Interaction design is the design of the interaction between users and products. It is a crucial component of user experience (UX) design, which aims to create products that enable users to achieve their objectives in the best way possible.
Interaction design focuses on how users interact with products through various elements such as buttons, menus, icons, sounds, gestures, etc. It also considers how products respond to user actions and provide feedback.
In this article, we will explain what interaction design is in more detail, what its process and principles are, how it benefits users, businesses, and society, and what its future trends and challenges are.
The 5 Dimensions of Interaction Design
One useful way to understand what interaction design involves is to use the model proposed by Gillian Crampton Smith, an academic in the field, and Kevin Silver, a senior interaction designer. They suggested that there are five dimensions of an interaction design language:
- Words: These are the words used in interactions, such as labels, instructions, or error messages. They should be clear, concise, and meaningful.
- Visual representations: These are the graphical elements that users interact with, such as images, icons, typography, or colours. They should supplement the words and communicate information effectively.
- Physical objects or space: These are the physical devices or environments that users use to interact with the product, such as a mouse, a keyboard, a touchscreen, or a VR headset. They should suit the user’s context and preferences.
- Time: This is the duration and frequency of the interaction, as well as the transitions and animations that occur during the interaction. They should be appropriate and engaging.
- Behaviour: This is how the product behaves in response to user actions, as well as how users behave while using the product. They should be predictable and consistent.
The Difference Between Interaction Design and UX Design
Interaction design is often confused with UX design, but they are not the same thing. UX design is a broader term that encompasses all aspects of the user’s experience with a product, including interaction design.
UX design also involves other disciplines such as user research, information architecture, content strategy, visual design, usability testing, and more. Interaction design is one of the core skills of a UX designer, but not the only one.
However, there is a lot of overlap between interaction design and UX design, as both aim to create products that are user-friendly, useful, and enjoyable. Both also require a user-centred approach and an understanding of user needs and behaviours.
The Process of Interaction Design
The process of interaction design is not linear or fixed, but rather iterative and flexible. However, there are some common activities that interaction designers typically perform:
- Establishing requirements: This involves gathering and analysing information about the users, their goals, their tasks, their context, and their problems. This helps to define the scope and objectives of the interaction design project.
- Designing alternatives: This involves generating and exploring different possible solutions for the interaction design problem. This can be done through sketches, wireframes, mockups, prototypes, or other methods.
- Prototyping: This involves creating low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototypes that simulate the interaction design solution. This allows interaction designers to test and refine their ideas before implementing them.
- Evaluating: This involves testing and assessing the interaction design solution with real or potential users. This can be done through usability testing, user feedback, analytics, or other methods. This helps to identify and fix any issues or shortcomings in the interaction design solution.
The process of interaction design is iterative, meaning that interaction designers repeat these activities until they reach a satisfactory outcome. They also collaborate with other stakeholders, such as developers, product managers, or clients, throughout the process.
The Tools and Methods of Interaction Design
Interaction designers use various tools and methods to perform their activities. Some of the common ones are:
- Wireframes: These are simple diagrams that show the layout and structure of the product’s interface. They help to communicate the basic functionality and navigation of the product.
- Sketches: These are quick and rough drawings that show the main features and elements of the product’s interface. They help to generate and explore different ideas for the interaction design solution.
- Mockups: These are more detailed and realistic representations of the product’s interface. They show the colours, fonts, images, icons, and other visual elements of the product.
- Prototypes: These are interactive versions of the product’s interface that simulate its behaviour and functionality. They can be low-fidelity (such as paper prototypes) or high-fidelity (such as digital prototypes). They help to test and refine the interaction design solution with users.
- User research: This is a method of collecting and analysing data about the users, their needs, their behaviours, their preferences, and their feedback. It can be done through surveys, interviews, observations, focus groups, or other methods. It helps to understand the users and their problems better.
- Usability testing: This is a method of evaluating how easy and effective it is for users to use the product. It can be done through lab testing, field testing, remote testing, or other methods. It helps to identify and fix any usability issues or errors in the product.
- User feedback: This is a method of gathering opinions and suggestions from users about the product. It can be done through ratings, reviews, comments, surveys, or other methods. It helps to measure user satisfaction and loyalty with the product.
