In Review: NOLA Design Educators Conference “Preparing Graphic Design Students for Interaction Design Work” Panel

In October, at the New Orleans AIGA Design Educators Conference, I moderated a panel entitled “Preparing Graphic Design Students for Interaction Design Work”. The panel topic arose in large part because of continued questions about the relationship of Interaction Design to my home program, Visual Communication Design. I teach Visual Communication Design in the Division of Design at the University of Washington, Seattle. The Division offers a Bachelor of Design degree in VCD, Interaction Design (IxD) and Industrial Design (ID). Students in all three programs can take a few shared courses at the sophomore year. But up until recently, classes at the junior and senior level across all three majors have mostly been separate. There are clear differences between what the IxD and VCD majors do both in class and after graduation. The VCD majors are largely concerned with form and problem solving in the digital space (think apps, websites, visual design for the screen, all involving typography and formal exploration) while the Interaction Designers are working with scenarios, systems thinking and new ideas where inventive formal solutions aren’t necessarily the main outcome or objective. There is no criticism here (graduates from both the IxD and VCD programs have plenty of employment opportunities) but I do wonder about the relationship of the two disciplines. Should they merge? What role do VCD graduates have within the IxD profession? What skills should they be learning in order to function in this space? Does form play any part in the IxD world or will VCD majors be just seen as visual designers (i.e. cake decorators) while IxD are the bakers/thinkers? What is Interaction Design anyway?

Enter the esteemed panelists, from three very different programs. Jennifer Bernstein is an Assistant Professor in the Visual Arts (Graphic Design) program at Rutgers-Newark and a partner at Level Inc in New York City. Dan Boyarski, a long time educator at Carnegie Mellon University, has taught Interaction Design for a number of years and recently revamped the curriculum at CMU. And Sarah Lowe is an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee who teaches a class on Interaction Design for Visual Communication Design students. Her program are housed within a Fine Arts program.

They answered a series of questions about their programs and shared their definitions of Interaction Design. The final presentation can be found here: NOLAEducator_IxDPanel. While no one offered a silver bullet (I doubt there is one) with regard to teaching the two disciplines, the panelists encouraged educators to integrate the principles of IxD into existing VCD classes (rather than separate them out), to consider starting small by just offering a class or two (if you have the capacity to do so), and, when the time comes to build up the IxD offering, hire people with the necessary skills to teach Interaction Design.

The panelists were thoughtful and deliberate in their responses. Their contact information can be found on the last page of the PDF. I encourage you to connect with them if you have any questions about their content or their respective programs. And of course, as you build your own IxD offering, we welcome your comments and feedback below. I expect this is the beginning of a number of discussions between educators across the country, many of whom are looking for ways to bring Interaction Design into their own graphic design programs.


By Annabelle Gould
Published December 30, 2015
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