Digital product design

This is something that has come up a few times while working at Involution Studios with Andrei and my other colleagues: Is what we do “digital product design”, melding the arts of interaction, interface, and information design with a good dose of programming and business savvy. Hmm…

I must confess, I really like this label as it breaks away from solely “making websites” but gets closer to the heart of the challenges we face at the studio (and surely others in design firms around the world), struggling to design & build functional, viable, desirable software/applications/devices that are inherently digital (pixel-based, internet-driven, computer) and enable specific human tasks/goals/activities, like writing a message, editing a spreadsheet, sharing photos or buying music online…with some commercial purpose as well, of course.

Digital product design in my view is more substantive of a label, more holistic and encompassing, speaks to the product-based nature of what is being made, with a complex array of features/functions/actions with sophisticated back-end engineering required to make it all actually work in real-time for real people. Also it suggests that we are indeed the digital/pixel/code equivalents of traditional product and industrial design professionals, just as rigorous and demanding and perhaps even more complicated as digital/physical devices become more popular (what’s known at frogdesign as “convergent design”, with embedded digital controls or screens, like the award-winning TurboChef).

Another reason I like this term is that it stands in direct contrast to “people who make websites”, namely the Event Apart folks. I attended one of their traveling roadshows back in June 2007 in Seattle. (read my review here) It was a great time, really an eye-opening experience that exposed me to this sub-culture of sorts focused on the exquisite crafting of damn good websites, fully standards-compliant and beautifully visualized. It’s an intensely passionate crowd focused on this art and discipline, for which I have the greatest respect and admiration! However, I felt a bit empty at the event, mainly because issues of interaction, application, or software design were not addressed explicitly and seemingly out of the scope of “people who make websites”. That is certainly their prerogative. However, I do think that making the deliberate decision to avoid tackling such critical issues (at the personal or community level) may be a career-limiting move downstream, as more content websites take on transactional, application-like interactive qualities, which Bob Baxley analyzes in his articles and book. Just a thought.

Maybe we’ll all be called “digital product designers” in a few years…! :-)

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