Why we need interaction designers, not Photoshop jockeys

This article came up on my linkdar recently: Future Practice Interview: Bill Scott . (I don’t know why its title is so un-explanatory.)

The interviewer (Lou Rosenfeld) talks to Bill Scott, who heads up “interface engineering” at Netflix.

The $64,491 question

Lou asks the driving question of the interview (from my viewpoint, anyway): “What do engineers wish designers understood?”

And the answer is a longish bulleted list (go ahead—go read the interview), but heading up at number 1, Bill answers:

The site is dynamic. Photoshop is static—the site is not. The site is dynamic in content, layout and interaction. It’s too easy to forget all of the details that come about when users get involved. But engineers end up having to fill in the gap where the designer has not accounted for all of these dynamic concerns.

This explains a lot.

I have to say, I’ve used Netflix and loved it, and the UI has always been a puzzle to me because the rest of the business is so very well-engineered.

Customer service is great. The concept is fantastic. The logistics of the operation are top-notch. I love that they had a huge prize for discovering better recommendation algorithms.

But that system where you “rearrange your queue” by entering arbitrary numbers into text boxes next to each item comes to mind whenver I think of their UI.

In short, their web interface has always felt bad, and now I know why:

They don’t have interaction designers.

They have regular, static media (e.g. print) designers who have been glommed on.

Considering some of the other bits in the interview, it sounds like they have come from the advertising world.

That explains an awful lot of the way the Netflix app feels.

The best way to fill in the gaps is to not have gaps to begin with

It’s absolutely true what Bill says, that “engineers end up having to fill in the gap where the designer has not accounted for all of these dynamic concerns.”

But the answer to that problem is not better group communication, but to have the interactions designed by people who understand interaction design.


  1. Hey Amy, the link to Bill Scott’s interview didn’t linkify properly. And it’s definitely an interesting read!

    I agree with you, though, that interaction design, not simply better communication, helps bridge this gap.

    The web is a new medium. We’re still trying to understand all of its properties.

  2. Victor says:


    Here’s the link (assuming comments are allowed to have links)…

    <a href="http://www.rosenfeldmedia.com/announcements/2009/02/futurepracticeinterview_bill.php">Interview with Bill Scott</a>

  3. Douglas says:

    I face this issue every day in the place where I work. I sit in the engineering side of the divide, and have just managed to sneak in some attention of interaction design, under the guise of "usability". A handful of other people in the engineering bracket (just because they write any code) would also be better labelled as interaction or front-end developers.

    The problem is: what’s the tactical way around the situation where you have a group of graphic designers for the web who would call themselves web designers but don’t concern themselves with the full remit of that which is web design? It isn’t like these people aren’t talented at what they do, and I don’t wish to step on anyone’s toes. At the same time, I think a lot of our blind spots are there because our web designers aren’t, really, web designers!

    Any thoughts?

  4. Chris says:


    If only bad designs threw 500 errors like when we make mistakes, but the problem is it’s hard to quantify skill at such a position. It’s an uphill battle for sure, and I think it’s alluded to a little here where a disconnect on this level will yield 6 meetings/reviews where a solid foundation would have only needed 2, wasting lots of time across many groups. It’s unfortunate to say about colleagues, but at the end of the day I see no other solution than to find someone more qualified.

  5. QuickWeaver says:

    This is quite interesting and is everyday story at most of the design agencies which cannot afford or do not have someone to specially take care of usability or in simple words, knows design, server side programming and client side programming (or at-least the limitations of all)

    What makes it $64,491 question?

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