To begin to understand IA/UX/UI, you have to start from a broader scope, and that is Interaction Design. Per the IxDA (Interaction Design Association), Interaction Design defines the structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services they use--from computers and mobile devices to appliances and beyond.

Hmmm...sound familiar? Does your team create advertising, applications, direct mail, communications, content, events, packaging, products, promotions, signage, and/or surveys that involve end users, customers, target audiences? Whether the end user is external from your company or the company itself, chances are the answer is yes.

Many of you, like myself, have worked as Creative Directors, Art Directors, Designers or Communication Experts and have used your expertise in each and every project, which included Information Architecture, User Experience and User Interface Design, but back then we just called it "good design." Any successful communication, media or product we worked on ALWAYS included IA/UX/UI best practices. We are really problem solvers: designers who focus on problems, synthesize information and gather knowledge to achieve a solution for the benefit of a USER. Unfortunately with the new categorization of these skills, team members are often siloed from one another, which makes it difficult to facilitate productive workflows and bring projects to a fruitful end. Therefore I thought it would be helpful to demystify some of the "new terminology" and break it down into real world applications in which many of you are already quite familiar.

Interaction Design focuses on a person NOT the technology.
You are utilizing Interaction & Experience Design whether you are designing...

  • a candy dispenser in the shape of a tube so toddlers can hold it and open & close it with ease,
  • a medical device that fits in your back pocket to encourage young people with diabetes to check their blood sugar,
  • a cell phone with bigger buttons, numbers and screen display so senior citizens can actually use it,
  • a coupon to be cut out of an FSI ad (Free Standing Insert) or the QR Code (Quick Response) to be scanned with a smartphone and presented to the cashier for savings, or
  • the back of a cereal box with glorious games so you eat your way through a honeycombed breakfast with dreams of adventures to be continued online.

Each of these variations of Interaction & Experience Design require the expertise of a good designer who is sometimes called an Information Architect, User Experience Designer or User Interface Designer. And sometimes that person can be a combination of all three, often with traditional art and design education and experiences.

Remember: Interaction Design is about people, how they feel, what they know and what they do... and in the end what they WANT to do. But wait, there's more...

Depending on the complexity of a project, the list of skill sets to meet the needs and the nuances of each Interaction Experience can be quite expansive. Below are just a few of the keywords used when looking for someone associated with IA/UX/UI:
Demystifying IA/UX/UISo what is it all these people actually "do?" Well, I bet if you sat down with your pen and pencil, stylus and tablet or laptop and read through the descriptions below, you could list projects you have already completed that have attributes of one, two, if not all three areas of IA/UX/UI... and that will give you good insight into what it is these people do.

Information Architecture "The Art and Science of Organizing and Labeling"
In 1976 Richard Saul Wurman, an architect, graphic designer and graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, coined the IA phrase in response to the large amount of information generated in contemporary society. Wurman is also the creating founder of the well-known TED conference and continues to contribute to the creative field today.

Information Architecture focuses on systems that people use and requires:

  • Understanding how things influence one another
  • Viewing problems as part of an overall system
  • Focusing on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect

User Experience "Don't Make Me Think"
"We're testing a web site that we're working on to see what it's like for actual people to use it. I want to make it clear right away that we're testing the site, not you. You can't do anything wrong here. In fact, this is probably the one place today where you don't have to worry about making mistakes." ~ Excerpt from Usability Script by Steve Krug

User Experience focuses on people and how they use systems and things:

  • Everything Counts: Copy, graphics, layout, flow and speed, etc.,
  • Design Effects Experience: From adding small design elements to vague messaging
  • Interactions Are More Than Digital: Brand, website, call center, advertising, product, wayfinding, etc., etc.

User Interface Design "Know Your User"
"Learn about your users' goals, skills, experience and what they need. Obsess over customers; when given the choice between obsessing over competitors or customers, always obsess over customers. Start with customers and work backward." ~ Jeff Bezos

User Interface Design focuses on user experience to make the user's
interaction simple and efficient:

  • User Analysis: Analysis of the potential users' system
  • Information Architecture: Development of the process and/or information flow of a system
  • Usability Testing: Testing of prototypes on an actual user Graphic Design: The look and feel of the final graphical user interface (GUI)

Were you able to list projects your team has created utilizing areas of IA/UX/UI? Were you surprised to see you have been implementing these practices all along? Do you have a better idea of who it is you need to transition or add to your team? Is there a missing piece in your process that would improve not only every single project you have worked on in the past, but also for all projects in your future? My guess is you will answer yes to at least one of these questions.

To learn more about IA/UX/UI just type it in your browser search window... the resources available to you are endless. Once you start poking around you will ultimately find none of this is mystery at all.

Charles and Ray Eames are among the most important American designers of this century. Through their vast body of work and the multitude of designers that came before us, you can see that IA/UX/UI has been with us for a very, very, very long time.

"I came to design through architecture, Ray came to design through painting..."
~ Charles Eames

"I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette."
~ Ray Eames