What is Interaction Design, really? (toward an ultimate definition)

people’s hands working with pens and mobile design concepts

What is Interaction Design, really??

1. Origins: Where did ‘Interaction Design’ come from?

Bill Moggridge (co-founder of IDEO and inventor of the first laptop) who passed away in 2012, and Bill Verplank, are credited with founding the term “Interaction Design” in the mid-80’s (Wikipedia) to extend user interface design into industrial design (physical products). His “Designing Interactions” book offers a historical reflection on the field. His definition:

“ You’d like to create something where the emotional relationship is more satisfying over time…growing a little more fond of things over time” (Moggridge interview).

“To designing for usability, utility, satisfaction, and communicative qualities, we should add a fifth imperative: designing for sociability. When IT systems fail to support the social aspect of work and leisure, when they dehumanize and de-civilize our relationship with each other, they impoverish the rich social web in which we live and operate, essential for both well-being and efficiency”.

Interaction Design book cover 3rd edition by Rogers, Sharp and Preece
Interaction Design book cover- Rogers, Sharp, and Preece

The authors (Rogers, Sharp, and Preece) of the popular and probably best text on Interaction Design, called Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (3rd edition)” noted that HCI focused on design, evaluation, and implementation (basically assessing and correcting usability). Instead, they define Interaction Design as involving four key activities, starting with identifying user needs:

2. Why is the term ‘Information Architecture’ no longer widely used?

Side-story: The term “IA” was created for UX Consulting purposes by Rosenfeld (yes, the UX book publisher) and colleagues who started with their O’Reilly book — Information Architecture — and consulting firm. That admission comes from a former employee who was crucial in shaping the practice beyond the founders. Due to that book and the need for leveraging structure in strategic design, IA was all the craze during the Dot Com era. I was even refused an interview with User Centered Design on my resume: “Change it to Information Architecture, then send it back to me”, said the Silicon Valley recruiter.

3. How is Interaction Design typically thought of?

“The practice of designing interactive digital products, environments, systems, and services.”

Alan Cooper: Father of Visual Basic and ‘inventor’ of personas.

Using the term “interactive” confuses things! This is why I don’t think you should never call Interaction Design “Interactive Design”: The reason is, interactions reference human behavior, wherein industry, ‘Interactive’ is a term marketing and ad agencies (interactive agencies) or Graphic Designers once used to describe interactivity on a website, such as the now-dead Flash. Flash? Think too many motion graphics, videos, or animations. Making something ‘interactive’ is not the same as designing deliberate Interactions. Okay, we’re getting into semantics, but if you do this for a living, it’s important.

“Interaction Design (IxD) defines the structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond”.

Dan Saffer
Gillian Smith at whiteboard

3. Toward a concrete definition: How does Interaction Design come together?

interaction design definition illustrating steps
Poster: An ultimate definition of Interaction Design

Where we start

One of the initial steps to deciding anything for users is to zoom out into the ‘problem space’ of the user. Most teams represent this information as Personas and Journey Maps. However, the source of this evidence is vital. That’s why going out into the field to begin a design process is critical.

Now designing Interactions comes easy

IxD relies on rapid prototyping: For example, ‘wireframes’ are where IxD does its work. Whether whiteboard, PowerPoint, paper, use of improv, or an online mockup, prototypes become the planning tool. Prototypes offer simulations and review of flow, logic and, concepts behind the Interaction Design. Documenting these design decisions is especially crucial for governance, Inclusive Design, and transparency efforts.

Frank Spillers CEO Experience Dynamics

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