Why Learn Interface Design?

by February 12, 2004

One of the first things I discuss with students in my interface design classes is "why learn interface design?" I try to make two points. The first concerns the need for quality interface designs. Automobile manufacturers are putting displays in the dashboards of cars, online sales rose 29% last year, kids are learning math, science, and more on personal computers. In other words, displays are available in more places, used by more people, and have more responsibility than ever before. As Stephen Johnson puts it:

"The most dynamic and innovative region of the modern world reveals itself to us only through the anonymous middlemen of interface design."

The second point speaks to the inter-disciplinary nature of interface design. During the Renaissance, artists were engineers. But as we moved forward, the "assembly line" model that heralded the industrial age, carried over to people. Specialization thrived. You were either an artist or an engineer. Now enter the personal computer. The same interface (desktop metaphor and all) allows you to be an accountant (Excel and VisiCalc), an artist (Photoshop and Illustrator), and an engineer. And nowhere is this "renaissance" opportunity more available than in interface design. Psychology, Aesthetics, Human Factors, Computer Science, Anthropology, Library Sciences, and more are all part of the equation.

Gerd Waloszek discusses whether Interface Design is a science, an art, or a craft and comes to the conclusion that: "It's a craft that takes its wisdom from science, its inspiration from art and the design disciplines, its possibilities and limitations from software technology and corporate culture, and its directions - ideally - from the users."