interaction perceived as straightforward (using a web page for example) makes justifying their contribution a more uphill battle. Or perhaps it’s an oft repeated but short uphill struggle with each new client.

A good article, and I think it’s time to dig into the Interaction Design world some more. Perhaps they’ve answered some of the questions we’re wrestling with in games.

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