Recently we have seen some amazing new technologies entering the scene of interaction design and HCI. First came the Wii, then the iPhone and apps, and now the Kinect. Just in a few years the technology that can make up the interface of artifacts and systems have radically changed. We are moving into an era of highly physical, tangible, and haptic interfaces while at the same time seeing technology that makes the physical and tangible interfaces disappear.
All these new technologies are radically expanding the design space for interaction design. In the "old" days (just a few years back) almost any kind of interaction was all about the screen, keyboard, and mouse interface on a computer and more than often in relation to the web. Now, the same design includes questions about what device to use (desktops, laptops, iPads, iPhones, cell phones, cars, buildings, environments, appliances) or maybe develop a new special device manifested in any material, shape, and form, and also choices about what interactivity style to use (touch screen, voice, movements, etc).
This development makes interaction design broader, more complex, more technical, less technical, more physical, less physical, less predictable, etc. As if these more technical aspects are not enough, any interaction design also has to include all possible questions about potential social and collaborative aspects, social media, etc.
All this makes any interaction design a daunting task, and a question of systems. Any designer has to struggle with if the design should be intertwined with other artifacts and systems. Any design of a car today has to be done in relation to the design of other digital artifacts, such as, smart phones and iPods. Any building has to be designed from an interaction perspective in relation to all the interactive artifacts that will be hosted or "living" in the house. At the same time, any small device has to be designed to fit the interactive environment it will move around in.
Interaction design is apparently not getting easier. The degrees of freedom is increasing, and so is the number of design choices. Interaction design is not something anymore that can be approached from just one perspective. It is no longer a question if interaction design is a multidisciplinary activity. Interaction design requires a multidisciplinary competence. Of course, this is not a competence that any individual can possess, it can only be a matter of team work.
But, and here is maybe the point, until now it has been possible to have design teams where each member brought his or her own specific competence to the table but did not really participate in the design process. The engineer only made sure that the final design was feasible, the graphic designer only cared about the visual design, etc. With the increasing complexity, all competences about such aspects as interactivity, visuals, functions, structures, information, content, construction, etc. have to be actively involved in the design process. To make this happen requires that everyone who represents a certain competence has to on a fundamental level understand the design process and know how to work in a designerly way.
I find this development to be fascinating and challenging. It will be quite interesting to see what companies will be able to accept the challenge to develop an understanding of what such a designerly approach requires in a real sense and also able to make it happen. It will also be interesting to see what kind of new educational programs will be developed in answer to this challenge.