The Principles of Interaction Design
Interaction design is guided by some general principles that help to ensure a good user experience. Some of the main ones are:
- Consistency: This means that the product’s interface should follow common conventions and standards, as well as maintain a coherent style and tone throughout. This helps users to learn and use the product more easily.
- Visibility: This means that the product’s interface should make all the important options and information visible and accessible to users. This helps users to know what they can do and what is happening with the product.
- Learnability: This means that the product’s interface should be easy to learn and remember for users. This helps users to master the product quickly and efficiently.
- Feedback: This means that the product’s interface should provide clear and timely feedback to users about their actions and the product’s status. This helps users to understand the consequences of their actions and the state of the product.
- Affordance: This means that the product’s interface should use visual cues and clues to indicate how users can interact with it. This helps users to perceive and use the product’s functionality intuitively.
The Examples of Good and Bad Interaction Design
To illustrate how these principles are applied or violated in real products, let’s look at some examples of good and bad interaction design.
- Good example: Google Maps is a web and mobile application that provides maps, directions, and navigation services. It has a consistent and simple interface that follows common conventions and standards. It has a high visibility of options and information, such as search bar, zoom buttons, location icon, etc. It has a high learnability, as users can easily figure out how to use it without much instruction. It has a high feedback, as it provides users with immediate and relevant feedback, such as route suggestions, traffic conditions, distance and time estimates, etc. It has a high affordance, as it uses visual cues and clues, such as colours, icons, shapes, etc., to indicate how users can interact with it.
- Bad example: Snapchat is a mobile application that allows users to send and receive photos and videos that disappear after a few seconds. It has an inconsistent and complex interface that does not follow common conventions and standards. It has a low visibility of options and information, such as filters, stickers, chat, etc. It has a low learnability, as users need to learn many hidden gestures and features that are not obvious or intuitive. It has a low feedback, as it does not provide users with clear and timely feedback, such as confirmation messages, error messages, etc. It has a low affordance, as it does not use visual cues and clues, such as labels, icons, buttons, etc., to indicate how users can interact with it.
The Challenges and Trade-offs of Interaction Design
Interaction design is not an easy or straightforward process. Interaction designers face many challenges and trade-offs when designing products. Some of them are:
- Balancing user needs and business goals: Interaction designers need to consider both the needs and preferences of the users, as well as the goals and constraints of the business. They need to find a way to create products that satisfy both parties without compromising too much on either side.
- Balancing functionality and simplicity: Interaction designers need to consider both the functionality and simplicity of the product’s interface. They need to find a way to provide users with all the features and options they need without overwhelming or confusing them with too many choices or information.
- Balancing innovation and convention: Interaction designers need to consider both the innovation and convention of the product’s interface. They need to find a way to create products that are novel and original without alienating or frustrating users who are used to existing standards or practices.
The Benefits of Interaction Design
Interaction design has many benefits for users, businesses, and society. Some of them are:
- The benefits for users: Interaction design can enhance user satisfaction, engagement, productivity, and loyalty. By creating products that are easy to use, useful, and enjoyable, interaction design can make users feel happy, interested, efficient, and loyal.
- The benefits for businesses: Interaction design can increase sales, retention, referrals, and brand reputation. By creating products that meet user needs and expectations, interaction design can make users more likely to buy, use, recommend, and trust the products.
- The benefits for society: Interaction design can solve problems, improve lives, and create positive change. By creating products that address social or environmental issues or provide social or environmental benefits, interaction design can make users more aware, informed, empowered, and responsible.
The Future of Interaction Design
Interaction design is a dynamic and evolving field that is influenced by many factors such as technology, culture, economy, and politics. Some of the trends and innovations that are shaping the field of interaction design are:
- Artificial intelligence (AI): AI is the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence such as reasoning, learning, decision making, etc. AI can enhance interaction design by providing more personalized, adaptive, and intelligent products that can understand and anticipate user needs and preferences.
- Virtual reality (VR): VR is the simulation of a three-dimensional environment that users can interact with using special devices such as headsets or gloves. VR can enhance interaction design by providing more immersive, realistic, and engaging products that can transport users to different places or situations.
- Augmented reality (AR): AR is the overlay of digital information or objects on the real world that users can interact with using devices such as smartphones or glasses. AR can enhance interaction design by providing more contextual, relevant, and helpful products that can augment users’ reality or experience.
- Voice user interface (VUI): VUI is the interface that allows users to interact with products using voice commands or speech recognition. VUI can enhance interaction design by providing more natural, convenient, and accessible products that can communicate with users using voice.
