Helsingfors Series XII: 7 questions to an IxDer

Today we´re asking John Evans to give us an overview about what´s his point of view about Interaction Design (yes, here we talk a little bit about that…).

John is a Strategic, Service & Interaction Designer working for Nokia. He´s also the founder of Multitouch, a Helsinki based company that manufactures table- and wall-sized multitouch displays.

Let´s go to the questions! Hi John!

Juan Leal (J.L.)
Please, give us a short description about yourself.

John Evans (J.E.)

My stock answer for the past few years has been that I am a Strategic,
Service & Interaction Designer. I currently work for Nokia in a
strategic projects team with people like Jan Chipchase and Julian
. I also happen to be one of three founders at MultiTouch which
is based in Helsinki.

When did you start working as an IxD?


I guess my first commercial gig was back in 1999 whilst I still
studying in the UK, but it was just a small project for an agency in
Cardiff. They asked me to create some email campaign using Shockwave
(these were the days before Flash could do things like stream audio or
had a decent scripting engine).

What I would consider my first real IxD job was a year later when I
did some work for Ragdoll, the company behind Teletubbes et al. in the
UK. I remember that gig well, I got to work with a lecturer from the
RCA in London and it was the first thing I did where we had real
budgets and a longer term view of what we were doing. It actually set
much of the tone for the the following decade because it was more
about design strategy and research than a product that would ship in
the next 12 months. I was pleasantly surprised when googling the
project for this interview that this year it finally became a TV show
called Tronji.

We know what are the good things about this job but, what´s the worst thing about what you do?


It would be the preconceptions about what design as a whole actually
does. For some people we are just ‘creatives’ who get all worked up
over what they believe are trivial issues like fonts or a few extra
options in a menu. For these people we just want to make things
‘pretty’ and as such I personally have been labeled the
powerpoint-maker-prettier and the arty-hand-waving-designer.

Changing these preconceptions can take months depending on project
cycles and it can be tough work. Dieter Rams in the Objectified
really gets to the crux of the issue when he says that
there is only one company that really takes design seriously and
leverages it as a tool properly and thats Apple.

Regarding your profession, what are the main differences about what you do here in Finland and the rest of Europe?

Organization wise Finland is such a flat country that everyone and
anyone’s opinion seems to count. As a professional designer I’d like to
think I don’t deal in opinions but rather I make choices based on
research, user needs and the knowledge that comes from tens of
thousands of man hours doing what I do. I’m not saying it’s vastly
different outside of Finland but for example when a choice is made in
the UK that’s that and only someone more senior can change it for good
or bad.

How do you see the future of this profession?


I think people who read this are going to not like my answer on face
value, but I am sure they all know what I am talking about. I believe
IxD as a pure profession is probably a dead end. What ‘interaction
design’ means had changed over the years; for most people today when
they refer to interaction design it’s simply as a synonym for
graphic/ui design. When I was still an aspiring student IxD he scope
of the average person who called themselves an interaction designer
was much broader; it was as much about physical interaction as it was
about visuals.

If we look at the last decade whats happened is that graphic design
has encroaching into IxD becoming broader and morphing somewhat into
UI or ‘digital design’. Industrial designers and software developers
are also coming at IxD from the other end essentially squeezing the
broader definition of IxD into a narrow ever shrinking space in the
middle. This is not a bad thing of course what we are witnessing is a
new industry starting to mature.

The future for those of us who fit the broader definition of IxD lies
somewhere either in creative project management roles, strategic
design roles or more horizontal roles across bigger organizations. In
small organizations it’s as key creatives supported by small agile
teams of engineers and UI/industrial designers.

The real challenge for IxD, or whatever it might be called in a few
years, is how we integrate with the MBA’s of the world to develop not
just good products and services but also creative and disruptive
approaches to new business opportunities. Carving out those roles
isn’t going to be easy but it’s already begun to some degree at places
like Stanford.

Tell us about a colleague that did have an impact on you.

I’d like to be greedy and mention more than one. First Theo Humphries
a really old friend and former business partner of mine. He probably
had the biggest impact on me at university. I secretly aspired to be
as good a designer as him and that drove me pretty hard at the time.
The other two people would be Mika Raento and Tommi Ilmonen, both of
them are the kind of super scarily intelligent people you hope to meet
and work with one day, I got lucky and got to do it twice. It’s been
an honor to work with them both as they really made me realize how
little I actually know.

What’s your most valuable reading on your profession?


I’d say one of the best sources of inspirational material right now is
TED. They can be like a drug and I’m lucky enough to work with people
who have presented at TED. Other than that I’d say there is a wealth
of stuff out there on the web.

Thank you John! It was a pleasure to read your answers.

And have a good trip 😉