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Alan cooper and the quest for quality- interaction design

March 26, 2008

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend a packed IXDA event at San Francisco’s Hot Studio, to listen to Alan Cooper talk about the emerging world of Interaction Design.

It was a fascinating discussion that had so many parallels to the world of planning.

These guys are probably the next generation of planners and instead of briefing creatives- they are briefing and working with programmers.

With the web and technology increasingly becoming an ad/brand/media space, we all know what happens next.

Cooper’s talk revolved around the idea that Interaction Design allows technology companies to inject some quality into their process. The idea is that IDs create the insights, research and smart behavioral understanding create solid blueprints from which to build the first product generation.

Cooper was vocal in his critique of companies who rush products to market, just for the sake of being first. He also touched on the environmental consequences of these actions calling them the “moral equivalent of burning virgin rain forest”.

He used the example of the Archaos MP3 player that beat the iPod to market, but ended up being a massive waste of time. In reality, there’s little technological difference between the iPod and the Archaos, one is just better designed and better thought out from the user perspective. For Cooper, it’s all about behavior, not function.

Cooper placed the blame firmly on the bean counters in their business suits, who are using outdated models and thinking, to try and post rationalize investment decisions. He described them as industrial- age thinkers who are ill equipped to deal with the realities of the post-industrial world. He called programming a post-industrial craft and programmers a real problem for the managers because the programming class is smarter than the management class and the management class has no tools to properly manage the software creation process.

According to Cooper, Interaction Designers are the people who can step into the void, become the friends of the programmers and help facilitate the “joy of craft”

He recommended that companies go into projects understanding that the first version they create will never make it to market and only be used to make a second version that’s superior. The rush to market is perpetuated by the fear the technology will soon be outdated, Cooper thinks this is the wrong yardstick, instead user goals are the ones to watch and they move much slower.

To get there, Cooper suggested a change in the process model with the introduction of 3 phases.

1. Interaction Designers- Decide what needs to be built
2. Designer Engineers- Work out how to build it
3. Production Engineers- Make it

Overall, Cooper’s analysis of the potential of Interaction Design closely mirrored those of the Planner in the ad world. They are like-minded souls who build relationships with the craftspeople and help them make great things. Of course, the caveat for both disciplines is making sure there’s the time to focus on quality.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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