How could interaction design and photography be related?


I got an email this morning from someone asking about the possible connections between photography (a passion of his) and the interaction design he was studying at uni. Specifically, he asked: “What is your own personal opinion that (sic) connection between photography and interaction design?”

I thought I’d share my response here to try and kick off some further discussion that might help him get some better answers to his question. Please share your thoughts too!

Here’s my response to his initial email:
[INDENT][I]Hi Chris,

I studied cinematography, which I guess is really just photography in motion, and it has given me a great background for design, especially in user experience design (which I see as a superset of interaction design) because of the collaborative nature of the projects, a predominant focus on the audience’s perspective, and the way creative/technical outcomes need to be carried through to completion. These things could be true for both cinematography and UX, but seem less obvious in photography.

At a stretch, I guess you could say photography and interaction design (IxD) also share the language and psychology of visual communication, but that is still a pretty broad generalisation. For example, I don’t think you could expect a person skilled in photography to have many applied skills in IxD; the technical applications are too different - optics vs software tools. The aptitude or soft-skills might have some crossover, but that’s getting pretty broad too.

Photography can certainly be used in a technical role to document things visually, but most of the time it is used towards the artistic end of the spectrum. And conversely, IxD is not really an art - design conventions and cognitive science play much more of a role than free visual expression for the purpose of provoking a response. Although having said that, architecture is considered an art, and possibly has some things in common with IxD. However, in general, I’d be careful of confusing visual UI design with true interaction design.

A closer comparison might be possible when considering game design interactions? Or an IxD project where elements were purely visual (without any explicit text or symbols)? You could also use photography during ethnographic research for an IxD project.

Otherwise, these people might have something useful to add:

I hope that helps,



[I]Or an IxD project where elements were purely visual (without any explicit text or symbols)? You could also use photography during ethnographic research for an IxD project.[/I]

I agree with this angle (hahahaha[I])[/I]

Ok seriously…

I believe photography transcends images and visual elements. It’s about capturing and communicating a moment. I feel that when a user connects with a beautifully usable UI that too is a moment. It draws you in and captures you and doesn’t let go. It’s about developing those emotional connections.

Think about why people take photographs. We do it to communicate - either to someone else or our future selves. We do it so we don’t lose that moment.

That’s how I see it.