Monday, April 28, 2008

What is Design? (Yes, all 10 definitions!)

What the term "design" means to different people ...

"When the term design is used it can mean many things, depending on who you are and which conversation you are having. Rarely do people stop to compare 'mental maps' and clarify which type of design they are talking about!

I believe this has to do with the multiple definitions of design and the lack of awareness of each specific type of design, its function and timing in a process. The other factor being how familiar you are with "design" based on your past experiences with different design roles.

Here are some examples of conversations I have and hear frequently that cause to stop and ask "What type of design are we talking here?":

* "We'll take care of that when we get to design"
* "That's something the designer will have to figure out..."
* "We're starting design now..."
* "We're bringing in a designer..."
* "Here are some early design concepts..."
* "This will be decided by the designer"
* "Have you started design yet?"
* "Why are these designs in Latin?"
* "The design looks great!"
* "This isn't the final design, we'll get to that later..."

Since the word "design" means many things to many people, let's define design as seen from a usability consultant's perspective.

Design for the Mind

Design that impacts cognitive processes (fit to the mind) including interpreting and understanding the experience.

#1 User Interface Design: Screen layout and design that focuses on user interactions and screen behaviors. User Interface (UI) design is an important component of user-centered and task-oriented design. The focus of UI Design is to improve the “user experience” or usability of the design. Since the mid 1980's, UI design has refined an understanding of human behavior and screen design. Also called "GUI" design, often confused for combined design and programming (see this post). UI Design is often seen as symbolic of green-screen era interfaces or coding, since developers used to be UI Designers before it was recognized that this was a special skill set...

#2 Information Architecture: Skeleton mock-ups or "wireframes" of screen interactions, layout, navigation and features. Used to review, concept and test initial functionality. Information Architecture (IA) is officially unrecognized by academic institutions, because it overlaps too closely with the already existing field of UI Design above. Few realize that IA was invented for commercial purposes originally by Argus Associates in the late 90's, (Rosenfeld & Morville, yes, the polar bear book guys) to promote consulting and book sales, as revealed by former employee Keith Instone at his 'alphabet soup' talk a few years ago in Portland, Oregon.

#3 Interaction Design: Focuses on how the user interacts with a page, application or product. Interaction design follows a task centered design approach ensuring the flow of the interaction as the central goal. Interaction design predates the Web world, and finds its roots in the wider field of Human Computer Interaction. Interaction design is a more general umbrella that many working on Web 2.0 interfaces and web applications prefer, since IA appears stuck in web-page centric paradigms.

Sanity check: Are the three design disciplines above different? Not really, their goals are all the same."    (Continued via Demystifying Usability)    [Usability Resources]

Diagraming Design - Usability, User Interface Design

Diagraming Design

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