What is 'interactive design'?

Over recent years, the word ‘design’ has be degraded for commercial means to attract the consumers taste for luxury goods. No longer is ‘design’ the bespoke result of a problem solving activity, but a naff Linda Barker sofa from DFS.

Of course, being a designer isn’t just about adding commercial value to products, that’s a convenient by-product of good design. Being a designer is about socially engineering items to be efficient, functional and appealing to its audience.

Interactive design has evolved over the years to a state where people are actually given the title ‘interactive designer’; but what does this mean and what do they do?

For some time I’ve seen a number of designers struggle with this very concept. For interactive designers arriving from a print or coding background, its easy to continue solving design problems with the skills set you already have.

This is fine, if the solution you arrive at requires a simple ‘lick of paint’ or some new CSS styles – that’s an iterative modification. Design however, is something much more fundamental.

To me, interactive design is about considering a project in its entirety and not its splinter elements - that is simply fire fighting. Designers do more than put out fires, they look at why the fires were started in the first place.

I recently heard about an agency who has a number of ‘UX guys’ “who do the persona’s, scenarios and stuff”. I think this is a worrying trend. Taking the research element away from the designers decreases the involvement in the vital activities that make for good design. In my view it’s imperative that designers evolve their passion and conviction for a solution by conducting UCD techniques themselves.

I think interactive design is not just pushing pixels around in a PSD. It’s about understanding your product and its audience. Persona’s, scenarios, wireframes, sitemaps and user testing are some of the ways designer can do this. At every stage a designer should be instinctively aware of the research and its implications on the final design. This is interactive design.