Chapter 2: Understanding and Conceptualizing Interaction

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The main aims of this chapter are to:

  • Explain what is meant by the problem space.
  • Explain how to conceptualize interaction.
  • Describe what a conceptual model is and how to begin to formulate one.
  • Discuss the use of interface metaphors as part of a conceptual model.
  • Outline the core interaction types for informing the development of a conceptual model.
  • Introduce paradigms, visions, theories, models, and frameworks informing interaction design.


Imagine you have been asked to design an application to enable people to share their photos, movies, music, chats, documents, and so on in an efficient, safe, and enjoyable way. What would you do? How would you start? Would you begin by sketching out how the interface might look, work out how the system architecture should be structured, or start coding? Or, would you start by asking users about their current experiences of sharing files and look at existing tools, e.g. Dropbox, and, based on this, begin thinking about why and how you were going to design the application?

It depends on what you are designing or building. Traditionally, interaction designers begin by doing user research and then sketching their ideas. In AgileUX (see Chapter 12), ideas are often expressed in code early in the design process. It is important to realize that having a clear understanding of why and how you are going to design something can save enormous amounts of time, effort, and money later on in the design process. Ill-thought-out ideas, and incompatible and unusable designs can be refined while it is relatively easy to do so. Such preliminary thinking through of ideas about the user experience and what kinds of designs might be appropriate is, however, a skill that needs to be learned. It is not something that can be done overnight by following a checklist, but requires practice in learning to identify, understand, and examine the issues. In this chapter we describe the steps involved. In particular, we focus on what it takes to understand and conceptualize interaction.