Interaction design focuses on creating engaging interfaces with well thought out users behaviors. By able to understanding how users and technology relationship with each other is fundamental to this field. A Designer can anticipate how someone might interact with the product, fix problems early, as well as invent a new ways of doing things.
With the increasing penetration of the Internet, the advent of home and leisure computing, and eventually the emergence of digital interactive consumer products, the two cultures of design and engineering gravitated towards a common interest in discretionary use and user experience. Towards the turn of the century, the notion of interaction design started to gain in popularity as a way to acknowledge a more designerly approach to the topic – going beyond pure utility and efficiency to consider also aesthetic qualities of use, for example.
Since then, a plethora of professional practices, academic study programs, literature, networks and venues have formed under the umbrella of interaction design. It goes without saying that there are many different understandings of exactly what interaction design is. I don’t see any real point in surveying all these definitions but instead, I would like to offer a very simple formulation of interaction design, devised to capture the heritage of the term as outlined above and at the same time draw some demarcation lines to indicate potential edges of the field.
It goes like this:
The notion of shaping is used consciously to suggest a designerly activity
“Interaction design is about shaping digital things for people’s use”
This is indeed a simple formulation. However, as we shall see in the following where I discuss one of its elements at a time, it is not entirely without power of discrimination.
1. Design involves changing situations by shaping and de- ploying artifacts
In other words, design is about transformation and the means available for the de- signer to initiate change in a particular situation is ultimately the designed artifact.
For interaction design, this connects to the notion of what the interaction designer designs. I am suggesting the delimitation that interaction designers design digital things – more on this below. What that means for now, how- ever, is that changing a situation by devising and implementing, say, a new political initiative could certainly be viewed as a design act but not an act of interaction design.
2. Design is about exploring possible futures
This seems almost too obvious to point out, but from an academic point of view it might be worth mentioning since it entails a fundamental difference in orientation; analytical and critical studies focus on that which exists, whereas design concerns itself with that which could be. This has epistemological consequences for, e.g., how research is conducted
Exploring possible futures in interaction design often involves inviting the future users in various forms of participation.
Claiming that design entails exploring possible futures also means that activities like user studies and summative evaluations in themselves do not constitute interaction design. However, they are often used within interaction design processes, and arguably it makes sense to consider the larger process including fieldwork, innovation and evaluation as a design process in its entirety – as the
3. Design entails framing the “problem” in parallel with cre- ating possible “solutions”
From the notions of changing situations and exploring possible futures follow the conclusion that when we have designed something, the situation in which it is used is no longer the same. This in turn means that analyzing the existing in order to define a “problem” – that subsequent design should solve – is essentially of lim- ited merit. Exploring possible futures implies not only different “design solutions” but also different “problems.”
A consequence of this characteristic is that traditional systems development and engineering processes, where the aim is to finish descriptive analysis for a requirement specification before creative design begins, are not considered de- signerly processes. This is quite intentional.
4. Design involves thinking through sketching and another tangible representations
When sketching snapshots or aspects of possible futures (such as a not-yet-exist- ing product), the designer is not merely copying images from her inner eye. The drawings are micro-experiments that respond with insights into strengths, weak- nesses and possible changes in a tight loop of thinking that involves the hand, the senses and the mind.
One of them is that when designing innovative interaction techniques, it may be necessary to sketch in software and hardware rather than staying with lo-fi sketching media.
If a particular external representation serves to engage the designer in a conversation about the details and implications of a not-yet-finalized idea, and if it is quick, tentative and truly disposable, then it is a sketch. It could be anything from a napkin drawing to a piece of programming code, perhaps even written in the language that is normally used to build products for delivery – what matters is the purpose and intention.
5. Design addresses instrumental, technical, aesthetical and ethical aspects throughout
Each of the possible futures being explored in a design process introduces con- siderations and tradeoffs in all these dimensions, and there is no obvious way in which they can be sequenced. This holds equally for interaction design: Technical decisions influence the aesthetic qualities of the resulting interaction, instrumen- tal choices on features to offer have ethical repercussions, and so on.
Historically, there has been a tendency in human-computer interaction, usability engineering, and human factors to focus on instrumental and technical aspects. Interaction design as a designerly activity would insist that the aesthetical and ethical qualities can never be ignored or factored out.
For an interaction designer, users are whole people with complex sensibilities and design processes need to be conducted accordingly.