Interaction Engineers are becoming increasingly important in web development. The reason is that building a user interface on the web has become more demanding from both a technical and an interaction design standpoint. Here, an interdisciplinary skill set is very valuable. Interaction Engineers bring this skill set to the table.
I never heard of an Interaction Engineer-- what is it?
You may have heard of the roles UI developer, UX developer, UX engineer, or something similar. They are all similar terms for a role that combines web development and interaction design. We decided to stick with Interaction Engineer: someone who engineers — meaning, designs & programs — user interaction.
An Interaction Engineer brings together several skills that are important to having a successful web development process: experience with evolving technologies, prototyping, optimizing performance and motion design. They should be involved from the start of the project, because some of the decisions they make can influence interaction and visual design, and the software development choices for the entire project.
If you’re lucky, an Interaction Engineer is already part of your team— you just don’t know it yet. At De Voorhoede, I am a front-end developer who can take the role of an Interaction Engineer in a project.
1. Experience with evolving web technologies
The web is evolving fast and new technologies are always on the rise. iBeacons, service workers, webRTC, WebGL, push notifications and all kinds of API’s that allow access to native hardware via web applications. They all have great possibilities but also have their limitations. Besides, they sometimes require additional user interaction, like accepting a website’s request to be able to send push notifications. Interaction Engineers use their knowledge of these web technologies to solve design problems.
2. Ability to prototype
Designers design for a browser, but most of the time not in the browser. To close this gap, any interaction design should be prototyped in the browser early to see how it feels and looks. It’s not uncommon for an interaction pattern to feel solid on desktop computers, but break on mobile or tablet screens. Interaction Engineers can quickly iterate with a prototype because they can switch between interaction design and writing front-end code.
3. Eye for performance optimisation
If you have a performance budget for your site or application (and you should), then you need to design for performance. An Interaction Engineer knows how performance is influenced by various design decisions and interaction patterns. They can often come up with less impactful alternatives that give the user the best experience.
4. Translate motion design to browser animation
Animation is an important aspect of the user experience. I can’t say it better than Google:
Animation can be used to describe spatial relationships, functionality, and intention with beauty and fluidity.
Animation in the browser can be a technical challenge. It has its limitations — mostly depending on browser abilities — and can have influence on how a component should be built. Therefore, animation should be included in the code base from the beginning. It needs to be prototyped and tweaked in the browser, preferably together with a motion designer, so as to improve the user experience instead of just being ‘sugar’.