I get this question all the time. I usually rotate through a variety of responses or share what I’m currently working on for a real-world example. I use to make beautiful images using photos, graphics and typography (or as my grandfather says, ‘graphics designs’). I still practice visual design from time to time. I’ve also been known to build World Wide Web sites.
The team I’m with today is working to show and communicate what we do. Not only for ourselves, but also to the world. And it’s kind of a tough task articulating what (as an experience design group) we do. And at the same what I (as an interaction design professional / consultant) do.
I read a couple things lately (Simon Rucker’s How good designers think, Nussbaum’s Beach Reading — Design and Innovation, Norman’s Filling Much Needed Holes), mashed some of their thoughts together with my own activities as of late. And came up with a set of qualities (5) and abilities (5) that I believe designers must possess to do what they do (of course, if you know me this is a given, I also critically analyzed what I must possess to do what I do).
1. Have child-like curiosity – enjoy observing the world around you
2. Be ‘T’ shaped – have broad experience, but deep knowledge/experience/passion/skill in something
3. Live in the future – think beyond the present conditions, technology or reality
4. Share knowledge – don’t hoard what you know, sharing encourages others to share too
5. Be good – have pure intentions in research, knowledge, and what you do
1. Research – understand the unmet needs and desires of people
2. Synthesis – articulate findings into a plan of action, strategy, or opportunity space for design
3. Rapid Prototype – make tangible things fast (by making something, even a crumby post-it note paper prototype, you open up a different part of your mind)
4. Evaluate – is this experience desirable (to the user), feasible (technology sake), and viable (for business sake)?
5. Validate – take prototypes or ideas back to those you’re serving – does it work for them?
You’re probably still asking, “wait, what do you do?“.
Truth is, the result of my (our) work really does vary. Design solutions may emerge as a new business process, service, user interface, mobile app, office layout, or job family. To simplify my contribution, I’d say, “I communicate experiences and possibility through prototypes and stories“. And overall I believe much of what I do everyday hinges on validation – does this experience help the people we intend to serve? And although validation may be more of a process than an ability, it takes a little different mindset to say, “I’m not making this for myself”.