LOOP: AIGA Journal of Interaction Design Education
June 2003 Number 7
Interface Design in Seven Weeks
Immersion in Interface at the Institute of Design
|Marc Rettig |
During the spring of 2001, the author conducted a seven-week interface design course at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design. The course used design projects to lead students to make detailed inquiries into the broad field of interface design and to spark reflection on process.
In the first project, students designed and built a paper mockup of an interface for a fast-food menu kiosk. They completed it in a week then tested, refined and retested the design during the second week. This article features a collage of the resulting prototypes and examples of issues that arose during the work.
The second project asked students to choose one of three narrow but common interface design challenges: searching, comparing or list-making. Students first conducted qualitative user research and created information and task models. The results guided students’ designs, several of which appear in this article.
The author considered the class a success considering its brevity, thanks largely to the students themselves but also to the learn-by-doing approach and general power of the methods and models.
nterface design is a huge topic and seven weeks is a short amount
of time to learn it.
In spring 2001, my class at the Institute
of Design in Chicago (part of the Illinois Institute of Technology) was
faced with that challenge. Given the short time, any trimming of material
seemed arbitrary. Should the focus be on standard controls and issues
for desktop applications? The web? What about important topics for emerging
challenges like mobile devices and physical interfaces?
I based my approach for this class on a
faith in learning-by-doing and a feeling that students would quickly start
to care about the right kinds of details if they were faced with real
design problems. A thorough but dry survey of issues, topics and principles
seemed likely to generate little more than short-term awareness without
building long-term skills. The plan for the course was built on the following
- Toss em in the deep endconfront students
quickly with realistic design challenges.
- Trim scope to fit the classs title, but maintain
realism. At the Institute of Design, students receive a lot of instruction
in strategic, user-centered design methods: user research, translating
research into design concepts, thinking about new media and interactive
products and so on. This class was a chance to focus on just interface.
Tactical nitty-gritty. Controls. Affordances. Feedback. Layout. Wording.
We pretended that the product strategy was already in place and the
process had already proceeded nicely to the point of designing the actual
interface. It was time to get down to details.
- Emphasize methods and tools for a broad range of problems.
Give students an approach which helps them work on details regardless
of technology or business context. Give them the heart of interface
design, and assume they can go read about specific topics when the time
What follows is the classs story illustrated by student
Marc Rettig is an interaction design consultant
and educator whose high-profile career spans over 20 years. He is currently
a visiting professor in the Graduate School of Design at Carnegie Mellon
University and an adjunct faculty member at the Institute of Design, IIT.
At the same time, he maintains an active consulting practice.
Marc has held influential roles in a number
of corporate, academic, editorial and start-up efforts. As chief experience
officer at HannaHodge, Marc oversaw the firm's user-centered process,
team culture and research initiatives. Prior to this, Marc was a Director
of User Experience at Cambridge Technology Partners. As principal conceptual
designer of products for DKA, a Chicago-based web start-up, he invented
numerous interface and product concepts for web publishing. Marc also
served as performance support design lead in Andersen Consulting's advanced
technologies group. Marc is active on corporate and organizational advisory
boards. He participated in the formative stages of the AIGA Experience
Design SIG and is a founding member of the advisory board for CMPs