Conversations, engagements and embodiments. Let me explain further…
Conversations are central to what we do as interaction designers: staging necessary and significant dialogues with the stakeholders & teammates as well as with the product’s users via the “It” that is being designed (an interface, a piece of software, a mobile device, a branded service, an organizational system, etc.). That thing is the mediator of a behavioral relationship between people, a conveyance of social/philo/political/emotional values via the visual, structural, and behavioral facets of the “It”. Conversations, especially those truly memorable, rewarding and influential ones, are framed by a narrative or story that adds rich context, and thus helping to create valuable, and hopefully enduring, meaning. As interaction designers we define behavior, and shape meaning. Conversations serve as the vehicle for that to happen, which are mediated by artifacts and outputs we may create.
Engagements are the product encounters themselves, the actual using of “It” to act in some way or achieve a goal or perform a task, etc. I use this word engagement in particular because it suggests something deep, committed, profound, and very significant personally, like a wedding engagement. As you play around with a product, feeling out the controls and responses, interpreting what does what and for whatever reason, you are cultivating a relationship, in effect “getting to know each other” seeing if there’s a good fit, an appropriateness for the immediate situation. And all of this–here’s the magic, the real phenomenal beauty of it–transpires literally in just seconds through the powerful neuro/physio/cognitive abilities of our minds and bodies and senses.
Embodiments are the manifestations of a designer’s ideas into some perceptible form that can be engaged with on various levels, thus enabling the rich meaningful storied conversation to happen, and hopefully cultivate a shift in that person’s attitudes and behaviors for the better– a renewed outlook, a completed task, a sense of accomplishment, whatever it may be. The embodiment can be an interface, a kiosk, a mobile device, a wayfinding system, a set of packaging, blueprint for a new service, etc. The blend of visual (graphics, icons, colors, textures), behavioral (type, click, flick, rotate, twist, drag, shake, speak, etc.) and structural (navigation, orientation, semantics, etc.) takes shape in the embodiment and basically constitutes the “It” to contend with, and how meaning emerges, via the “consummate doing and undergoings”, as John Dewey would say. (riffing from Dewey’s Art as Experience)
So if we accept that IxD is deep down about these three fundamental, core elements then I think we can have very productive debates about the future of IxD and its applicability in other areas such as services, policies, social change, ecological well-being, thus identifying new areas of opportunity for the skilled, talented, well-intentioned interaction designer.