What Is Interaction Design? | Wired Sussex

20 Sep 2021

20 Sep 2021

What Is Interaction Design & How Does It Compare To Other Design Disciplines?

Are you considering a radically new career in the design sector but struggling to pinpoint which path to follow? Alternatively, perhaps you already work in a creative capacity but want to throw in the towel for another design discipline? Either way, when you embark on a new job in design, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and have your guard up. There are just so many roles in existence! Here at Wired Sussex, however, we promise we’re in your corner. For 14 years now we’ve continued to offer advice to job seekers in the creative and tech sector. With that in mind, we invite you to pull up a ringside seat and listen to our blow by blow account of how interaction design jobs differ from interactive, product and visual design. Which role will be the heavy-weight contender for your new career and which one will get disqualified? Ding, ding, ding - let the gloves come off! 

Round 1) Interaction Design Vs Interactive Design

Now, believe it or not, there are very subtle nuances between interaction design and interactive design. Whilst they sound very similar to each other, they are distinct terminology within the design industry. Nonetheless, this does not stop many from (mistakenly) using the terms interchangeably. 

First, interaction design, often abbreviated to IxD, is a design discipline that falls under the umbrella of UX. In general, interaction designers work within a design, development, creative or marketing team and serve to make digital applications functional in the hands of users. In particular, they are concerned about the intent of the user, their interaction with a product or service and how they can help users accomplish a task. If this sounds like a rather broad field, well, that’s because it is. Elements such as aesthetics, motion, sound, space, and how a user interacts with them, are carefully considered by an interaction designer. Some interaction designers may even specialise further in one of the aforementioned areas, leading to job titles such as motion designer. 

When it comes to interactive design, there is no dedicated ‘interactive designer’ role as such. Rather, it’s more common for ‘interactive’ to be considered a complementary skill of a designer. At the core of most design systems and platforms, used by the likes of web designers, graphic designers and UX designers, are interactive details and elements. Hence, it’s a design skill that’s easier than ever to learn and possess. In essence, interactive design is all about using techniques to make media experiences richer. These techniques are used in a broad spectrum, by various designers and across many digital mediums.

Round 2) Interaction Design Vs Product Design

A product designer is responsible for the user experience of, well, a product. They help create a product's design as well as its goals and roadmap (which is a summary of the long term direction a product’s features and offerings are expected to take). A roadmap will also feature considerations for how a product will connect to existing company products. Depending on the type, size and diversity of the design department a product designer works for, confusingly, they may also be called an interaction designer. Certainly, interaction design does overlap with and feed into a product designer's skills. They will be required to investigate the behaviour patterns of a user and explore how their product can potentially solve users needs. Their priorities differ though, in that a product designer will be more concerned with whether their design is cost-effective and makes sense in the current economy. Indeed, a product designer is typically required to be more commercially savvy than an interaction designer, as they oversee the whole lifespan of a product and must adhere to budgets.

Round 3) Interaction Design Vs Visual Design

Unlike interaction design, the visual design industry is less concerned with how users interact with something on a screen and more with making sure everything looks as dazzling and beautiful as possible. From making icons, illustrations and graphics ‘pop’ to having a consistent and eye-catching layout across pages, anything ‘visual’ falls under a visual designer's remit. In fact, the main question that motivates a visual designer is - ‘does the end product (which is always strictly digital, by the way) look good? This is unsurprising considering visual design was very much born out of a mixture of graphic design and UI design. Ordinarily, once a project nears completion, a visual designer will go over it with a fine tooth-comb, ensuring it adheres to visual style guides and ensuring it emits a certain ‘vibe’. Finally, it’s worth noting that this role is often muddled with visual communication, which encompasses much more than the design, look and feel of a project, instead prioritising the communication of a product or service visually.

So, there you have it! A rundown of interaction design versus interactive, product and visual design. What are your thoughts on the brief bout? From our perspective, we understand that seeking a design job can generate an awful lot of confusion. There are countless designer job titles that are a hybrid of two roles, overlap in terms of duties or blur the lines in some way. Different companies will often interpret design roles uniquely too, with responsibilities detailed in job descriptions varying from business to business. What’s important to remember is that each of these design roles remain incredibly valuable and helps form the backbone of most websites, apps and products. 

Next Steps....

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