I’m not a graphic designer

26 March 2008, 13:35

I really enjoy inspired graphic design and typography. Whether on screen or on paper, I appreciate the added value when a master of these crafts has pulled through a bold vision, down to the oh‑so‐important details.

Having a heightened perception of the two crafts, I have read about their theory and techniques during the last twenty years. And I am able to apply some of that, for instance in my presentations, which are not of the ‘force‐fit the powerpoint template’ variety.

at the interface

This perception and knowledge also enables me to work and communicate much better with graphic designers and typographers on my projects. I understand their point of view: it is not about making it look cool, it is not decoration. I talk in their terms about goals and possible solutions.

Which is important since the interaction architecture (making the ‘building’ function) sets the scope and boundaries for their design (the ‘interior,’ so to speak). Both of these have to be up to scratch and made in cooperation, or else the result will be a damp squib.


But I know I am an amateur in graphic design and typography. From Latin: amator, meaning loving these crafts, I must also admit that I am no good at them. Whenever I try, I futz around, endlessly. It has all the symptoms of not being competent: not knowing where to start; no vision and steady direction; and most telling of all: not knowing when I am finished.

I am still ashamed of having made the first business card and first two websites of m+mi works in this way. And have been surprised when professionals had anything nice to say about them. What a relief, when I hired a graphic designer/typographer to work on the current website.

Yes, I still had to do all the interaction architecture work for the website (of course) and the close cooperation takes effort. But getting a typographical system, color system, page designs, logo, patterns and illustrations delivered competently was worth every penny.

In short, I’m not a graphic designer, nor a typographer.

what about you?

I meet quite a few people whose job is interaction designer, interface designer, screen designer, (G)UI designer, user experience designer, web designer, et cetera. And on those occasions there is always something in the air: that we work in the same ballpark, cover the same bases.

Sooner or later this turns out to be not exactly true, more often than not. Over the years I have developed an acid test to see where somebody stands:

‘if you feel that photoshop or GIMP is a vital tool for your design work, then you are not in interaction design, you are in graphic design’
the ps acid test

You don’t agree?

flip that

First of all if you were in user interaction then you would know it is all about structure and pixel‐based applications are simply not conductive towards radical changes of the proportions and order of an interface. It should take five minutes max to do that, not at least half an hour.

You would not dream of using photoshop or GIMP if you had to do actual interaction design with any reasonable efficiency. Makes me wonder about these job ads for the types of designers mentioned above, that not only list a full suite of usability skills, but also full proficiency with the whole CS3 suite.

Between all that usability surveying and graphic design, is there going to be any time left to get some actual interaction design work done?

party like it’s…

Second, if you were in my ballpark, you would know that next‐generation user interaction can be fully created and painstakingly specified using the technology that architects used in 1908. Paper, pencil, a typewriter and gaslight is all it takes. No electricity required.

This is because the most important work of interaction architects is done with our eyes closed—or in my case, staring into infinity.

Realising the product vision with a bold interaction vision; seeing how everything is connected; moulding the flow of a series of activities; taking the point of view of a million users; reducing complexity; reducing clutter: none of that is done in front of a computer screen.

once removed

Not a line I draw ends up on an end‑user screen. Not a word I write is compiled into code. Not a sentence I say instructs users. I draw, write and talk to enable the specialists I work with to excel at what they do and realise inspiring software for my clients.

I’m not a graphic designer, I am an interaction architect.

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GIMP redux: intro

12 March 2008, 11:39

Lately, a couple of things have started to orbit each other:

GIMP UI analysis
This is the current phase of our redesign project. And although a consensus has formed among my team about the gist of it, not having it written down as a coherent system means that no coherent improvement can be made to the GIMP UI. Only with a finished analysis can I drive the roadmap that stops GIMP going the way of the dinosaur.
what’s up?
People have been writing me—thanks btw.—asking when they are going to see the results of the redesign project. Renovating a big application is going to take time. In the meantime, it is a good idea to show where we are going. Our project wiki is a place to see us work, but it is not a great narrative to read.
libre graphics meeting 2008
I was already asked for the topic of this year’s lecture. What could I cover that would advance the deployment of interaction architecture in ‘pro’ graphics applications? And for that matter, advance ‘pro’ graphics applications in general?
the big picture
Last and foremost, a nagging feeling that the long list of meso‐level issues in our rough outline are part of a bigger issue, which has to be addressed first. Not seeing the wood for the trees, I need to helicopter out.

bird’s eye view

So I have set myself a challenge with the title of my libre graphics lecture: ‘GIMP: a new simple interface for a complex application.’ That is the big picture. The GIMP product vision mandates it to be a deep, feature rich application that takes commitment to master.

But at the same time there is plenty of scope to radically cut down the visual noise in the interface, improve user efficiency and increase the room for creativity. Only big steps in these departments will ensure that there is a future for GIMP.

live and let…

I have got two months to prepare for lgm and I will do that right here. In a series of ‘GIMP redux’ articles I will go top‐down through the UI. These blog entries will at the same time pop up in the wiki as chapter seeds. There they will evolve, building up the analysis.

There is room for review and feedback, here in the comments, over on the developer list, or via the brainstorm. That will drive the refinement of the analysis chapters.

So there you go: the big picture of what is going to happen to the GIMP UI will be developed in the next months, in time for the lgm 08. And you will read all about it here.

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