UI design & software: essential skills for Interaction Engineers
What technical and soft skills do interaction engineers need to make it in the world of software creation? We break down the user experience, empathy, adaptability and leadership skills to take you beyond UI design
The lowly interaction engineer is a small fish in a big pond. But with user-centered design creeping into the development and engineering phases of software creation (as we found out in a recent Case Study with Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University) things will soon change. Here we look at the unique set of technical and soft skills of the interaction engineer that makes them an, albeit new, yet no less invaluable addition to the software team.
What makes an engineer an interaction engineer?
First order of business: the technical (hard) skills. Technical skills of both the software and interaction engineer include knowing a programming language, being able to structure code, algorithms and data, and mastering at least one development platform.
But for the interaction engineer, it’s not just about the number of languages you can write. They are required to work on both the design and functionality of user interfaces, software or operating systems, understand user experience and perform user research and testing.
Prototyping solutions is a particularly productive way for interaction engineers to offer up their exclusive skill set.
But what about the soft skills involved? For interaction engineers, interaction is both online and offline. As the guys over at software company Q42 explain, interaction engineers form a bridge between designers and software engineers – improving communication and productivity between the teams. Next, we’ll dig deeper into the soft skills required to be an interaction engineer/unicorn.
Engineering with empathy
‘Most projects fail not because of tech, but because of the team, the “human element.”’ Karim Bishay, Head of admissions at Dev Bootcamp
Engineering with empathy is the future of software engineering. Often, interaction engineers serve as a bridge between the design and development teams. They’ve got the technical skills of an engineer, and the soft skills of a UX designer – a jack of all trades. Some even consider empathy to be the holy grail of UX. With an empathic design approach, designers explore how users behave and how they expect interfaces to work. Why should it be any different for those building off of those designs? It shouldn’t.
Enter the interaction engineer. They’re thinking both in terms of accessibility and empathy in order to provide digital solutions that really tackle the problems users encounter with technology.
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Imagination and resourcefulness
Imagination is the backbone of innovation and of course innovation is what sets software apart from the rest. Whilst software engineers are usually involved in building the solutions that other teams have crafted, interaction engineers are expected to offer solutions as well as develop them. Creativity and critical thinking are the interaction engineer’s inner-designer materializing.
Find out how the interaction engineering students at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University designed innovative solutions to GUI design obstacles, with limited tech resources.
Communication and collaboration
As John Z Sonmez explains in his book ‘Soft Skills: The software developer’s life manual’, coding is usually the ‘fun part’ for software engineers. What they typically lack is the client/peer rapport. Communication skills are a real plus for anyone to have under their belt – but particularly for the interaction engineer.
We often underestimate the importance of communication in the workplace, however it’s an important attribute in any team and a step toward collaboration. Interaction Engineers after often tasked with encouraging dialog between teams to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings. And whilst communication does not necessarily equate to collaboration, without it, there is no feeling of shared responsibility, success or failure – no real sense of teamwork.
Leadership and business sense
Interaction engineers are expected to be leaders of the pack, managing teams and essentially convincing people to do things that they don’t really want to do. Leadership requires earning the trust of your team, taking risks, and assessing and managing the situation when things don’t go as planned.
Working between the design and development teams drives the interaction engineer to think about the bigger picture and how the project is going to pan out. As Sonmez describes in his book, staying productive, and by extension, motivating others to do the same, is a common controversy for software engineers. In contrast, being able to take on responsibility and manage multiple sides of a project means that the interaction engineer needs to have business sense.
Motivating team members and connecting the design and engineering teams allows interaction engineers to contribute to the culture within the organization and makes them an essential part of the fabric of the organization.
‘This ability to switch between detail-oriented tasks and high level design helps us talk to product stakeholders or clients. Ultimately, understanding the needs of the customer, the end user, and the developer puts us in a central role on any team.’ Q42
Adaptability is an essential skill for interaction designers. Not just in terms of being able to respond to unforeseen challenges and moving forward with solutions that they may or may not be on board with, but also responding to surprises that the client throws their way. Clients invariably change their minds and when this happens, it can create chaos. It’s all about being able to compromise, be flexible and finding the best possible solution that everyone agrees with.
How to improve your soft skills
Do you think you’ve got the makings of an interaction engineer? Why not improve your skill set?
Learning soft skills is not easy. But by far the most important skill that an interaction engineer can hope to learn is empathy. Consider the user, always. Consider taking a User Experience e-course either to brush up on your UX skills, or to help you make the user-engineer connection.
Once you’re confident that you have a basic understand of the principles of user experience, try your hand at prototyping solutions with the user in mind. Justinmind’s drag and drop interface is super easy to use – we’ll have you interacting and communicating with your teams in no time!