Designers as triathletes?

Recently this past spring the Bay Area held the annual running of the “Escape from Alcatraz” Ironman Triathlon, which some good friends performed and successfully completed. It’s an incredible, arduous experience from the looks of it (and NO, I have zero intention of running it! :-)

But I couldn’t help notice the parallels between that intense competition and the multi-layered tasks of an interaction designer for digital products/services. While those triathletes had to master (and rigorously, strenuously train for weeks! whew) the serial sequence of swimming, bicycling, and then running…a successful software designer should ideally flex their muscles in information architecture (navigation/organization/data modeling), interaction design (behaviors, affordances, feedback loops, flow/states/errors, etc.) and visual design (expressive rendering of content/functionality with color/type/grids/graphics). And perhaps in the order as well. The IA provides the logical underpinnings, thus and is often the toughest to shape and command–stormy seas at work, with politics, functional silos, vague notions of user goals. (Real triathletes will see the parallel to the notorious “sand ladder”, as the brutal transition from abstract models to tough gritty UI issues). The interaction/flow fleshes out the product, which takes some pacing and timing as you struggle to climb up and around thorny sequence and behavior issues. Finally, in the final stretch is the visual style to round out the aesthetics, information display, and communication aspects.

And of course, all this maps to the rhetorical trinity of logos/pathos/ethos and other popular interpretations of designer triads of skills/focus. To perform well (and sustain a level of vigor, passion, drive) designers must constantly train and practice in those three core areas (in addition to business and technology and social/cultural areas–yet another triad of skills needed!)…Are designers really decathletes?? So many skills and knowledge bases needed! But let’s start with three.

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