The common understanding is that to be successful in today’s digital environment designers need to solve problems while building products that people want and need to use. While that may be the core of it, it’s only the core. There’s so much more to it. When we talk about interaction design, designing software products, and today’s rapidly emerging next-gen experiences, designers now need to think about what it means to learn, to adapt, and to change.
In this episode, Sean and Joe chat with Tim Wood. Tim wears a couple hats these days, one as Professor of Industrial Design and Interactive Design at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the other as Design and User Experience Innovation Lead at Corning Inc. Playing in both sandboxes gives Tim the opportunity to engage in the private sector while peering beyond the horizon through the lens of higher education.
Big ‘D’ Design
The convergence of Tim Wood’s research and professional work are shaking things up, inspiring his students and colleagues to think differently about the role of design in our world. While solving problems remains its primary purpose, the breadth of design’s impact makes defining it an elusive target.
“It’s such a big, amorphous thing,” Tim says. “Design is fundamentally transdisciplinary and influences many other fields. We need to be active learners, to be able to engage in this rapidly changing environment, to develop and create these new types of things that are coming to market.”
Tim speaks of “Big D Design,” a large umbrella that gathers in all the other design disciplines. ‘Big D’ Design is about understanding not just how various methods are applied to solving interesting problems. It’s a new way to perceive the world. “The tools we have at our disposal today make possible this new way of thinking, which brings deep implications in terms of how we think about interfaces and interactions in a digital environment,” he says.
“There’s all kinds of new possibilities, new ways to present that information, to manifest that into our environment, to explore and understand connections between things in very compelling ways because of the new visualization method.”
Breaking Free of Legacy Conventions
This new method is driven forward by the powerful new tools and processing power that deliver rich insight into interfaces and interactions never before possible. We’re able to break the bonds of yesterday’s conventions and experience our world in exciting new ways. The cycle spins faster as momentum builds. And as it does, designers’ eagerness and ability to engage these new interactions open up new opportunities. When we broaden our perspective beyond what is, we begin to imagine what tomorrow’s conventions may be.
“There’s so much conversation around this sort of XR environment, augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality sorts of spaces,” Tim points out, “where we’re not so much limited by these two-dimensional screens or the traditional X-Y kind of matrix going on. The conventions we’re dealing with today are legacy ideas that date back to the 60s and 70s,” Tim adds. “We’re on the cusp of embracing new and emerging spatial computing models that will allow us to manipulate data through physical interaction in space.”
Challenges Yield Opportunities
A new way of seeing the world is not without its own challenges. One of the fundamental challenges facing designers, and interaction designers specifically, is now that we recognize these issues, how do we address them? How do we want to rethink our interactions inside of digital environments with information, with functionality? And what does that really mean?
As today’s technologists wrestle with these issues, radical change will continue. And it speaks back to Tim’s current work. It also presents interesting opportunities for product developers and business leaders who are thinking about these new types of emerging applications.
It’s a really exciting time right now to be a design professional. – Tim Wood
How We Make Users Feel
The more designers can create the tools that relieve users of the decision-making burden – that is, the more we can infer about intent and then execute – the more we can drive toward greater degrees of automation that requires less direct action from the user, Tim says. “Our devices are watching our faces all the time now. So if they’re looking at your face and understanding your emotions – and maybe monitoring your heart rate at the same time – we can capture those data points and begin to really understand the context of what they’re experiencing.”
This idea of how we make somebody feels is really what differentiates the designer from other disciplines. – Tim Wood
“Designers look holistically at the user,” Tim shares. “We study their emotional state, their excitement around a product, whether they love a product or hate a product. This is the space the designer is focused on…. Ultimately, we’re designing products for human beings, and humans are very complex things that live in a very complex environment. Designers are the ones who address all those dimensions in addition to the more tactical executional challenges.”
Don’t Miss Out!
Sean and Joe cover a broad range of topics during their conversation with Tim Wood; be sure to tune in to Episode 14: Taking Product Design Beyond Today’s Conventions and catch all of Tim’s responses to the following questions –
- What is the one trait that truly distinguishes successful designers from others in their field?
- Why is it important for all parties – developers, product managers, and other stakeholders – to understand the nature of an experience before diving in to build that experience?
- How do you do product development on a limited budget? Tim discusses some methods and techniques that bring more information, more context, more detail into the project to create better experiences for your users.