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Through following the work of interaction designers at three San Francisco consultancies, my dissertation asks: What do interaction designers make, and how do they make it?

Download the dissertation (PDF)

Interaction design is a relatively new discipline, separate (though descended) from industrial design, software engineering, and graphic design. Today, interaction designers play an important role in shaping digital technologies used by millions of people around the world. But though interaction design has been the recipient of a great deal of enthusiastic hype as the conduit of “design thinking,” there has been surprisingly little scholarly examination of the profession.

My dissertation project begins with two seemingly simple questions: what do interaction designers produce, and how do they produce it? Answering those questions is harder than it looks. My central argument is that in order to understand how interaction designers shape digital systems, we must supplement a dominant framework – that of “design as thinking” – with a complementary concept of “design as performance.” Through an ethnographic study of projects at three San Francisco interaction design consultancies, my dissertation introduces this concept and explores some of its dimensions.