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November 12, 2001

Why is interaction design important?

I was on the launch team that helped develop teaching and research programmes for Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. One outcome was the following statement, which was written collaboratively with Gillian Crampton Smith’s team in Ivrea.

* Interaction design determines how people interact with computers and communications. This is an issue of profound economic and cultural importance.
* Interaction design determines the value of a communication service to its users, and the quality of experience they have when using it.
* Computers and networks are transforming every aspect of our lives. As networks converge, almost everything we use, or do, involves some kind of interaction. There are interactions between us and the system, or between one object and another. Interaction design shapes the kind of experience we have when this takes place.
* The world is already filled with twelve computer chips for every man, woman and child on the planet. By the time today’s five-year-olds leave school, their world will contain thousands of chips for every human being alive. In a world of such complexity, interaction design will influence the kind of life she lives.
* Compared to physical products, communication services are experiences, not things. Interaction design deals with immaterial processes, and with services that adapt to an individual’s needs and preferences. This is a completely new kind of design.
* Interaction design also reveals the new business models that are needed to deliver these services and experiences.
* Very few universities and design schools in the whole world specialise in this vital subject. Interaction Ivrea is in a position to drive innovation, and shape the agenda, for this key question of our age.

We also put these slogans all around the building for its opening in 2000:
* Collaborative innovation: shaping technology with the people who use it.
* From the era of devices, to the era of service and flow
* Interacting with all our senses - at home, at work, on the move.
* Between an airport, and a monastery - a hub as well as a hive
* A connected community - linking people, places and ideas.
* A new approach to innovation
* For the convergence of culture, technology and business
* Stimulate debate. Provoke reaction. Change agendas.
* Combining the depths of the old economy, with the energy of the new.
* In the tradition of Olivetti, with the strengths of Italy

Communication services of tomorrow
Designing new ways to connect – with family, friends, lovers, and colleagues. Adding new qualities to the communication services we know today. Creating new value through richer and more variedforms of interaction.

Interaction qualities
Interactions when you hear, and taste, and see, and touch, and feel. Interactions when smart technology is everywhere – but not in your face. Interactions that are playful, intuitive, and moving, surprising, and fun. Interactions of quality.

People and their culture
From the worship of technology, to a culture of community and communication. From a fetish for devices, to an aesthetic of service and flow. From a focus on needs, to services that delight and inspire. That are closer to poetry, than to plumbing.

Posted by John Thackara at November 12, 2001 09:11 PM


To a degree, I agree with what you've said, but your narrative begs the question "Might these innovations in interactive design perpetuate more problems than solutions?" The idea that our culture 'worships technology,' as you said, makes me think that adding yet another new type of technology may not necessarily make things better. The intention is an admirable one, and I love the phrase '...closer to poetry than plumbing,' but if the intent is not recognized by the general public for whom this technology is being created, might they not simply end up using poetry as veritable toilet paper for all the other types of technological 'plumbing?' I want so badly to believe that this is the solution that we've been waiting for to get our heads up and looking at the people and the world around us, rather than our computer screens and smart phones and mp3 players, but I can't help but feel that you're giving us, as global culture too much credit. In one way, this may be a first step to turn us around, but if it is not properly implemented in a way that the world sees the beauty behind the technology, and not just the technology itself, it may be reduced to being yet another pipe in the world's plumbing. I hope and pray that all that you've said comes to pass as you have planned. It is a beautiful sentiment, and I wish you the best of luck.

Posted by: Chelsea J. Trotman at October 15, 2008 11:57 PM

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