My Take on the Difference Between IxD and UX

April 21st, 2011 § 0 comments

I’m on a roll. 2 posts in 2 days!

After my ramble yesterday, I started thinking about User Experience and Interaction Design and why there’s so much confusion around the two terms. I mean, if you’re part of “the community” you know the arguments have been happening for years involving some really smart people. I have basically stayed out of it because internal discussions waste time. That said, last night walking home I had a thought.

IMHO, User Experience is not a design discipline it’s about strategic values. The concept behind User Experience is an attempt by some amazing designers, researchers, usability professionals, and strategists to get companies to pay attention to how people perceive and engage with their products and services. Every product or service that has ever had anyone use it has a least one user experience. User experiences can be fun, good, bad, ugly, evil, and boring. The deliverables of user experiences tend to be measured in adjectives (Note: if you’ve nailed your product design, the quality of your user experience can be measured by successful business goals like revenue or customer lifetime value, etc.). In the digital space, creating successful experiences involves everything from brand strategy, research, business/product strategy, copy writing, feature development, visual design, Interaction Design, to your social media strategy. This is why in my previous post, I said that UX must be part of your company’s culture. Paying attention to how people interact with and perceive your products and services is everyone’s job. Think of creating brand equity through quality experiences not just through visual design, marketing, and advertising – a pretty important shift from old school Madison Ave thinking.

Interaction Design or IxD, is a design discipline focused on the idea that human motivations and behavior can be understood, manipulated, and measured. Conceptually it’s a change in design philosophy from being materialistic and introverted to being behavior based and extraverted. I like to think of IxD being verb driven, it’s about eliciting actions (sometimes inaction), while most other design disciplines tend to be noun driven. Deliverables of IxD are behaviors. IxD tends to be misunderstood by most folks to the point of being confused with Information Architecture, Usability, and Interactive Design. Plainly it’s tough for many people to wrap their heads around the idea that there are designers whose job it is to manipulate them, and that the skills needed to do it have been abstracted almost to the point of being media agnostic. Much like doctors, Interaction Designers can use their skills for good or for evil. Oscar Wilde said, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” I believe the same thing can be said for interaction designs. The “morality” of which is measured in the User Experience not the quality of the interaction.

Obviously there’s overlap between UX and IxD. The way I think of it is that UX is strategic, while IxD is tactical. A company focused on creating a specific UX absolutely needs to employ Interaction Design to achieve their goals. That said, there are a lot of other pieces needed to complete the UX puzzle. This in no way diminishes the role of the Interaction Designer, in fact a company with UX at it’s core should create an environment where Interaction Designers are in leadership positions. They are the best equipped to help your UX focused company elicit desired behaviors from your product’s users.


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