In this third article in our series, Dogs on Design, writer Sarah F. Cox met Liz Danzico on the Brooklyn Promenade to talk about how interaction design is everywhere, whether you are in front of a computer screen or out walking the dog. Sarah's blogging partner, a fox terrier named Raleigh, stayed home to guard her computer and work on her blog, Raleigh Pop.
Liz Danzico points a finger in the air, makes eye contact with her Vizsla, and lowers her finger, pointing to the ground. The dog, Lucy, obediently drops her hindquarters into the "sit" posture. As Lucy waits for the next command, Liz turns her attention to the Brooklyn Promenade where we stand on a sunny morning, surrounded by runners, walkers, tour groups, kids, strollers, and leashed dogs, most of which—unlike Lucy—pull on their leashes and bark.
"Information is passing us by," says Liz, "that man might be tracking his run with Nike + (iPod sport kit)." She gestures toward the tour group, "they might be using Google maps, or physical maps. And that guy has a camera so those might end up on Flickr. He may be tweeting right now, too." This world of flowing information is the one that Liz, chairperson of the MFA Program in Interaction Design at SVA, inhabits at all times. Now that the lines between design online and in the physical world are disappearing, everything is a design research opportunity and to her; it's all about communication.
Interaction design might sound complicated, but even if you are not Liz; it's already in your life. For a detailed explanation, see David Malouf's article on Core77. For design professionals, Interaction Design means connecting the form of a product to its use and exploring the connections between products, people, and contexts. When we meet, Liz has just returned from UX London, a conference for user experience designers. She saw the conference as an exercise in honing her skills; UX London's participants came to become more disciplined in their practice, the same way dogs have to practice a command to perform it consistently.
Nobody, dog or human, wants a complicated explanation when a simple one will do. Liz uses gestures to communicate with her dog, sparing the words. With her soft voice, it's hard to imagine she's ever yelled at Lucy, and with Lucy's attentiveness, she doesn't need to. Online, Liz prefers to avoid complication and noise and has become a fan of the site Kickstarter. "It's a fairly old concept done in a new way, but they don't have to tell you what it is. There is not a lot of instruction." Kickstarter allows anyone to upload a page for a project that needs donor funding. Users can browse a variety of projects, choosing to "back" the ones they like. If the project becomes fully funded the inventors collect the pledged money, and if it doesn't, the "backers" are off the hook.
Another smart, uncomplicated thing of beauty is Lucy herself. Liz selected the Vizsla after a childhood of dog ownership that spanned 16 dogs, both purebreds and mutts. The Vizsla breed is loyal and smart with an expressive face; Liz claims that after teaching Lucy something three times, the dog internalizes and remembers the command. Lucy is great for the city and Liz's activity level, they've been running together in the mornings for the last eight years, and yet the dog can be sedate enough to lounge around an office of designers all day without causes disruptions, or at least not unwelcomed ones. "Dogs humanize the office.," she explains. "I can be at a total impasse, wrapped up in sending out an email to a client. Then Lucy comes up and licks my arm or gives me a silly look and it reminds me I an human; it's just work."
These days, a lot of Liz's work entails the MFA program, which will graduate its first students in the spring of next year. But the summer isn't for lounging in the park with Lucy, thanks to a summer session that will kick off in July. Which isn't to say that all learning must be in the classroom; Liz has spent some time contemplating what dogs can teach us about design and boiled it down into three points.
1. It's important to know who is in charge. Just like training a pet, a designer need to establish a rapport with clients that mixes trust and expertise.
2. Pay attention to the tail. A dog's tail communicates emotions silently, but it's easy to miss this detail if you are not paying attention. Interaction designers need to be aware of customer data for clues.
3. Keep gestures simple. Complicated hand gesture confuses a dog, and complicated language confuses users. Simplicity is best.
Having walked from one end of the Promenade to the other, we pause and children come up to pet Lucy, who at ten years old still looks lean and muscular. Wanting to test her intelligence, I ask Liz if she has any more tricks. Liz gestures for the "sit" again, and then raises her hand at Lucy's level. The dog "high fives" her back. A job well done.
Read the other articles from Dogs on Design about Russell Flinchum and Khoi Vinh on Core77 and more about Design Critic Sarah F. Cox and her dog on Raleigh Pop.
Images courtesy of Liz Danzico.