The design of user interfaces (UI) and user experiences (UX) is a new field that has evolved a lot over the past few years, thanks to the rise of the web and smartphone apps. The popularity and success of tech products are closely linked to how easy and pleasant they are to use.
Good interaction design is one of the key success factors. That is why tech companies and startups need skilled UX designers and interaction experts. In this article, we explain what you should study for a career in Interaction Design and other important things.
At its core, Interaction Design is the design of the interaction between users and products. Usually, “product” in this context means software, website or app.
The goal of an Interaction Designer is to create products that enable their users to achieve their goals in the best possible way. To get there, they design concepts for how products are used, and help developers implement them, perhaps even by programming some code themselves. Some of their work may be rough visual designs, like sketches; some of it may happen on a theoretical level, for example defining the order of certain user actions, and relate them to the expectation of the user. Interaction Design involves a lot of different disciplines.
Ultimately, as an Interaction Designer, you will be responsible for the user-friendliness of a product. And that is a very versatile job!
To be exact, Interaction Design is one component within what is commonly called User Experience Design (UX Design). UX Design describes a wide range of activities, all with the goal to manage the overall experience of a user with a product; usually in a tech context, and most commonly for websites and mobile apps. These tasks include: conducting user research (i.e. researching who the users are or might be), defining user personas (fictional users that best represent the actual user base), performing user tests and usability tests and many other things.
Within that scope, Interaction Design explicitly refers to designing the actual interactions of the users with the product. That is still a broad definition and can imply concepts, sketches, graphic designs and other means. But everything an Interaction Designer does revolves around improving the way users interact with a product.
However, the exact definitions and distinctions may actually vary from company to company. And most study programmes in the field teach the skills and knowledge you would need for either role, meaning you would be prepared for different types of roles.
As a graduate coming into an Interaction Design job, you will be expected to have a good grasp of graphic design, interface design and related topics. You should have a feeling for the characteristics of good (and bad) design choices. And you should be aware of good design practices in the niche in which you will be working. For example, if you choose to work for a company that makes a music or multimedia app, you should know Spotify, Youtube etc. inside-out.
In the “soft skills” category, it is important that you know how to work and communicate with a range of different people in different functions.
Yes and no - it depends: On the one hand, since this profession is so new, it has attracted graduates and experts from related fields, including Graphic Designers, Computer Science and Software Development (especially Frontend Development), and even graduates from Psychology and other social sciences. What you do as an Interaction Designer is linked to many different fields; if you are an expert at one of those, you are equipped to become good at the other skills that are necessary. It just may take some hands-on experience to get you there.
On the other hand, the dire need for experts in UX, UI and Interaction design has sparked study programmes that very explicitly prepare for the job. Essentially, those Bachelor and Master programmes will become the typical path for a career as an Interaction Designer, even though they are not yet that widespread.
Because the discipline is so new, you will not find too many study programmes that specialise in it. And the names may vary: “UX Design”, “UI Engineering”, “Interface Engineering”, “Software Interface Design” or similar. You should also look for study programmes called “Human-Computer Interaction” or “Human-Machine Interaction”.
One university that stands out is CODE University of Applied Sciences in Berlin: They are a startup themselves and follow a hands-on approach in teaching, where practice is the key priority. They offer a Bachelor’s degree in Interaction Design and during their 3-year programme you get exposure to experts from many well-known tech companies. Better yet: Their modest tuition fee is not due until you have a job after graduation.
In summary, a career in UX/UI Design or Interaction Design offers many advantages: