Interaction Design: Industrial or Communication, which training dominates?

At the Carnegie Mellon Design career fair last week I made up the statistic that 10-20% of communication design (CD) students switch to industrial design (ID) post graduation compared to 50-60% of ID students who switch to CD or interaction design (UIX). After much discussion to this general observation, I found the training involved in the ID field compared to UIX to be the issue.

The structure of Carnegie Mellon’s academic program and possible misrepresentation of ID and CD aside, I believe the UIX field is more closely related to traditional industrial design rather than communication design. My defense for this statement is based on the number of dimensions involved with the two subsets of design. In its most basic form, graphic design is a flat media with a ‘transmit only’ interaction with a user. Industrial design on the other hand requires active engagement on the part of the user. This is true for complex systems and machinery and simple products such as doors, windows, and chairs. This added engagement is complicated by the constraints of physics, human limitations, materials and so on. The questions how does the back of a TV feel when navigating blind, how do I instinctively grab the right non with confidence are questions industrial designers face within the systems they develop.

This complexity is what makes ID and UIX so tightly knit to each other. In UIX physical constraints are compounded with technological needs ad limitations. The methodology taught in industrial design programs creates a model of approaching problems that analyzes the full system from observation to engagement to fulfillment. Not to belittle graphic design, but I feel much of this work is based more on direct communication of information and less on manipulating it. Still important, communication within interactive media is only successful if the engagement is a pleasant well thought out experience.

So what does this mean for the field of UIX? As I have said before, I have a background in ID and Interaction design. I relate to and work most in interaction design, information architecture, an usability. I still need to work with graphic designers on final design treatment and styling. So one is by no means better than the other. Being said I believe it is easier for industrial designers to make the leap to the user experience and interaction role than graphic designers to make that switch. This is however, based on self reflection and completely made up statistics.

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