There’s a great debate on the IxDA list regarding what interaction designers can actually do. This is an issue I’ve been pondering, and it’s interesting that the people I agree with are CMU IxD alums—Jeff Howard and Jack Moffet (where is Dan Saffer?).

The gist of the argument is that interaction designers cannot design for all behavior in all contexts. I disagree, but wanted to capture some of the sentiments because the dichotomy is important to recognize for those who do understand, practice, and embrace the full potential of interaction design.

It seems very obvious to me that IxD is not this gigantic omnipotent super god of touchy feely humanity stuff that you and some other visionaries make it out to be. —Jeff White

Perhaps not a “gigantic omnipotent super god” but certainly much more than I believe most practicing interaction designers make it out to be. There are too many so-called interaction designers that simply practice interface design and software design, and do not recognize or even comprehend the potential of interaction design in on any interaction—technology based or otherwise.

From my point of view if all you’re actually doing is UI design or software design or interactive design that’s fine. The world needs those skills. The more the better. But don’t co-opt the term Interaction Design unless you’re serious about recognizing a meaningful distinction.

Interaction Design isn’t just a grandiose buzzword you can use to make more money at your old gig. Defining it down as UI design or software design or… usability testing is more damaging to the discipline than any so called “diluting” of the discipline through an embrace of its potential.

I feel like most of the time the IxDA could be renamed the Interface Design Association without anyone even noticing, much less caring. —Jeff Howard

I sometimes wonder if those who study HCI and then call themselves interaction designers are not also diluting the field. How can we be recognized as having skills that can be applied to any design problem that involves interaction when the majority of interaction design jobs involve websites and software and are practiced by people whom believe this is the extend of the discipline?

If IxD is really about designing any type of process, thing, product, etc that involves any level or type of human interaction, I want to know, because I have lots of reading to do, and lots of waiting for subject matters to respond to me. —Jeff White

I, naturally, advised that Jeff start reading. But what does it take to truly understand interaction design? I have the luxury of graduate study within a school of design that strongly believes interaction design to be more than software and interface design. Can one simply start reading? Is it a mindset? A belief? Faith? Confidence? Experience?

I realize that my view of interaction design is not the norm. There are those who share my view, but we are greatly outnumbered. I worry about practicing interaction design after CMU, and the continuing struggle between what I sometimes feel are true interaction designers and those who merely call themselves interaction designers. Is this an egotistical viewpoint?

What is the difference between interaction design and design? Name me a design discipline that does not evoke some element of interaction—fashion, interior, architecture, graphic, etc. All have interaction involved in them at some level, but they are still very well formalized disciplines and practices in their own right. There are also whole schools of system design that have formalized that practice. But why then is interaction design the parent of all of these? B/c they all contain interactions?

You’ve basically drawn that interaction design is design which I find to be an arrogance and a hubris which affords us no conversation with those disciplines that have been around for centuries as opposed to us who have only been named in what the mid to late eighties and even then as a part and not as a whole of the puzzle. —Dave Malouf

While studying with Richard Buchanan last year, he often referred to interaction design in such a way that I could not separate it from design. I asked him about this, and he simply erased “interaction” from the whiteboard.