Getting Started in Interface Design – Your Thoughts?

Jared Spool

December 14th, 2007

Lucy wrote us:

How can I learn to do what you do? Specifically, I am in awe of the courses and conferences your offer, and your site confirms that interface design is what I want to do in my second career. However, everything seems to presuppose a general background in programming, web site design, etc., i.e. it all appears to focus on upgrading skills and knowledge, not on teaching the basics of such design. (It also seems focused, to a certain extent, on designers working within business organizations.)

As a humble lay person with some applicable knowledge (but not much), confidence that I’d be good at this, and a desire to work in a consulting capacity, can you share any wisdom on how to start? As a point of information, I am located in Baltimore, MD, but am willing to travel some to get what I need.

I replied with this quick set of starting points:


I’d check out Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think.

Also, Designing Interfaces.

You might also check out Boxes and Arrows.

I’d sign up to be on the Interaction Design discussion list.

And the UTest list.

Bentley College has an interesting program.

Also, there’s interesting stuff happening in your backyard at the University of Baltimore.

What would you recommend Lucy check out?

6 Responses to “Getting Started in Interface Design – Your Thoughts?”

  1. Sarven Capadisli Says:

    I think starting by understanding the nature of your information and how to best provide that to your users will lead you to various multi-disciplinary fields. For example if you want your users to experience some sort of emotions using colours can lead you into learning more about colour theory and psychology. How deep are you willing to go?

    I personally don’t think there are any starting points, in fact just about anywhere will do. Interesting and useful things happen when you connect and/or map one information onto another.

    For instance, even starting with microformats will help you understand your own content and how that fits into various, already established formats and models like calendars, vcards, date/time formats, visible/invisible data, indexing, cross-referencing, relationships and so on.

    I think most of the UX sub-fields is an ongoing process of learning, refining and applying the information that we gather.

  2. L.A. King Says:

    As Jared mentioned, the University of Baltimore offers a Masters of Science in Information Architecture and Interaction Design. As a graduate of the program, I highly recommend it for someone looking to make the move to one of the many disciplines in the user centered design process. I was a chef for 10 years, and then I got my Masters degree there. After working in a transitional job during school, I am now working for a major consulting company doing user experience work. The program has a good balance of both theory and real world project experiences.

    The program also has electives in web design and programming, so background in that is not a requirement. Since you live in Baltimore, you should make an appointment with Nancy Kaplan the program director. I’m sure she would be more than happy to discuss the options offered there.

  3. links for 2007-12-16 | Ed Tech Hacks Says:

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  4. Steven Pautz Says:

    In addition to all of those books and such, I’d recommend you immediately start saving copies/screenshots/whatever of every design-related artifact or project you work on. Even if it’s not actual design work, save EVERYTHING because you can always discuss/analyze/etc it later in a portfolio.

    I started out by reading books/blogs/IxDA and getting a Master’s degree, and now I’m finding that, although those things were very valuable for personal growth, they aren’t much help for landing a UI or IxD job (at least not with my meager experience). Being able to show wireframes/mockups/etc is far more valuable than being able to talk about them — at least to most employers, it seems. =)

  5. Wilf Says:

    I can’t praise Steve Krug’s “Don’t make me think” enough. It really is a great starting point to web usability.

    I think the wonderful thing about this field of work is that we are all qualified to work in it since we all use stuff. From kitchen equipment to cars to stereos to garden equipment to powertools to web sites and beyond.. we all have an opinion of what works and why.

    I started in the field of UI design by building websites that did a little more than just presenting data. In fact that was a huge voyage of discovery for me since I realised quite quickly that web usability is all about data.
    The whole concept that is Web 2.0 was spawned from the way we use, view and manipulate data.

    The future of web usability I’m sure will see great leaps forward in how we retrieve and display our data. I think a common pitfall of budding UI designers must be to crank up Photoshop and get clever with CSS. Whilst these are important steps I think it’s worth while getting a grip of the numerous methods of playing with data before you dive headlong in to visual design.

    In this sense a book on Information Architecture is probably a sound investment.

    A healthy interest in Psychology is probably also useful :)

  6. Paul Irish Says:

    Steven Pautz is on point here. You can pick up ideas and theory from books, but there are two things that will really drive your aptitude in this area: 1) doing work 2) validating that work with users

    Start wireframing and paper prototyping.. tools like Axure will help make clickable prototypes really quickly. (Powerpoint can also do much of the same). Then get some users to work through your design and pay attention to what they’re doing (not saying). This should drive an iterative design process which makes your rethink a lot of your original design decisions. Then you’ll be learning and creating better work.

    Also reach out to anyone doing this work freelance and ask to collaborate on a project they’re working on.

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