Professional User Interaction Design

It takes a professional to design good software. As far as system design, I think most people would agree. It takes an experienced programmer or architect to know what is going to work and what isn't.

But when it comes to user interaction design, a surprising number of people think that they can get by without a professional. Many software interfaces are designed by programmers, some by business analysts, and a few by end-users. Most are not designed at all, but just evolve over many iterations of coding and testing.

Alan Cooper has written several books on user interaction design. I highly recommend About Face 2.0, a link to which can be found in the sidebar. He describes user interaction as the whole of a program's behavior from the user's point-of-view. This includes far more than the user interface, which is primarily concerned with how the program looks. So while a visual artist may be a member of a professional user interaction design team, many more disciplines are represented.

User interaction design requires a domain specialist, who understands the problems that the software attempts to solve. This person does not simply bring the existing process to the solution, but evaluates and suggests entirely new solutions to the problem.

User interaction design requires a psychologist who understands how people think. This person ensures that the user's perception of the software is compatible with the way the software solves the problem.

User interaction design requires an ergonomics engineer. This person makes sure that the user is comfortable while using the product. He or she evaluates the user's special needs, such as the environment in which they will be working.

User interaction design also requires someone with experience specifically in software. This person is not a programmer, but rather someone who considers software from the user's perspective. They are abreast of current standards and capabilities, but they can also innovate beyond the norm.

Alan Cooper articulates much clearer than I can the problem with relying upon the wrong people to design software. Check out this video on Channel 9.

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