Adaptive Path recently hosted a brown bag lunch with Jeremy Yuille regarding interaction design education. I skirted up from my Nokia office a few blocks away to take advantage of AP’s open invitation. It took me a while to realize that Jeremy is on the IxDA board, and that I had met him at the IxDA conference last February during a discussion about future IxDA conferences.

Jeremy is also Program Manager at ACID, Digital Media Coordinator at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Communication Design, Interaction Designer at overt.creation, according to LinkedIn. And he is working on a PhD in design, which was the impetus for coming to AP to talk about interaction design. To paraphrase, he wanted to talk to industry stakeholders before making claims about interaction design as an academic.

For an hour, the group—six folks from AP, Dani Malik, who heads the San Francisco IxDA chapter, and me—shared our backgrounds and experience as designers. An overarching theme of the discussion was why formal design education is or is not important for interaction design. With the speed of which interaction design has gained relevance over the past few decades, and with many interaction designers having not been formally trained, the question deserves exploration.

Most of the participants had some form of design or art background—three of us had gone to Carnegie Mellon University. We talked about the value of crits, learning to both give and taken constructive criticism, working in teams with people from various backgrounds, and gaining an understanding that design is not a yes/no question. Other points included the importance of typography and composition, attention to detail, being able to explore, tinker, and play.

We also briefly touched on the boundaries of interaction design through a discussion on what we tell other people when asked what we do. I went off on my usual tirade of not wanting to call myself an interaction designer due to the associations many people have with interaction design and the web or software or even all things digital (interaction design can have nothing to do with digital). Jared Cole, a fellow CMU alum who also participated, stated his insistence on simply being called a designer. I too now simply tell people I’m a designer at Nokia, rather than imply any specialization.

Undoubtedly, web design, or UI design, are specializations within interaction design. But the boundaries are either much broader or endless, and we have only begun to push at them. This is something I learned through design education, a perspective that industry has yet to fully gain.

Overall, I enjoyed the discussion. Given that we ran over time and seemed to have a lot more to say, it seemed the other participants found the conversation engaging and worthwhile as well. It was good to begin having the discussion outside the walls of academia, and I look forward to Jeremy’s thoughts on the matter.