Invisibility is Our Superpower

When meeting new people, I’m often asked, “So, what do you do?”  I usually throw out various terms like Interaction Design, UI Design, UX — all the while scanning the questioner’s face for a hint of recognition. More often than not, the person politely smiles and nods…and then asks, “What’s that?”  Once I finish explaining the particulars of interaction design, I’m often met with “Oh, I didn’t know that was a specific job.”

A colleague recently pointed me to an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing David Zweig’s book (“Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion”) about professions that are mostly “invisible” — e.g., anesthesiologists, fact-checkers, translators — that is, their work, when done well, goes largely unnoticed by the public. This got me thinking that this is exactly what we strive to do as interaction designers. We design interactions that aren’t unnecessarily showy, but are so seamless and integral to the product that they just feel right. It’s a tenet that users notice interaction design only when it is done poorly, or when it wasn’t considered at all.

And yet — as the WSJ article points out — purposefully dedicating oneself to working in a largely unrecognized milieu is anachronistic in this age of relentless self-promotion. If our best work doesn’t loudly toot its own horn, how do we convince prospective clients that we are good at what we do?

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