Pixels and specs: you gotta deliver

While as designers we may wax poetically about the grand, noble ambitions of interaction design and user experience (shaping an integrated product strategy, cultivating a humanistic value system, advancing co-creative participatory processes and humanizing technologies, etc.) — for much of which our business/technology peers may express puzzlement or at least mild curiosity — the fact is that at the end of the day, a designer of digital products/services/systems is charged with a very basic (and important) responsibility: crafting the pixels that comprise the product’s UI and writing the specs that ensure accurate implementation for release. The designer has to deliver something of tangible value, to enable forward progress of the product’s development, and to be held accountable for it within the mundane yet necessary machinery of organizational rigor/process/bureaucracy.

Pixels and specs encompass the rigorous and necessary details that make a proposed product “real”, not just an ephemeral concept or elusive dream. The core challenge is to persist and translate the seductive vitality of those initial sense impressions of the “cool concept” or “breakthrough strategy” all the way deep down into the craft-production details, amidst what is assuredly a traumatic maelstrom of politics, bureaucracy, naysaying, broken schedules, under-budgeting, and rampant organizational dysfunctionality (hey, it’s just par for course, right?).

More than mundane requisite deliverables, they are yet further, vital touchpoints for shaping the overall design conversation with the product team and users…later stage moments part of that continuum of making the conceptual real.

But if you can articulate and drive the pixels (buttons, icons, type, colors, effects/animations, etc.) — even through the 37th iteration towards perfection — and subsequently document all that effectively, accurately, simply to your team, then you have achieved a major milestone as an interaction designer…moving from instigator and mediator towards enabler and builder…ultimately a creator crafting the most important aspects of a product’s fruition.

At the end of the day, despite the commonly repeated statements that IxD “isn’t about cosmetics, pixel-pushing, and button placement”, it’s the specs and pixels that define your value as a designer of the digital. You just have to deliver.

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