What is Interaction Design?

Interaction design is a crucial component within the enormous umbrella of user experience (UX) design. In this article, we’ll explain what interaction design is, some useful models of interaction design, also as briefly describe what an interaction designer usually does.

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A simple and useful understanding of interaction design

Interaction design is often understood in simple (but not simplified) terms: it’s the planning of the interaction between users and products. Most often when people mention interaction design, the products tend to be software products like apps or websites. The goal of interaction design is to make products that enable the user to realize their objective(s) within the best way possible.

If this definition sounds broad, that’s because the sector is quite broad: the interaction between a user and a product often involves elements like aesthetics, motion, sound, space, and lots of more. And in fact , each of those elements can involve even more specialized fields, like sound design for the crafting of sounds utilized in user interactions.

As you would possibly already realise, there’s an enormous overlap between interaction design and UX design. After all, UX design is about shaping the experience of employing a product, and most parts of that have involved some interaction between the user and therefore the product. But UX design is quite interaction design: it also involves user research (finding out who the users are within the first place), creating user personas (why, and under what conditions, would they use the product), performing user testing and usefulness testing, etc.

The 5 Extension of interaction design

May be a useful model to know what interaction design involves. Gillian Crampton Smith, an interaction design academic, first introduced the concept of 4 dimensions of an interaction design language, to which Kevin Silver, senior interaction designer at IDEX Laboratories, added the fifth.

1.Extension : Words

Words—especially those used in interactions, like button labels—should be meaningful and simple to understand. They should communicate information to users, but not an excessive amount of information to overwhelm the user.

2 Extension: Visual representations

This concerns graphical elements like images, typography and icons that users interact with. These usually supplement the words wont to communicate information to users.

3 Extension: Physical objects or space

Through what physical objects do users interact with the product? A laptop, with a mouse or touchpad? Or a smartphone, with the user’s fingers? And within what quite physical space does the user do so? For instance, is that the user standing during a crowded train while using the app on a smartphone, or sitting on a desk within the office surfing the website? These all affect the interaction between the user and therefore the product.

4 Extension: Time

While this dimension sounds a touch abstract, it mostly refers to media that changes with time (animation, videos, sounds). Motion and sounds play an important role in giving visual and audio feedback to users’ interactions. Also of concern is that the amount of your time a user spends interacting with the product: can users track their progress, or resume their interaction a while later?

5 Extension: Behaviour

This includes the mechanism of a product: how do users perform actions on the website? How do users operate the product? In other words, it’s how the previous dimensions define the interactions of a product. It also includes the reactions—for instance emotional responses or feedback—of users and therefore the product.

See how 5 Extension of interaction design close within the animation below:

The questions interaction designers Think

How do interaction designers work with the 5 dimensions above to make meaningful interactions? To get an understanding of that, we can look at some important questions interaction designers ask when designing for users, as provided by Usability.gov(2):

What can a user do with their mouse, finger, or stylus to directly interact with the interface? This helps us define the possible user interactions with the product.

What about the looks (colour, shape, size, etc.) gives the user a clue about how it’s going to function? This helps us give users clues about what behaviours are possible.

Do error messages provide how for the user to correct the matter or explain why the error occurred? This lets us anticipate and mitigate errors.

What feedback does a user get once an action is performed? This allows us to ensure that the system provides feedback in a reasonable time after user actions.

Are the interface elements an inexpensive size to interact with? Questions like this helps us think strategically about each element used in the product.

Are familiar or standard formats used? Standard elements and formats are wont to simplify and enhance the learnability of a product.

So what do interaction designers do?

Well, it depends.

For instance, if the corporation is large enough and has huge resources, it’d have separate jobs for UX designers and interaction designers. In a large design team, there could be a UX researcher, an information architect, an interaction designer, and a visible designer, as an example . But for smaller companies and teams, most of the UX design jobs could be done by 1-2 people, who might or won’t have the title of “Interaction Designer”. In any case, here are a number of the tasks interaction designers handle in their daily work:

Design strategy

This is concerned with what the goal(s) of a user are, and successively what interactions are necessary to realize these goals. Depending on the corporate , interaction designers may need to conduct user research to seek out what the goals of the users are before creating a technique that translates that into interactions.

Wireframes and prototypes

This again depends on the work description of the corporate , but most interaction designers are tasked to make wireframes that lay out the interactions within the product. Sometimes, interaction designers may additionally create interactive prototypes and/or high-fidelity prototypes that look exactly just like the actual app or website.

Diving deeper into interaction design

If you’re interested in seeking out more about interaction design, you’ll read Interaction Design – brief intro by Jonas Lowgren, which is a component of our Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. It provides an authoritative introduction to the field, as well as other references where you can learn more.

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