Design Quest – Interaction Design Day #1

Day One of Cooper’s Interaction Design Practicum had many highlights. Some of the topics covered includes the following ideas, practices & tips:

  • Design Is – Groundwork Definitions
  • Synthesizers and Generators 
  • Pretend It’s Magic
  • Goal-Directed Design
  • Alan Cooper Q&A
  • User Interviews – Guidance & Tips

Design Is…
Cooper managing director of interaction design Doug Lemoine was our practicum leader. Doug established groundwork design definitions.

Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order.
~ Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change

Good design ensures usefulness. The web-based file hosing service Dropbox is useful. The Segway Personal Transporter, not so much.

Humorous snark about the perceived need and Segway price point from fellow-attendee Matthew:

I wish I had 10 grand to make me even lazier.

In a well-executed design, people delight in simple, intuitive interactions

Synthesizers and Generators

It has been said that Cooper’s secret sauce is to work in design pairs. Cooper pairs consist of a Generator and a Synthesizer. The Generator leads concept creation,while the Synthesizer leads narrative creation.

Generator Synthesizer
  • Good at visualizing systems
  • Versed in usability & IxD principles
  • Responsible for screen sketches
  • Good at narrative, facilitation, and detail
  • Versed in communication and process
  • Responsible for documenting Research & Development

Cooper’s paired design balances generative thinking (what could the product do) and evaluative thinking (what should the product do).

Pretend It’s Magic

One pitfall is thinking about what the system can do at the expense of what the system should do. Edward de Bono‘s Lateral Thinking was presented as a problem-solving technique that uses an indirect, creative approach. Problem solving can follow a practical path, or a magical path (shown below). Often considering the ridiculous, the ludicrous, and the impossible — the magical path — leads to a great idea.

Sometimes a product vision is blurred by a natural tendency to focus on product implementation. That’s when it is time to switch off our internal editor and pretend it’s magic (e.g., what would a magical device do) or pretend the product is human (e.g., what would a human assistant do?)

Goal-Directed Design

Goal-Directed Design considers what should be built before starting to build it. Cooper has observed that goals are stable targets. The supporting example is a cross-country trip. The goals of cross-country trip, whether in 1850 or today, are the same. Cross-country travelers want get there as soon as possible, be as comfortable as possible, and travel safely.

Context, tasks, needs and tools change, but the goal remains the same. For example, air travel can be non-stop where one needs something to read for 5 hours, whereas stage coach travel had 20 stops where one needed something to read for 22 days. With air travel one wants to clear airport security, whereas with stage coach travel one had to be sure to bring a firearm.

A visualization of Cooper’s Goal-Directed Design appeared to be a DNA chain with the following elements:

  • Research – Understanding business and user’s needs.
  • Modeling – Digest the research and build consensus among stakeholders and project team. Modeling of personas and modeling scenarios.
  • Requirements Definition – Define the product experience (i.e., key user goals, functional needs, and emotional needs). Looking for the sweet spot of business goals, user needs, and technical constraints.
  • Framework Definition -A holistic view of the design using scenarios as the foundation. Focus on most appropriate concept.
  • Detailed Design – Design the product in enough detail to prove feasibility. Collaborate with engineers to ensure feasibility.
  • Implementation Support – Ensure the product is built as intended. Advocate and build empathy for the user.
Rinse and repeat!  The process is iterative

Alan Cooper Q&A 

Alan Cooper entertained questions in the afternoon. One of several things Alan said that resonated with the audience involved the conventional title of Software Architect. Cooper feels Software Architect is a misappropriated of term. The role of an interaction designer is more akin to the title Software Architect.

An architect is a person at the nexus of people, purpose, and technology — not someone working in isolation close to the metal. ~Alan Cooper

User Interviews

User interviews are one of the primary methods of acquiring intelligence for the product design. Two approaches found to work are:

  1. One-on-One Interviews – looking for an understanding of user motivations, biases, and concerns;
  2. Conduct Workshops – looking at multiple stakeholders thinking creatively and moving toward a shared vision of the product.
Some fundamental questions discussed for an effective interview:
  • What’s your role?
  • What are the benefits for the business? For you?
  • How will it make money?
  • How do you define success?


View of Bay Bridge from Cooper Reception
Alan Cooper signing my copies of his books

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