Like many of you, I was delighted to find an Amazon Kindle Fire sitting on my desk a few weeks ago, when it was first released. My delight was heightened by the fact that I hadn't actually bought it. The Fire belonged to another Robert in frog's New York studio, Robert Curtis, who was more than happy to unbox the product with me so that we could both get a sense of the quality of that crucial "first" user experience with the product. Lest there be any doubt as to whose Fire it was, the screen immediately displayed a personal message: "Hello Robert Curtis. Welcome to Kindle Fire" (even though it was not yet connected to our Wi-Fi network).
I just got back from Vancouver IxDA. Had a great time but seem to have kicked up a bit of a controversy by declaring that, as interaction designers, our medium is not technology – it's behavior. I must admit to a certain amount of surprise at the strong response, and I appreciate the immediate back up from my cohort, Jon Kolko (you can see my slides - mostly visuals - here). It is very interesting to me that this statement would seem controversial, even novel in this community. And I think it says a lot about the state of our discipline.
There is universal acceptance of a holistic approach to human centered design within this community – generally referred to as 'experience design' (not my preferred term). This approach considers all of the contexts surrounding use and then tries to build a unified interaction model to support user needs over time, across these contexts. It focuses not just on expressed needs but on those that are unexpressed: the emotions, motivations, and desires that shape user engagement over time. In fact, more and more of our clients are looking for our help in identifying these latent, unmet needs. So, it is interesting to find designers who are very comfortable, in fact insistent, on this holistic approach and yet spooked by the idea that we are in the 'behavior business'.
I strongly believe that interaction design is central to solving the major issues facing our society today (this is probably no surprise coming from an Interaction Designer). Large scale challenges like the environment and healthcare can only be addressed if we can positively influence personal behavior on a large scale in a sustainable way. Our work on Project Masiluleke, for example, is focused on motivating young men in South Africa to test earlier for HIV, before they are symptomatic. According to a recent article in the NYTimes a new mathematical model developed by the WHO suggests that the AIDS virus could be virtually eliminated if people tested earlier (before they have symptoms) and are immediately put on ARV's: "Whether this could work in practice is problematic. It is not clear how one could persuade people who are not feeling sick to get tested every year."
Behavior change is at the core of good interaction design, particularly when you design for social impact (this has also been referred to as 'Decision Architecture'). If I was starting an Interaction Design program (like Liz Danzico at SVA) or taking one over (like David Malouf at SCAD) the one academic subject I would be sure to cover is Behavioral Economics.