- Gesture user interface (GUI): GUI is the interface that allows users to interact with products using gestures or body movements. GUI can enhance interaction design by providing more intuitive, expressive, and fun products that can respond to users’ gestures.
The Skills and Competencies of Interaction Designers
Interaction designers need to have a range of skills and competencies to succeed in their field. Some of the essential ones are:
- User research skills: Interaction designers need to be able to conduct user research to understand user needs, behaviours, preferences, and feedback. They need to be able to use various methods such as surveys, interviews, observations, etc., and analyse and interpret the data collected.
- Design thinking skills: Interaction designers need to be able to apply design thinking to solve interaction design problems. They need to be able to empathize with users, define the problem, ideate solutions, prototype and test them, and implement them.
- Visual design skills: Interaction designers need to be able to create visual representations of the product’s interface, such as wireframes, sketches, mockups, or prototypes. They need to be able to use various tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, etc., and apply visual design principles such as colour, typography, layout, etc.
- Communication skills: Interaction designers need to be able to communicate effectively with various stakeholders such as users, clients, developers, product managers, etc. They need to be able to present their ideas clearly and persuasively, listen and respond to feedback constructively, and collaborate and coordinate with others.
The Opportunities and Challenges for Interaction Designers
Interaction designers have many opportunities and challenges in their field. Some of them are:
- Opportunities: Interaction designers have many opportunities to create products that can make a difference in people’s lives. They can work on various domains such as education, healthcare, entertainment, social media, etc., and create products that can educate, heal, entertain, and connect, etc., users. They can also work on various platforms such as web, mobile, wearable, etc., and create products that can reach and serve a wide range of users.
- Challenges: Interaction designers also face many challenges in their field. They have to deal with complex and changing user needs and expectations, as well as business goals and constraints. They have to keep up with the rapid and constant development of technology and innovation. They have to balance between creativity and usability, as well as innovation and convention. They have to cope with the high demand and competition in the market.
Examples of interaction design benefits
To provide enough evidence or examples to support the claims or recommendations on interaction design, you can use some of the following sources and information:
- To support the claim that interaction design can enhance user satisfaction, engagement, productivity, and loyalty, you can use the example of Slack, a popular collaboration platform that uses interaction design to create a simple, intuitive, and fun interface that allows users to communicate, share, and work together effectively. You can cite the statistics that show that Slack users report an average 32% increase in productivity, 48.6% reduction in internal email, and 80.4% increase in transparency within teams.
- To support the claim that interaction design can increase sales, retention, referrals, and brand reputation, you can use the example of Airbnb, a leading online marketplace for lodging and tourism. You can cite the case study that shows how Airbnb used interaction design to improve its search and booking experience, resulting in a 2x increase in conversions, a 10% increase in retention, a 30% increase in referrals, and a 5-star rating from 70% of guests .
- To support the claim that interaction design can solve problems, improve lives, and create positive change, you can use the example of Duolingo, a free language-learning platform that uses interaction design to create a gamified, personalized, and adaptive learning experience that motivates users to learn new languages. You can cite the research that shows that Duolingo users can learn a language equivalent to one university semester in just 34 hours, and that Duolingo has helped millions of people around the world access education and opportunities.
Interaction design evolution
Multi-touch is a type of interaction design that allows users to interact with products using multiple fingers or gestures on a touch-sensitive surface. Multi-touch has evolved from previous models or releases of touch-based interfaces that only allowed single-point or stylus-based interactions. Multi-touch provides improvements such as more natural, intuitive, and expressive interactions, more functionality and flexibility, and more user engagement and satisfaction. Multi-touch also addresses issues such as limited screen space, lack of feedback, and low accuracy and precision. Multi-touch can help users in making a purchase decision by allowing them to explore products in more detail, compare products more easily, and customize products more creatively.
Voice user interface (VUI):
VUI is a type of interaction design that allows users to interact with products using voice commands or speech recognition. VUI has evolved from previous models or releases of voice-based interfaces that only allowed simple or predefined commands, had low accuracy or reliability, or required special hardware or software. VUI provides improvements such as more natural, convenient, and accessible interactions, more functionality and intelligence, and more user trust and confidence. VUI also addresses issues such as visual or physical limitations, complex or tedious tasks, and noisy or crowded environments. VUI can help users in making a purchase decision by allowing them to search products more quickly, get recommendations more easily, and complete transactions more securely.
