Product Design Speak 101: What is an Interactionary?

by Montie Roland, Montie Design

Morrisville – Last week, I had the honor of being selected as a judge for an Interactionary Design Competition held by the Triangle chapter of the Usability Professionals Association ( According to Scott Berkun (, an interactionary is

an experiment in design education. The idea is to explode the process of design by forcing insane time constraints, and asking teams of designers to work together in front of a live audience. From what weve seen, it forces the discussion of design process, teamwork, and organization, and asks important questions about how designers do what they do.



The event was a lot of fun and helped the participants (and maybe even the audience) sharpen their design skills. The event began with a keynote presentation from Anthony D. Hall. Hall is responsible for making sure that the website is easily usable by a worldwide audience. He spoke from the perspective of a usability professional who has a staff of researchers and developers whose only job is to make a website (with millions of pages) easier to use.

The Interactionary was driven by three teams and a panel of judges. The teams had ten minutes to design an interface to a voting booth. There was a twist however. The interface had to allow the user to find out more information about each candidate before voting. The interface also had to allow the voter to change his vote if the candidate that he voted for was not currently in the lead. The event started with first team being introduced to the design requirements. They were then give ten minutes to find a solution. During those ten minutes they were encouraged to do user research by polling the audience. They then had two minutes to present their solution and answer questions from the judges. We (the judges) rated the team on teamwork, approach / process, and the validity of their design. This continued until all of the teams had an opportunity to create a new interface based on the criteria.

This event didn’t teach the team members, or the audience, how to design. Instead it helped them sharpen their design skills. By creating an absurdly constrained situation, the format of the event forced the team members to act in a bold way, while having fun. Design is about pushing the boundaries and talking bold risks. Events like this make design fun. They make it easier for all to stay passionate about design. That passion gets translated into better products and services. When that happens, everyone wins.

The pictures from the event are at:

Montie Roland is President of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild. You can reach Montie by email at:

Design Speak 101: Defining a Product Champion

The product development world, just like other industries, has its own language. One example of this ?product speak? is the term product champion. Many products (and most of the very successful products) are driven by the vision of one person, or a small group of people. We call these people ?product champions?.
Product champions drive new products to market through experience, use of available resources, drive, determination and vision. They have a vision for a product. They work with others around them to push that product out to the market. This new product can be an extension of existing products in a existing company. The vision may be bolder and push an existing company in a direction.

A good example of a new direction for an existing company is the Apple iPod. Apple is a computer company that struck out into the personal entertainment industry. The biggest leap is when a product champion has to build a new company around a new-to-world product. When that vision incorporates technology and design practices from two or more industries (what we call cross-pollination) the opportunity exists for a truly disruptive product. Disruptive products change the marketplace and can propel a manufacturer to a position of market leader.

Product developers categorize new products into four areas. The first category of product development deals with incremental advances. An example, is a company that makes 42-inch plasma televisions decides to create a 44-inch model. Generally, these products make incremental, or evolutionary, leaps forward in technology or design.

The next area is a class of products that are based on existing products, but make revolutionary leaps in the state of the technology or the design approach. These products can dramatically affect an entire industry and drive market share to new heights, or help a company establish a presence in a market space that they werent previously able to penetrate.

Me-too products are designed compete with existing products. These products may be new to company that manufactures them, but they are not new to the market. Me too products generally are designed as direct competitors. They are generally not very innovative in their design.

New-to-world products are exactly what the name implies. These products are often technologically innovative and higher risk. They do not exist in the current marketplace, or they use a technology or a design approach that is not currently available.

The Apple iPod was not a new-to-world product. An existing market space for MP3 players existed for several years before the iPod arrived on the scene. The designers of the iPod combined improvements in four key industries to make the iPod a massive success. Apple improved the state of the basic product by designing the click wheel interface. This interface was a significant improvement over the traditional interface provided by existing manufacturers such as Rio. These advancements were revolutionary in that industry.

Apple went farther by bundling the product with iTunes. iTunes was software product that leveraged Apples core competency with computers to deliver content over the internet. iTunes also made it simple and easy to update the iPods firmware. Previous MP3 players required more-than-average expertise to simply update the firmware. Apple changed the user expectations about how easy it should be to purchase and download music to the player. They also changed the industry by creating users that expected painless firmware updates through iTunes. While the iPod was not a new-to-world product, iTunes was a new-to-world product.

The product champions at Apple had the vision to create a well-integrated product that combined advancements from multiple industries including electronics, audio compression, internet technology, service, and software. The amazing part is that existing manufacturers in the MP3 player market space were concentrating on the player itself and the software to drive the player. At the time the internet was mainly be used a vehicle to move data, but not as an integrated part of the user experience. The product champions at Apple saw an opportunity to cross-pollinate between multiple industries and create a market dominating product.

The RTP Product Development Guild has core philosophy that the most disruptive products come from the cross-pollination of technology and design knowledge from two or more different industries.

Product champions do not necessarily have to have experience from within multiple industries. The key is to have a vision that integrates technologies and practices from multiple industries into a single product. Then you have an opportunity to create the next highly disruptive and highly successful product.