Cards are a type of interaction design that displays related pieces of information within a container or “card”. Cards have evolved from previous models or releases of information-based interfaces that used lists, tables, grids, or other formats. Cards provide improvements such as more visual, concise, and consistent presentation of information, more functionality and interactivity, and more user attention and retention. Cards also address issues such as information overload, cluttered or boring interfaces, and low discoverability or relevance. Cards can help users in making a purchase decision by allowing them to browse products more efficiently, compare products more effectively, and access products more conveniently.
Similar alternatives to interaction design
Human-centered design is a creative methodology for solving problems that focuses on building a deep understanding of and empathy with the people for whom a solution is being designed. Human-centered design shares a lot with interaction design, as both aim to create products that enable users to achieve their objectives in the best way possible. However, human-centered design is more broad and flexible than interaction design, as it can be applied to any type of problem or solution, not just digital products or interfaces. Human-centered design also follows a more structured and iterative process than interaction design, which consists of three phases: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.
Creative intelligence is a concept that describes the ability to generate novel and useful ideas and solutions for various challenges and opportunities. Creative intelligence differs from interaction design, as it is more of a mindset or skill than a methodology or process. Creative intelligence can be used to enhance interaction design, as it can help designers to explore different possibilities, perspectives, and scenarios, and create innovative and original products that meet user needs and expectations. Creative intelligence can also be developed and improved through various techniques, such as knowledge mining, framing, playing, making, and pivoting.
A lean startup is a business approach that aims to create products or services that customers want by using validated learning, rapid experimentation, and continuous improvement. Lean startup contrasts with interaction design, as it is more focused on the business aspects of product development than the user aspects. Lean startup also follows a different cycle than interaction design, which consists of three steps: build, measure, and learn. Lean startup can complement interaction design, as it can help designers to test their assumptions, measure their outcomes, and learn from their feedback.
Life-centered design is a holistic and systemic approach that aims to create products or services that support the well-being of all life forms on Earth. Life-centered design expands on interaction design, as it considers not only the interactions between users and products, but also the interactions between products and the environment, society, culture, and other living beings. Life-centered design also follows a different framework than interaction design, which consists of four principles: respect life in all its forms, regenerate life systems, reconnect with nature’s wisdom, and reimagine human potential.
Strategic design is a process that applies design thinking and methods to strategic challenges and opportunities in various domains such as business, policy, education, or social innovation. Strategic design diverges from interaction design, as it is more concerned with the big picture and long-term vision than the details and short-term execution. Strategic design also follows a different process than interaction design, which consists of four stages: setting objectives, configuring, orchestrating, and embedding.
Interaction design is the design of the interaction between users and products. It is a vital component of user experience design, which aims to create products that enable users to achieve their objectives in the best way possible.
Interaction design involves various activities such as establishing requirements, designing alternatives, prototyping, and evaluating. It follows some general principles such as consistency, visibility, learnability, feedback, and affordance.
Interaction design has many benefits for users, businesses, and society. It can raise user engagement, loyalty, productivity, and satisfaction. Sales, customer loyalty, recommendations, and brand reputation may all improve. It can make things better, address issues, and bring about positive change.
Interaction design is a dynamic and evolving field that is influenced by many factors such as technology, culture, economy, and politics. It has many trends and innovations such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, voice user interface, and gesture user interface.
Interaction designers need to have a range of skills and competencies such as user research skills, design thinking skills, visual design skills, technical skills, and communication skills. They also have many opportunities and challenges in their field.
If you are interested in learning more about interaction design or trying it out yourself, you can check out some of these resources:
- The Interaction Design Foundation: A global community that offers online courses, masterclasses, literature, and meet-ups on interaction design and related topics.
- Interaction Design Association (IxDA): A professional network that organizes events, conferences, awards, and initiatives for interaction designers and practitioners.
- Smashing Magazine: An online magazine that publishes articles, books, podcasts, and newsletters on interaction design and other aspects of web design and development.
- Nielsen Norman Group: A research and consulting firm that provides reports, articles, videos, and training on interaction design and usability.
- UXPin: A collaborative design platform that allows users to create and test interactive prototypes for web and mobile products.
Here are some frequently asked questions about interaction design:
What is the difference between interaction design and user interface design?
User interface design is a subset of interaction design that focuses on the visual aspects of the product’s interface, such as colours, fonts, images, icons, etc. Interaction design covers both the visual and the behavioural aspects of the product’s interface, such as how users interact with it and how it responds to them.
What is the difference between interaction design and graphic design?
Graphic design is a broader term that covers the creation of visual communication and expression using various media and techniques, such as typography, illustration, photography, etc. Interaction design is a specific type of graphic design that focuses on creating products that users can interact with through digital devices or environments.
What are some examples of interaction design in everyday life?
Some examples of interaction design in everyday life are:
- The ATM machine allows users to withdraw cash or check their balance using a touchscreen or a keypad.
- The smartwatch allows users to track their fitness or receive notifications using gestures or voice commands.
- The video game allows users to control their characters or explore the virtual world using a controller or a headset.
- The online shopping website allows users to browse products or make purchases using a mouse or a keyboard.
- The social media app allows users to share photos or messages using a smartphone or a tablet.
What are some of the benefits of learning interaction design?
Some of the benefits of learning interaction design are:
- You can create products that are user-friendly, useful, and enjoyable for users.
- You can improve your problem-solving, creativity, and communication skills.
- You can increase your employability and career prospects in the field of UX design or related fields.
- You can make a positive impact on society by creating products that can solve problems or improve lives.
What are some of the challenges of learning interaction design?
Some of the challenges of learning interaction design are:
- You have to keep up with the fast-changing technology and innovation in the field.
- You have to balance between user needs and business goals when designing products.
- You have to deal with complex and ambiguous problems that may not have clear or easy solutions.
- You have to collaborate and coordinate with various stakeholders such as users, clients, developers, etc.
How can I learn interaction design?
There are many ways to learn interaction design, such as:
- Taking online courses or masterclasses on interaction design or related topics from reputable sources such as The Interaction Design Foundation or Nielsen Norman Group.
- Reading books, articles, blogs, podcasts, or newsletters on interaction design or related topics from reputable sources such as Smashing Magazine or UXPin.
- Attending events, conferences, awards, or initiatives on interaction design or related topics from reputable organizations such as Interaction Design Association (IxDA) or UXPA.
- Practicing interaction design by creating and testing prototypes for web or mobile products using tools such as Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD, etc.
- Getting feedback and advice from other interaction designers or practitioners by joining online communities such as Reddit,
- Getting feedback and advice from other interaction designers or practitioners by joining online communities such as Reddit, Quora, Stack Exchange, etc., or offline meet-ups such as IxDF Local Groups or UXPA Chapters.
What are some of the best practices of interaction design?
Some of the best practices of interaction design are:
- Know your users: Conduct user research to understand who your users are, what they need, what they do, and how they feel.
- Define your problem: Establish the scope and objectives of your interaction design project and identify the main problem you are trying to solve.
- Generate ideas: Explore different possible solutions for your interaction design problem and select the most promising ones.
- Prototype and test: Create low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototypes that simulate your interaction design solution and test them with real or potential users.
- Iterate and improve: Analyse and interpret the results of your testing and make changes or improvements to your interaction design solution based on user feedback.
What are some of the common mistakes of interaction design?
Some of the common mistakes of interaction design are:
- Assuming you know your users: Designing products based on your own assumptions or preferences without conducting user research or testing.
- Overloading your interface: Providing too many features, options, or information that can overwhelm or confuse users.
- Hiding your interface: Making important options or information invisible or inaccessible to users.
- Ignoring feedback: Failing to provide clear and timely feedback to users about their actions or the product’s status.
- Breaking conventions: Violating common standards or practices that users are familiar with or expect from similar products.
What are some of the resources that can help me with interaction design?
Some of the resources that can help you with interaction design are:
- The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction: A comprehensive collection of chapters on various topics related to interaction design and human-computer interaction.
- The Design of Everyday Things: A classic book by Don Norman that explains the principles and psychology of good design and usability.
- About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design: A popular book by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, David Cronin, and Christopher Noessel that covers the process and principles of interaction design.
- Designing Interfaces: A practical book by Jenifer Tidwell, Charles Brewer, and Aynne Valencia that provides patterns and guidelines for designing user interfaces.
- Don’t Make Me Think: A best-selling book by Steve Krug that explains the basics of web usability and user testing.